The prophet here, as sometimes before, brings in his own affairs, but very much for instruction to us.
I. See here what are the common methods of the persecutors. We may see this in Jeremiah’s enemies, Jer. 18:18.
1. They laid their heads together to consult what they should do against him, both to be revenged on him for what he had said and to stop his mouth for the future: They said, Come and let us devise devices against Jeremiah. The enemies of God’s people and ministers have been often very crafty themselves, and confederate with one another, to do them mischief. What they cannot act to the prejudice of religion separately they will try to do in concert. The wicked plots against the just. Caiaphas, and the chief priests and elders, did so against our blessed Saviour himself. The opposition which the gates of hell give to the kingdom of heaven is carried on with a great deal of cursed policy. God had said (Jer. 18:11), I devise a device against you; and now, as if they resolved to be quits with him and to outwit Infinite Wisdom itself, they resolve to devise devices against God’s prophet, not only against his person, but against the word he delivered to them, which they thought by their subtle management to defeat. O the prodigious madness of those that hope to disannul God’s counsel!
2. Herein they pretended a mighty zeal for the church, which, they suggested, was in danger if Jeremiah was tolerated to preach as he did: “Come,” say they, “let us silence and crush him, for the law shall not perish from the priest; the law of truth is in their mouths (Mal. 2:6) and there we will seek it; the administration of ordinances according to the law is in their hands, and neither the one nor the other shall be wrested from them. Counsel shall not perish from the wise; the administration of public affairs shall always be lodged with the privy-counsellors and ministers of state, to whom it belongs; nor shall the word perish from the prophets”—they mean those of their own choosing, who prophesied to them smooth things, and flattered them with visions of peace. Two things they insinuated:—(1.) That Jeremiah could not be himself a true prophet, but was a pretender and a usurper, because he neither was commissioned by the priests, nor concurred with the other prophets, whose authority therefore will be despised if he be suffered to go on. “If Jeremiah be regarded as an oracle, farewell the reputation of our priests, our wise men, and prophets; but that must be supported, which is reason enough why he must be suppressed.” (2.) That the matter of his prophecies could not be from God, because it reflected sometimes upon the prophets and priests; he had charged them with being the ringleaders of all the mischief (Jer. 5:31) and deceiving the people (Jer. 14:14); he had foretold that their heart should perish, and be astonished (Jer. 4:9), that the wise men should be dismayed (Jer. 8:9, 10), that the priests and prophets should be intoxicated, Jer. 13:13. Now this galled them more than any thing else. Presuming upon the promise of God’s presence with their priests and prophets, they could not believe that he would ever leave them. The guides of the church must needs be infallible, and therefore he who foretold their being infatuated must be condemned as a false prophet. Thus, under colour of zeal for the church, have its best friends been run down.
3. They agreed to do all they could to blast his reputation: “Come, let us smite him with the tongue, put him into an ill name, fasten a bad character upon him, represent him to some as despicable and fit to be prosecuted, to all as odious and not fit to be tolerated.” This was their device, fortiter calumniari, aliquid adhaerebit—to throw the vilest calumnies at him, in hopes that some would adhere to him. to dress him up in bearskins, otherwise they could not bait him. Those who projected this, it is likely, were men of figure, whose tongue was no small slander, whose representations, though ever so false, would be credited both by princes and people, to make him obnoxious to the justice of the one and the fury of the other. The scourge of such tongues will give not only smart lashes, but deep wounds; it is a great mercy therefore to be hidden from it, Job 5:21.
4. To set others an example, they resolved that they would not themselves regard any thing he said, though it appeared ever so weighty and ever so well confirmed as a message from God: Let us not give heed to any of his words; for, right or wrong, they will look upon them to be his words, and not the words of God. What good can be done with those who hear the word of God with a resolution not to heed it or believe it? Nay,
5. That they may effectually silence him, they resolve to be the death of him (Jer. 18:23): All their counsel against me is to slay me. They hunt for the precious life; and a precious life indeed it was that they hunted for. Long was this Jerusalem’s wretched character, Thou that killedst many of the prophets, and wouldst have killed them all.
II. See here what is the common relief of the persecuted. This we may see in the course that Jeremiah took when he met with this hard usage. He immediately applied to his God by prayer, and so gave himself ease.
1. He referred himself and his cause to God’s cognizance, Jer. 18:19. They would not regard a word he said, would not admit his complaints, nor take any notice of his grievances; but, Lord (says he), do thou give heed to me. It is matter of comfort to faithful ministers that, if men will not give heed to their praying. He appeals to God as an impartial Judge, that will hear both sides, as every judge ought to do. “Do not only give heed to me, but hearken to the voice of those that contend with me; hear what they have to say against me and for themselves, and then make it to appear that thou sittest in the throne, judging right. Hear the voice of my contenders, how noisy and clamorous they are, how false and malicious all they say is, and let them be judged out of their own mouth; cause their own tongues to fall upon them.”
2. He complains of their base ingratitude to him (Jer. 18:20): “Shall evil be recompensed for good, and shall it go unpunished? Wilt not thou recompense me good for that evil?” 2 Sam. 16:12. To render good for good is human, evil for evil is brutish, good for evil is Christian, but evil for good is devilish; it is so very absurd and wicked a thing that we cannot think but God will avenge it. See how great the evil was that they did against him: They have dug a pit for my soul; they aimed to take away his life (no less would satisfy them), and that not in a generous way, by an open assault, against which he might have an opportunity of defending himself, but in a base, cowardly, clandestine way: they dug pits for him, which there was no fence against, Ps. 119:85. But see how great the good was which he had done for them: Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them; he had been an intercessor with God for them, had used his interest in heaven on their behalf, which was the greatest kindness they could expect from one of his character. He is a prophet and he shall pray for thee, Gen. 20:7. Moses often did this for Israel, and yet they quarrelled with him, and sometimes spoke of stoning him. He did them this kindness when they were in imminent danger of destruction and most needed it. They had themselves provoked God’s wrath against them, and it was ready to break in upon them, but he stood in the gap (as Moses, Ps. 106:23) and turned away that wrath. Now, (1.) This was very base in them. Call a man ungrateful and you can call him no worse. But it was not strange that those who had forgotten their God did not know their best friends. (2.) It was very grievous to him, as the like was to David. Ps. 35:13; 109:4; For my love they are my adversaries. Thus disingenuously do sinners deal with the great intercessor, crucifying him afresh, and speaking against him on earth, while his blood is speaking for them in heaven. See John 10:32. But, (3.) It was a comfort to the prophet that, when they were so spiteful against him, he had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had done his duty to them; and the same will be our rejoicing in such a day of evil. The blood-thirsty hate the upright, but the just seek his soul, Prov. 29:10.
3. He imprecates the judgments of God upon them, not from a revengeful disposition, but in a prophetical indignation against their horrid wickedness, Jer. 18:21-23. He prays, (1.) That their families might be starved for want of bread: “Deliver up the children to the famine, to the famine in the country for want of rain, and that in the city through the straitness of the siege. Thus let this iniquity of the fathers be visited upon the children.” (2.) That they might be cut off by the sword of war, which, whatever it was in the enemy’s hand, would be, in God’s hand, a sword of justice: “Pour them out (so the word is) by the hands of the sword; let their blood be shed as profusely as water, that their wives may be left childless and widows, their husbands being taken away by death” (some think that the prophet refers to pestilence); let their young men, that are the strength of this generation and the hope of the next, be slain by the sword in battle. (3.) That the terrors and desolations of war might seize them suddenly and by surprise, that thus their punishment might answer to their sin (Jer. 18:22): “Let a cry be heard from their houses, loud shrieks, when thou shalt bring a troop of the Chaldeans suddenly upon them, to seize them and all they have, to make them prisoners and their estates a prey;” for thus they would have done by Jeremiah; they aimed to ruin him at once ere he was aware: “They have dug a pit for me, as for a wild beast, and have hid snares for me, as for some ravenous noxious fowl.” Note, Those that think to ensnare others will justly be themselves ensnared in an evil time. (4.) That they might be dealt with according to the desert of this sin, which was without excuse: “Forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight; that is, let them not escape the just punishment of it; let them lie under all the miseries of those whose sins are unpardoned.” (5.) That God’s wrath against them might be their ruin: Let them be overthrown before thee. This intimates that justice was in pursuit of them, that they endeavoured to make their escape from it, but in vain; “they shall be made to stumble in their flight, and being overthrown they will certainly be overtaken.” And then, Lord, in the time of thy anger, do to them (he does not say what he would have done to them, but) do to them as thou thinkest fit, as thou usest to do with those whom thou art angry with—deal thus with them. Now this is not written for our imitation. Jeremiah was a prophet, and by the impulse of the spirit of prophecy, in the foresight of the ruin certainly coming upon his persecutors, might pray such prayers as we may not; and, if we think by this example to justify ourselves in such imprecations, we know not what manner of spirit we are of; our Master has taught us, by his precept and pattern, to bless those that curse us and pray for those that despitefully use us. Yet it is written for our instruction, and is of use to teach us, [1.] That those who have forfeited the benefit of the prayers of God’s prophets for them may justly expect to have their prayers against them. [2.] That persecution is a sin that fills the measure of a people’s iniquity very fast, and will bring as sure and sore a destruction upon them as any thing. [3.] Those who will not be won upon by the kindness of God and his prophets will certainly at length feel the just resentments of both.