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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–20
Verses 16–20

God had shown them, in the foregoing verses, that the temple and the service of it, of which they boasted and in which they trusted, should not avail to prevent the judgment threatened. But there was another thing which might stand them in some stead, and which yet they had no value for, and that was the prophet’s intercession for them; his prayers would do them more good than their own pleas: now here that support is taken from them; and their case is said indeed who have lost their interest in the prayers of God’s ministers and people.

I. God here forbids the prophet to pray for them (Jer. 7:16): “The decree has gone forth, their ruin is resolved on, therefore pray not thou for this people, that is, pray not for the preventing of this judgment threatened; they have sinned unto death, and therefore pray not for their life, but for the life of their souls,” 1 John 5:16. See here, 1. That God’s prophets are praying men; Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, and yet prayed for their preservation, not knowing that the decree was absolute; and it is the will of God that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Even when we threaten sinners with damnation we must pray for their salvation, that they may turn and live. Jeremiah was hated, and persecuted, and reproached, by the children of his people, and yet he prayed for them; for it becomes us to render good for evil. 2. That God’s praying prophets have a great interest in heaven, how little soever they have on earth. When God has determined to destroy this people, he bespeaks the prophet not to pray for them, because he would not have his prayers to lie (as prophets’ prayers seldom did) unanswered. God said to Moses, Let me alone, Exod. 22:10. 3. It is an ill omen to a people when God restrains the spirits of his ministers and people from praying for them, and gives them to see their case so desperate that they have no heart to speak a good word for them. 4. Those that will not regard good ministers’ preaching cannot expect any benefit by their praying. If you will not hear us when we speak from God to you, God will not hear us when we speak to him for you.

II. He gives him a reason for this prohibition. Praying breath is too precious a thing to be lost and thrown away upon a people hardened in sin and marked for ruin.

1. They are resolved to persist in their rebellion against God, and will not be turned back by the prophet’s preaching. For this he appeals to the prophet himself, and his own inspection and observation (Jer. 7:17): Seest thou not what they do openly and publicly, without either shame or fear, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? This intimates both that the sin was evident and could not be denied and that the sinners were impudent and would not be reclaimed; they committed their wickedness even in the prophet’s presence and under his eye; he saw what they did, and yet they did it, which was an affront to his office, and to him whose officer he was, and bade defiance to both. Now observe,

(1.) What the sin is with which they are here charged—it is idolatry, Jer. 7:18. Their idolatrous respects are paid to the queen of heaven, the moon, either in an image or in the original, or both. They worshipped it probably under the name of Ashtaroth, or some other of their goddesses, being in love with the brightness in which they saw the moon walk, and thinking themselves indebted to her for her benign influences or fearing her malignant ones, Job 31:26. The worshipping of the moon was much in use among the heathen nations, Jer. 44:17, 19. Some read it the frame or workmanship of heaven. The whole celestial globe with all its ornaments and powers was the object of their adoration. They worshipped the host of heaven, Acts 7:42. The homage they should have 7114 paid to their Prince they paid to the statues that beautified the frontispiece of his palace; they worshipped the creatures instead of him that made them, the servants instead of him that commands them, and the gifts instead of him that gave them. With the queen of heaven they worshipped other gods, images of things not only in heaven above, but in earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth; for those that forsake the true God wander endlessly after false ones. To these deities of their own making they offer cakes for meat-offerings, and pour out drink-offerings, as if they had their meat and drink from them and were obliged to make to them their acknowledgments: and see how busy they are, and how every hand is employed in the service of these idols, according as they used to be employed in their domestic services. The children were sent to gather wood; the fathers kindled the fire to heat the oven, being of the poorer sort that could not afford to keep servants to do it, yet they would rather do it themselves than it should be undone; the women kneaded the dough with their own hands, for perhaps, though they had servants to do it, they took a pride in showing their zeal for their idols by doing it themselves. Let us be instructed, even by this bad example, in the service of our God. [1.] Let us honour him with our substance, as those that have our subsistence from him, and eat and drink to the glory of him from whom we have our meat and drink. [2.] Let us not decline the hardest services, nor disdain to stoop to the meanest, by which God may be honoured; for none shall kindle a fire on God’s altar for nought. Let us think it an honour to be employed in any work for God. [3.] Let us bring up our children in the acts of devotion; let them, as they are capable, be employed in doing something towards the keeping up of religious exercises.

(2.) What is the direct tendency of this sin: “It is that they may provoke me to anger; they cannot design any thing else in it. But (Jer. 7:19) do they provoke me to anger? Isa. it because I am hard to be pleased, or easily provoked? Or am I to bear the blame of the resentment? No; it is their own doing; they may thank themselves, and they alone shall bear it.” Isa. it against God that they provoke him to wrath? Isa. he the worse for it? Does it do him any real damage? No; is it not against themselves, to the confusion of their own faces? It is malice against God, but it is impotent malice; it cannot hurt him: nay, it is foolish malice; it will hurt themselves. They show their spite against God, but they do the spite to themselves. Canst thou think any other than that a people, thus desperately set upon their own ruin, should be abandoned?

2. God is resolved to proceed in his judgments against them, and will not be turned back by the prophet’s prayers (Jer. 7:20): Thus saith the Lord God, and what he saith he will not unsay, nor can all the world gainsay it; hear it therefore, and tremble. “Behold, my anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, as the flood of waters was upon the old world or the shower of fire and brimstone upon Sodom; since they will anger me, let them see what will come of it.” They shall soon find, (1.) That there is no escaping this deluge of fire, either by flying from it or fencing against it; it shall be poured out on this place, though it be a holy place, the Lord’s house. It shall reach both man and beast, like the plagues of Egypt, and, like some of them, shall destroy the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground, which they had designed and prepared for Baal, and of which they had made cakes to the queen of heaven. (2.) There is no extinguishing it: It shall burn and shall not be quenched; prayers and tears shall then avail nothing. When his wrath is kindled but a little, much more when it is kindled to such a degree, there shall be no quenching it. God’s wrath is that fire unquenchable which eternity itself will not see the period of. Depart, you cursed, into everlasting fire.