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rescued by Ebedmelech an Ethiopian eunuch. Another interview, first with the feeble-minded king, and then with Pashur (not the one mentioned chap. xx.) and with Zephaniah, effects no change in the position of affairs, and in the 11th year of Zedekiah the city is sacked, the Temple burnt, and he and his attendants taken prisoners while in the act of flight Zedekiah is taken to Riblah on the northern frontier of Palestine, his sons are slain in his presence, and his eyes being then put out, he is immured in a dismal dungeon.
17. As for Jeremiah, Nebuzar-adan, captain of the guard, receives a special charge concerning his welfare (chap. xxxix. 11, 12), and having been recognised among the prisoners of war at Ramah a village about five miles from Jerusalem, he is offered his choice of remaining under the new governor of Judaea, Gedaliah, or living in an honourable captivity at Babylon. Gedaliah was of a family friendly to Jeremiah. He was son of Ahikam, and grandson of Shaphan, the friend of Hilkiah the high- 1 priest, and perhaps identical with Hilkiah the father of the prophet1. Within two months however Gedaliah was murdered by Ishmael a prince of the blood royal. Many were slain. Jeremiah was probably among the prisoners, who while being carried off by Ishmael were rescued by Johanan. This last was one of those warlike captains who, as we saw, had sprung up during the later years of the kingdom. The prophet in vain warned the people against going down into Egypt, and foretold the want and misery which would ensue, if they disobeyed. The expectation of security from war and famine (chap. xlii. 14) prevailed; they forced Jeremiah to accompany them, and from Tahpanhes, a town near the eastern border of Lower (= Northern) Egypt, we draw the last certain notices that we possess of his life. He declares that Nebuchadnezzar's throne shall be set up there at the entry of Pharaoh's house (chap. xliii. 10), and (chap, xliv.) makes a dying protest against the idolatry i of his countrymen, and their wanton worship of the moon (" the J queen of heaven"). We have no notice in Scripture of his death.
'The noble form of Jeremiah, the greatest of all the historical and literary prophets, fades from our sight together with the monarchy. In misery and continual peril of death he witnessed the fall of the State and the destruction of Jerusalem ;— he survived it, but in the silent tomb of an alien land1.'
For traditions, &c., concerning Jeremiah and for the prophet considered as a type of Christ, see Appendix.
CHARACTER AND STYLE OF THE BOOK.
1. Jeremiah is personally the most interesting to us of all the prophets, because, unlike the others, he shews us the inmost recesses of his mind. The various qualities which made up the man are quickly and easily gathered from his own lips. There is hardly a clearer illustration of the Providence of God in raising up men for special sorts of work than is afforded by Jeremiah. We have just seen that they were no ordinary times in which he lived. 'The snake' of idolatry had been 'scotched not killed' by Hezekiah and Josiah. The spirit of disobedience and rebellion, which had been so long working in his countrymen, was now past remedy by all common means. Nothing but the nation's total overthrow, at least for a time, could effect a radical cure.
2. Glowing appeals, such as had been made by an Isaiah, a Hosea, a Micah in former days, would now have been of no avail Those prophets had fulfilled their task, and the Holy Spirit had employed their special gifts for the work which belonged to their age. Jeremiah's office on the other hand was to utter and reiterate the warning, though sensible all the while that the sentence of condemnation was passed and would speedily be put into execution. It was not for him as for those who had preceded him to proclaim the certainty of God's protection, to urge resistance to the foe, to present scarce any but bright pictures of the future. Hopes like these, bestowed through
1 Bunsen's God in History (Winkworth and Stanley), Vol. 1. p. 67.
Isaiah, had since been forfeited, and now hardly anything remains save to mourn the downfall of the kingdom, to point again and yet again to the canker that had eaten out the vitals of the nation.
3. Such a task as this demanded one who, however weak in body, should be a man of rare courage, unterrified by popular clamour or princely disfavour, fixed in resolve, and thoroughly devoted to the ascertained will of God. He needed not natural gifts of oratory. His work was not to persuade, but rather to testify, to express the thoughts of the few remaining pious ones of the nation, not to gain the ear or influence the hearts of the abandoned crowd. The wearing effect of constant failure, the intense pain of seeing his nation advance step by step on the road to its overthrow, his powerlessness to avert the evils which he saw impending, the hostility and abuse which it was his daily lot to bear from those whom he sought to warn, a solitary life and prohibition of marriage1—these required as a counterpoise a heroic spirit that should not shrink from the encounter, as well as ceaseless devotion to Him whose commission he had borne even from the womb2.
4. And yet he was naturally of a shy and timid disposition, shrinking from public life, deprecating all possibility of prophesying in God's name3. And after he had entered upon his work, his naturally desponding mind would suggest not only that the message he bore was a sad one, but that he had not had afforded him the proofs—the credentials which marked a true prophet—such as were granted to his predecessors. No miracle was wrought to attest his words. No prediction was fulfilled with speed, so as to indicate the solidity of his claims. On the contrary "the word of the Lord was a reproach to him, and a derision daily4."
5. At times he seems to have well-nigh despaired not only of success but of life itself. "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the
whole earth!... every one of them doth curse me1." Immediately afterwards he contrasts the joy in which, inspired no doubt by the promises given him2, he had entered upon the prophetic office, with the disheartening reception that awaited him. "Thy words were found and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart...Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed?" Such is the bitterness of his sufferings that on one occasion we find him relating his resolve to keep silence. "The word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name: but his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay3."
6. Belonging to the orders both of Priest and Prophet, and living at the very time when each had sunk to its lowest state of degradation, he was compelled to submit to the buffeting which they each bestowed upon a man who was by his every word and deed passing sentence upon themselves. He saw them permitted to vent their rage upon his person, he saw them held in esteem by the people, their way prospering, those that dealt treacherously happy. "For the greater part of his mission he 'had no man likeminded with him.' From the first moment of his call he was alone, amidst a hostile world4." But through it all conscientious devotion to duty maintained its place within his heart. The promise that he should be as a brasen wall made at the time of his call6 and renewed later6 never failed him.
7. Jeremiah has been likened to several characters in profane history—to Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess, whose fate it was never to be believed, though prophesying nothing but the truth; to Phocion, the rival of Demosthenes in the last generation of Athenian greatness, who maintained the unpopular but sound doctrine that, if Athens were to escape worse evils, she must submit peaceably to the growing power of Macedon; to Dante,
whose native state, Florence, was in relation to France and the Empire as Palestine was to Egypt and Babylon, while the poet like the prophet could only protest without effect against the thickening ills.
8. His style corresponds closely with what we should expect from his character. It displays
(a) Absence of ornament. This thoroughly befits his inartificial nature. He is not only pre-eminently the prophet of sorrow, but, as shrinking from anything like display of himself, and full of humility as of zeal for God's honour, he naturally was led to the simplest form of words to express the painful images which ever held possession of his thoughts. In him the glowing language and vivacity which characterize Isaiah's writings have no place, and while his style has a beauty of its own, it has at its best a shade of sadness, and its fervour, when it rises to such, is the fervour of expostulation or grief.
(6) Frequent repetition. This also is to be expected, inasmuch as the main subject, on which he is charged to deliver himself, is the same throughout. However manifold the images by which he illustrates the thought, however varied the intensity with which he regards it, the sins to be denounced and the penalties foretold are in the main identical1.
List of places in which the same thought or image is repeated—
The travailing woman, iv. 31, vi. 24, xiii. 21, xxii. 23, xxx. 6.