Pashur’s doom was to be a terror to himself; Jeremiah, even now, in this hour of temptation, is far from being so; and yet it cannot be denied but that he is here, through the infirmity of the flesh, strangely agitated within himself. Good men are but men at the best. God is not extreme to mark what they say and do amiss, and therefore we must not be so, but make the best of it. In these verses it appears that, upon occasion of the great indignation and injury that Pashur did to Jeremiah, there was a struggle in his breast between his graces and his corruptions. His discourse with himself and with his God, upon this occasion, was somewhat perplexed; let us try to methodize it.
I. Here is a sad representation of the wrong that was done him and the affronts that were put upon him; and this representation, no doubt, was according to truth, and deserves no blame, but was very justly and very fitly made to him that sent him, and no doubt would bear him out. He complains,
1. That he was ridiculed and laughed at; they made a jest of every thing he said and did; and this cannot but be a great grievance to an ingenuous mind (Jer. 20:7, 8): I am in derision; I am mocked. They played upon him, and made themselves and one another merry with him, as if he had been a fool, good for nothing but to make sport. Thus he was continually: I was in derision daily. Thus he was universally: Every one mocks me; the greatest so far forget their own gravity, and the meanest so far forget mine. Thus our Lord Jesus, on the cross, was reviled both by priests and people; and the revilings of each had their peculiar aggravation. And what was it that thus exposed him to contempt and scorn? It was nothing but his faithful and zealous discharge of the duty of his office, Jer. 20:8. They could find nothing for which to deride him but his preaching; it was the word of the Lord that was made a reproach. That for which they should have honoured and respected him—that he was entrusted to deliver the word of the Lord to them was the very thing for which they reproached and reviled him. He never preached a sermon, but, though he kept as closely as possible to his instructions, they found something or other in it for which to banter and abuse him. Note, It is sad to think that, though divine revelation be one of the greatest blessings and honours that ever was bestowed upon the world, yet it has been turned very much to the reproach of the most zealous preachers and believers of it. Two things they derided him for:—(1.) The manner of his preaching: Since he spoke, he cried out. He had always been a lively affectionate preacher, and since he began to speak in God’s name he always spoke as a man in earnest; he cried aloud and did not spare, spared neither himself nor those to whom he preached; and this was enough for those to laugh at who hated to be serious. It is common for those that are unaffected with and disaffected to, the things of God themselves, to ridicule those that are much affected with them. Lively preachers are the scorn of careless unbelieving hearers. (2.) The matter of his preaching: He cried violence and spoil. He reproved them for the violence and spoil which they were guilty of towards one another; and he prophesied of the violence and spoil which should be brought upon them as the punishment of that sin; for the former they ridiculed him as over-precise, for the latter as over-credulous; in both he was provoking to them, and therefore they resolved to run him down. This was bad enough, yet he complains further.
2. That he was plotted against and his ruin contrived; he was not only ridiculed as a weak man, but reproached and misrepresented as a bad man and dangerous to the government. This he laments as his grievance, Jer. 20:10. Being laughed at, though it touches a man in point of honour, is yet a thing that may be easily laughed at again; for, as it has been well observed, it is no shame to be laughed at, but to deserve to be so. But there were those that acted a more spiteful part, and with more subtlety. (1.) They spoke ill of him behind his back, when he had no opportunity of clearing himself, and were industrious to spread false reports concerning him: I heard, at second hand, the defaming of many, fear on every side (of many Magor-missabibs, so some read it), of many such men as Pashur was, and who may therefore expect his doom. Or this was the matter of their defamation; they represented Jeremiah as a man that instilled fears and jealousies on every side into the minds of the people, and so made them uneasy under the government, and disposed them to a rebellion. Or he perceived them to be so malicious against him that he could not but be afraid on every side; wherever he was he had reason to fear informers; so that they made him almost a Magor-missabib. These words are found in the original, verbatim, the same, Ps. 31:13; I have heard the slander or defaming of many, fear on every side. Jeremiah, in his complaint, chooses to make use of the same words that David had made use of before him, that it might be a comfort to him to think that other good men had suffered similar abuses before him, and to teach us to make use of David’s psalms with application to ourselves, as there is occasion. Whatever we have to say, we may thence take with us words. See how Jeremiah’s enemies contrived the matter: Report, say they, and we will report it. They resolve to cast an odium upon him, and this is the method they take: “Let some very bad thing be said of him, which may render him obnoxious to the government, and, though it be ever so false, we will second it, and spread it, and add to it.” (For the reproaches of good men lose nothing by the carriage.) “Do you that frame a story plausibly, or you that can pretend to some acquaintance with him, report it once, and we will all report it from you, in all companies, that we come into. Do you say it, and we will swear it; do you set it a going, and we will follow it.” And thus both are equally guilty, those that raise and those that propagate the false report. The receiver is as bad as the thief. (2.) They flattered him to his face, that they might get something from him on which to ground an accusation, as the spies that came to Christ feigning themselves to be just men, Luke 20:20; Luke 11:53, 54. His familiars, that he conversed freely with and put a confidence in, watched for his halting, observed what he said, which they could by any strained innuendo put a bad construction upon, and carried it to his enemies. His case was very sad when those betrayed him whom he took to be his friends. They said among themselves, “If we accost him kindly, and insinuate ourselves into his acquaintance, per-adventure he will be enticed to own that he is in confederacy with the enemy and a pensioner to the king of Babylon, or we shall wheedle him to speak some treasonable words; and then we shall prevail against him, and take our revenge upon him for telling us of our faults and threatening us with the judgments of God.” Note, Neither the innocence of the dove, no, nor the prudence of the serpent to help it, can secure men from unjust censure and false accusation.
II. Here is an account of the temptation he was in under this affliction; his feet were almost gone, as the psalmist’s, Ps. 73:2. And this is that which is most to be dreaded in affliction, being driven by it to sin, Neh. 6:13. 1. He was tempted to quarrel with God for making him a prophet. This he begins with (Jer. 20:7): O Lord! thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived. This as we read it, sounds very harshly. God’s servants have been always ready to own that he is a faithful Master and never cheated them; and therefore this is the language of Jeremiah’s folly and corruption. If, when God called him to be a prophet and told him he would set him over the kingdoms (Jer. 1:10) and make him a defenced city, he flattered himself with an expectation of having universal respect paid to him as a messenger from heaven, and living safe and easy, and afterwards it proved otherwise, he must not say that God had deceived him, but that he had deceived himself; for he knew how the prophets before him had been persecuted, and had no reason to expect better treatment. Nay, God had expressly told him that all the princes, priests, and people of the land would fight against him (Jer. 1:18, 19), which he had forgotten, else he would not have laid the blame on God thus. Christ thus told his disciples what opposition they should meet with, that they might not be offended, John 16:1, 2. But the words may very well be read thus: Thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded; it is the same word that was used, Gen. 9:27; margin, God shall persuade Japhet. And Prov. 25:15; By much forbearance is a prince persuaded. And Hos. 2:14; I will allure her. And this agrees best with what follows: “Thou wast stronger than I, didst over-persuade me with argument; nay, didst overpower me, by the influence of thy Spirit upon me, and thou hast prevailed.” Jeremiah was very backward to undertake the prophetic office; he pleaded that he was under age and unfit for the service; but God over-ruled his pleas, and told him that he must go, Jer. 1:6, 7. “Now, Lord,” says he, “since thou hast put this office upon me, why dost thou not stand by me in it? Had I thrust myself upon it, I might justly have been in derision; but why am I so when thou didst thrust me into it?” It was Jeremiah’s infirmity to complain thus of God as putting a hardship upon him in calling him to be a prophet, which he would not have done had he considered the lasting honour thereby done him, sufficient to counterbalance the present contempt he was under. Note, As long as we see ourselves in the way of God and duty it is weakness and folly, when we meet with difficulties and discouragements in it, to wish we had never set out in it. 2. He was tempted to quit his work and give it over, partly because he himself met with so much hardship in it and partly because those to whom he was sent, instead of being edified and made better, were exasperated and made worse (Jer. 20:9): “Then I said, Since by prophesying in the name of the Lord I gain nothing to him or myself but dishonour and disgrace, I will not make mention of him as my author for any thing I say, nor speak any more in his name; since my enemies do all they can to silence me, I will even silence myself, and speak no more, for I may as well speak to the stones as to them.” Note, It is a strong temptation to poor ministers to resolve that they will preach no more when they see their preaching slighted and wholly ineffectual. But let people dread putting their ministers into this temptation. Let not their labour be in vain with us, lest we provoke them to say that they will take no more pains with us, and provoke God to say, They shall take no more. Yet let not ministers hearken to this temptation, but go on in their duty, notwithstanding their discouragements, for this is the more thankworthy; and, though Israel be not gathered, yet they shall be glorious.
III. Here is an account of his faithful adherence to his work and cheerful dependence on his God notwithstanding.
1. He found the grace of God mighty in him to keep him to this business, notwithstanding the temptation he was in t 4242 o throw it up: “I said, in my haste, I will speak no more in his name; what I have in my heart to deliver I will stifle and suppress. But I soon found it was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, which glowed inwardly, and must have vent; it was impossible to smother it; I was like a man in a burning fever, uneasy and in a continual agitation; while I kept silence from good my heart was hot within me, it was pain and grief to me, and I must speak, that I might be refreshed;” Ps. 29:2, 3; Job 32:20. While I kept silence, my bones waxed old, Ps. 32:3. See the power of the spirit of prophecy in those that were actuated by it; and thus will a holy zeal for God even eat men up, and make them forget themselves. I believed, therefore have I spoken. Jeremiah was soon weary with forbearing to preach, and could not contain himself; nothing puts faithful ministers to pain so much as being silenced, nor to terror so much as silencing themselves. Their convictions will soon triumph over temptations of that kind; for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel, whatever it cost me, 1 Cor. 9:16. And it is really a mercy to have the word of God thus mighty in us to overpower our corruptions.
2. He was assured of God’s presence with him, which would be sufficient to baffle all the attempts of his enemies against him (Jer. 20:11): “They say, We shall prevail against him; the day will undoubtedly be our own. But I am sure that they shall not prevail, they shall not prosper. I can safely set them all at defiance, for the Lord is with me, is on my side, to take my part against them (Rom. 8:31), to protect me from all their malicious designs upon me. He is with me to support me and bear me up under the burden which now presses me down. He is with me to make the word I preach answer the end he designs, though not the end I desire. He is with me as a mighty terrible one, to strike a terror upon them, and so to overcome them.” Note, Even that in God which is terrible is really comfortable to his servants that trust in him, for it shall be turned against those that seek to terrify his people. God’s being a mighty God bespeaks him a terrible God to all those that take up arms against him or any one that, like Jeremiah, was commissioned by him. How terrible will the wrath of God be to those that think to daunt all about them and will themselves be daunted by nothing! The most formidable enemies that act against us appear despicable when we see the Lord for us as a mighty terrible one, Neh. 4:14. Jeremiah speaks now with a good assurance: “If the Lord be with me, my persecutors shall stumble, so that, when they pursue me, they shall not overtake me (Ps. 27:2), and then they shall be greatly ashamed of their impotent malice and fruitless attempts. Nay, their everlasting confusion and infamy shall never be forgotten; they shall not forget it themselves, but it shall be to them a constant and lasting vexation, whenever they think of it; others shall not forget it, but it shall leave upon them an indelible reproach.”
3. He appeals to God against them as a righteous Judge, and prays judgment upon his cause, Jer. 20:12. He looks upon God as the God that tries the righteous, takes cognizance of them, and of every cause that they are interested in. He does not judge in favour of them with partiality, but tries them, and finding that they have right on their side, and that their persecutors wrong them and are injurious to them, he gives sentence for them. He that tries the righteous tries the unrighteous too, and he is very well qualified to do both; for he sees the reins and the heart, he certainly knows men’s thoughts and affections, their aims and intentions, and therefore can pass an unerring judgment on their words and actions. Now this is the God, (1.) To whom the prophet here refers himself, and in whose court he lodges his appeal: Unto thee have I opened my cause. Not but that God perfectly knew his cause, and all the merits of it, without his opening; but the cause we commit to God we must spread before him. He knows it, but he will know it from us, and allows us to be particular in the opening of it, not to affect him, but to affect ourselves. Note, It will be an ease to our spirits, when we are oppressed and burdened, to open our cause to God and pour out our complaints before him. (2.) By whom he expects to be righted; “Let me see thy vengeance on them, such vengeance as thou thinkest fit to take for their conviction and my vindication, the vengeance thou usest to take on persecutors.” Note, Whatever injuries are done us, we must not study to avenge ourselves, but must leave it to that God to do it to whom vengeance belongs, and who hath said, I will repay.
4. He greatly rejoices and praises God, in a full confidence that God would appear for his deliverance, Jer. 20:13. So full is he of the comfort of God’s presence with him, the divine protection he is under, and the divine promise he has to depend upon, that in a transport of joy he stirs up himself and others to give God the glory of it: Sing unto the Lord, praise you the Lord. Here appears a great change with him since he began this discourse; the clouds are blown over, his complaints all silenced and turned into thanksgivings. He has now an entire confidence in that God whom (Jer. 20:7) he was distrusting; he stirs up himself to praise that name which (Jer. 20:9) he was resolving no more to make mention of. It was the lively exercise of faith that made this happy change, that turned his sighs into songs and his tremblings into triumphs. It is proper to express our hope in God by our praising him, and our praising God by our singing to him. That which is the matter of the praise is, He hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of the evil-doers; he means especially himself, his own poor soul. “He hath delivered me formerly when I was in distress, and now of late out of the hand of Pashur, and he will continue to deliver me, 2 Cor. 1:10. He will deliver my soul from the sin that I am in danger of falling into when I am thus persecuted. He hath delivered me from the hand of evil-doers, so that they have not gained their point, nor had their will.” Note, Those that are faithful in well-doing need not fear those that are spiteful in evil-doing, for they have a God to trust to who has well-doers under the hand of his protection and evil-doers under the hand of his restraint.