Here, I. The prophet shows them what mischief their sins had done them: They have turned away these things (Jer. 5:25), the former and the latter rain, which they used to have in due season (Jer. 5:24), but which had of late been withheld (Jer. 3:3), by reason of which the appointed weeks of harvest had sometimes disappointed them. “It is your sin that has withholden good from you, when God was ready to bestow it upon you.” Note, It is sin that stops the current of God’s favour to us, and deprives us of the blessings we used to receive. It is that which makes the heavens as brass and the earth as iron.
II. He shows them how great their sins were, how heinous and provoking. When they had forsaken the worship of the true God, even moral honesty was lost among them: Among my people are found wicked men (Jer. 5:26), some of the worst of men, and so much the worse they were for being found among God’s people. 1. They were spiteful and malicious. Such are properly wicked men, men that delight in doing mischief. They were found (that is, caught) in the very act of their wickedness. As hunters or fowlers lay snares for their game, so did they lie in wait to catch men, and made a sport of it, and took as much pleasure in it as if they had been entrapping beasts or birds. They contrives ways of doing mischief to good people (whom they hated for their goodness), especially to those that faithfully reproved them (Isa. 29:21), or to those that stood in the way of their preferment or whom they supposed to have affronted them or done them a diskindness, or to those whose estates they coveted; so Jezebel ensnared Naboth for his vineyard. Nay, they did mischief for mischief’s sake. 2. They were false and treacherous (Jer. 5:27): “As a cage, or coop, is full of birds, and of food for them to fatten them for the table, so are their houses full of deceit, of wealth obtained by fraudulent practices or of arts and methods of defrauding. All the business of their families is done with deceit; whoever deals with them, they will cheat him if they can, which is easily done by those who make no conscience of what they say and do. Herein they overpass the deed of the wicked, Jer. 5:28. Those that act by deceit, with a colour of law and justice, do more mischief perhaps than those wicked men (Jer. 5:26) that carry all before them by open force and violence; or they are worse than the heathen themselves, yea, the worst of them. And (would you think it?) they prosper in these wicked courses and therefore their hearts are hardened in them. They are greedy of the world, because they find it flows in upon them, and they stick not at any wickedness in pursuit of it, because they find that it is so far from hindering their prosperity that it furthers it: They have become great in the world; they have waxen rich, and thrive upon it. They have wherewithal to make provision for the flesh to fulfill all the lusts of it, to which they are very indulgent, so that they have waxen fat with living at ease and bathing themselves in all the delights of sense. They are sleek and smooth: The shine; they look fair and gay; every body admires them. And they pass by matters of evil (so some read the following words); they escape the evils which one would expect their sins should bring upon them; they are not in trouble as other men, much less as we might expect bad men,” Ps. 73:5 3. When they had grown great, and had got power in their hands, they did not do that good with it which they ought to have done: They judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, and the right of the needy. The fatherless are often needy, always need assistance and advice, and advantage is taken of their helpless condition to do them an injury. Who should succour them then but the great and rich? What have men wealth for but to do good with it? But these would take no cognizance of any such distressed cases: they had not so much sense of justice, or compassion for the injured; or, if they did concern themselves in the cause, it was not to do right, but to protect those that did wrong. And yet they prosper still; God layeth not folly to them. Certainly then the things of this world are not the best things, for often-times the worst men have the most of them; yet we are not to think that, because they prosper, God allows of their practices. No; though sentence against their evil works be not executed speedily, it will be executed. 4. There was a general corruption of all orders and degrees of men among them (Jer. 5:30, 31); A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land. The degeneracy of such a people, so privileged and advanced, was a wonderful thing, and to be viewed with amazement. How could they ever break through so many obligations? It was a horrible thing, a thing to be detested and the consequences of it dreaded. To frighten ourselves from sin, let us call it a horrible thing. What was the matter? In short, this: (1.) The leaders misled the people: The prophets prophesy falsely, counterfeit a commission from heaven when they are factors for hell. Religion is never more dangerously attacked than under colour and pretence of divine revelation. But why did not the priests, who had power in their hands for that purpose, restrain these false prophets? Alas! instead of doing that they made use of them as the tools of their ambition and tyranny: The priests bear rule by their means; they supported themselves in their grandeur and wealth, their laziness and luxury, their impositions and oppressions, by the help of the false prophets and their interest in the people. Thus they were in a combination against every thing that was good, and strengthened one another’s hands in evil. (2.) The people were well enough pleased to be so misled: “They are my people,” says God, “and should have stood up for me, and borne their testimony against the wickedness of their priests and prophets; but they love to have it so.” If the priests and prophets will let them alone in their sins, they will give them no disturbance in theirs. They love to be ridden with a loose rein, and like those rulers very well that will not restrain their lusts and those teachers that will not reprove them.
III. He shows them how fatal the consequences of this would certainly be. Let them consider,
1. What the reckoning would be for their wickedness (Jer. 5:29): Shall not I visit for these things? as before, Jer. 5:9. Sometimes mercy rejoices against judgment: How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? Here, judgment is reasoning against mercy: Shall I not visit? We are sure that Infinite Wisdom knows how to accommodate the matter between them. The manner of expression is very emphatic, and denotes, (1.) The certainty and necessity of God’s judgments: Shall not my soul be avenged? Yes, without doubt, vengeance will come, it must come, if the sinner repent not. (2.) The justice and equity of God’s judgments; he appeals to the sinner’s own conscience, Do not those deserve to be punished that have been guilty of such abominations? Shall he not be avenged on such a nation, such a wicked provoking nation as this?
2. What the direct tendency of their wickedness was: What will you do in the end thereof? That is, (1.) “What a pitch of wickedness will you come to at last! What will you do? What will you not do that is base and wicked. What will this grow to? You will certainly grow worse and worse, till you have filled up the measure of your iniquity.” (2.) “What a pit of destruction will you come to at last! When things are brought to such a pass as this, nothing can be expected from you but a deluge of sin, so nothing can be expected from God but a deluge of wrath; and what will you do when that shall come?” Note, Those that walk in bad ways would do well to consider the tendency of them both to greater sin and utter ruin. An end will come; the end of a wicked life will come, when it will be all called over again, and without doubt will be bitterness in the latter end.