The prophet is here for a sign to the people. They would not regard what he said; let it be tried whether they will regard what he does. In general, he must conduct himself so, in every thing, as became one that expected to see his country in ruins very shortly. This he foretold, but few regarded the prediction; therefore he is to show that he is himself fully satisfied in the truth of it. Others go on in their usual course, but he, in the prospect of these sad times, is forbidden and therefore forbears marriage, mourning for the dead, and mirth. Note, Those that would convince others of and affect them with the word of God must make it appear, even in the most self-denying instances, that they do believe it themselves and are affected with it. If we would rouse others out of their security, and persuade them to sit loose to the world, we must ourselves be mortified to present things and show that we expect the dissolution of them.
I. Jeremiah must not marry, nor think of having a family and being a housekeeper (Jer. 16:2): Thou shalt not take thee a wife, nor think of having sons and daughters in this place, not in the land of Judah, not in Jerusalem, not in Anathoth. The Jews, more than any people, valued themselves on their early marriages and their numerous offspring. But Jeremiah must live a bachelor, not so much in honour of virginity as in diminution of it. By this it appears that it was advisable and seasonable only in calamitous times, and times of present distress, 1 Cor. 7:26. That it is so is a part of the calamity. There may be a time when it will be said, Blessed is the womb that bears not, Luke 23:29. When we see such times at hand it is wisdom for all, especially for prophets, to keep themselves as much as may be from being entangled with the affairs of this life and encumbered with that which, the dearer it is to them, the more it will be the matter of their care, and fear, and grief, at such a time. The reason here given is because the fathers and mothers, the sons and the daughters, shall die of grievous deaths, Jer. 16:3, 4. As for those that have wives and children, 1. They will have such a clog upon them that they cannot flee from those deaths. A single man may make his escape and shift for his own safety, when he that has a wife and children can neither find means to convey with them nor find in his heart to go and leave them behind him. 2. They will be in continual terror for fear of those deaths; and the more they have to lose by them the greater will the terror and consternation be when death appears every where in its triumphant pomp and power. 3. The death of every child, and the aggravating circumstances of it, will be a new death to the parent. Better have no children than have them brought forth and bred up for the murderer (Hos. 9:13, 14), than see them live and die in misery. Death is grievous, but some deaths are more grievous than others, both to those that die and to their relations that survive them; hence we read of so great a death, 2 Cor. 1:10. Two things are used a little to palliate and alleviate the terror of death as to this world, and to sugar the bitter pill—bewailing the dead and burying them; but, to make those deaths grievous indeed, these are denied: They shall not be lamented, but shall be carried off, as if all the world were weary of them; nay, they shall not be buried, but left exposed, as if they were designed to be monuments of justice. They shall be a dung upon the face of the earth, not only despicable, but detestable, as if they were good for nothing but to manure the ground; being consumed, some by the sword and some by famine, their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven and the beasts of the earth. Will not any one say, “Better be without children than live to see them come to this?” What reason have we to say,All is vanity and vexation of spirit, when those creatures that we expect to be our greatest comforts may prove not only our heaviest cares, but our sorest crosses!
II. Jeremiah must not go to the house of mourning upon occasion of the death of any of his neighbours or relations (Jer. 16:5): Enter thou not into the house of mourning. It was usual to condole with those whose relations were dead, to bemoan them, to cut themselves, and make themselves bald, which, it seems, was commonly practised as an expression of mourning, though forbidden by the law, Deut. 14:1. Nay, sometimes, in a passion of grief, they did tear themselves for them (Jer. 16:6, 7), partly in honour of the deceased, thus signifying that they thought there was a great loss of them, and partly in compassion to the surviving relations, to whom the burden will be made the lighter by their having sharers with them in their grief. They used to mourn with them, and so to comfort them for the dead, as Job’s friends with him and the Jews with Martha and Mary; and it was a friendly office to give them a cup of consolation to drink, to provide cordials for them and press them earnestly to drink of them for the support of their spirits, give wine to those that are of heavy heart for their father or mother, that it may be some comfort to them to find that, though they have lost their parents, yet they have some friends left that have a concern for them. Thus the usage stood, and it was a laudable usage. It is a good work to others, as well as of good use to ourselves, to go to the house of mourning. It seems, the prophet Jeremiah had been wont to abound in good offices of this kind, and it well became his character both as a pious man and as a prophet; and one would think it should have made him better beloved among his people than it should seem he was. But now God bids him not lament the death of his friends as usual, for 1. His sorrow for the destruction of his country in general must swallow up his sorrow for particular deaths. His tears must now be turned into another channel; and there is occasion enough for them all. 2. He had little reason to lament those who died now just before the judgments entered which he saw at the door, but rather to think those happy who were seasonable taken away from the evil to come. 3. This was to be a type of what was coming, when there should be such universal confusion that all neighbourly friendly offices should be neglected. Men shall be in deaths so often, and even dying daily, that they shall have no time, no room, no heart, for the ceremonies that used to attend death. The sorrows shall be so ponderous as not to admit relief, and every one so full of grief for his own troubles that he shall have no thought of his neighbours. All shall be mourners then, and no comforters; every one will find it enough to bear his own burden; for (Jer. 16:5), “I have taken away my peace from this people, put a full period to their prosperity, deprived them of health, wealth, and quiet, and friends, and every thing wherewith they might comfort themselves and one another.” Whatever peace we enjoy, it is God’s peace; it is his gift, and, if he give quietness, who then can make trouble? But, if we make not a good use of his peace, he can and will take it away; and where are we then? Job 34:29. “I will take away my peace, even my loving-kindness and mercies;” these shall be shut up and restrained, which are the fresh springs from which all their fresh streams flow, and then farewell all good. Note, Those have cut themselves off from all true peace that have thrown themselves out of the favour of God. All is gone when God takes away from us his lovingkindness and his mercies. Then it follows (Jer. 16:6), Both the great and the small shall die, even in this land, the land of Canaan, that used to be called the land of the living. God’s favour is our life; take away that, and we die, we perish, we all perish.
III. Jeremiah must not go to the house of mirth, any more than to the house of mourning, Jer. 16:8. It had been his custom, and it was innocent enough, when any of his friends made entertainments at their houses and invited him to them, to go and sit with them, not merely to drink, but to eat and to drink, soberly and cheerfully. But now he must not take that liberty, 1. Because it was unseasonable, and inconsistent with the providences of God in reference to that land and nation. God called aloud to weeping, and mourning, and fasting; he was coming forth against them in his judgments; and it was time for them to humble themselves; and it well became the prophet who gave them the warning to give them an example of taking the warning, and complying with it, and so to make it appear that he did himself believe it. Ministers ought to be examples of self-denial and mortification, and to show themselves affected with those terrors of the Lord with which they desire to affect others. And it becomes all the sons of Zion to sympathize with her in her afflictions, and not to be merry when she is perplexed, Amos 6:6. 2. Because he must thus show the people what sad times were coming upon them. His friends wondered that he would not meet them, as he used to do, in the house of feasting. But he lets them know it was to intimate to them that all their feasting would be at an end shortly (Jer. 16:9): “I will cause to cease the voice of mirth. You shall have nothing to feast on, nothing to rejoice in, but be surrounded with calamities that shall mar your mirth and cast a damp upon it.” God can find ways to tame the most jovial. “This shall be done in this place, in Jerusalem, that used to be the joyous city and thought her joys were all secure to her. It shall be done in your eyes, in your sight, to be a vexation to you, who now look so haughty and so merry. It shall be done in your days; you yourselves shall live to see it.” The voice of praise they had made to cease by their iniquities and idolatries, and therefore justly God made to cease among them the voice of mirth and gladness. The voice of God’s prophets was not heard, was not heeded, among them, and therefore no longer shall the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride, of the songs that used to grace the nuptials, be heard among them. See Jer. 7:34.