‘The wrath of the Lord arose against His people,’ etc.
At last the hour of retribution had struck. Like the northern kingdom of Israel, nearly one hundred and fifty years before, Judah must pay the penalty of transgression, and as an independent nation cease to exist.
I. There were three stages of captivity.—(1) The first was when Nebuchadnezzar, at the commencement of his reign, came up against Jehoiakim in the fourth year of his reign (b.c. 605) and carried off Daniel and his companions to Babylon, and also vessels from the Temple. (2) The second stage was reached in the reign of Jehoiachin (b.c. 597), who, having rebelled against Babylon, was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem was taken, and the king, with large numbers of the leading people, and also treasures from the Temple and the king’s house, were taken to Babylon. The captives numbered ten thousand, and among them was the prophet Ezekiel. (3) The third and final stage was in the reign of Zedekiah, brother of Jehoiakim (b.c. 586), when the city was destroyed. This chapter treats of this final catastrophe.
II. What were its causes?—(1) Political. ‘Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.’ He had made a solemn covenant with him, and dishonourably broke it shortly afterwards. Ezekiel scathingly refers to this (2Ch_17:11-19). It was to punish such a flagrant breach of faith that Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem, resolved this time to be satisfied with no half measures. Trickery in the end defeats itself in national and political life as well as in private conduct. (2) But the political complications and difficulties had their roots in the religious condition of the nation. Had the people and king faithfully served Jehovah, neither Babylon nor Egypt need have been feared. God would have given them a happy issue out of all their afflictions. The causes of the captivity were chiefly religious, and it is on these Jeremiah mainly dwells. (a) The king, though having his good qualities, as might be expected in a son of Josiah, ‘stiffened his neck and hardened his heart from turning unto the way of the Lord God of Israel.’ (b) The chief of the priests went after ‘the abominations of the heathen.’ (c) The people ‘mocked the messengers of God’ and ‘misused His prophets.’ ‘Therefore He brought upon them the king of the Chaldees.’ In the end Judah come to know that it was their sins that brought upon them captivity, not the superior power of Babylon. The same laws work still in the history of nations. Obedience to God is the primary condition of firm freedom and permanent prosperity.
III. The consequences of rebellion and disobedience are concisely stated in the latter portion of the chapter.—There was a terrible siege, with all the horrors of famine. Mothers boiled and ate the flesh of their own little ones. When the city fell there was (a) a pitiless slaughter of young and old; (b) the Temple and palaces were destroyed by fire and the wall of the city broken down; (c) those who were not slain by the cruel soldiery were carried away captive to Babylon. The king’s sons were slain before his eyes, which were then put out, and he was later taken in chains to Babylon, where he remained in prison till the day of his death (Jer_52:7-11). Thus the nation perished in blood and fire. Its sin had found it out. The dread issues of sin may be postponed, but cannot be ultimately avoided. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.’ ‘Slow and sure’ is the Divine method of judgment as revealed in history. The pity is that because judgment against evil work is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Yet postponement is not abandonment. Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. This dire calamity did not come upon the people without warning or appeal.
IV. God had compassion on the people.—He did not willingly or quickly afflict. The Divine compassion was manifested by sending his messengers to turn them from their evil ways. Jeremiah, Urijah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, had all lifted up their warning voice. But each was as a voice crying in the wilderness. The chastisements already afflicted upon the kings and people were a further revelation of righteousness. Yet, though Manasseh had been brought low, Jehoiakim buried ‘with the burial of an ass,’ Jehoiachin led away to nearly forty years’ captivity, the city encompassed again and again by the enemies of its independence, and though the horrors of the siege were rapidly leading to the tragic consummation, all these voices of condemnation and compassion passed unheeded. The nation persisted in its wickedness ‘till there was no remedy.’ The cancer was incurable. Thus the words of Jeremiah were fulfilled. To disregard them was not to destroy them. He had the melancholy satisfaction, not given to every prophet and reformer, of seeing his predictions justified. He himself was preserved in that terrible day of the Lord. Offered by Nebuchadnezzar the option of going as a free man to Babylon or remaining in the land, he patriotically chose the latter course. Soon after he passed to Tahpanhes in Egypt, and after all the years of strife and contention he ended his days in peace, not without hope of a dawn of a better day when, purified by affliction, the people should return to their own land, rebuild the Temple, and rejoice in the lovingkindness of the Lord, which by their sin was seemingly eclipsed, but really was shining upon them all the time. ‘The land kept Sabbath to fulfil threescore and ten years.’
(1) ‘The captivity.—Most striking object-lesson in world’s history. Evidence indisputable; no infidel arguments can erase the effect or deny the cause. No human mind could have conceived such prophecies, still less have them brought to pass. Proof of God’s foreknowledge and Almighty power. Same God lives to-day. Fear, love, and obey Him.’
(2) ‘A certain portion of the river, rushing on with increasing speed to the Falls of Niagara, is known as “Past Redemption Point.” Once a boat has passed that spot no effort of the rowers can pull it up the stream again. The nation had passed its “redemption point.” The disastrous termination of the national life became inevitable.’
(3) ‘What a long process it was to bring the Hebrew people into a condition by which the whole world might be blessed through their instrumentality! What pruning this stock was exposed to ere Christ came of it! Evidently we are in the midst of a vast process, during which we are being fitted, as individuals and nations, for mighty destinies.’
DIVINE PATIENCE EXHAUSTED
‘Till there was no remedy.’
These words contain three facts, and each one is of the greatest importance. (1) That there was—at least, at one time—a remedy. (2) That the remedy went on, and might have been used for a very long period. (3) That there came a time when the remedy ceased.
I. All life is remedy.—The condition of things requires it. Life is one great restorative process. (1) First comes that marvellous provision which God has made for our recovery in Jesus Christ. (2) Subordinate to this great remedy of the Cross of Christ, and working with it, all providences have a curative character. (3) Every one carries within himself an antidote to himself. Conscience, till it is silenced, is a sure antidote for evil.
II. Notice the word ‘till.’—It shows how slow God is to take away the remedy. His mercy still holds back the arm of justice. But we may sin ourselves into a state, not in which there is no forgiveness, but in which there will be no thought or desire to seek for forgiveness. There is the bourn—worse than any grave—from which no man has returned. ‘There is no remedy,’ not on God’s account, but on your own; not in God’s want of will to save you, but in your own incapacity to will your own salvation.
Rev. J. Vaughan.
(1) ‘We may say of our present state as God said of the Jewish nation: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it.” Your soul is diseased. Your condition is out of order. Therefore God has ordered everything—as a good physician would—for your recovery. “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?” Many things that are vast have to be done away with; their bad effects have to be removed, or neutralised. A taint has to be got rid of—a poison has to be eliminated out of your constitution. And to effect this, everything in God’s government is planned. It would not be too much to say that, from the cradle to the grave, every moment of life is a corrective process.’
(2) ‘But is it not an awful revelation of the depravity of man’s heart to find that, in spite of the memories of Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah on the one hand, and in the very shadow of the coming eclipse on the other, the king and people still perpetrated the worst abominations of Canaan? Zedekiah hardened his heart from turning to the Lord. Moreover, all the chiefs of the priests and the people trespassed very greatly after all the abominations of the heathen. Let us magnify His grace, which makes us differ.’