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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 19–31
Verses 19–31

The prophet is here in an agony, and cries out like one upon the rack of pain with some acute distemper, or as a woman in travail. The expressions are very pathetic and moving, enough to melt a heart of stone into compassion: My bowels! my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; and yet well, and in health himself, and nothing ails him. Note, A good man, in such a bad world as this is, cannot but be a man of sorrows. My heart makes a noise in me, through the tumult of my spirits, and I cannot hold my peace. Note, The grievance and the grief sometimes may be such that the most prudent patient man cannot forbear complaining.

Now, what is the matter? What is it that puts the good man into such agitation? It is not for himself, or any affliction in his family that he grieves thus; but it is purely upon the public account, it is his people’s case that he lays to heart thus.

I. They are very sinful and will not be reformed, Jer. 4:22. These are the words of God himself, for so the prophet chose to give this character of the people, rather than in his own words, or as from himself: My people are foolish. God calls them his people, though they are foolish. They have cast him off, but he has not cast them off, Rom. 11:1. “They are my people, whom I have been in covenant with, and still have mercy in store for. They are foolish, for they have not known me.” Note, Those are foolish indeed that have not known God, especially that call themselves his people, and have the advantages of coming into acquaintance with him, and yet have not known him. They are sottish children, stupid and senseless, and have no understanding. They cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood, good and evil; they cannot discern the mind of God either in his word or in his providence; they do not understand what their true interest is, nor on which side it lies. They are wise to do evil, to plot mischief against the quiet in the land, wise to contrive the gratification of their lusts, and then to conceal and palliate them. But to do good they have no knowledge, no contrivance, no application of mind; they know not how to make a good use either of the ordinances or of the providences of God, nor how to bring about any design for the good of their country. Contrary to this should be our character. Rom. 16:19; I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

II. They are miserable, and cannot be relieved.

1. He cries out, Because thou hast heard, O my soul! the sound of the trumpet, and seen the standard, both giving the alarm of war, Jer. 4:19, 21. He does not say, Thou hast heard, O my ear! but, O my soul! because the event was yet future, and it is by the spirit of prophecy that he see it and receives the impression of it. His soul heard it from the words of God, and therefore he was as well assured of it, and as much affected with it, as if he had heard it with his bodily ears. He expresses this deep concern, (1.) To show that, though he foretold this calamity, yet he was far from desiring the woeful day; for a woeful day it would be to him. It becomes us to tremble at the thought of the misery that sinners are running themselves into, though we have good hopes, through grace, that we ourselves are delivered from the wrath to come. (2.) To awaken them to a holy fear, and so to a care to prevent so great a judgment by a true and timely repentance. Note, Those that would affect other with the word of God should evidence that they are themselves affected with it. Now,

2. Let us see what there is in the destruction here foreseen and foretold that is so very affecting.

(1.) It is a swift and sudden destruction; it comes upon Judah and Jerusalem ere they are aware, and pours in so fast upon them that they have not the east breathing time. They have no time to recollect their thoughts, much less to recruit or recover their strength: Destruction upon destruction is cried (Jer. 4:20), breach upon breach, one sad calamity, like Job’s messengers, treading upon the heels of another. The death of Josiah breaks the ice, and plucks up the flood-gates; within three months after that his son and successor Jehoahaz is deposed by the king of Egypt; within two or three years after Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it, and thenceforward he was continually making descents upon the land of Judah with his armies during the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, till about nineteen years after he completed their ruin in the destruction of Jerusalem: but suddenly were their tents spoiled and their curtains in a moment. Though the cities held out for some time, the country was laid waste at the very first. The shepherds and all that lived in tents were plundered immediately; they and their effects fell into the enemies’ hands; therefore we find the Rechabites, who dwelt in tents, upon the first coming of the army of the Chaldees into the land retiring to Jerusalem, Jer. 35:11. The inhabitants of the villages soon ceased: Suddenly were the tents spoiled. The plain men that dwelt in tents were first made a prey of.

(2.) This dreadful war continued a great while, not in the borders, but in the bowels of the country; for the people were very obstinate, and would not submit to the king of Babylon, but took all opportunities to rebel against him, which did but lengthen out the calamity; they might as well have yielded at first as at last. This is complained of (Jer. 4:21): How long shall I see the standard? Shall the sword devour for ever? Good men are none of those that delight in war, for they know not how to fish in troubled waters; they are for peace (Ps. 120:7), and will heartily say Amen to that prayer, “Give peace in out time, O Lord!” O thou sword of the Lord! when wilt thou be quiet?

(3.) The desolations made by it in the land were general and universal: The whole land is spoiled, or plundered (Jer. 4:20); so it was at first, and at length it became a perfect chaos. It was such a desolation as amounted in a manner to a dissolution; not only the superstructure, but even the foundations, were all out of course. The prophet in vision saw the extent and extremity of this destruction, and he here gives a most lively description of it, which one would think might have made those uneasy in their sins who dwelt in a land doomed to such a ruin, which might yet have been prevented by their repentance. [1.] The earth is without form, and void (Jer. 4:23), as it was Gen. 1:2. It is Tohu and Bohu, the words there used, as far as the land of Judea goes. It is confusion and emptiness, stripped of all its beauty, void of all its wealth, and, compared with what it was, every thing out of place and out of shape. To a worse chaos than this will the earth be reduced at the end of time, when it, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up. [2.] The heavens too are without light, as the earth is without fruits. This alludes to the darkness that was upon the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2), and represents God’s displeasure against them, as the eclipse of the sun did at our Saviour’s death. It was not only the earth that failed them, but heaven also frowned upon them; and with their trouble they had darkness, for they could not see through their troubles. The smoke of their houses and cities which the enemy burnt, and the dust which their army raised in its march, even darkened the sun, so that the heavens had no light. Or it may be taken figuratively: The earth (that is, the common people) was impoverished and in confusion; and the heavens (that is, the princes and rulers) had no light, no wisdom in themselves, nor were any comfort to the people, nor a guide to them. Comp. Matt. 24:29. [3.] The mountains trembled, and the hills moved lightly, Jer. 4:24. So formidable were the appearances of God against his people, as in the days of old they had been for them, that the mountains skipped like rams and the little hills like lambs, Ps. 114:4. The everlasting mountains seemed to be scattered, Hab. 3:6. The mountains on which they had worshipped their idols, the mountains over which they had looked for succours, all trembled, as if they had been conscious of the people’s guilt. The mountains, those among them that seemed to the highest and strongest, and of the firmest resolution, trembled at the approach of the Chaldean army. The hills moved lightly, as being eased of the burden of a sinful nation, Isa. 1:24. [4.] Not the earth only, but the air, was dispeopled, and left uninhabited (Jer. 4:25): I beheld the cities, the countries that used to be populous, and, lo, there was no man to be seen; all the inhabitants were either killed, or fled, or taken captives, such a ruining depopulating thing is sin: nay, even the birds of the heavens, that used to fly about and sing among the branches, had now fled away, and were no more to be seen or heard. The land of Judah had now become like the lake of Sodom, over which (they say) no bird flies; see Deut. 29:23. The enemies shall make such havoc of the country that they shall not so much as leave a bird alive in it. [5.] Both the ground and the houses shall be laid waste (Jer. 4:26): Lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, being deserted by the inhabitants that should cultivate it, and then soon overgrown with thorns and briers, or being trodden down by the destroying army of the enemy. The cities also and their gates and walls are broken down and levelled with the ground. Those that look no further than second causes impute it to the policy and fury of the invaders; but the prophet, who looks to the first cause, says that it is at the presence of the Lord, at his face (that is, the anger of his countenance), even by his fierce anger, that this was done. Even angry men cannot do us any real hurt, unless God be angry with us. If our ways please him, all is well. [6.] The meaning of all this is that the nation shall be entirely ruined, and every part of it shall share in the destruction; neither town nor country shall escape. First, Not the country, for the whole land shall be desolate, corn land and pasture land, both common and enclosed, it shall be laid waste (Jer. 4:27); the conquerors will have occasion for it all. Secondly, Not the men, for (Jer. 4:29) the whole city shall flee, all the inhabitants of the town shall quit their habitations by consent, for fear of the horsemen and bowmen. Rather than lie exposed to their fury, they shall go into the thickets, where they are in danger of being torn by briers, nay, to be torn in pieces by wild beasts; and they shall climb up upon the rocks, where their lodging will be hard and cold, and the precipice dangerous. Let us not be over-fond of our houses and cities; for the time may come when rocks and thickets may be preferable, and chosen rather. This shall be the common case, for every city shall be forsaken, and not a man shall be left that dares dwell therein. Both government and trade shall be at an end, and all civil societies and incorporations dissolved. It is a very dismal idea which this gives of the approaching desolation; but in the midst of all these threatenings comes in one comfortable word (Jer. 4:27): Yet will not I make a full end—not a total consumption, for God will reserve a remnant to himself, that shall be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger—not a final consumption, for Jerusalem shall again be built and the land inhabited. This comes in here, in the midst of the threatenings, for the comfort of those that trembled at God’s word; and it intimates to us the changeableness of God’s providence; as it breaks down, so it raises up again; every end of our comforts is not a full end, however we may be ready to think it so. It also intimates the unchangeableness of God’s covenant, which stands so firmly, that, though he may correct his people severely, yet he will not cast them off, Jer. 30:11.

(4.) Their case was helpless and without remedy. [1.] God would not help them; so he tells them plainly, Jer. 4:28. And, if the Lord do not help them, who can? This is that which makes their case deplorable. “For this the earth mourns and the heavens above are black (there are no prospects but what are very dismal), because I have spoken it; I have given the word which shall not be called back; I have purposed it (it is a consumption decreed, determined) and I will not repent, not change this way, but proceed in it, and will not turn back from it.” They would not repent and turn back from the way of their sins (Jer. 2:25), and therefore God will not repent and turn back from the way of his judgments. [2.] They could not help themselves, Jer. 4:30, 31. When the thing appeared at a distance they flattered themselves with hopes that, though God should not appear for them as he had done for Hezekiah against the Assyrian army, yet they should find some means or other to secure themselves and give check to the forces of the enemy. But the prophet tells them that, when it comes to the setting to, they will be quite at a loss: “When thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? What course wilt thou take? Sit down now, and consider this in time.” He assures them that, whatever were now their contrivances and confidences, First, They will then be despised by their allies whom they depended upon for assistance. He had often compared the sin of Jerusalem to whoredom, not only her idolatry, but her trust in creatures, in the neighbouring powers. Now here he compares her to a harlot abandoned by all the lewd ones that used to make court to her. She is supposed to do all she can to keep up her interest in their affections. She does what she can to make herself appear considerable among the nations, and a valuable ally. She compliments them by her ambassadors to the highest degree, to engage them to stand by her now in her distress. She clothes herself with crimson, as if she were rich, and decks herself with ornaments of gold, as if her treasuries were still as full as ever they had been. She rents her face with painting, puts the best colours she can upon her present distresses and does her utmost to palliate and extenuate her losses, sets a good face upon them. But this painting, though it beautifies the face for the present, really rends it; the frequent use of paint spoils the skin, cracks it, and makes it rough; so the case which by false colours has been made to appear better than really it was, when truth comes to light, will look so much the worse. “And, after all, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; all thy neighbours are sensible how low thou art brought; the Chaldeans will strip thee of thy crimson and ornaments, and then thy confederates will not only slight thee and refuse to give thee any succour, but they will join with those that seek thy life, that they may come in for a share in the prey of so rich a country.” Here seems to be an allusion to the story of Jezebel, who thought, by making herself look fair and fine, to outface her doom, but in vain, 2 Kgs. 9:30, 33. See what creatures prove when we confide in them, how treacherous they are; instead of saving the life, they seek the life; they often change, so that they will sooner do us an ill turn than any service. And see to how little purpose it is for those that have by sin deformed themselves in God’s eyes to think by any arts they can use to beautify themselves in the eye of the world. Secondly, They will then be themselves in despair; they will find their troubles to be like the pains of a woman in travail, which she cannot escape: I have heard the voice of the daughter of Zion, her groans echoing to the triumphal shouts of the Chaldean army, which he heard, Jer. 4:15. It is like the voice of a woman in travail, whose pain is exquisite, and the fruit of sin and the curse too (Gen. 3:16), and exhorts lamentable outcries, especially of a woman in travail of her first child, who, having never known before what that pain is, is the more terrified by it. Troubles are most grievous to those that have not been used to them. Zion, in this distress, since her neighbours refuse to pity her, bewails herself, fetching deep sighs (so the word signifies), and she spreads her hands, either wringing them for grief or reaching them forth for succour. All the cry is, Woe is me now! (now that the decree has gone forth against her and is past recall), for my soul is wearied because of murderers. The Chaldean soldiers put all to the sword that gave them any opposition, so that the land was full of murders. Zion was weary of hearing tragical stories from all parts of the country, and cried out, Woe is me! It was well if their sufferings put them in mind of their sins, the murders committed upon them of the murders committed by them; for God was now making inquisition for the innocent blood shed in Jerusalem, which the Lord would not pardon, 2 Kgs. 24:4. Note, As sin will find out the sinner, so sorrow will, sooner or later, find out the secure.