There is a mixture of mercy and judgment in these verses, and it is hard to know to which to apply some of the passages here—they are so interwoven, and some seem to look as far forward as the times of the gospel.
I. God will certainly execute judgment upon them for their idolatries. Let them expect it, for the decree has gone forth. 1. God sees all their sins, though they commit them ever so secretly and palliate them ever so artfully (Jer. 16:17): My eyes are upon all their ways. They have not their eye upon God, have no regard to him, stand in no awe of him; but he has his eye upon them; neither they nor their sins are hidden from his face, from his eyes. Note, None of the sins of sinners either can be concealed from God or shall be overlooked by him, Prov. 5:21; Job 34:21; Ps. 90:8. 2. God is highly displeased, particularly at their idolatries, Jer. 16:18. As his omniscience convicts them, so his justice condemns them: I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double, not double to what it deserves, but double to what they expect and to what I have done formerly. Or I will recompense it abundantly; they shall now pay for their long reprieve and the divine patience they have abused. The sin for which God has a controversy with them is their having defiled God’s land with their idolatries, and not only alienated that which he was entitled to as his inheritance, but polluted that which he dwelt in with delight as his inheritance, and made it offensive to him with the carcases of their detestable things, the gods themselves which they worshipped, the images of which, though they were of gold and silver, were as loathsome to God as the putrid carcases of men or beasts are to us. Idols are carcases of detestable things. God hates them, and so should we. Or he might refer to the sacrifices which they offered to these idols, with which the land was filled; for they had high places in all the coasts and corners of it. This was the sin which, above any other, incensed God against them. 3. He will find out and raise up instruments of his wrath, that shall cast them out of their land, according to the sentence passed upon them (Jer. 16:16): I will send for many fishers and many hunters—the Chaldean army, that shall have many ways of ensnaring and destroying them, by fraud as fishers, by force as hunters. They shall find them out wherever they are, and shall chase and closely pursue them, to their ruin. They shall discover them wherever they are hid, in hills or mountains, or holes of the rocks, and shall drive them out. God has various ways of prosecuting a people with his judgments that avoid the convictions of his word. He has men at command fit for his purpose; he has them within call, and can send for them when he pleases. 4. Their bondage in Babylon shall be sorer and much more grievous than that in Egypt, their task-masters more cruel, and their lives made more bitter. This is implied in the promise (Jer. 16:14, 15), that their deliverance out of Babylon shall be more illustrious in itself, and more welcome to them, than that out of Egypt. Their slavery in Egypt came upon them gradually and almost insensibly; that in Babylon came upon them at once and with all the aggravating circumstances of terror. In Egypt they had a Goshen of their own, but none such in Babylon. In Egypt they were used as servants that were useful, in Babylon as captives that had been hateful. 5. They shall be warned, and God shall be glorified, by these judgments brought upon them. These judgments have a voice, and speak aloud, (1.) Instruction to them. When God chastens them he teaches them. By this rod God expostulates with them (Jer. 16:20): “Shall a man make gods to himself? Will any man be so perfectly void of all reason and consideration as to think that a god of his own making can stand him in any stead? Will you ever again be such fools as you have been, to make to yourselves gods which are no gods, when you have a God whom you may call your own, who made you, and is himself the true and living God?” (2.) Honour to God; for he will be known by the judgments which he executes. He will first recompense their iniquity (Jer. 16:18), and then he will this once (Jer. 16:21)-- this once for all, not by many interruptions of their peace, but this one desolation and destruction of it. “For this once, and no more, I will cause them to know my hand, the length and weight of my punishing hand, how far it can reach and how deeply it can wound. And they shall know that my name is Jehovah, a God with whom there is no contending, who gives being to threatenings and puts life into them as well as promises.”
II. Yet he has mercy in store for them, intimations of which come in here for the encouragement of the prophet himself and of those few among them that tremble at God’s word. It was said, with an air of severity (Jer. 16:13), that God would banish them into a strange land; but, that thereby they might not be driven to despair, there follow immediately words of comfort.
1. The days will come, the joyful days, when the same hand that dispersed them shall gather them again, Jer. 16:14, 15. They are cast out, but they are not cast off, they are not cast away. They shall be brought up from the land of the north, the land of their captivity, where they are held with a strong hand, and from all the lands whither they are driven, and where they seemed to be lost and buried in the crowd; nay, I will bring them again into their own land, and settle them there. As he foregoing threatenings agreed with what was written in this law, so does this promise. Yet will I not cast them away, Lev. 26:44. Thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, Deut. 30:4. And the following words (Jer. 16:16) may be understood as a promise; God will send for fishers and hunters, the Medes and Persians, that shall find them out in the countries where they are scattered, and send them back to their own land; or Zerubbabel, and others of their own nation, who should fish them out and hunt after them, to persuade them to return; or whatever instruments the Spirit of God made use of to stir up their spirits to go up, which at first they were backward to do. They began to nestle in Babylon; but, as an eagle stirs up her nest and flutters over her young, so God did by them, Zech. 2:7.
2. Their deliverance out of Babylon should, upon some accounts, be more illustrious and memorable than their deliverance out of Egypt was. Both were the Lord’s doing and marvellous in their eyes; both were proofs that the Lord liveth and were to be kept in everlasting remembrance, to his honour, as the living God; but the fresh mercy shall be so surprising, so welcome, that it shall even abolish the memory of the former. Not but that new mercies should put us in mind of old ones, and give us occasion to renew our thanksgivings for them; yet because we are tempted to think that the former days were better than these, and to ask, Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us of? as if God’s arm had waxed short, and to cry up the age of miracles above the later ages, when mercies are wrought in a way of common providence, therefore we are allowed here comparatively to forget the bringing of Israel out of Egypt as a deliverance outdone by that out of Babylon. That was done by might and power, this by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, Zech. 4:6. In this there was more of pardoning mercy (the most glorious branch of divine mercy) than in that; for their captivity in Babylon had more in it of the punishment of sin than their bondage in Egypt; and therefore that which comforts Zion in her deliverance out of Babylon is this, that her iniquity is pardoned, Isa. 40:2. Note, God glorifies himself, and we must glorify him, in those mercies that have no miracles in them, as well as in those that have. And, though the favours of God to our fathers must not be forgotten, yet those to ourselves in our own day we must especially give thanks for.
3. Their deliverance out of captivity shall be accompanied with a blessed reformation, and they shall return effectually cured of their inclination to idolatry, which will complete their deliverance and make it a mercy indeed. They had defiled their own land with their detestable things, Jer. 16:18. But, when they have smarted for so doing, they shall come and humble themselves before God, Jer. 16:19-21. (1.) They shall be brought to acknowledge that their God only is God indeed, for he is a God in need—“My strength to support and comfort me, my fortress to protect and shelter me, and my refuge to whom I may flee in the day of affliction.” Note, Need drives many to God who had set themselves at a distance from him. Those that slighted him in the day of their prosperity will be glad to flee to him in the day of their affliction. (2.) They shall be quickened to return to him by the conversion of the Gentiles: The Gentiles shall come to thee from the ends of the earth; and therefore shall not we come? Or, “The Jews, who had by their idolatries made themselves as Gentiles (so I rather understand it), shall come to thee by repentance and reformation, shall return to their duty and allegiance, even from the ends of the earth, from all the countries whither they were driven.” The prophet comforts himself with the hope of this, and in a transport of joy returns to God the notice he had given him of it: “O Lord! my strength and my fortress, I am now easy, since thou hast given me a prospect of multitudes that shall come to thee from the ends of the earth, both of Jewish converts and of Gentile proselytes.” Note, Those that are brought to God themselves cannot but rejoice greatly to see others coming to him, coming back to him. (3.) They shall acknowledge the folly of their ancestors, which it becomes them to do, when they were smarting for the sins of their ancestors: “Surely our fathers have inherited, not the satisfaction they promised themselves and their children, but lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. We are now sensible that our fathers were cheated in their idolatrous worship; it did not prove what it promised, and therefore what have we to do any more with it?” Note, It were well if the disappointment which some have met with in the service of sin, and the pernicious consequences of it to them, might prevail to deter others from treading in their steps. (4.) They shall reason themselves out of their idolatry; and that reformation is likely to be sincere and durable which results from a rational conviction of the gross absurdity there is in sin. They shall argue thus with themselves (and it is well argued), Should a man be such a fool, so perfectly void of the reason of a man, as to make gods to himself, the creatures of his own fancy, the work of his own hands, when they are really no gods? Jer. 16:20. Can a man be so besotted, so perfectly lost to human understanding, as to expect any divine blessing or favour from that which pretends to no divinity but what it first received from him? (5.) They shall herein give honour to God, and make it to appear that they know both his hand in his providence and his name in his word, and that they are brought to know his name by what they are made to know of his hand, Jer. 16:21. This once, now at length, they shall be made to know that which they would not be brought to know by all the pains the prophets took with them. Note, So stupid are we that nothing less than the mighty hand of divine grace, known experimentally, can make us know rightly the name of God as it is revealed to us.
4. Their deliverance out of captivity shall be a type and figure of this great salvation to be wrought out by the Messiah, who shall gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. And this is that which so far outshines the deliverance out of Egypt as even to eclipse the lustre of it, and make it even to be forgotten. To this some apply that of the many fishers and hunters, the preachers of the gospel, who were fishers of men, to enclose souls with the gospel net, to find them out in every mountain and hill, and secure them for Christ. Then the Gentiles came to God, some from the ends of the earth, and turned to the worship of him from the service of dumb idols.