The message of wrath delivered in the Jer. 19:1-9 is here enforced, that it might gain credit, two ways:—
I. By a visible sign. The prophet was to take along with him an earthen bottle (Jer. 19:1), and, when he had delivered his message, he was to break the bottle to pieces (Jer. 19:10), and the same that were auditors of the sermon must be spectators of the sign. He had compared this people, in the chapter before, to the potter’s clay, which is easily marred in the making. But some might say, “It is past that with us; we have been made and hardened long since.” “And what though you be,” says he, “the potter’s vessel is as soon broken in the hand of any man as the vessel while it is soft clay is marred in the potter’s hand, and its case is, in this respect, much worse, that the vessel while it is soft clay, though it be marred, may be moulded again, but, after it is hardened, when it is broken it can never be pieced again.” Perhaps what they see will affect them more than what they only hear talk of; that is the intention of sacramental signs, and teaching by symbols was anciently used. In the explication of this sign he must inculcate what he had before said, with a further reference to the place where this was done, in the valley of Tophet. 1. As the bottle was easily, irresistibly, and irrecoverably broken by the Chaldean army, Jer. 19:11. They depended much upon the firmness of their constitution, and the fixedness of their courage, which they thought hardened them like a vessel of brass; but the prophet shows that all that did but harden them like a vessel of earth, which, though hard, is brittle and sooner broken than that which is not so hard. Though they were made vessels of honour, still they were vessels of earth, and so they shall be made to know if they dishonour God and themselves, and serve not the purposes for which they were made. It is God himself, who made them, that resolves to unmake them: I will break this people and this city, dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel; the doom of the heathen (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27), but now Jerusalem’s doom, Isa. 30:14. A potter’s vessel, when once broken, cannot be made whole again, cannot be cured, so the word is. The ruin of Jerusalem shall be an utter ruin; no hand can repair it but his that broke it; and if they return to him, though he has torn, he will heal. 2. This was done in Tophet, to signify two things:—(1.) That Tophet should be the receptacle of the slain: They shall bury in Tophet till there be no place to bury any more there; they shall jostle for room to lay their dead, and a very little room will then serve those who, while they lived, laid house to house and field to field. Those that would be placed alone in the midst of the earth while they were above ground, and obliged all about them to keep their distance, must lie with the multitude when they are underground, for there are innumerable before them. (2.) That Tophet should be a resemblance of the whole city (Jer. 19:12): I will make this city as Tophet. As they had filled the valley of Tophet with the slain which they sacrificed to their idols, so God will fill the whole city with the slain that shall fall as sacrifices to the justice of God. We read (2 Kgs. 23:10) of Josiah’s defiling Tophet, because it had been abused to idolatry, which he did (as should seem, Jer. 19:14) by filling it with the bones of men; and, whatever it was before, thenceforward it was looked upon as a detestable place. Dead carcases, and other filth of the city, were carried thither, and a fire was continually kept there for the burning of it. This was the posture of that valley when Jeremiah was sent thither to prophesy; and so execrable a place was it looked upon to be that, in the language of our Saviour’s time, hell was called, in allusion to it, Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom. “Now” (says God) “since that blessed reformation, when Tophet was defiled, did not proceed as it ought to have done, nor prove a thorough reformation, but though the idols in Tophet were abolished and made odious those in Jerusalem remained, therefore will I do with the city as Josiah did by Tophet, fill it with the bodies of men, and make it a heap of rubbish.” Even the houses of Jerusalem, and those of the kings of Judah, the royal palaces not excepted, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet (Jer. 19:13), and for the same reason, because of the idolatries that have been committed there; since they will not defile them by a reformation, God will defile them by a destruction, because upon the roofs of their houses they have burnt incense unto the host of heaven. The flat roofs of their houses were sometimes used by devout people as convenient places for prayer (Acts 10:9), and by idolaters they were used as high places, on which they sacrificed to strange gods, especially to the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, that there they might be so much nearer to them and have a clearer and fuller view of them. We read of those that worshipped the host of heaven upon the house-tops (Zeph. 1:5), and of altars on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, 2 Kgs. 23:12. This sin upon the house-tops brought a curse into the house, which consumed it, and made it a dunghill like Tophet.
II. By a solemn recognition and ratification of what he had said in the court of the Lord’s house, Jer. 19:14, 15. The prophet returned from Tophet to the temple, which stood upon the hill over that valley, and there confirmed, and probably repeated, what he had said in the valley of Tophet, for the benefit of those who had not heard it; what he had said he would stand to. Here, as often before, he both assures them of judgments coming upon them and assigns the cause of them, which was their sin. Both these are here put together in a little compass, with a reference to all that had gone before. 1. The accomplishment of the prophecies is here the judgment threatened. The people flattered themselves with a conceit that God would be better than his word, that the threatening was but to frighten them and keep them in awe a little; but the prophet tells them that they deceive themselves if they think so: For thus saith the Lord of hosts, who is able to make his words good, I will bring upon this city, and upon all her towns, all the smaller cities that belong to Jerusalem the metropolis, all the evil that I have pronounced against it. Note, Whatever men may think to the contrary, the executions of Providence will fully answer the predictions of the word, and God will appear as terrible against sin and sinners as the scripture makes him; nor shall the unbelief of men make either his promises or his threatenings of no effect or of less effect than they were thought to be of. 2. The contempt of the prophecies is here the sin charged upon them, as the procuring cause of this judgment. It is because they have hardened their necks, and would not bow and bend them to the yoke of God’s commands, would not hear my words, that is, would not heed them and yield obedience to them. Note, The obstinacy of sinners in their sinful ways is altogether their own fault; if their necks are hardened, it is their own act and deed, they have hardened them; if they are deaf to the word of God, it is because they have stopped their own ears. We have need therefore to pray that God, by his grace, would deliver us from hardness of heart and contempt of his word and commandments.