Here is, I. A very humble decent message which king Zedekiah, when he was in distress, sent to Jeremiah the prophet. It is indeed charged upon this Zedekiah that he humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet, speaking from the mouth of the Lord (2 Chron. 36:12); he did not always humble himself as he did sometimes; he never humbled himself till necessity forced him to it; he humbled himself so far as to desire the prophet’s assistance, but not so far as to take his advice, or to be ruled by him. Observe,
1. The distress which king Zedekiah was now in: Nebuchadrezzar made war upon him, not only invaded the land, but besieged the city, and had now actually invested it. Note, Those that put the evil day far from them will be the more terrified when it comes upon them; and those who before slighted God’s ministers may then perhaps be glad to court an acquaintance with them.
2. The messengers he sent—Pashur and Zephaniah, one belonging to the fifth course of the priests, the other to the twenty-fourth, 1 Chron. 24:9, 18. It was well that he sent, and that he sent persons of rank; but it would have been better if he had desired a personal conference with the prophet, which no doubt he might easily have had if he would so far have humbled himself. Perhaps these priests were no better than the rest, and yet, when they were commanded by the king, they must carry a respectful message to the prophet, which was both a mortification to them and an honour to Jeremiah. He had rashly said (Jer. 20:18), My days are consumed with shame; and yet here we find that he lived to see better days than those were when he made that complaint; now he appears in reputation. Note, It is folly to say, when things are bad with us, “They will always be so.” It is possible that those who are despised may come to be respected; and it is promised that those who honour God he will honour, and that those who have afflicted his people shall bow to them, Isa. 60:14.
3. The message itself: Enquire, I pray thee, of the Lord for us, Jer. 21:2. Now that the Chaldean army had got into their borders, into their bowels, they were at length convinced that Jeremiah was a true prophet, though loth to own it and brought too late to it. Under this conviction they desire him to stand their friend with God, believing him to have that interest in heaven which none of their other prophets had, who had flattered them with hopes of peace. They now employ Jeremiah, (1.) To consult the mind of God for them: “Enquire of the Lord for us; ask him what course we shall take in our present strait, for the measures we have hitherto taken are all broken.” Note, Those that will not take the direction of God’s grace how to get clear of their sins would yet be glad of the directions of his providence how to get clear of their troubles. (2.) To seek the favour of God for them (so some read it): “Entreat the Lord for us; be an intercessor for us with God.” Note, Those that slight the prayers of God’s people and ministers when they are in prosperity may perhaps be glad of an interest in them when they come to be in distress. Give us of your oil. The benefit they promise themselves is, It may be the Lord will deal with us now according to the wondrous works he wrought for our fathers, that the enemy may raise the siege and go up from us. Observe, [1.] All their care is to get rid of their trouble, not to make their peace with God and be reconciled to him—“That our enemy may go up from us,” not, “That our God may return to us.” Thus Pharaoh (Exod. 10:17): Entreat the Lord that he may take away this death. [2.] All their hope is that God had done wondrous works formerly in the deliverance of Jerusalem when Sennacherib besieged it, at the prayer of Isaiah (so we are told, 2 Chron. 32:20, 21), and who can tell but he may destroy these besiegers (as he did those) at the prayer of Jeremiah? But they did not consider how different the character of Zedekiah and his people was from that of Hezekiah and his people: those were days of general reformation and piety, these of general corruption and apostasy. Jerusalem is now the reverse of what it was then. Note, It is folly to think that God should do for us while we hold fast our iniquity as he did for those that held fast their integrity.
II. A very startling cutting reply which God, by the prophet, sent to that message. If Jeremiah had been to have answered the message of himself we have reason to think that he would have returned a comfortable answer, in hope that their sending such a message was an indication of some good purposes in them, which he would be glad to make the best of, for he did not desire the woeful day. But God knows their hearts better than Jeremiah does, and sends them an answer which has scarcely one word of comfort in it. He sends it to them in the name of the Lord God of Israel (Jer. 21:3), to intimate to them that though God allowed himself to be called the God of Israel, and had done great things for Israel formerly, and had still great things in store for Israel, pursuant to his covenants with them, yet this should stand the present generation in no stead, who were Israelites in name only, and not in deed, any more than God’s dealings with them should cut off his relation to Israel as their God. It is here foretold,
1. That God will render all their endeavours for their own security fruitless and ineffectual (Jer. 21:4): “I will be so far from teaching your hands to war, and putting an edge upon your swords, that I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hand, when you sally out upon the besiegers to beat them off, so that they shall not give the stroke you design; nay, they shall recoil into your own faces, and be turned upon yourselves.” Nothing can make for those who have God against them.
2. That the besiegers shall in a little time make themselves masters of Jerusalem, and of all its wealth and strength: I will assemble those in the midst of this city who are now surrounding it. Note, If that place which should have been a centre of devotion be made a centre of wickedness, it is not strange if God make it a rendezvous of destroyers.
3. That God himself will be their enemy; and then I know not who can befriend them, no, not Jeremiah himself (Jer. 21:5): “I will be so far from protecting you, as I have done formerly in a like case, that I myself will fight against you.” Note, Those who rebel against God may justly expect that he will make war upon them, and that, (1.) With the power of a God who is irresistibly victorious: I will fight against you with an outstretched hand, which will reach far, and with a strong arm, which will strike home and wound deeply. (2.) With the displeasure of a God who is indisputably righteous. It is not a correction in love, but an execution in anger, in fury, and in great wrath; it is upon a sentence sworn in wrath, against which there will lie no exception, and it will soon be found what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.
4. That those who, for their own safety, decline sallying out upon the besiegers, and so avoid their sword, shall yet not escape the sword of God’s justice (Jer. 21:6): I will smite those that abide in the city (so it may be read), both man and beast, both the beasts that are for food and those that are for service in war, foot and horse; they shall, die of a great pestilence, which shall rage within the walls, while the enemies are encamped about them. Though Jerusalem’s gates and walls may for a time keep out the Chaldeans, they cannot keep out God’s judgments. His arrows of pestilence can reach those that think themselves safe from other arrows.
5. That the king himself, and people that escape the sword, famine, and pestilence, shall fall into the hands of the Chaldeans, who shall cut them off in cold blood (Jer. 21:7): They shall not spare them, nor have pity on them. Let not those expect to find mercy with men who have forfeited God’s compassions, and shut themselves out from his mercy. Thus had the decree gone forth; and then to what purpose was it for Jeremiah to enquire of the Lord for them?