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2. Parables. (XIII, XVIII-XX, XXXV.)

To the reign of Jehoiakim are usually referred a number of symbolic actions by Jeremiah, the narratives of which carry no dates. So far as they imply that the Prophet was still able to move openly about Jerusalem and the country they might be regarded as earlier than 604, when he was under restraint and had to hide himself.341341xxxvi. 5, 19, 26. But this is not certain. We are left to take them in the order in which they occur in the Book.

The first is that of the waist-cloth, XIII. 1-11. Jeremiah was charged to buy a linen waist-cloth342342Worn next the skin; not girdle which came over the other garments. See Enc. Bibl., article Girdle. and after wearing it, but keeping it from damp, to bury it in the cleft of a rock, and after many days to dig it up, when he found it rotting. So had the Lord taken Israel to cleave to Him as such a cloth cleaves to the loins of a man; but separated from Him they had likewise rotted and were good for nothing. Separated by what—God's action or their own? As it stands the interpretation is complicated. God spoils Israel because of their pride (verse 9) and Israel spoil themselves by disobedience and idolatry (verse 10). The complication may be due to a later addition to the text. But this question is not serious. 184 Neither is that of the place where Jeremiah is said to have buried the cloth. Pĕrath, the spelling in the text, is the Hebrew name for the Euphrates and so the Greek and our own versions render it. But the name has not its usual addition of The River. If the Euphrates be intended the story is hardly one of fact, but rather a vivid parable of the saturation of the national life by heathen, corruptive influences from Mesopotamia.343343So virtually Cornill, who, indifferent as to whether the story is one of fact or of imagination, emphasises the choice of the Euphrates as its essential point, compares ii. 18, to drink of the waters of the River, and dates the story in the earliest years of Jeremiah's ministry. On the other hand Erbt, who also reads Euphrates, interprets the story as one of actual journeys thither by Jeremiah. Yet within an hour from Anathoth lies the Wady Farah, a name which corresponds to the Hebrew Pĕrath or (by a slight change) Parah; and the Wady, familiar as it must have been to Jeremiah, suits the picture, having a lavish fountain, a broad pool and a stream, all of which soak into the sand and fissured rock of the surrounding desert.344344I visited it in 1901 and 1904, a most surprising oasis! That the Wady Farah was the scene of the parable is therefore possible, though not certain.345345Pĕrath or Parah = Farah was first suggested by Ewald (Prophets of the O. T., Eng. trans, iii. 152), quoting Schick (Ausland, 1867, 572-4), by Birch (P.E.F.Q., 1880, 235), and by Marti (Z.D.P.V., 1880, 11), and has been accepted by many—Cheyne, Ball, McFadyen, Peake, etc. 185 But the ambiguity of these details does not interfere with the moral of the whole.

This parable is immediately followed by the ironic metaphor of the Jars Full of Wine, XIII. 12-14, which I have already quoted.346346See above, p. 55.

Next comes the Parable of the Potter, Ch. XVIII, that might be from any part of the Prophet's ministry, during which he was free to move in public. This parable is instructive first by disclosing one of the ways along which Revelation reached, and spelt itself out in, the mind of the Prophet. He felt a Divine impulse to go down to the house of the Potter,347347In the valley of Hinnom, where were potteries and above them a city-gate Harsith = (probably) Potsherds; in the upper valley broken pottery is still crushed for cement; lower down traces of ancient potteries appear, and there is the traditional site of the Potter's Field, Matt. xxvii. 7. and there I will cause thee to hear My Words, obviously not words spoken to the outward ear. For, as Jeremiah watched the potter at work on his two stones,348348So literally the term rendered wheel, A.V. It was of two discs, originally of stone, but later of wood, of which in earlier times the upper alone revolved and the lower and larger was stationary, but later both revolved by the potter's foot. See Enc. Bibl., article Pottery. and saw that when the vessel he first attempted was marred he would remould the clay into another vessel as seemed good to him, a fresh conception of the Divine Method with men broke 186 upon Jeremiah and became articulate. A word from the Lord flashed through his eyes upon his mind, just as in his first visions of the almond-blossom and the caldron.349349See above, pp. 84 f.

XVIII. 5. Then the Word of the Lord came unto me, saying, [6] O House of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?350350Hebrew adds Rede of the Lord. Behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter, so are ye in My hand.351351Hebrew adds House of Israel.

Thus by figure and by word the Divine Sovereignty was proclaimed as absolutely as possible. But the Sovereignty is a real Sovereignty and therefore includes Freedom. It is not fettered by its own previous decrees, as some rigorous doctrines of predestination insist, but is free to recall and alter these, should the human characters and wills with which it works in history themselves change. There is a Divine as well as a human Free-will. God's dealing with men is moral; He treats them as their moral conduct permits Him to do.352352A. B. Davidson.

The Predestination of men or nations, which the Prophet sees figured in the work of the potter, is to Service. This is clear from the comparison between Israel and a vessel designed for a definite use. It recalls Jeremiah's similar conception of 187 his own predestination, which was not to a certain state, of life or death, but to the office of speaker for God to the nations. Yet because the acceptance or rejection by a nation or an individual of the particular service, for which God has destined them, naturally determines their ultimate fate, therefore this wider sense, which predestination came to have in Christian doctrine, is so far also involved in the parable.353353To this we return in dealing with Jeremiah's religious experience. See below, Lecture vii.

To the truths of the Divine Sovereignty and the Divine Freedom the parable adds that of the Divine Patience. The potter of Hinnom does not impatiently cast upon the rubbish which abounds there the lump of clay that has proved refractory to his design for it. He gives the lump another trial upon another design. If, as many think, the verses which follow the parable, 7-10, are not by Jeremiah himself (though this is far from proved, as we shall see) then he does not explicitly draw from the potter's patience with the clay the inference of the Divine patience with men. But the inference is implicit in the parable. Did Jeremiah intend it? If he did, this is proof that in spite of his people's obstinacy under the hand of God, he cherished, though he dared not yet utter, the hope that God would have some fresh purpose for their service beyond the wreck 188 they were making of His former designs for them and the ruin they were thereby bringing on themselves—that He would grant them still another chance of rising to His will. But if Jeremiah did not intend this inference from his parable then we may claim the parable as one more example of that of which we have already had several, the power of this wonderful man's experience and doctrine to start in other minds ideas and beliefs of which he himself was not conscious, or which at least he did not articulate—that power which after all is his highest distinction as a prophet. I do not think, however, that we can deny to Jeremiah all consciousness of what his parable implies in regard to the Patience of the Divine Potter with the perverse human clay in His hands. For we have already seen from another of the Prophet's metaphors that under the abused and rank surface of a nation's or an individual's life he was sure of soil which by deeper ploughing would yet yield fruits meet for repentance.354354See above, p. 109 on iv. 3.

In either case the parable is rich in Gospel for ourselves. If we have failed our God upon His first designs for us and for our service do not let us despair. He is patient and ready to give us another trial under His hand. And this not only is the lesson of more than one of our Lord's parables, for instance that of the fig-tree found 189 fruitless, but nevertheless given the chance of another year,355355Luke xiii. 6 ff. Other parables or actual incidents illustrating either the possibilities of characters commonly deemed hopeless or the fresh chances given them by God's grace, are found in Matt. xviii. 23 f., Luke vii. 39 f. (the woman who was a sinner) and xix. (Zacchæus). and the motive of His hopes for the publicans and harlots, but is implied by all the Gospel of His life and death for sinners. In these He saw still possibilities worth His dying for.

But as Christ Himself taught, there are, and ethically must be, limits to the Divine Patience with men. Of these the men of Judah and Jerusalem are warned in the verses which follow the parable. While it is true (verse 7 ff.) that if a nation, which God has said He will destroy, turn from its evil, He will relent, the converse is equally true of a nation which He has promised to plant and build, that if it do wrong and obey not He will surely repent of the good He had planned for it. For this refractory people of Judah He is already framing or moulding evil—the verb used is that of which the Hebrew name for potter is the participle. Though chosen of God and shaped by His hands for high service Israel's destiny is not irrevocable; nay, their doom is already being shaped. Yet He makes still another appeal to them to repent and amend their ways. To this they answer: No use! we will walk after our own devices and carry out every one the stubbornness 190 of his evil heart. At least that is how Jeremiah interprets their temper; his people had hardened since Megiddo and the accession of Jehoiakim.

Some moderns have denied these verses to Jeremiah and taken them as the addition of a later hand and without relevance to the parable. With all respect to the authority of those critics,356356Cornill in loco, Skinner, pp. 162 f., both of them in fine passages on the teaching of the parable, the former exposing the superficiality of Duhm's impulsive judgment upon it. Cornill finds that the genuine words of Jeremiah close with verse 4; Skinner, Erbt and Gillies (p. 158) continue them to 6. I find myself unable to agree with them. They differ as to where the authentic words of the Prophet cease, some concluding these with verse 4 others with verse 6. In either case the parable is left in the air, without such practical application of his truths as Jeremiah usually makes to Judah or other nations. Nor can the relevance of the verses be denied, as Cornill, one of their rejectors, admits. Nor does the language bear traces of a later date. They seem to me to stand as Jeremiah's own.

The Prophet's threat of evil is still so vague, that, with due acknowledgment of the uncertainty of such points, we may suppose it, along with the Parable of the Potter, to have been uttered before the Battle of Carchemish, when the Babylonian sovereignty over Western Asia became assured.357357But see next page.


The next in order of Jeremiah's symbols, Ch. XIX, the breaking of a potter's jar past restoration, with his repetition of doom upon Judah, led to his arrest, Ch. XX, and this at last to his definite statement that the doom would be captivity to the King of Babylon. Some therefore date the episode after Carchemish, but this is uncertain; Jeremiah is still not under restraint nor in hiding.

He is charged to buy an earthen jar and take with him some of the elders of the people and of the priests to the Potsherd Gate in the Valley of Hinnom.358358xix. 1 ff. The Greek connects this incident with the preceding by reading then for the Hebrew thus, and with many Hebrew MSS. adds to saith the Lord the phrase to me, making Jeremiah himself the narrator. In xix. 4 read with Greek whom neither they nor their fathers knew, and the kings of Judah have filled, etc. Throughout Greek lacks phrases which are probably later additions to Hebrew; but these are not important. There, after predicting the evils which the Lord shall bring on the city because of her idolatry and her sacrifice of children in that Valley down which they were looking from this gate, he broke the jar and flung it upon the heaps of shattered earthenware from which the gate derived its name;359359See p. 185, n. 2. and returning to the Temple repeated the Lord's doom upon Judah and Jerusalem. He was heard by Pashḥur of the priestly guild of Immer, who appears to have 192 been chief of the Temple police, and after being smitten was put in the stocks, but the next day released, probably rather because his friends among the princes had prevailed in his favour than because the mind of Pashḥur had meantime changed. For Jeremiah on his release immediately faced his captor with these words:—

XX. 3. The Lord hath called thy name not Pashḥur but Magor-Missabib, Terror-all-round. 4. For thus saith the Lord, Lo, I will make thee a terror to thyself and all thy friends, and they shall fall by the sword of their foes, and thine own eyes shall be seeing it; and all Judah shall I give into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them to exile and smite them with the sword ... 6. And thou Pashḥur and all that dwell in thy house shall go into captivity and in Babylon thou shalt die.360360The above is mainly from the Greek. The following is a significant instance of how the knowledge of the Bible still holds among some at least of the Scottish peasantry. A woman in a rural parish calling on her minister to complain about the harshness of the factor of the landlord said that he was a very Magor-Missabib. And it is no less significant that the minister had to consult his concordance to the Bible to know what she meant!

At last Jeremiah definitely states what Judah's doom from the North is to be. We wish that we knew the date of this utterance.

Assigned by its title to the days of Jehoiakim is 193 another action of the Prophet, which is the exhibition rather of an example than of a symbol, Ch. XXXV. The story was probably dictated by Jeremiah to Baruch, for while the Hebrew text opens it in the first person (2-5), the Greek version carries the first person throughout and the later change by the Hebrew to the third person (12 and 18) may easily have been due to a copyist mistaking the first personal suffix for the initial letter of the name Jeremiah.361361In xxxv the differences between Greek and Hebrew continue to be those generally found in the Book, i.e. Greek omits the expansive formulas, including the Divine titles, redundant words (like all) and phrases, and corrects the wrong preposition to by the right upon (17). Further, it spells differently some of the proper names, reads house for chamber (4 bis), a bowl for bowls (5), to me for to Jeremiah (12), and in 18 does not address the promise to the Rechabites, but utters it of them in the third person, also omitting the name of Jeremiah, and in 19 for for ever, lit. all the days, reads all the days of the land.

The Rechabites, a tent-dwelling tribe sojourning within the borders, and worshipping the God, of Israel, had taken refuge from the Chaldean invasion within the walls of Jerusalem. Knowing their fidelity to their ancestral habits Jeremiah invited some of them to one of the Temple chambers and offered them wine. They refused, for they said that their ancestor Jehonadab ben-Rechab362362The ally of Jehu, II. Kings x. 15, 23. The tribe was Kenite, I. Chron. ii. 55. The Kenites, according to Jud. i. 16, I. Sam. xv. 6, settled in the South of Judah, but Jonadab is found in North Israel and apparently his descendants, as fugitives before an invasion from the North, came from the same quarter. Heber the Kenite also dwelt on Esdraelon, Jud. iv. 17, v. 24. had charged them to drink no wine, 194 neither to build houses, nor sow seed nor plant vineyards. Whereupon Jeremiah went forth and held them up as an example to the men of Judah, not because of any of the particular forms of their abstinence, but because of their constancy. Here were people who remembered, and through centuries had remained loyal to, the precepts of an ancestor; while Israel had fallen from their ancient faithfulness to their God and ignored His commandments. The steadfast loyalty of these simple nomads to the institutions of a far-away human father, how it put to shame Judah's delinquency from the commands of her Divine Father! This contrast is in line with the others, which we have seen Jeremiah emphasising, between his people's fickleness towards God and the obdurate adherence of the Gentiles to their national gods, or the constancy of the processes of nature: the birds that know the seasons of their coming, the unfailing snows of Lebanon and the streams of the hills. The whole story is characteristic of Jeremiah's teaching.363363Duhm's criticisms of it, and rejection of some of its parts are, even for him, unusually arbitrary, especially his objection to the words in verse 13, Go and say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for obviously these people were not gathered in, nor could be addressed from, the Temple chamber. It was the people as a whole, whose fickleness from age to age he was about to condemn; on this verse Duhm's remarks are, besides being arbitrary, inconsistent.

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