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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 18–30
Verses 18–30

Here, I. God appeals to all the neighbours, nay, to the whole world, concerning the equity of his proceedings against Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 6:18, 19): “Hear, you nations, and know particularly, O congregation of the mighty, the great men of the nations, that take cognizance of the affairs of states about you and make remarks upon them. Observe now what is doing among those of Judah and Jerusalem; you hear of the desolations brought upon them, the earth rings of it, trembles under it; you all wonder that I should bring evil upon this people, that are in covenant with me, that profess relation to me, that have worshipped me, and been highly favoured by me; you are ready to ask, Wherefore has the Lord done thus to this land? Deut. 29:24. Know then,” 1. “That it is the natural product of their devices. The evil brought upon them is the fruit of their thought. They thought to strengthen themselves by their alliance with foreigners, and by that very thing they weakened and diminished themselves, they betrayed and exposed themselves.” 2. “That it is the just punishment of their disobedience and rebellion. God does but execute upon them the curse of the law for their violation of its commands. It is because they have not hearkened to my words nor to my law, nor regarded a word I have said to them, but rejected it all. They would never have been ruined thus by the judgments of God’s hand if they had not refused to be ruled by the judgments of his mouth: therefore you cannot say that they have any wrong done them.”

II. God rejects their plea, by which they insisted upon their external services as sufficient to atone for all their sins. Alas! it is a frivolous plea (Jer. 6:20): “To what purpose come there to me incense and sweet cane, to be burnt for a perfume on the golden altar, though it was the best of the kind, and far-fetched? What care I for your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices?” They not only cannot profit God (no sacrifice does, Ps. 50:9), but they do not please him, for none does this but the sacrifice of the upright; that of the wicked is an abomination to him. Sacrifice and incense were appointed to excite their repentance, and to direct them to a Mediator, and assist their faith in him. Where this good use was made of them they were acceptable, God had respect to them and to those that offered them. But when they were offered with an opinion that thereby they made God their debtor, and purchased a license to go on in sin, they were so far from being pleasing to God that they were a provocation to him.

III. He foretels the desolation that was now coming upon them. 1. God designs their ruin because they hate to be reformed (Jer. 6:21): I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people, occasions of falling not into sin, but into trouble. Those whom God has marked for destruction he perplexes and embarrasses in their counsels, and obstructs and retards all the methods they take for their own safety. The parties of the enemy, which they met with wherever they went, were stumbling-blocks to them; in ever corner they stumbled upon them and were dashed to pieces by them: The fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; neither the fathers with their wisdom, nor the sons with their strength and courage, shall escape them, or get over them. The sons that sinned with their fathers fall with them. Even the neighbour and his friend shall perish and not be able to help either themselves or one another. 2. He will make use of the Chaldeans as instruments of it; for whatever work God has to do he will find out proper instruments for the doing of it. This is a people fetched from the north, from the sides of the earth. Babylon itself lay a great way off northward; and some of the countries that were subject to the king of Babylon, out of which his army was levied, lay much further. These must be employed in this service, Jer. 6:22, 23. For, (1.) It is a people very numerous, a great nation, which will make their invasion the more formidable. (2.) It is a warlike people. They lay hold on bow and spear, and at this time know how to use them, for they are used to them. They ride upon horses, and therefore they march the more swiftly, and in battle press the harder. No nation had yet brought into the field a better cavalry that the Chaldeans. (3.) It is a barbarous people. They are cruel and have no mercy, being greedy of prey and flushed with victory. They take a pride in frightening all about them; their voice roars like the sea. And, (4.) They have a particular design upon Judah and Jerusalem, in hopes greatly to enrich themselves with the spoil of that famous country. They are set in array against thee, O daughter of Zion! The sins of God’s professing people make them an easy prey to those that are God’s enemies as well as theirs.

IV. He describes the very great consternation which Judah and Jerusalem should be in upon the approach of this formidable enemy, Jer. 6:24-26. 1. They own themselves in a fright, upon the first intelligence brought them of the approach of the enemy: “When we have but heard the fame thereof our hands wax feeble, and we have no heart to make any resistance; anguish has taken hold of us, and we are immediately in an extremity of pain, like that of a woman in travail.” Note, Sense of guilt quite dispirits men, upon the approach of any threatening trouble. What can those hope to do for themselves who have made God their enemy? 2. They confine themselves by consent to their houses, not daring to show their heads abroad; for, though they could not but expect that the sword of the enemy would at last find them out there, yet they would rather die tamely and meanly there than run any venture, either by fight or flight, to help themselves. Thus they say one to another, “Go not forth into the field, no not to fetch in your provision thence, nor walk by the way; dare not to go to church or market, it is at your peril if you do, for the sword of the enemy, and the fear of it, are on every side; the highways are unoccupied, as in Jael’s time,” Jdg. 5:6. Let this remind us, when we travel the roads in safety and there is none to make us afraid, to bless God for our share in the public tranquillity. 3. The prophet calls upon them sadly to lament the desolations that were coming upon them. He was himself the lamenting prophet, and called upon his people to join with him in his lamentations: “O daughter of my people, hear they God calling thee to weeping and mourning, and answer his call: do not only put on sackcloth for a day, but gird it on for thy constant wear; do not only put ashes on thy head, but wallow thyself in ashes; put thyself into close mourning, and use all the tokens of bitter lamentation, not forced and for show only, but with the greatest sincerity, as parents mourn for an only son, and think themselves comfortless because they are childless. Thus do thou lament for the spoiler that suddenly comes upon us. Though he has not come yet, he is coming, the decree has gone forth: let us therefore meet the execution of it with a suitable sadness.” As saints may rejoice in hope of God’s mercies, though they see them only in the promise, so sinners must mourn for fear of God’s judgments, though they see them only in the threatenings.

V. He constitutes the prophet a judge over this people that now stand upon their trial: as Jer. 1:10; I have set thee over the nations; so here, I have set thee for a tower, or as a sentinel, or a watchman, upon a tower, among my people, as an inspector of their actions, that thou mayest know, and try their way, Jer. 6:27. Not that God needed any to inform him concerning them; on the contrary, the prophet knew little of them in comparison but by the spirit of prophecy. But thus God appeals to the prophet himself, and his own observation concerning their character, that he might be fully satisfied in the equity of God’s proceedings against them and with the more assurance give them warning of the judgments coming. God set him for a tower, conspicuous to all and attacked by many, but made him a fortress, a strong tower, gave him courage to stem the tide and bear the shock of their displeasure. Those that will be faithful reprovers have need to be firm as fortresses. Now in trying their way he will find two things:—1. That they are wretchedly debauched (Jer. 6:28): They are all grievous revolters, revolters of revolters (so the word is), the worst of revolters, as a servant of servants is the meanest servant. They have a revolting heart, have deeply revolted, and revolt more and more. They seemed to start fair, but they revolt and start back. They walk with slanders; they make nothing of belying and backbiting one another, nay, they make a perfect trade of it; it is their constant course, and they govern themselves by the slanders they hear, hating those that they hear ill-spoken of, though ever so unjustly. They are brass and iron, base metals, and there is nothing in them that is valuable. They were as silver and gold, but they have degenerated. Nay, as they are all revolters, so they are all corrupters, not only debauched themselves, but industrious to debauch others, to corrupt them as they themselves are corrupt; nay, to make them seven times more the children of hell than themselves. It is often so; sinners soon become tempters. 2. That they would never be reclaimed and reformed; it was in vain to think of reforming them, for various methods had been tried with them, and all to no purpose, Jer. 6:29, 30. He compares them to ore that was supposed to have some good metal in it, and was therefore put into the furnace by the refiner, who used all his art, and took abundance of pains, about it, but it proved all dross, nothing of any value could be extracted out of it. God by his prophets and by his providences had used the most proper means to refine this people and to purify them from their wickedness; but it was all in vain. By the continual preaching of the word, and in a series of afflictions, they had been kept in a constant fire, but all to no purpose. The bellows have been still kept so near the fire, to blow it, that they are burnt with the heat of it, or they are quite worn out with long use and thrown into the fire as good for nothing. The prophets have preached their throats sore with crying aloud against the sins of Israel, and yet they are not convinced and humbled. The lead, which was then used in refining silver, as quicksilver is now, is consumed of the fire, and has not done its work. The founder melts in vain; his labour is lost, for the wicked are not plucked away, no care is taken to separate between the precious and the vile, to purge out the old leaven, to cast out of communion those who, being corrupt themselves, are in danger of infecting others. Or, Their wickednesses are not removed (so some read it); they are still as bad as ever, and nothing will prevail to part between them and their sins. They will not be brought off from their idolatries and immoralities by all they have heard, and all they have felt, of the wrath of God against them; and therefore that doom is passed upon them (Jer. 6:30): Reprobate silver shall they be called, useless and worthless; they glitter as if they had some silver in them, but there is nothing of real virtue or goodness to be found among them; and for this reason the Lord has rejected them. He will no more own them as his people, nor look for any good from them; he will take them away like dross (Ps. 119:119), and prepare a consuming fire for those that would not be purified by a refining fire. By this it appears, (1.) That God has no pleasure in the death and ruin of sinners, for he tries all ways and methods with them to prevent their destruction and qualify them for salvation. Both his ordinances and his providences have a tendency this way, to part between them and their sins; and yet with many it is all lost labour. We have piped unto you, and you have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and you have not wept. Therefore, (2.) God will be justified in the death of sinners and all the blame will lie upon themselves. He did not reject them till he had used all proper means to reform them; did not cast them off so long as there was any hope of them, nor abandon them as dross till it appeared that they were reprobate silver.