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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–6
Verses 1–6

Here is, I. Pashur’s unjust displeasure against Jeremiah, and the fruits of that displeasure, Jer. 20:1, 2. This Pashur was a priest, and therefore, one would think, should have protected Jeremiah, who was of his own order, a priest too, and the more because he was a prophet of the Lord, whose interests the priests, his ministers, ought to consult. But this priest was a persecutor of him whom he should have patronized. He was the son of Immer; that is, he was of the sixteenth course of the priests, of which Immer, when these courses were first settled by David, was father (1 Chron. 24:14), as Zechariah was of the order of Abiah, Luke 1:5. Thus this Pashur is distinguished from another of the same name mentioned Jer. 21:1; who was of the fifth course. This Pashur was chief governor in the temple; perhaps he was only so pro tempore—for a short period, the course he was head of being now in waiting, or he was suffragan to the high priest, or perhaps captain of the temple or of the guards about it. Acts 4:1. This was Jeremiah’s great enemy. The greatest malignity to God’s prophets was found among those that professed sanctity and concern for God and the church. We cannot suppose that Pashur was one of those ancients of the priests that went with Jeremiah to the valley of Tophet to hear him prophesy, unless it were with a malicious design to take advantage against him; but, when he came into the courts of the Lord’s house, it is probable that he was himself a witness of what he said, and so it may be read (Jer. 20:1), He heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. As we read it, the information was brought to him by others, whose examinations he took: He heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things, and could not bear it, especially that he should dare to preach in the courts of the Lord’s house, where he was chief governor, without his leave. When power in the church is abused, it is the most dangerous power that can be employed against it. Being incensed at Jeremiah, 1. He smote him, struck him with his hand or staff of authority. Perhaps it was a blow intended only to disgrace him, like that which the high priest ordered to be given to Paul (Acts 23:2), he struck him on the mouth, and bade him hold his prating. Or perhaps he gave him many blows intended to hurt him; he beat him severely, as a malefactor. It is charged upon the husbandmen (Matt. 21:35) that they beat the servants. The method of proceeding here was illegal; the high priest, and the rest of the priests, ought to have been consulted, Jeremiah’s credentials examined, and the matter enquired into, whether he had an authority to say what he said. But these rules of justice are set aside and despised, as mere formalities; right or wrong, Jeremiah must be run down. The enemies of piety would never suffer themselves to be bound by the laws of equity. 2. He put him in the stocks. Some make it only a place of confinement; he imprisoned him. It rather seems to be an instrument of closer restraint, and intended to put him both to pain and shame. Some think it was a pillory for his neck and arms; others (as we) a pair of stocks for his legs: whatever engine it was, he continued in it all night, and in a public place too, in the high gate of Benjamin, which was in, or by, the house of the Lord, probably a gate through which they passed between the city and the temple. Pashur intended thus to chastise him, that he might deter him from prophesying; and thus to expose him to contempt and render him odious, that he might not be regarded if he did prophesy. Thus have the best men met with the worst treatment from this ungracious ungrateful world; and the greatest blessings of their age have been counted as the off-scouring of all things. Would it not raise a pious indignation to see such a man as Pashur upon the bench and such a man as Jeremiah in the stocks? It is well that there is another life after this, when persons and things will appear with another face.

II. God’s just displeasure against Pashur, and the tokens of it. On the morrow Pashur gave Jeremiah his discharge, brought him out of the stocks (Jer. 20:3); it is probable that he continued him there, in little-ease, as long as was usual to continue any in that punishment. And now Jeremiah has a message from God to him. We do not find that, when Pashur put Jeremiah in the stocks, the latter gave him any check for which he did; he appears to have quietly and silently submitted to the abuse; when he suffered, he threatened not. But, when he brought him out of the stocks, then God put a word into the prophet’s mouth, which would awaken his conscience, if he had any. For, when the prophet of the Lord was bound, the word of the Lord was not. What can we think Pashur aimed at in smiting and abusing Jeremiah? Whatever it is, we shall see by what God says to him that he is disappointed.

1. Did he aim to establish himself, and make himself easy, by silencing one that told him of his faults and would be likely to lessen his reputation with the people? He shall not gain this point; for, (1.) Though the prophet should be silent, his own conscience shall fly in his face and make him always uneasy. To confirm this he shall have a name given him, Magor-missabib—Terror round about, or Fear on every side. God himself shall give him this name, whose calling him so will make him so. It seems to be a proverbial expression, bespeaking a man not only in distress but in despair, not only in danger on every side (that a man may be and yet by faith may be in no terror, as David, Ps. 3:6; 27:3), but in fear on every side, and that a man may be when there appears no danger. The wicked flee when no man pursues, are in great fear where no fear is. This shall be Pashur’s case (Jer. 20:4): “Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself; that is, thou shalt be subject to continual frights, and thy own fancy and imagination shall create thee a constant uneasiness.” Note, God can make the most daring sinner a terror to himself, and will find out a way to frighten those that frighten his people from doing their duty. And those that will not hear of their faults from God’s prophets, that are reprovers in the gate, shall be made to hear of them from conscience, which is a reprover in their own bosoms that will not be daunted nor silenced. And miserable is the man that is thus made a terror to himself. Yet this is not all; some are very much a terror to themselves, but they conceal it and seem to others to be pleasant; but, “I will make thee a terror to all thy friends; thou shalt, upon all occasions, express thyself with so much horror and amazement that all thy friends shall be afraid of conversing with thee and shall choose to stand aloof from thy torment.” Persons in deep melancholy and distraction are a terror to themselves and all about them, which is a good reason why we should be very thankful, so long as God continues to us the use of our reason and the peace of our consciences. (2.) His friends, whom he put a confidence in and perhaps studied to oblige in what he did against Jeremiah, shall all fail him. God does not presently strike him dead for what he did against Jeremiah, but lets him live miserably, like Cain in the land of shaking, in such a continual consternation that wherever he goes he shall be a monument of divine justice; and, when it is asked, “What makes this man in such a continual terror?” it shall be answered, “It is God’s hand upon him for putting Jeremiah in the stocks.” His friends, who should encourage him, shall all be cut off; they shall fall by the sword of the enemy, and his eyes shall behold it, which dreadful sight shall increase his terror. (3.) He shall find, in the issue, that his terror is not causeless, but that divine vengeance is waiting for him (Jer. 20:6); he and his family shall go into captivity, even to Babylon; he shall neither die before the evil comes, as Josiah, nor live to survive it, as some did, but he shall die a captive, and shall in effect be buried in his chains, he and all his friends. Thus far is the doom of Pashur. Let persecutors read it, and tremble; tremble to repentance before they be made to tremble to their ruin.

2. Did he aim to keep the people easy, to prevent the destruction that Jeremiah prophesied of, and by sinking his reputation to make his words fall to the ground? It is probable that he did; for it appears by Jer. 20:6 that he did himself set up for a prophet, and told the people that they should have peace. He prophesied lies to them; and because Jeremiah’s prophecy contradicted his, and tended to awaken those whom he endeavoured to rock asleep in their sins, therefore he set himself against him. But could he gain his point? No; Jeremiah stands to what he has said against Judah and Jerusalem, and God by his mouth repeats it. Men get nothing by silencing those who reprove and warn them, for the word will have its course; so it had here. (1.) The country shall be ruined (Jer. 20:4): I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. It had long been God’s own land, but he will now transfer his title to it to Nebuchadnezzar, he shall be master of the country and dispose of the inhabitants so me to the sword and some to captivity, as he pleases, but none shall escape him. (2.) The city shall be ruined too, Jer. 20:5. The king of Babylon shall spoil that, and carry all that is valuable in it to Babylon. [1.] He shall seize their magazines and military stores (here called the strength of this city) and turn them against them. These they trusted to as their strength; but what stead could they stand them in when they had thrown themselves out of God’s protection, and when he who was indeed their strength had departed from them? [2.] He shall carry off all their stock in trade, their wares and merchandises, here called their labours, because it was what they laboured about and got by their labour. [3.] He shall plunder their fine houses, and take away their rich furniture, here called their precious things, because they valued them and set their hearts so much upon them. Happy are those who have secured to themselves precious things in God’s precious promises, which are out of the reach of soldiers. [4.] He shall rifle the exchequer, and take away the jewels of the crown and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. This was that instance of the calamity which was first of all threatened to Hezekiah long ago as his punishment for showing his treasures to the king of Babylon’s ambassadors, Isa. 39:6. The treasury, they thought, was their defence; but that betrayed them, and became an easy prey to the enemy.