These verses seem to be the application of the general truths laid down in the foregoing part of the chapter to the nation of the Jews and their present state.
I. God was now speaking concerning them to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy; for it is that part of the rule of judgment that their case agrees with (Jer. 18:11): “Go, and tell them” (saith God), “Behold I frame evil against you and devise against you. Providence in all its operations is plainly working towards your ruin. Look upon your conduct towards God, and you cannot but see that you deserve it; look upon his dealings with you, and you cannot but see that he designs it.” He frames evil, as the potter frames the vessel, so as to answer the end.
II. He invites them by repentance and reformation to meet him in the way of his judgments and so to prevent his further proceedings against them: “Return you now every one from his evil ways, that so (according to the rule before laid down) God may turn from the evil he had purported to do unto you, and that providence which seemed to be framed like a vessel on the wheel against you shall immediately be thrown into a new shape, and the issue shall be in favour of you.” Note, The warnings of God’s word, and the threatenings of his providence, should be improved by us as strong inducements to us to reform our lives, in which it is not enough to turn from our evil ways, but we must make our ways and our doings good, conformable to the rule, to the law.
III. He foresees their obstinacy, and their perverse refusal to comply with this invitation, though it tended so much to their own benefit (Jer. 18:12): They said, “There is no hope. If we must not be delivered unless we return from our evil ways, we may even despair of ever being delivered, for we are resolved that we will walk after our own devices. It is to no purpose for the prophets to say any more to us, to use any more arguments, or to press the matter any further; we will have our way, whatever it cost us; we will do every one the imagination of his own evil heart, and will not be under the restraint of the divine law.” Note, That which ruins sinners is affecting to live as they list. They call it liberty to live at large; whereas for a man to be a slave to his lusts is the worst of slaveries. See how strangely some men’s hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin that they will not so much as promise amendment; nay, they set the judgments of God at defiance: “We will go on with our own devices, and let God go on with his; and we will venture the issue.”
IV. He upbraids them with the monstrous folly of their obstinacy, and their hating to be reformed. Surely never were people guilty of such an absurdity, never any that pretended to reason acted so unreasonably (Jer. 18:13): Ask you among the heathen, even those that had not the benefit of divine revelation, no oracles, no prophets, as Judah and Jerusalem had, yet, even among them, who hath heart such a thing? The Ninevites, when thus warned, turned from their evil ways. Some of the worst of men, when they are told of their faults, especially when they begin to smart for them, will at least promise reformation and say that they will endeavour to mend. But the virgin of Israel bids defiance to repentance, is resolved to go on frowardly, whatever conscience and Providence say to the contrary, and thus has done a horrible thing. She should have preserved herself pure and chaste for God, who had espoused her to himself; but she has alienated herself from him, and refuses to return to him. Note, It is a horrible thing, enough to make one tremble to think of it, that those who have made their condition sad by sinning should make it desperate by refusing to reform. Wilful impenitence is the grossest self-murder; and that is a horrible thing, which we should abhor the thought of.
V. He shows their folly in two things:—
1. In the nature of the sin itself that they were guilty of. They forsook God for idols, which was the most horrible thing that could be, for they put a most dangerous cheat upon themselves (Jer. 18:14, 15): Will a thirsty traveller leave the snow, which, being melted, runs down from the mountains of Lebanon, and, passing over the rock of the field, flows in clear, clean, crystal streams? Will he leave these, pass these by, and think to better himself with some dirty puddle-water? Or shall the cold flowing waters that come from any other place be forsaken in the heat of summer? No; when men are parched with heat and drought, and meet with cooling refreshing streams, they will make use of them, and not turn their backs upon them. The margin reads it, “Will a man that is travelling the road leave my fields, which are plain and level, for a rock, which is rough and hard, or for the snow of Lebanon, which, lying in great drifts, makes the road impassable? Or shall the running waters be forsaken for the strange cold waters? No; in these things men know when they are well off, and will keep so; they will not leave a certainty for an uncertainty. But my people have forgotten me (Jer. 18:15), have quitted a fountain of living waters for broken cisterns. They have burnt incense to idols, that are as vain as vanity itself, that are not what they pretend to be nor can perform what is expected from them.” They had not the common wit of travellers, but even their leaders caused them to err, and they were content to be misled. (1.) They left the ancient paths, which were appointed by the divine law, which had been walked in by all the saints, which were therefore the right way to their journey’s end, a safe way, and, being well-tracked, were both easy to hit and easy to walk in. But, when they were advised to keep to the good old way, they positively said that they would not, Jer. 6:16. (2.) They chose by-paths; they walked in a way not cast up, not in the highway, the King’s highway, in which they might travel safely, and which would certainly lead them to their right end, but in a dirty way, a rough way, a way in which they could not but stumble; such was the way of idolatry (such is the way of all iniquity—it is a false way, it is a way full of stumbling-blocks) and yet this way they chose to walk in and lead others in.
2. In the mischievous consequences of it. Though the thing itself were bad, they might have had some excuse for it if they could have promised themselves any good out of it. But the direct tendency of it was to make their land desolate, and, consequently, themselves miserable (for so the inhabitants must needs be if their country be laid waste), and both themselves and their land a perpetual hissing. Those deserve to be hissed that have fair warning given them and will not take it. Every one that passes by their land shall make his remarks upon it, and shall be astonished, and way his head, some wondering, others commiserating, others triumphing in the desolations of a country that had been the glory of all lands. They shall wag their heads in derision, upbraiding them with their folly in forsaking God and their duty, and so pulling this misery upon their own heads. Note, Those that revolt from God will justly be made the scorn of all about them, and, having reproached the Lord, will themselves be a reproach. Their land being made desolate, in pursuance of their destruction, it is threatened (Jer. 18:17), I will scatter them as with an east wind, which is fierce and violent; by it they shall be hurried to and fro before the enemy, and find no way open to escape. They shall not only flee before the enemy (that they might do and yet make an orderly retreat), but they shall be scattered, some one way and some another. That which completes their misery is, I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity. Our calamities may be easily borne if God look towards us, and smile upon us, when we are under them, if he countenance us and show us favour; but if he turn the back upon us, if he show himself displeased, if he be deaf to our prayers and refuse us his help, if he forsake us, leave us to ourselves, and stand at a distance from us, we are quite undone. If he hide his face, who then can behold him? Job 34:29. Herein God would deal with them as they had dealt with him (Jer. 2:27), They have turned their back unto me, and not their face. It is a righteous thing with God to show himself strange to those in the day of their trouble who have shown themselves rude and undutiful to him in their prosperity. This will have its full accomplishment in that day when God will say to those who, though they have been professors of piety, were yet workers of iniquity, Depart from me, I know you not, nay, I never knew you.