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4. Unfaithful Israel
1If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith Jehovah, if thou wilt return unto me, and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight; then shalt thou not be removed; 2and thou shalt swear, As Jehovah liveth, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. 3For thus saith Jehovah to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn so that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. 5Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry aloud and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities. 6Set up a standard toward Zion: flee for safety, stay not; for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. 7A lion is gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations; he is on his way, he is gone forth from his place, to make thy land desolate, that thy cities be laid waste, without inhabitant. 8For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and wail; for the fierce anger of Jehovah is not turned back from us. 9And it shall come to pass at that day, saith Jehovah, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder. 10Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the life. 11At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A hot wind from the bare heights in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow, nor to cleanse; 12a full wind from these shall come for me: now will I also utter judgments against them. 13Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are ruined. 14O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thine evil thoughts lodge within thee? 15For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth evil from the hills of Ephraim: 16make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 17As keepers of a field are they against her round about, because she hath been rebellious against me, saith Jehovah. 18Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness; for it is bitter, for it reacheth unto thy heart. 19My anguish, my anguish! I am pained at my very heart; my heart is disquieted in me; I cannot hold my peace; because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is laid waste: suddenly are my tents destroyed, and my curtains in a moment. 21How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are sottish children, and they have no understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. 23I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was waste and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful field was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of Jehovah, and before his fierce anger. 27For thus saith Jehovah, The whole land shall be a desolation; yet will I not make a full end. 28For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and I have not repented, neither will I turn back from it. 29Every city fleeth for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they go into the thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city is forsaken, and not a man dwelleth therein. 30And thou, when thou art made desolate, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with scarlet, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou enlargest thine eyes with paint, in vain dost thou make thyself fair; thy lovers despise thee, they seek thy life. 31For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that gaspeth for breath, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul fainteth before the murderers.
Punishment Predicted. (b. c. 620.)
5 Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities. 6 Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. 7 The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. 8 For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us. 9 And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder. 10 Then said I, Ah, Lord God! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul. 11 At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A dry wind of the high places in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to fan, nor to cleanse, 12 Even a full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence against them. 13 Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled. 14 O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? 15 For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from mount Ephraim. 16 Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 17 As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the Lord. 18 Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart.
God's usual method is to warn before he wounds. In these verses, accordingly, God gives notice to the Jews of the general desolation that would shortly be brought upon them by a foreign invasion. This must be declared and published in all the cities of Judah and streets of Jerusalem, that all might hear and fear, and by this loud alarm be either brought to repentance or left inexcusable. The prediction of this calamity is here given very largely, and in lively expressions, which one would think should have awakened and affected the most stupid. Observe,
I. The war proclaimed, and general notice given of the advance of the enemy. It is published now, some years before, by the prophet; but, since this will be slighted, it shall be published after another manner when the judgment is actually breaking in, v. 5, 6. The trumpet must be blown, the standard must be set up, a summons must be issued out to the people to gather together and to draw towards Zion, either to guard it or expecting to be guarded by it. There must be a general rendezvous. The militia must be raised and all the forces mustered. Those that are able men, and fit for service, must go into the defenced cities, to garrison them; those that are weak, and would lessen their provisions, but not increase their strength, must retire, and not stay.
II. An express arrived with intelligence of the approach of the king of Babylon and his army. It is an evil that God will bring from the north (as he had said, ch. i. 15), even a great destruction, beyond all that had yet come upon the nation of the Jews. The enemy is here compared, 1. To a lion that comes up from his thicket, when he is hungry, to seek his prey, v. 7. The helpless beasts are so terrified with his roaring (as some report) that they cannot flee from him, and so become an easy prey to him. Nebuchadnezzar is this roaring tearing lion, the destroyer of the nations, that has laid many countries waste, and now is on his way in full speed towards the land of Judah. The destroyer of the Gentiles shall be the destroyer of the Jews too, when they have by their idolatry made themselves like the Gentiles. "He has gone forth from his place, from Babylon, or the place of the rendezvous of his army, on purpose against this land; that is the prey he has now his eye upon, not to plunder it only, but to make it desolate, and herein he shall succeed to such a degree that the cities shall be laid waste, without inhabitants, shall be overgrown with grass as a field;" so some read it. 2. To a drying blasting wind (v. 11), a parching scorching wind, which spoils the fruits of the earth and withers them, not a wind which brings rain, but such as comes out of the north, which drives away rain (Prov. xxv. 23), but brings something worse instead of it; such shall this evil out of the north be to this people, a black freezing wind, which they can neither fence against nor flee from, but, wherever they go, it shall surround and pursue them; and they cannot see it before it comes, but, when it comes, they shall feel it. It is a wind of the high places in the wilderness, or plain, that beats upon the tops of the hills or that carries all before it in the plain, where there is no shelter, but the ground is all champaign. It shall come in its full force towards the daughters of my people, that have been brought up so tenderly and delicately that they could not endure to have the wind blow upon them. Now this fierce wind shall come against them, not to fan, nor cleanse them, not such a gentle wind as is used in winnowing corn, but a full wind (v. 12), a strong and violent wind, blowing full upon them. This shall come to me, or rather for me; it shall come with commission from God and shall accomplish that for which he sends it; for this, as other stormy winds, fulfills his word. 3. To clouds and whirlwinds for swiftness, v. 13. The Chaldean army shall come up as clouds driven with the wind, so thick shall they stand, so fast shall they march, and it shall be to no purpose to offer to stop them or make head against them, any more than to arrest a cloud or give check to a whirlwind. The horses are swifter than eagles when they fly upon their prey; it is in vain to think either of opposing them or of outrunning them. 4. To watchers and the keepers of a field, v. 15-17. The voice declares from Dan, a city which lay furthest north of all the cities of Canaan, and therefore received the first tidings of this evil from the north and hastened it to Mount Ephraim, that part of the land of Israel which lay next to Judea; they received the news of the affliction and transmitted it to Jerusalem. Ill news flies apace; and an impenitent people, that hates to be reformed, can expect no other that ill news. Now, what is the news? "Tell the nations, those mixed nations that now inhabit the cities of the ten tribes, mention it to them, that they may provide for their own safety; but publish it against Jerusalem, that is the place aimed at, the game shot at, let them know that watchers have come from a far country, that is, soldiers, that will watch all opportunities to do mischief." Private soldiers we call private sentinels, or watchmen. "They are coming in full career, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah; they design to invest them, to make themselves masters of them, and to attack them with loud shouts, as sure of victory. As keepers of a field surround it, to keep all out from it, so shall they surround the cities of Judah, to keep all in them, till they be constrained to surrender at discretion; they are against her round about, compassing her in on every side." See Luke xix. 43. As formerly the good angels, those watchers, and holy ones, were like keepers of a field to Jerusalem, watching about it, that nothing might go in to its prejudice, so now their enemies were as watchers and keepers of a field, surrounding it that nothing might go in to its relief and succour.
III. The lamentable cause of this judgment. How is it that Judah and Jerusalem come to be thus abandoned to ruin? See how it came to this. 1. They sinned against God; it was all owing to themselves: She has been rebellious against me, saith the Lord, v. 17. Their enemies surrounded them as keepers of a field, because they had taken up arms against their rightful Lord and sovereign, and were to be seized as rebels. The Chaldeans were breaking in upon them, and it was sin that opened the gap at which they entered: Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee (v. 18), thy evil way and thy doings that have not been good. It was not a false step or two that did them this mischief, but their way and course of living were bad. Note, Sin is the procuring cause of all our troubles. Those that go on in sin while they are endeavouring to ward off mischiefs with one hand are at the same time pulling them upon their own heads with the other. 2. God was angry with them for their sin. It is the fierce anger of the Lord that makes the army of the Chaldeans thus fierce, thus furious; that is kindled against us, and is not turned back from us, v. 8. Note, In men's anger against us, and the violence of that, we must see and own God's anger and the power of that. If that were turned back from us, our enemies could not come forward against us. 3. In his just and holy anger he condemned them to this dreadful punishment: Now also will I give sentence against them, v. 12. The execution was done, not in a heat, but in pursuance of a sentence solemnly passed, according to equity, and upon mature deliberation. Some read it, Now will I do execution upon them, according to the doom formerly passed; and we are sure that the judgment of God is according to the truth, and the execution of that judgment.
IV. The lamentable effects of this judgment, upon the first alarm given of it. 1. The people that should fight shall quite despair and shall not have a heart to make the least stand against the enemy (v. 8): "For this gird yourself with sackcloth, lament and howl," that is, "you will do so. When the cry is made through the kingdom, Arm, arm! all will be seized with a consternation, and all put into confusion. Instead of girding on the sword, they will gird on the sackcloth; instead of animating one another to a vigorous resistance, they will lament and howl, and so dishearten one another. While the enemy is yet at a distance they will give up all for gone, and cry, Woe unto us! for we are spoiled, v. 13. We are all undone, the spoilers will certainly carry the day, and it is in vain to make head against them." Judah and Jerusalem had been famed for valiant men; but see what is the effect of sin: by depriving men of their confidence towards God, it deprives them of their courage towards men. 2. Their great men, who should contrive for the public safety, shall be at their wits' end (v. 9): At that day the heart of the king shall perish, both his wisdom and his courage. Despairing of success, he shall have no spirit to do any thing, and, if he had, he will not know what to do. His princes and privy-counselors, who should animate and advise him, shall be as much at a loss and as much in despair as he. See how easily, how effectually, God can bring ruin upon a people that are doomed to it, merely by dispiriting them, taking away the heart of the chief of them (Job xii. 20, 24), cutting off the spirit of princes, Ps. lxxvi. 12. The business of the priests was to encourage the people in the time of war; they were to say to the people, Fear not, and let not your hearts faint, Deut. xx. 2, 3. They were to blow the trumpets, for an assurance to them that in the day of battle they should be remembered before the Lord their God, Num. x. 9. But now the priests themselves shall be astonished, and shall have no heart themselves to do their office, and therefore shall not be likely to put spirit into the people. The prophets too, the false prophets, who had cried peace to them, shall be put into the greatest amazement imaginable, seeing their own guilty blood ready to be shed by that sword which they had often told the people there was no danger of. Note, God's judgments come with the greatest terror upon those that have been most secure. Our Saviour foretels that at the last destruction of Jerusalem men's hearts should fail them for fear, Luke xxi. 26. And it is common for those who have cheated and flattered people into a carnal security not only to fail them, but to discourage them, when the trouble comes.
V. The prophet's complaint of the people's being deceived, v. 10. It is expressed strangely, as we read it: Ah! Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people, saying, You shall have peace. We are sure that God deceives none. Let no man say, when he is tempted or deluded, that God has tempted or deluded him. But, 1. The people deceived themselves with the promises that God had made in general of his favour to that nation, and the many peculiar privileges with which they were dignified, building upon them, though they took no care to perform the conditions on which the accomplishment of those promises and the continuance of those privileges did depend; and they had no regard to the threatenings which in the law were set over-against those promises. Thus they cheated themselves and then wickedly complained that God had cheated them. 2. The false prophets deceived them with promises of peace, which they made them in God's name. ch. xxiii. 17; xxvii. 9. If God had sent them, he had indeed greatly deceived the people, but he had not. It was the people's fault that they gave them credit; and here also they deceived themselves. 3. God had permitted the false prophets to deceive, and the people to be deceived by them, giving both up to strong delusions, to punish them for not receiving the truth in the love of it. Herein the Lord was righteous; but the prophet complains of it as the sorest judgment of all, for by this means they had been hardened in their sins. 4. It may be read with an interrogation, "Hast thou indeed thus deceived this people? It is plain that they are greatly deceived, for they expect peace, whereas the sword reaches unto the soul; that is, it is a killing sword, abundance of lives are lost, and more likely to be." Now, was it God that deceived them? No, he had often given them warning of judgments in general and of this in particular; but their own prophets deceive them, and cry peace to those to whom the God of heaven does not speak peace. It is a pitiable thing, and that which every good man greatly laments, to see people flattered into their own ruin, and promising themselves peace when war is at the door; and this we should complain of to God, who alone can prevent such a fatal delusion.
VI. The prophet's endeavour to undeceive them. When the prophets they loved and caressed dealt falsely with them, he whom they hated and persecuted dealt faithfully. 1. He shows them their wound. They were loth to see it, very loth to have it searched into; but, if they will allow themselves the liberty of a free thought, they might discover their punishment in their sin (v. 18): "This is thy wickedness because it is bitter. Now thou seest that it is a bitter thing to depart from God, and will certainly be bitterness in the latter end, ch. ii. 19. It produces bitter effects, and grief that reaches unto the heart, touches to the quick, and in the most tender part; the sword reaches to the soul," v. 10. God can make trouble reach the heart even of those that would lay nothing to heart. "And by this thou mayest see what is thy wickedness, that it is a bitter thing, a root of bitterness, that bears gall and wormwood, and that it has reached to the heart; it is the corruption of the soul, of the imagination of the thought of the heart." If the heart were not polluted with sin, it would not be disturbed and disquieted as it is with trouble. 2. He shows them the cure, v. 14. "Since thy wickedness reaches to the heart, there the application must be made. O Jerusalem! wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved." By Jerusalem he means each one of the inhabitants of Jerusalem; for every man has a heart of his own to take care of, and it is personal reformation that must help the public. Every one must return from his own evil way, and, in order to that, cleanse his own evil heart. "And let the heart of the city too be purified, not the suburbs only, the outskirts of it." The vitals of a state must be amended by the reformation of those that have the commanding influence upon it. Note, (1.) Reformation is absolutely necessary to salvation. There is no other way of preventing judgments, or turning them away when we are threatened with them, but taking away the sin by which we have procured them to ourselves. (2.) No reformation is saving but that which reaches the heart. There is heart-wickedness that is defiling to the soul, from which we must wash ourselves. By repentance and faith we must wash our hearts from the guilt we have contracted by spiritual wickedness, by those sins which begin and end in the heart and go no further; and by mortification and watchfulness we must suppress and prevent this heart-wickedness for the future. The tree must be made good, else the fruit will not. Jerusalem was all overspread with the leprosy of sin. Now as the physicians agree with respect to the body when afflicted with leprosy that external applications will do no good, unless physic be taken inwardly to carry off the humours that lurk there and to change the mass of the blood, so it is with the soul, so it is with the state: there will be no effectual reformation of the manners without a reformation of the mind; the mistakes there must be rectified, the corruptions there must be mortified, and the evil dispositions there changed. "Though thou art Jerusalem, called a holy city, that will not save thee, unless thou wash thy heart from wickedness." In the latter part of the verse he reasons with them: How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? He complains here [1.] Of the delays of their reformation: "How long shall that filthy heart of thine continue unwashed? When shall it once be?" Note, The God of heaven thinks the time long that his room is usurped, and his interest opposed, in our souls, ch. xiii. 27. [2.] Of the root of their corruption, the vain thoughts that lodged within them and defiled their hearts, from which they must wash their hearts. Thoughts of iniquity or mischief, these are the evil thoughts that are the spawn of the evil heart, from which all other wickedness is produced, Matt. xv. 19. These are our own, the conceptions of our own lusts (Jam. i. 15), and they are the most dangerous when they lodge within us, when they are admitted and entertained as guests, and are suffered to continue. Some read it thoughts of affliction, such thoughts as will bring nothing but affliction and misery. Some by the vain thoughts here understand all those frivolous pleas and excuses with which they turned off the reproofs and calls of the word and rendered them ineffectual, and bolstered themselves up in their wickedness. Wash thy heart from wickedness, and think not to say, We are not polluted (ch. ii. 23), or, "We are Jerusalem; we have Abraham to our father," Matt. iii. 8, 9.