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I know, O Lord, that the way of human beings is not in their control,

that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.

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Lamentation of Judah; Sovereignty of Divine Providence; Prophetic Imprecations. (b. c. 606.)

17 Gather up thy wares out of the land, O inhabitant of the fortress.   18 For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once, and will distress them, that they may find it so.   19 Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it.   20 My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains.   21 For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.   22 Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.   23 O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.   24 O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.   25 Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate.

In these verses,

I. The prophet threatens, in God's name, the approaching ruin of Judah and Jerusalem, v. 17, 18. The Jews that continued in their own land, after some were carried into captivity, were very secure; they thought themselves inhabitants of a fortress; their country was their strong hold, and, in their own conceit, impregnable; but they are here told to think of leaving it: they must prepare to go after their brethren, and pack up their effects in expectation of it: "Gather up thy wares out of the land; contract your affairs, and bring them into as small a compass as you can. Arise, depart, this is not your rest," Mic. ii. 10. Let not what you have lie scattered, for the Chaldeans will be upon you again, to be the executioners of the sentence God has passed upon you (v. 18): "Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once; they have hitherto dropped out, by a few at a time, but one captivity more shall make a thorough riddance, and they shall be slung out as a stone out of a sling, so easily, so thoroughly shall they be cast out; nothing of them shall remain. They shall be thrown out with violence, and driven to a place at a great distance off, in a little time." See this comparison used to signify an utter destruction, 1 Sam. xxv. 29. Yet once more God will shake their land, and shake the wicked out of it, Heb. xii. 26. He adds, And I will distress them, that they may find it so. He will not only throw them out hence (that he may do and yet they may be easy elsewhere); but, whithersoever they go, trouble shall follow them; they shall be continually perplexed and straitened, and at a loss within themselves: and who or what can make those easy whom God will distress, whom he will distress that they may find it so, that they may feel that which they would not believe? They were often told of the weight of God's wrath and their utter inability to make head against it, or bear up under it. They were told that their sin would be their ruin, and they would not regard nor credit what was told them; but now they shall find it so; and therefore God will pursue them with his judgments, that they may find it so, and be forced to acknowledge it. Note, sooner or later sinners will find it just as the word of God has represented things to them, and no better, and that the threatenings were not bugbears.

II. He brings in the people sadly lamenting their calamities (v. 19): Woe is me for my hurt! Some make this the prophet's own lamentation, not for himself, but for the calamities and desolations of his country. He mourned for those that would not be persuaded to mourn for themselves; and, since there were none that had so much sense as to join with them, he weeps in secret, and cries out, Woe is me! In mournful times it becomes us to be of a mournful spirit. But it may be taken as the language of the people, considered as a body, and therefore speaking as a single person. The prophet puts into their mouths the words they should say; whether they would say them or no, they should have cause to say them. Some among them would thus bemoan themselves, and all of them, at last, would be forced to do it. 1. They lament that the affliction is very great, and it is very hard to them to bear it, the more hard because they had not been used to trouble and now did not expect it: "Woe is me for my hurt, not for what I fear, but for what I feel;" for they are not, as some are, worse frightened than hurt. Nor is it a slight hurt, but a wound, a wound that is grievous, very painful, and very threatening. 2. That there is no remedy but patience. They cannot help themselves, but must sit still, and abide it: But I said, when I was about to complain of my wound, To what purpose is it to complain? This is a grief, and I must bear it as well as I can. This is the language rather of a sullen than of a gracious submission, of a patience per force, not a patience by principle. When I am in affliction I should say, "This is an evil, and I will bear it, because it is the will of God that I should, because his wisdom has appointed this for me and his grace will make it work for good to me." This is receiving evil at the hand of God, Job ii. 10. But to say, "This is an evil, and I must bear it, because I cannot help it," is but a brutal patience, and argues a want of those good thoughts of God which we should always have, even under our afflictions, saying, not only, God can and will do what he pleases, but, Let him do what he pleases. 3. That the country was quite ruined and wasted (v. 20): My tabernacle is spoiled. Jerusalem, though a strong city, now proves as weak and moveable as a tabernacle or tent, when it is taken down, and all its cords, that should keep it together, are broken. Or by the tabernacle here may be meant the temple, the sanctuary, which at first was but a tabernacle, and is now called so, as then it was sometimes called a temple. Their church is ruined, and all the supports of it fail. It was a general destruction of church and state, city and country, and there were none to repair these desolations. "My children have gone forth of me; some have fled, others are slain, others carried into captivity, so that as to me, they are not; I am likely to be an outcast, and to perish for want of shelter; for there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, none of my children that used to do it for me, none to set up my curtains, none to do me any service." Jerusalem has none to guide her of all her sons, Isa. li. 18. 4. That the rulers took no care, nor any proper measures, for the redress of their grievances and the re-establishing of heir ruined state (v. 21): The pastors have become brutish. When the tents, the shepherds' tents, were spoiled (v. 20), it concerned the shepherds to look after them; but they were foolish shepherds. Their kings and princes had no regard at all for the public welfare, seemed to have no sense of the desolations of the land, but were quite besotted and infatuated. The priests, the pastors of God's tabernacle, did a great deal towards the ruin of religion, but nothing towards the repair of it. They are brutish indeed, for they have not sought the Lord; they have neither made their peace with him nor their prayer to him; they had no eye to him and his providence, in their management of affairs; they neither acknowledged the judgment, nor expected the deliverance, to come from his hand. Note, Those are brutish people that do not seek the Lord, that live without prayer, and live without God in the world. Every man is either a saint or a brute. But it is sad indeed with a people when their pastors, that should feed them with knowledge and understanding, are themselves thus brutish. And what comes of it? Therefore they shall not prosper; none of their attempts for the public safety shall succeed. Note, Those cannot expect to prosper who do not by faith and prayer take God along with them in all their ways. And, when the pastors are brutish, what else can be expected but that all their flocks should be scattered? For, if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch. The ruin of a people is often owing to the brutishness of their pastors. 5. That the report of the enemy's approach was very dreadful (v. 22): The noise of the bruit has come, of the report which at first was but whispered and bruited abroad, as wanting confirmation. It now proves too true: A great commotion arises out of the north country, which threatens to make all the cities of Judah desolate and a den of dragons; for they must all expect to be sacrificed to the avarice and fury of the Chaldean army. And what else can that place expect but to be made a den of dragons which has by sin made itself a den of thieves?

III. He turns to God, and addresses himself to him, finding it to little purpose to speak to the people. It is some comfort to poor ministers that, if men will not hear them, God will; and to him they have liberty of access at all times. Let them close their preaching with prayer, as the prophet, and then they shall have no reason to say that they have laboured in vain.

1. The prophet here acknowledges the sovereignty and dominion of the divine Providence, that by it, and not by their own will and wisdom, the affairs both of nations and particular persons are directed and determined, v. 23. This is an article of our faith which it is very proper for us to make confession of at the throne of grace when we are complaining of an affliction or suing for a mercy: "O Lord, I know, and believe, that the way of man is not in himself; Nebuchadnezzar did not come of himself against our land, but by the direction of a divine Providence." We cannot of ourselves do any thing for our own relief, unless God work with us and command deliverance for us; for it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, though he seem in his walking to be perfectly at liberty and to choose his own way. Those that had promised themselves a long enjoyment of their estates and possessions were made to know, by sad experience, when they were thrown out by the Chaldeans, that the way of man is not in himself; he designs which men lay deep, and think well-formed, are dashed to pieces in a moment. We must all apply this to ourselves, and mix faith with it, that we are not at our own disposal, but under a divine direction; the event is often overruled so as to be quite contrary to our intention and expectation. We are not masters of our own way, nor can we think that every thing should be according to our mind; we must therefore refer ourselves to God and acquiesce in his will. Some think that the prophet here mentions this with a design to make this comfortable use of it, that, the way of the Chaldean army being not in themselves, they can do no more than God permits them; he can set bounds to thee proud waves, and say, Hitherto they shall come, and no further. And a quieting consideration it is that the most formidable enemies have no power against us but what is given them from above.

2. He deprecates the divine wrath, that it might not fall upon God's Israel, v. 24. He speaks not for himself only, but on the behalf of his people: O Lord, correct me, but with judgment (in measure and with moderation, and in wisdom, no more than is necessary for driving out of the foolishness that is bound up in our hearts), not in thy anger (how severe soever the correction be, let it come from thy love, and be designed for our good and made to work for good), not to bring us to nothing, but to bring us home to thyself. Let it not be according to the desert of our sins, but according to the design of thy grace. Note, (1.) We cannot pray in faith that we may never be corrected, while we are conscious to ourselves that we need correction and deserve it, and know that as many as God loves he chastens. (2.) The great thing we should dread in affliction is the wrath of God. Say not, Lord, do not correct me, but, Lord, do not correct me in anger; for that will infuse wormwood and gall into the affliction and misery that will bring us to nothing. We may bear the smart of his rod, but we cannot bear the weight of his wrath.

3. He imprecates the divine wrath against the oppressors and persecutors of Israel (v. 25): Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not. This prayer does not come from a spirit of malice or revenge, nor is it intended to prescribe to God whom he should execute his judgments upon, or in what order; but, (1.) It is an appeal to his justice. As if he had said, "Lord, we are a provoking people; but are there not other nations that are more so? And shall we only be punished? We are thy children, and may expect a fatherly correction; but they are thy enemies, and against them we have reason to think thy indignation should be, not against us." This is God's usual method. The cup put into the hands of God's people is full of mixtures, mixtures of mercy; but the dregs of the cup are reserved for the wicked of the earth, let them wring them out, Ps. lxxv. 8. (2.) It is a prediction of God's judgments upon all the impenitent enemies of his church and kingdom. If judgment begin thus at the house of God, what shall be the end of those that obey not his gospel? 1 Pet. iv. 17. See how the heathen are described, on whom God's fury shall be poured out. [1.] They are strangers to God, and are content to be so. They know him not, nor desire to know him. They are families that live without prayer, that have nothing of religion among them; they call not on God's name. Those that restrain prayer prove that they know not God; for those that know him will seek to him and entreat his favour. [2.] They are persecutors of the people of God and are resolved to be so. They have eaten up Jacob with as much greediness as those that are hungry eat their necessary food; nay, with more, they have devoured him, and consumed him, and made his habitation desolate, that is, the land in which he lives, or the temple of God, which is his habitation among them. Note, What the heathen, in their rage and malice, do against the people of God, though therein he makes use of them as the instruments of his correction, yet he will, for that, make them the objects of his indignation. This prayer is taken from Ps. lxxix. 6, 7.