Here is, I. The acquitting of Jeremiah from the charge exhibited against him. He had indeed spoken the words as they were laid in the indictment, but they are not looked upon to be seditious or treasonable, ill-intended or of any bad tendency, and therefore the court and country agree to find him not guilty. The priests and prophets, notwithstanding his rational plea for himself, continued to demand judgment against him; but the princes, and all the people, are clear in it that this man is not worthy to die (Jer. 26:16); for (say they) he hath spoken to us, not of himself, but in the name of the Lord our God. And are they willing to own that he did indeed speak to them in the name of the Lord and that that Lord is their God? Why then did they not amend their ways and doings, and take the method he prescribed to prevent the ruin of their country? If they say, His prophecy is from heaven, it may justly be asked, Why did you not then believe him? Matt. 21:25. Note, It is a pity that those who are so far convinced of the divine original of gospel preaching as to protect it from the malice of others do not submit to the power and influence of it themselves.
II. A precedent quoted to justify them in acquitting Jeremiah. Some of the elders of the land, either the princes before mentioned or the more intelligent men of the people, stood up, and put the assembly in mind of a former case, as is usual with us in giving judgment; for the wisdom of our predecessors is a direction to us. The case referred to is that of Micah. We have extant the book of his prophecy among the minor prophets. 1. Was it thought strange that Jeremiah prophesied against this city and the temple? Micah did so before him, even in the reign of Hezekiah, that reign of reformation, Jer. 26:18. Micah said it as publicly as Jeremiah had now spoken to the same purport, Zion shall be ploughed like a field, the building shall be all destroyed, so that nothing shall hinder but it may be ploughed; Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the house on which the temple is built shall be as the high places of the forest, overrun with briers and thorns. That prophet not only spoke this, but wrote it, and left it on record; we find it, Mic. 3:12. By this it appears that a man may be, as Micah was, a true prophet of the Lord, and yet may prophesy the destruction of Zion and Jerusalem. When we threaten secure sinners with the taking away of the Spirit of God and the kingdom of God from them, and declining churches with the removal of the candlestick, we say no more than what has been said many a time, and what we have warrant from the word of God to say. 2. Was it thought fit by the princes to justify Jeremiah in what he had done? It was what Hezekiah did before them in a like case. Did Hezekiah, and the people of Judah (that is, the representatives of the people, the commons in parliament), did they complain of Micah the prophet? Did they impeach him, or make an act to silence him and put him to death? No; on the contrary, they took the warning he gave them. Hezekiah, that renowned prince, of blessed memory, set a good example before his successors, for he feared the Lord (Jer. 26:19), as Noah, who, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, was moved with fear. Micah’s preaching drove him to his knees; he besought the Lord to turn away the judgment threatened and to be reconciled to them, and he found it was not in vain to do so, for the Lord repented him of the evil and returned in mercy to them; he sent an angel, who routed the army of the Assyrians, that threatened to plough Zion like a field. Hezekiah got good by the preaching, and then you may be sure he would do no harm to the preacher. These elders conclude that it would be of dangerous consequence to the state if they should gratify the importunity of the priests and prophets in putting Jeremiah to death: Thus might we procure great evil against our souls. Note, It is good to deter ourselves from sin with the consideration of the mischief we shall certainly do to ourselves by it and the irreparable damage it will be to our own souls.
III. Here is an instance of another prophet that was put to death by Jehoiakim for prophesying as Jeremiah had done, Jer. 26:20 Some make this to be urged by the prosecutors, as a case that favoured the prosecution, a modern case, in which speaking such words as Jeremiah had spoken was adjudged treason. Others think that the elders, who were advocates for Jeremiah, alleged this to show that thus they might procure great evil against their souls, for it would be adding sin to sin. Jehoiakim, the present king, had slain one prophet already; let them not fill up the measure by slaying another. Hezekiah, who protected Micah, prospered; but did Jehoiakim prosper who slew Urijah? No; they all saw the contrary. As good examples, and the good consequences of them, should encourage us in that which is good, so the examples of bad men, and the bad consequences of them, should deter us from that which is evil. But some good interpreters take this narrative from the historian that penned the book, Jeremiah himself, or Baruch, who, to make Jeremiah’s deliverance by means of the princes the more wonderful, takes notice of this that happened about the same time; for both were in the reign of Jehoiakim, and this in the beginning of his reign, Jer. 26:1. Observe, 1. Urijah’s prophecy. It was against this city, and this land, according to all the words of Jeremiah. The prophets of the Lord agreed in their testimony, and one would have thought that out of the mouth of so many witnesses the word would be regarded. 2. The prosecution of him for it, Jer. 26:21. Jehoiakim and his courtiers were exasperated against him, and sought to put him to death; in this wicked design the king himself was principally concerned. 3. His absconding thereupon: When he heard that the king had become his enemy, and sought his life, he was afraid, and fled, and went in to Egypt. This was certainly his fault, and an effect of the weakness of his faith, and it sped accordingly. He distrusted God, and his power to protect him and bear him out; 12d0 he was too much under the power of that fear of man which brings a snare. It looked as if he durst not stand to what he had said or was ashamed of his Master. It was especially unbecoming him to flee into Egypt, and so in effect to abandon the land of Israel and to throw himself quite out of the way of being useful. Note, There are many that have much grace, but they have little courage, that are very honest, but withal very timorous. 4. His execution notwithstanding. Jehoiakim’s malice, one would think, might have contented itself with his banishment, and it might suffice to have driven him out of the country; but those are bloodthirsty that hate the upright, Prov. 29:10. It was the life, that precious life, that he hunted after, and nothing else would satisfy him. So implacable is his revenge that he sends a party of soldiers into Egypt, some hundreds of miles, and they bring him back by force of arms. It would not sufficiently gratify him to have him slain in Egypt, but he must feed his eyes with the bloody spectacle. They brought him to Jehoiakim, and he slew him with the sword, for aught I know with his own hands. Yet neither did this satisfy his insatiable malice, but he loads the dead body of the good man with infamy, would not allow it the decent respects usually and justly paid to the remains of men of distinction, but cast it into the graves of the common people, as if he had not been a prophet of the Lord; thus was the shield of Saul vilely cast away, as though he had not been anointed with oil. Thus Jehoiakim hoped both to ruin his reputation with the people, that no heed might be given to his predictions, and to deter others from prophesying in like manner; but in vain; Jeremiah says the same. There is no contending with the word of God. Herod thought he had gained his point when he had cut off John Baptist’s head, but found himself deceived when, soon after, he heard of Jesus Christ, and said, in a fright, This is John the Baptist.
IV. Here is Jeremiah’s deliverance. Though Urijah was lately put to death, and persecutors, when they have tasted the blood of saints, are apt to thirst after more (as Herod, Acts 12:2, 3), yet God wonderfully preserved Jeremiah, though he did not flee, as Urijah did, but stood his ground. Ordinary ministers may use ordinary means, provided they be lawful ones, for their own preservation; but those that had an extraordinary protection. God raised up a friend for Jeremiah, whose hand was with him; he took him by the hand in a friendly way, encouraged him, assisted him, appeared for him. It was Ahikam the son of Shaphan, one that was a minister of state in Josiah’s time; we read of him, 2 Kgs. 22:12. Some think Gedaliah was the son of this Ahikam. He had a great interest, it should seem, among the princes, and he used it in favour of Jeremiah, to prevent the further designs of the priests and prophets against him, who would have had him turned over into the hand of the people, not those people (Jer. 26:16) that had adjudged him innocent, but the rude and insolent mob, whom they could persuade by their cursed insinuations not only to cry, Crucify him, crucify him, but to stone him to death in a popular tumult; for perhaps Jehoiakim had been so reproached by his own conscience for slaying Urijah that they despaired of making him the tool of their malice. Note, God can, when he pleases, raise up great men to patronize good men; and it is an encouragement to us to trust him in the way of duty that he has all men’s hearts in his hands.