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The Sign of the Yoke


In the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the L ord. 2Thus the L ord said to me: Make yourself a yoke of straps and bars, and put them on your neck. 3Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. 4Give them this charge for their masters: Thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: 5It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the people and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever I please. 6Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him. 7All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

8 But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, then I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the L ord, until I have completed its destruction by his hand. 9You, therefore, must not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” 10For they are prophesying a lie to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land; I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, says the L ord, to till it and live there.

12 I spoke to King Zedekiah of Judah in the same way: Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. 13Why should you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the L ord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are telling you not to serve the king of Babylon, for they are prophesying a lie to you. 15I have not sent them, says the L ord, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.

16 Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus says the L ord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, “The vessels of the L ord’s house will soon be brought back from Babylon,” for they are prophesying a lie to you. 17Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? 18If indeed they are prophets, and if the word of the L ord is with them, then let them intercede with the L ord of hosts, that the vessels left in the house of the L ord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. 19For thus says the L ord of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, 20which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon did not take away when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem— 21thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels left in the house of the L ord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: 22They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall stay, until the day when I give attention to them, says the L ord. Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.

And he also adds, The residue of the vessels which remains, in this city By adding, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took not away, he indirectly condemned the Jews, because they did not acknowledge that the cruelty of their enemy had been moderated by divine power. For we know how cruel were Babylonians, and how insatiable was their avarice, and that nothing would have been left in the Temple had not their hands been in a manner restrained by the hidden power of God. The Jews ought to have duly considered this, and therefore the Prophet alludes to their ingratitude when he says, that Nebuchadnezzar had not taken away the vessels when yet he led captive the king and all the chief men, both of the city and the whole land. There is, indeed, to be understood here a comparison between the less and the greater, as though he had said, “Nebuchadnezzar would not have been so gentle had not God moderated his spirit, for he spared not your king, he led into exile all your chief men; how, then, was it that he left anything to remain in your city, and that the pillars were not taken away? Did he despise them? They have been polished with exquisite skill, and the materials are very costly. Ye hence see that God gave you a proof of his mercy, for some things still remain safe in the city as well as in the Temple; yet ye disregard this so great a benefit bestowed on you by God; what, then, will at length happen to you?” We now perceive the Prophet’s design in these words when he says, that the vessels were not taken away, even when the king was taken captive, and when the chief men of the land were led into exile.

Useful instruction may also be hence gathered. Whenever God chastises us, let us ever consider that he does not proceed to extremities; for the cause of murmuring, and often of despair, is this, — because we think that he deals with us with extreme rigor. But this happens through our sinful and perverted judgment; for God never afflicts us so severely but that some portion of kindness and of moderation ever appears; in a word, his judgments are always founded on his goodness. Were any one, therefore, rightly to call to mind how far he is from suffering extreme evils, it would conduce much to alleviate his sorrows. But when we reject every knowledge of God’s goodness, and only consider his severity, we either murmur or in a manner become furious against him. But this passage teaches us, that when God leaves some residue to us, it is an evidence of his paternal favor, and that therefore something more may be hoped for, provided we from the heart repent.

The design, then, of the Prophet’s warning was, that the Jews might receive this remaining favor of God, and not proceed in their obstinacy until God again stretched forth his hand to destroy them.

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