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26. Jeremiah Threatened With Death

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the Lord, saying, 2Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord’S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word: 3If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings. 4And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, 5To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; 6Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. 7So the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord.

8Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die. 9Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

10When the princes of Judah heard these things, then they came up from the king’s house unto the house of the Lord, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of the Lord’S house. 11Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.

12Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. 13Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. 14As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. 15But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.

16Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God. 17Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying, 18Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. 19Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls. 20And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah: 21And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt; 22And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt. 23And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people. 24Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.

We hence conclude, that the people in assenting to the sentence of the priests and prophets, had done nothing according to their own judgment, but that all of every rank through a violent feeling condemned Jeremiah. And as the priests and prophets directed also their discourse to the people, it appears clear, that they were guided by them, so that they thoughtlessly and inconsiderately gave their consent; for it often happens in a mob that the people exclaim, “Be it so, be it so; amen, amen.” Jeremiah has indeed said, that he was condemned by the whole people; but it must be observed, that the people are like the sea, which of itself is calm and tranquil; but as soon as any wind arises, there is a great commotion, and waves dash one against another; so also it is with the people, who without being excited are quiet and peaceable; but a sedition is easily raised, when any one stirs up men who are thoughtless and changeable, and who, to retain the same simile, are fluid like water. This, then, is what Jeremiah now intimates.

But there is another thing to be noticed, — that the common people suffer themselves to be drawn in all directions; but they may also be easily restored, as it has been said, to a right mind. “When they see,” says Virgil, “a man remarkable for piety and good works, they become silent and attend with listening ears.” He there describes (Aeneid, 1) a popular commotion, which he compares to a tempest; and he rightly speaks of a tempest; but he added this simile according to common usage. The same thing is now set before us by the Prophet; the priests and prophets, who thought that they alone could boast of their power and speak with authority, in a manner constrained the people apparently to consent. The king’s counsellors being now present, the people became as it were mute; the priests perceived this, and we shall see by the issue that what the same poet mentions took place, “By his words he rules their hearts and softens their breasts.” For it became easy for the king’s counsellors even by a word to calm this foolish violence of the people. We shall indeed soon see, that they unhesitantly said, “There is no judgment of death against this man.” It is hence evident how easily ignorant men may be made inconsistent with themselves; but this is to be ascribed to their inconstancy; and noticed also ought to be what I have said, that there was no real consent, because there was no judgment exercised. The authority of the priests overpowered them; and then they servilely confessed what they saw pleased their princes, like an ass, who nods with his ears.

Now, when the subject is duly considered, it appears, that the priests and the prophets alone spoke both to the princes and to the whole people, that Jeremiah was guilty of death, 165165     The words literally are, “The judgment (or sentence) of death is to this man,” or, belongs “to this man,” that is, is deserved by him. They were now, it seems, before the court of justice, the princes sat as magistrates or judges; and this was the accusation brought by the priests and prophets; they had no power themselves of passing the sentence, they only declared him as worthy of death. — Ed. because he had prophesied against the city. We have said that they relied on those promises, which they absurdly applied for the purpose of confirming their own impiety, even that God had chosen that city that he might be there worshipped. It was a false principle, and whence proceeded their error? not from mere ignorance, but rather from presumption, for hypocrites are never deceived, except when they determine not to obey God, and as far as they can to reject his judgments. When, therefore, they are carried away by a perverse and wicked impulse, they ever find out some plausible pretext; but it is nothing but a disguise, as we clearly see from this narrative. It follows, —


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