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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 20–28
Verses 20–28

In these verses the prophet goes on with his charge against this backsliding people. Observe here,

I. The sin itself that he charges them with—idolatry, that great provocation which they were so notoriously guilty of. 1. They frequented the places of idol-worship (Jer. 2:20): “Upon every high hill and under every green tree, in the high places and the groves, such as the heathen had a foolish fondness and veneration for, thou wanderest, first to one and then to another, like one unsettled, and still uneasy and unsatisfied; but in all playing the harlot,” worshipping false gods, which is spiritual whoredom, and was commonly accompanied with corporal whoredom too. Note, Those that leave God wander endlessly, and a vagrant lust is insatiable. 2. They made images for themselves, and gave divine honour to them (Jer. 2:26, 27); not only the common people, but even the kings and princes, who should have restrained the people from doing ill, and the priests and prophets, who should have taught them to do well, were themselves so wretchedly sottish and stupid, and under the power of such a strong delusion, as to say to a stock, “Thou art my father (that is, Thou art my god, the author of my being, to whom I owe duty and on whom I have a dependence),” and to a stone, to an idol made of stone, “Thou hast begotten me, or brought me forth; therefore protect me, provide for me, and bring me up.” What greater affront could men put upon God, who is our Father that has made us? It was a downright disowning of their obligations to him. What greater affront could men put upon themselves and their own reason than to acknowledge that which is in itself absurd and impossible, and, by making stocks and stones their parents, to make themselves no better than stocks and stones? When these were first made the objects of worship they were supposed to be animated by some celestial power or spirit; but by degrees the thought of this was lost, and so vain did idolaters become in their imagination, even the princes and priests themselves, that the very idol, though made of wood and stone, was supposed to be their father, and adored accordingly. 3. They multiplied these dunghill deities endlessly (Jer. 2:28): According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah! When they had forsaken that God who is one, and all-sufficient for all, (1.) They were not satisfied with any gods they had, but still desired more, that idolatry being in this respect of the same nature with covetousness, which is spiritual idolatry (for the more men have the more they would have), which is a plain evidence that what men make an idol of they find to be insufficient and unsatisfying, and that it cannot make the comers thereunto perfect. (2.) They could not agree in the same god. Having left the centre of unity, they fell into endless discord; one city fancied one deity and another another, and each was anxious to have one of its own to be near them and to take special care of them. Thus did they in vain seek that in many gods which is to be found in one God only.

II. The proof of this. No witnesses need be called; it is proved by the notorious evidence of the facts. 1. They went about to deny it, and were ready to plead, Not guilty. They pretended that they would acquit themselves from this guilt, they washed themselves with nitre, and took much soap, offered many things in excuse and extenuation of it, Jer. 2:22. They pretended that they did not worship these as gods, but as demons, and mediators between the immortal God and mortal men, or that it was not divine honour that they gave them, but civil respect; thus they sought to evade the convictions of God’s word and to screen themselves from the dread of his wrath. Nay, some of them had the impudence to deny the thing itself; they said, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim, Jer. 2:23. Because it was done secretly, and industriously concealed (Ezek. 8:12), they thought it could never be proved upon them, and they had impudence enough to deny it. In this, as in other things, their way was like that of the adulterous woman, that says, I have done no wickedness, Prov. 30:20. 2. Notwithstanding all their evasions, they are convicted of it and found guilty: “How canst thou deny the fact, and say, I have not gone after Baalim? How canst thou deny the fault, and say, I am not polluted?” The prophet speaks with wonder at their impudence: “How canst thou put on a face to say so, when it is certain?” (1.) “God’s omniscience is a witness against thee: Thy iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God; it is laid up and hidden, to be produced against thee in the day of judgment, sealed up among his treasures,” Deut. 32:34; Job 21:19; Hos. 13:12. “It is imprinted deeply and stained before me;” so some read it. “Though thou endeavour to wash it out, as murderers to get the stain of the blood of the person slain out of their clothes, yet it will never be got out.” God’s eye is upon it, and we are sure that his judgment is according to truth. (2.) “Thy own conscience is a witness against thee. See thy way in the valley” (they had worshipped idols, not only on the high hills, but in the valleys, Isa. 57:5, 6), in the valley over-against Beth-peor (so some), where they worshipped Baal-peor (Deut. 34:6; Num. 25:3), as if the prophet looked as far back as the iniquity of Peor; but, if it mean any particular valley, surely it is the valley of the son of Hinnom, for that was the place where they sacrificed their children to Moloch and which therefore witnessed against them more than any other: “look into that valley, and thou canst not but know what thou hast done.”

III. The aggravations of this sin with which they are charged, which made it exceedingly sinful.

1. God had done great things for them, and yet they revolted from him and rebelled against him (Jer. 2:20): Of old time I have broken thy yoke and burst thy bonds; this refers to the bringing of them out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage, which they would not remember (Jer. 2:6), but God did; for, when he told them that they should have no other gods before him, he prefixed this as a reason: I am the Lord thy God that brought thee out of the land of Egypt! These bonds of theirs which God had loosed should have bound them for ever to him; but they had ungratefully broken the bonds of duty to that God who had broken the bonds of their slavery.

2. They had promised fair, but had not made good their promise: “Thou saidst, I will not transgress; then, when the mercy of thy deliverance was fresh, thou wast so sensible of it that thou wast willing to lay thyself under the most sacred ties to continue faithful to thy God and never to forsake him.” Then they said, Nay, but we will serve the Lord, Josh. 24:21. How often have we said that we would not transgress, we would not offend any more, and yet we have started aside, like a deceitful bow, and repeated and multiplied our transgressions!

3. They had wretchedly degenerated from what they were when God first formed them into a people (Jer. 2:21). I had planted thee a noble vine. The constitution of their government both in church and state was excellent, their laws were righteous, and all the ordinances instructive and very significant; and a generation of good men there was among them when they first settled in Canaan. Israel served the Lord, and kept close to him all the days of Joshua, and the elders that out-lived Joshua, Josh. 24:31. They were then wholly a right seed, likely to replenish the vineyard they were planted in with choice vines. But it proved otherwise; they very next generation knew not the Lord, nor the works which he had done (Jdg. 2:10), and so they were worse and worse till they became the degenerate plants of a strange vine. They were now the reverse of what they were at first. Their constitution was quite broken, and there was nothing in them of that good which one might have expected from a people so happily formed, nothing of the purity and piety of their ancestors. Their vine is as the vine of Sodom, Deut. 32:32. This may fitly be applied to the nature of man; it was planted by its great author a noble vine, a right seed (God made man upright); but it is so universally corrupt that it has become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, that bears gall and wormwood, and it is so to God, it is highly distasteful and offensive to him.

4. They were violent and eager in the pursuit of their idolatries, doted on their idols, and were fond of new ones, and they would not be restrained form them either by the word of God or by his providence, so strong was the impetus with which they were carried out after this sin. They are here compared to a swift dromedary traversing her ways, a female of that species of creatures hunting about for a male (Jer. 2:23), and, to the same purport, a wild ass used to the wilderness (Jer. 2:24), not tamed by labour, and therefore very wanton, snuffing up the wind at her pleasure when she comes near the he-ass, and on such an occasion who can turn her away? Who can hinder her from that which she lusts after? Those that seek her then will not weary themselves for her, for they know it is to no purpose; but will have a little patience till she is big with young, till that month comes which is the last of the months that she fulfils (Job 39:2), when she is heavy and unwieldy, and then they shall find her, and she cannot out-run them. Note, (1.) Eager lust is a brutish thing, and those that will not be turned away from the gratifying and indulging of it by reason, and conscience, and honour, are to be reckoned as brute-beasts and no better, such as were born, and still are, like the wild ass’s colt; let them not be looked upon as rational creatures. (2.) Idolatry is strangely intoxicating, and those that are addicted to it will with great difficulty be cured of it. That lust is as headstrong as any. (3.) There are some so violently set upon the prosecution of their lusts that it is to no purpose to attempt to give check to them: those that do so weary themselves in vain. Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. (4.) The time will come when the most fierce will be tamed and the most wanton will be manageable; when distress and anguish come upon them, then their ears will be open to discipline, that is the month in which you may find them, Ps. 141:5, 6.

5. They were obstinate in their sin, and, as they could not be restrained, so they would not be reformed, Jer. 2:25. Here is, (1.) Fair warning given them of the ruin that this wicked course of life would certainly bring them to at last, with a caution therefore not to persist in it, but to break off from it. He would certainly bring them into a miserable captivity, when their feet should be unshod, and they should be forced to travel barefoot, and when they would be denied fair water by their oppressors, so that their throat should be dried with thirst; this will be in the end hereof. Those that affect strange gods, and strange ways of worship, will justly be made prisoners to a strange king in a strange land. “Take up in time therefore; thy running after thy idols will run the shoes off thy feet, and thy panting after them will bring thy throat to thirst; withhold therefore thy foot from these violent pursuits, and thy throat from these violent desires.” One would think that it should effectually check us in the career of sin to consider what it will bring us to at last. (2.) Their rejecting this fair warning. They said to those that would have persuaded them to repent and reform, “There is no hope; no, never expect to work upon us, or prevail with us to cast away our idols, for we have loved strangers, and after them we will go; we are resolved we will, and therefore trouble not yourselves nor us any more with your admonitions; it is to no purpose. There is no hope that we should ever break the corrupt habit and disposition we have got, and therefore we may as well yield to it as go about to get the mastery of it.” Note, Their case is very miserable who have brought themselves to such a pass that their corruptions triumph over their convictions; they know they should reform, but own they cannot, and therefore resolve they will not. But, as we must not despair of the mercy of God, but believe that sufficient for the pardon of our sins, though ever so heinous, if we repent and sue for that mercy, so neither must we despair of the grace of God, but believe that able to subdue our corruptions, though ever so strong, if we pray for and improve that grace. A man must never say There is no hope, as long as he is on this side hell.

6. They had shamed themselves by their sin, in putting confidence in that which would certainly deceive them in the day of their distress, and putting him away that would have helped them, Jer. 2:26-28. As the thief is ashamed when, notwithstanding all his arts and tricks to conceal his theft, he is found, and brought to punishment, so are the house of Israel ashamed, not with a penitent shame for the sin they had been guilty of, but with a penal shame for the disappointment they met with in that sin. They will be ashamed when they find, (1.) That they are forced to cry to the God whom they had put contempt upon. In their prosperity they had turned the back to God and not the face; they had slighted him, acted as if they had forgotten him, or did what they could to forget him, would not look towards him, but looked another way; they went from him as fast and as far as they could; but in the time of their trouble they will find no satisfaction but in applying to him; then they will say, Arise, and save us. Their fathers had many a time taken this shame to themselves (Jdg. 3:9; 4:3; 10:10), yet they would not be persuaded to cleave to God, that they might come to him in their trouble with the more confidence. (2.) That they have no relief from the gods they have made their court to. They will be ashamed when they perceive that the gods they have made cannot serve them, and that the God who made them will not serve them. To bring them to this shame, if so be they might hereby be brought to repentance, they are here sent to the gods whom they served, Jdg. 10:14. They cried to God, Arise, and save us. God says of the idols, “Let them arise, and save thee, for thou hast no reason to expect that I should Let them arise, if they can, from the places where they are fixed; let them try whether they can save thee: but thou wilt be ashamed when thou findest that they can do thee no good, for, though thou hadst a god for every city, yet thy cities are burnt without inhabitant,” Jer. 2:15. Thus it is the folly of sinners to please themselves with that which will certainly be their grief, and pride themselves in that which will certainly be their shame.