Here, as often before, we have the prophet retired for private meditation, and alone with God. Those ministers that would have comfort in their work must be much so. In his converse here with God and his own heart he takes the liberty which devout souls sometimes use in their soliloquies, to pass from one thing to another, without tying themselves too strictly to the laws of method and coherence.
I. He acknowledges the great favour of God to his people in setting up a revealed religion among them, and dignifying them with divine institutions (Jer. 17:12): A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. The temple at Jerusalem, where God manifested his special presence, where the lively oracles were lodged, where the people paid their homage to their Sovereign, and whither they fled for refuge in distress, was the place of their sanctuary. That was a glorious high throne. It was a throne of holiness, which made it truly glorious; it was God’s throne, which made it truly high. Jerusalem is called the city of the great King, not only Israel’s King, but the King of the whole earth, so that it might justly be deemed the metropolis, or royal city, of the world. It was from the beginning, so, from the first projecting of it by David and building of it by Solomon, 2 Chron. 2:9. It was the honour of Israel that God set up such a glorious throne among them. As the glorious and high throne (that is, heaven) is the place of our sanctuary; so some read it. Note, All good men have a high value and veneration for the ordinances of God, and reckon the place of the sanctuary a glorious high throne. Jeremiah here mentions this either as a plea with God for mercy to their land, in honour of the throne of his glory (Jer. 14:21), or as an aggravation of the sin of his people in forsaking God though his throne was among them, and so profaning his crown and the place of his sanctuary.
II. He acknowledges the righteousness of God in abandoning those 64cd to ruin that forsook him and revolted from their allegiance to him, Jer. 17:13. He speaks it to God, as subscribing both to the certainty and to the equity of it: O Lord! the hope of those in Israel that adhere to thee, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed. They must of necessity be so, for they forsake thee for lying vanities, which will deceive them and make them ashamed. They will be ashamed, for they shame themselves. They will justly be put to shame, for they have forsaken him who alone can keep them in countenance when troubles come. Let them be ashamed (so some read it); and so it is a pious imprecation of the wrath of God upon them, or a petition for his grace, to make them penitently ashamed. “Those that depart from me, from the word of God which I have preached, do in effect depart from God;” as those that return to God are said to return to the prophet, Jer. 15:19. Those that depart from thee (so some read it) shall be written in the earth. They shall soon be blotted out, as that is which is written in the dust. They shall be trampled upon and exposed to contempt. They belong to the earth, and shall be numbered among earthly people, who lay up their treasure on earth and whose names are not written in heaven. And they deserve to be thus written with the fools in Israel, that their folly may be made manifest unto all, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters (that is, spring waters), and that for broken cisterns. Note, God is to all that are his a fountain of living waters. There is a fulness of comfort in him, an over-flowing ever-flowing fulness, like that of a fountain; it is always fresh, and clear, and clean, like spring water, while the pleasures of sin are puddle-waters. They are free to it; it is not a fountain sealed. They deserve therefore to be condemned, as Adam, to red earth, to which by the corruption of their nature they are allied, because they have forsaken the garden of the Lord, which is so well-watered. Those that depart from God are written in the earth.
III. He prays to God for healing saving mercy for himself. “If the case of those that depart from God be so miserable, let me always draw nigh to him (Ps. 73:27, 28), and, in order to do that, Lord, heal me, and save me, Jer. 17:14. Heal my backslidings, my bent to backslide, and save me from being carried away by the strength of the stream to forsake thee.” He was wounded in spirit with grief upon many accounts. “Lord, heal me with thy comforts, and make me easy.” He was continually exposed to the malice of unreasonable men. “Lord, save me from them, and let me not fall into their wicked hands. Heal me, that is, sanctify me by thy grace; save me, that is, bring me to thy glory.” All that shall be saved hereafter are sanctified now; unless the disease of sin be purged out the soul cannot live. To enforce this petition he pleads, 1. The firm belief he had of God’s power: Heal thou me, and then I shall be healed; the cure will certainly be wrought if thou undertake it; it will be a thorough cure and not a palliative one. Those that come to God to be healed ought to be abundantly satisfied in the all-sufficiency of their physician. Save me, and then I shall certainly be saved, be my dangers and enemies ever so threatening. If God hold us up, we shall live; if he protect us, we shall be safe. 2. The sincere regard he had to God’s glory: “For thou art my praise, and for that reason I desire to be healed and saved, that I may live and praise thee, Ps. 119:175. Thou art he whom I praise, and the praise due to thee I never gave to another. Thou art he whom I glory in, and boast of, for on thee do I depend. Thou art he that furnishes me with continual matter for praise, and I have given thee the praise of the favours already bestowed upon me. Thou shalt be my praise” (so some read it); “heal me, and save me, and thou shalt have the glory of it. My praise shall be continually of thee,” Ps. 71:6; 79:13.
IV. He complains of the infidelity and daring impiety of the people to whom he preached. It greatly troubled him, and he shows before God this trouble, as the servant that had slights put upon him by the guests he was sent to invite came and showed his Lord these things. He had faithfully delivered God’s message to them; and what answer has he to return to him that sent him? Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now, Jer. 17:15; Isa. 5:19. They bantered the prophet, and made a jest of that which he delivered with the greatest seriousness. 1. They denied the truth of what he said: “If that be the word of the Lord which thou speakest to us, where is it? Why is it not fulfilled?” Thus the patience of God was impudently abused as a ground to question his veracity. 2. They defied the terror of what he said. “Let God Almighty do his worst; let all he has said come to pass; we shall do well enough; the lion is not so fierce as he is painted,” Amos 5:18. “Lord, to what purpose is it to speak to men that will neither believe nor fear?”
V. He appeals to God concerning his faithful discharge of the duty to which he was called, Jer. 17:16. The people did all they could to make him weary of his work, to exasperate him and make him uneasy, and to tempt him to prevaricate and alter his message for fear of displeasing them; but, “Lord,” says he, “thou knowest I have not yielded to them.” 1. He continued constant to his work. His office, instead of being his credit and protection, exposed him to reproach, contempt, and injury. “Yet,” says he, “I have not hastened from being a pastor after thee; I have not left my work, nor sued for a discharge or a quietus.” Prophets were pastors to the people, to feed them with the good word of God; but they were to be pastors after God, and all ministers must be so, according to his heart (Jer. 3:15), to follow him and the directions and instructions he gives. Such a pastor Jeremiah was; and, though he met with as much difficulty and discouragement as ever any man did, yet he did not fly off as Jonah did, nor desire to be excused from going any more on God’s errands. Note, Those that are employed for God, though their success answer nor their expectations, must not therefore throw up their commission. but continue to follow God, though the storm be in their faces. 2. He kept up his affection to the people. Though they were very abusive to him, he was compassionate to them: I have not desired the woeful day. The day of the accomplishment of his prophecies would be a woeful day indeed to Jerusalem, and therefore he deprecated it, and wished it might never come, though, as to himself, it would be the avenging of him upon his persecutors and the proving of him a true prophet (which they had questioned, Jer. 17:15), and upon those accounts he might be tempted to desire it. Note, God does not, and therefore ministers must not, desire the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn and live. Though we warn of the woeful day, we must not wish for it, but rather weep because of it, as Jeremiah did. 3. He kept closely to his instructions. Though he might have curried favour with the people, or at least have avoided their displeasure, if he had not been so sharp in his reproofs and severe in his threatenings, yet he would deliver his message faithfully; and that he had done so was a comfort to him. “Lord, thou knowest that that which came out of my lips was right before thee; it exactly agreed with what I received from thee, and therefore thou art reflected upon in their quarrelling with me.” Note, If what we say and do be right before God, we may easily despise the reproaches and censures of men. It is a small thing to be judged of their judgment.
VI. He humbly begs of God that he would own him, and protect him, and carry him on cheerfully in that work to which God had so plainly called him and to which he had so sincerely devoted himself. Two things he here desires:—1. That he might have comfort in serving the God that sent him (Jer. 17:17): Be not thou a terror to me. Surely more is implied than is expressed. “Be thou a comfort to me, and let thy favour rejoice my heart and encourage me, when my enemies do all they can to terrify me and either to drive me from my work or to make me drive on heavily in it.” Note, The best have that in them which might justly make God a terror to them, as he was for some time to Job (Job 6:4), to Asaph (Ps. 77:3), to Heman, Ps. 88:15. And this is that which good men, knowing the terrors of the Lord, dread and deprecate more than any thing; nay, whatever frightful accidents may befal them, or how formidable soever their enemies may appear to them, they can do well enough so long as God is not a terror to them. He pleads, “Thou art my hope; and then nothing else is my fear, no, not in the day of evil, when it is most threatening, most pressing. My dependence is upon thee; and therefore be not a terror to me.” Note, Those that by faith make God their confidence shall have him for their comfort in the worst of times, if it be not their own fault: if we make him our trust, we shall not find him our terror. 2. That he might have courage in dealing with the people to whom he was sent, Jer. 17:18. Those persecuted him who should have entertained and encouraged him. “Lord,” says he, “let them be confounded (let them be overpowered by the convictions of the word and made ashamed of their obstinacy, or else let the judgments threatened be at length executed upon them), but let not me confounded, let not me be terrified by their menaces, so as to betray my trust.” Note, God’s ministers have work to do which they need not be either ashamed or afraid to go on in, but they do need to be helped by the divine grace to go on in it without shame or fear. Jeremiah had not desired the woeful day upon his country in general; but as to his persecutors, in a just and holy indignation at their malice, he prays, Bring upon them the day of evil, in hope that the bringing of it upon them might prevent the bringing of it upon the country; if they were taken away, the people would be better; “therefore destroy them with a double destruction; let them be utterly destroyed, root and branch, and let the prospect of that destruction be their present confusion.” This the prophet prays, not at all that he might be avenged, nor so much that he might be eased, but that the Lord may be known by the judgments which he executes.