The prophet here goes on in the same strain, aiming to bring a sinful people to repentance, that their destruction might be prevented.
I. He avers the truth of the charge. It was evident beyond contradiction; it was the greatest absurdity imaginable in them to think of denying it (Jer. 2:29): “Wherefore will you plead with me, and put me upon the proof of it, or wherefore will you go about to plead any thing in excuse of the crime or to obtain a mitigation of the sentence? Your plea will certainly be overruled, and judgment given against you: you know you have all transgressed, one as well as another; why then to you quarrel with me for contending with you?”
II. He heightens it from the consideration both of their incorrigibleness and of their ingratitude. 1. They had not been wrought upon by the judgments of God which they had been under (Jer. 2:30): In vain have I smitten your children, that is, the children or people of Judah. They had been under divine rebukes of many kinds. God therein designed to bring them to repentance; but it was in vain. They did not answer God’s end in afflicting them; their consciences were not awakened, nor their hearts softened and humbled, nor were they driven to seek unto God; they received no instruction by the correction, were not made the better by it; and it is a great loss thus to lose an affliction. They did not receive, they did not submit to, or comply with, the correction, but their hearts fretted against the Lord, and so they were smitten in vain. Even the children, the young people, among them (so it may be taken), were smitten in vain; they were so soon prejudiced against repentance that they were as untractable as the old ones that had been long accustomed to do evil. 2. They had not been wrought upon by the word of God which he had sent them in the mouth of his servants the prophets; nay, they had killed the messengers for the sake of the message: “Your own sword has devoured your prophets like a destroying lion; you have put them to death for their faithfulness with as much rage and fury, and with as much greediness and pleasure, as a lion devours his prey.” Their prophets, who were their greatest blessings, were treated by them as if they had been the plagues of their generation, and this was their measure-filling sin, 2 Chron. 36:16. They killed their own prophets, 1 Thess. 2:15. 3. They had not been wrought upon by the favours God had bestowed upon them (Jer. 2:31): “O generation!” (he does not call them, as he might, O faithless and perverse generation! O generation of vipers! but speaks gently, O you men of this generation!) “see the word of the Lord, do not only hear it, but consider it diligently, apply your minds closely to it.” As we are bidden to hear the rod (Mic. 6:9), for that has its voice, so we are bidden to see the word, for that has its visions, its views. It intimates that what is here said is plain and undeniable; you may see it to be very evident; it is written as with a sun-beam, so that he that runs may read it: Have I been a wilderness to Israel, a land of darkness. Note, None of those who have had any dealings with God ever had reason to complain of him as a wilderness or a land of darkness. He has blessed us with the fruits of the earth, and therefore we cannot say that he has been a wilderness to us, a dry and barren land, that (as Mr. Gataker expresses it) he has held us to hard meat, as cattle fed upon the common. No; his sheep have been led into green pastures. He has also blessed us with the lights of heaven, and has not withheld them, so that we cannot say, He has been to us a land of darkness. He has caused his sun to shine, as well as his rain to fall, upon the evil and unthankful. Or the meaning is, in general, that the service of God has not been to any either an unpleasant or an unprofitable service. God sometimes has led his people through a wilderness and a land of darkness, but he himself was then to them all that which they needed; he so fed them with manna, and led them by a pillar of fire, that it was to them a fruitful field and a land of light. The world is, to those who make it their home and their portion, a wilderness and a land of darkness, vanity and vexation of spirit; but those that dwell in God have the lines fallen to them in pleasant places. 4. Instead of being wrought upon by these, they had grown intolerably insolent and imperious. They say, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee. Now that they had become a potent kingdom, or thought themselves such, they set up for themselves, and shook off their dependence upon God. This is the language of presumptuous sinners, and it is not only very impious and profane, but very unreasonable and foolish. (1.) It is absurd for us who are subjects to say, We are lords (that is, rulers) and we will come no more to God to receive commands form him; for, as he is King of old, so he is King for ever, and we can never pretend to be from under his authority. (2.) It is absurd for us who are beggars to say, We are lords, that is, We are rich, and we will come no more to God, to receive favours from him, as if we could live without him and need not be beholden to him. God justly takes it ill when those to whom he has been a bountiful benefactor care not either for hearing from him or speaking to him.
III. He lays the blame of all their wickedness upon their forgetting God (Jer. 2:32): They have forgotten me; they have industriously banished the thoughts of God out of their minds, jostled those thoughts out with thoughts of their idols, and avoided all those things that would put them in mind of God. 1. Though they were his own people, in covenant with him and professing relation to him, and had the tokens of his presence in the midst of them and of his favour to them, yet they forgot him. 2. They had long neglected him, days without number, time out of mind, as we say. They had not for a great while entertained any serious thoughts of him; so that they seem quite to have forgotten him, and resolved never to remember him again. How many days of our lives have passed without suitable remembrance of God! Who can number those empty days? 3. They had not had such a regard and affection to him as young ladies generally have to their fine clothes: Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? No; their hearts are upon them; they value them so much, and themselves upon them, that they are ever and anon thinking and speaking of them. When they are to appear in public they do not forget any of their ornaments, but put every one in its place, as they are described, Isa. 3:18 And yet my people have forgotten me. It is sad that any should be more in love with their fine clothes than with their God, and should rather leave their religion behind them, or part with that, than leave any of their ornaments behind them, or part with them. Isa. not God our ornament? Isa. he not a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to his people? Did we look upon him to be so, and upon our religion as an ornament of grace to our head and chains about our neck (Prov. 1:9), we should be as mindful of them as ever any maid was of her ornaments, or a bride of her attire, we should be as careful to preserve them and as fond to appear in them.
IV. He shows them what a bad influence their sins had had upon others. The sins of God’s professing people harden and encourage those about them in their evil ways, especially when they appear forward and ringleaders in sin (Jer. 2:33): Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? There is an allusion here to the practice of lewd women who strive to recommend themselves by their ogling looks and gay dress, as Jezebel, who painted her face and tired her head. Thus had they courted their neighbours into sinful confederacies with them and communion in their idolatries, and had taught the wicked ones their ways, their ways of mixing God’s institutions with their idolatrous customs and usages, which was a great profanation of that which was sacred and made the ways of their idolatry worse than that of others. Those have a great deal to answer for who, by their fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, make wicked ones more wicked than otherwise they would be.
V. He charges them with the guilt of murder added to the guilt of their idolatry (Jer. 2:34): Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls, the life-blood of the poor innocents, which cried to heaven, and for which God was now making inquisition. The reference is to the children that were offered in sacrifice to Moloch; or it may be taken more generally for all the innocent blood which Manasseh shed, and with which he had filled Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 21:16), the righteous blood, especially the blood of the prophets and others that witnessed against their impieties. This blood was found not by secret search, not by diggings (so the word is), but upon all these; it was above ground. This intimates that the guilt of this kind which they had contracted was certain and evident, not doubtful or which would bear a dispute; and that it was avowed and barefaced, and which they had not so much sense either of shame or fear as to endeavour to conceal, which was a great aggravation of it.
VI. He overrules their plea of, Not guilty. Though this matter be so plain, yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me; and again, Thou sayest, I have not sinned (Jer. 2:35); therefore I will plead with thee, and will convince thee of thy mistake. Because they deny the charge, and stand upon their own justification, therefore God will join issue with them and plead with them, both by his word and by his rod. Those shall be made to know how much they deceive themselves, 1. Who say that they have not offended God, that they are innocent, though they have been guilty of the grossest enormities. 2. Who expect that God will be reconciled to them though they do not repent and reform. They own that they had been under the tokens of God’s anger, but they think that it was causeless, and that they by pleading innocency had proved it to be so, and therefore they conclude that God will immediately let fall his action and his anger shall be turned from them. This is very provoking, and God will plead with them, and convince them that his anger is just, for they have sinned, and he will never cease his controversy till they, instead of justifying themselves thus, humble, and judge, and condemn themselves.
VII. He upbraids them with the shameful disappointments they met with, in making creatures their confidence, while they made God their enemy, Jer. 2:36, 37. It was a piece of spiritual idolatry they were often guilty of that they trusted in an arm of flesh and their hearts therein departed from the Lord. Now here he shows them the folly of it. 1. They were restless, and unsatisfied in the choice of their confidences: “Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? Doubtless it is because thou meetest not with that in those thou didst confide in which thou promisedst thyself.” Those that make God their hope, and walk in a continual dependence upon him, need not gad about to change their way; for their souls may return to him, and repose in him, as their rest: but those that trust in creatures will be perpetually uneasy, like Noah’s dove, that found no rest for the sole of her foot. Every thing they trust to fails them, and then they think to change for the better, but they will be still disappointed. They first trusted to Assyria, and, when that proved a broken reed, they depended upon Egypt, and that proved no better. Creatures being vanity, they will be vexation of spirit to all those that put their confidence in them; they gad about, seeking rest and finding none. 2. They were quite disappointed in the confidences they made choice of; so the prophet tells them they should be: Thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt, which thou now trustest in, as formerly thou wast of Assyria, who distressed them and helped them not, 2 Chron. 28:20. The Jews were a peculiar people in their profession of religion, and for that reason none of the neighbouring nations cared for them, nor could heartily love them; and yet the Jews were still courting them, and confiding in them, and were well enough served when deceived by them. See what will come of it (Jer. 2:37): Thou shalt go forth from him, thy ambassadors or envoys shall return from Egypt re infectâ—disappointed, and therefore with their hands upon their heads, lamenting the desperate condition of their people. Or, Thou shalt go forth hence, that is, into captivity in a strange land, with thy hands upon thy head, holding it because it aches (ubi dolor ibi digitus—where the pain is the finger will be applied), or as people ashamed, for Tamar, in the height of her confusion, laid her hand on her head, 2 Sam. 13:19. “And Egypt, that thou reliest on, shall not be able to prevent it nor to rescue thee out of captivity.” Those that will not lay their hand on their heart in godly sorrow, which works life, shall be made to lay their hand on their head in the sorrow of the world, which works death. And no wonder that Egypt cannot help them, when God will not, If the Lord do not help thee, whence should I? The Egyptians are broken reeds, for the Lord has rejected thy confidences; he will not make use of them for thy relief, will neither so far honour them, nor so far give countenance to thy confidence in them, as to appoint them to be the instruments of any good to thee, and therefore thou shalt not prosper in them; they shall not stand thee in any stead nor give thee any satisfaction. As there is no counsel or wisdom that can prevail against the Lord, so there is none that can prevail without him. Some read it, The Lord has rejected thee for thy confidences; because thou hast dealt so unfaithfully with him as to trust in his creatures, nay, in his enemies when thou shouldst have trusted in him only, he has abandoned thee to that destruction from which thou thoughtest thus to shelter thyself; and then thou canst not prosper, for none ever either hardened himself against God or estranged himself from God and prospered.