One would have hoped that such a sermon as that in the Jer. 26:1-6, so plain and practical, so rational and pathetic, and delivered in God’s name, would work upon even this people, especially meeting them now at their devotions, and would prevail with them to repent and reform; but, instead of awakening their convictions, it did but exasperate their corruptions, as appears by this account of the effect of it.
I. Jeremiah is charged with it as a crime that he had preached such a sermon, and is apprehended for it as a criminal. The priests, and false prophets, and people, heard him speak these words, Jer. 26:7. They had patience, it seems, to hear him out, did not disturb him when he was preaching, nor give him any interruption till he had made an end of speaking all that the Lord commanded him to speak, Jer. 26:8. So far they dealt more fairly with him than some of the persecutors of God’s ministers have done; they let him say all he had to say, and yet perhaps with a bad design, in hopes to have something worse yet to lay to his charge; but, having no worse, this shall suffice to ground an indictment upon: He hath said, This house shall be like Shiloh, Jer. 26:9. See how unfair they are in representing his words. He had said, in God’s name, If you will not hearken to me, then will I make this house like Shiloh; but they leave out God’s hand in the desolation (I will make it so) and their own hand in it in not hearkening to the voice of God, and charge it upon him that he blasphemed this holy place, the crime charged both on our Lord Jesus and on Stephen: He said, This house shall be like Shiloh. Well might he complain, as David does (Ps. 56:5), Every day they wrest my words; and we must not think it strange if we, and what we say and do, be thus misrepresented. When the accusation was so weakly grounded, no marvel that the sentence passed upon it was unjust: Thou shalt surely die. What he had said agreed with what God had said when he took possession of the temple (1 Kgs. 9:6-8), If you shall at all turn from following after me, then this house shall be abandoned; and yet he is condemned to die for saying it. It is not out of any concern for the honour of the temple that they appear thus warm, but because they are resolved not to part with their sins, in which they flatter themselves with a conceit that the temple of the Lord will protect them; therefore, right or wrong, Thou shalt surely die. This outcry of the priests and prophets raised the mob, and all the people were gathered together against Jeremiah in a popular tumult, ready to pull him to pieces, were gathered about him (so some read it); they flocked together, some crying one thing and some another. The people that were at first present were hot against him (Jer. 26:8), but their clamours drew more together, only to see what the matter was.
II. He is arraigned and indicted for it before the highest court of judicature they had. Here, 1. The princes of Judah were his judges, Jer. 26:10. Those that filled the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David, the elders of Israel, they, hearing of this tumult in the temple, came up from the king’s house, where they usually sat near the court, to the house of the Lord, to enquire into this matter, and to see that nothing was done disorderly. They sat down in the entry of the new gate of the Lord’s house, and held a court, as it were, by a special commission of Oyer and Terminer. 2. The priests and prophets were his prosecutors and accusers, and were violently set against him. They appealed to the princes, and to all the people, to the court and the jury, whether this man were not worthy to die, Jer. 26:11. The corrupt priests and counterfeit prophets have always been the most bitter enemies of the prophets of the Lord; they had ends of their own to serve, which they thought such preaching as this would be an obstruction to. When Jeremiah prophesied in the house of the king concerning the fall of the royal family (Jer. 22:1), the court, though very corrupt, bore it patiently, and we do not find that they persecuted him for it; but when he comes into the house of the Lord, and touches the copyhold of the priests, and contradicts the lies and flatteries of the false prophets, then he is adjudged worthy to die. For the prophets prophesied falsely, and the priests bore rule by their means, Jer. 5:31. Observe, When Jeremiah is indicted before the princes the stress of his accusation is laid upon what he said concerning the city, because they thought the princes would be most concerned about that. But concerning the words spoken they appeal to the people, “You have heard what he hath said; let it be given in evidence.”
III. Jeremiah makes his defence before the princes and the people. He does not go about to deny the words, nor to diminish aught from them; what he has said he will stand to, though it cost him his life; he owns that he had prophesied against this house and this city, but, 1. He asserts that he did this by good authority, not maliciously nor seditiously, not out of any ill-will to his country nor any disaffection to the government in church or state, but, The Lord sent me to prophesy thus: so he begins his apology (Jer. 26:12), and so he concludes it, for this is that which he resolves to abide by as sufficient to bear him out (Jer. 26:15): Of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you, to speak all these words. As long as ministers keep closely to the instructions they have from heaven they need not fear the opposition they may meet with from hell or earth. He pleads that he is but a messenger, and, if he faithfully deliver his message, he must bear no blame; but he is a messenger from the Lord, to whom they were accountable as well as he, and therefore might demand regard. If he speak but what God appointed him to speak, he is under the divine protection, and whatever affront they offer to the ambassador will be resented by the Prince that sent him. 2. He shows them that he did it with a good design, and that it was their fault if they did not make a good use of it. It was said, not by way of fatal sentence, but of fair warning; if they would take the warning, they might prevent the execution of the sentence, Jer. 26:13. Shall I take it ill of a man that tells me of my danger, while I have an opportunity of avoiding it, and not rather return him thanks for it, as the greatest kindness he could do me? “I have indeed (says Jeremiah) prophesied against this city; but, if you will now amend your ways and your doings, the threatened ruin shall be prevented, which was the thing I aimed at in giving you the warning.” Those are very unjust who complain of ministers for preaching hell and damnation, when it is only to keep them from that place of torment and to bring them to heaven and salvation. 3. He therefore warns them of their danger if they proceed against him (Jer. 26:14): “As for me, the matter is not great what become of me; behold, I am in your hand; you know I am; I neither have any power, nor can make any interest, to oppose you, nor is it so much my concern to save my own life: do with me as seems meet unto you; if I be led to the slaughter, it shall be as a lamb.” Note, It becomes God’s ministers, that are warm in preaching, to be calm in suffering and to behave submissively to the powers that are over them, though they be persecuting powers. But, for themselves, he tells them that it is at their peril if they put him to death: You shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, Jer. 26:15. They might think that killing the prophet would help to defeat the prophecy, but they would prove wretchedly deceived; it would but add to their guilt and aggravate their ruin. Their own consciences could not but tell them that, if Jeremiah was (as certainly he was) sent of God to bring them this message, it was at their utmost peril if they treated him for it as a malefactor. Those that persecute God’s ministers hurt not them so much as themselves.
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