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Jeremiah by William Smith

2. Prophets and Prophets. (XXIII. 9-32, XXVII-XXIX, etc.)

Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles had its consequences. First, there was their claim to have prophets of the Lord among themselves, which in our text immediately follows the Letter as if part of it, XXIX.15, 21-23, but which is probably of a somewhat later date.

XXIX.15. Because ye have said, The Lord hath raised us up prophets in Babylon, thus saith the Lord concerning Ahab son of Kolaiah and concerning Sedekiah son of Maaseiah,(505) Behold I am to give them into the hand of the king of Babylon and to your eyes shall he slay them.22. And of them shall a curse be taken up by all the exiles of Judah who are in Babylon saying, |The Lord set thee like Sedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted(506) in the fire!| 23. Because they have wrought folly in Israel and committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and in My Name have spoken words which I commanded them not. I am He who knoweth and am witness -- Rede of the Lord.

And, second, another of the |prophets| among the exiles sent to Jerusalem a protest against Jeremiah's Letter, XXIX.24-29.

This passage, especially in its concise Greek form, which as usual is devoid of the repetitions of titles and other redundant phrases in the Hebrew text, bears the stamp of genuineness.

XXIX.24. And unto Shemaiah the Nehemalite thou shalt say:(507) 25b. Because thou hast sent in thine own name a letter to Sephaniah, son of Maaseiah, the priest,(508) saying, The Lord hath appointed thee priest, instead of Jehoiada the priest, to be overseer in the House of the Lord for every man that is raving and takes on himself to be a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in the collar.27. Now therefore why hast thou not curbed Jeremiah of Anathoth, who takes on himself to prophesy unto you? 28. Hath he not sent to us in Babylon saying, |It(509) is long! Build ye houses and settle down, and plant gardens and eat their fruit.| 29. And Sephaniah read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah; and the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, Send to the exiles saying: Thus saith the Lord concerning Shemaiah the Nehemalite, Because Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, although I did not send him, and hath led you to trust in a lie; therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold I am about to visit upon Shemaiah and upon his seed; there shall not be a man to them in your midst to see the good which I am going to do you.(510)

In one respect Jeremiah has not changed. His denunciation of individuals who oppose the Word of the Lord by himself is as strong as ever, and still more dramatically than in the case of Shemaiah it appears in his treatment of the prophets within Jerusalem, who flouted his counsels of subjection to Nebuchadrezzar, Chs. XXVII-XXVIII. In this narrative or narratives (for the whole seems compounded of several, perhaps not all referring to the same occasion) the differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts are even more than usually great. The Greek again attracts our preference by its freedom from superfluous titles, repetitions and redundances, and is probably nearer than the Hebrew to the original of Baruch's Memoirs of the Prophet. But it is obviously not complete, missing out clauses, the presence of which is implied by subsequent ones.(511) The following is the substance of what Baruch reports.

It was the fourth year of Sedekiah, 593, when messengers from the neighbouring nations came to Jerusalem to intrigue under Egyptian influence for revolt against Babylon. Jeremiah was commanded to make a yoke of bars and thongs, and having put it on his neck to charge the messengers to tell their masters --

XXVII.4. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: I have made the Earth by My great power and Mine outstretched arm, and I give it unto whom it seems right to Me.6. So now I have given all these lands(512) into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, to serve him,(513) and even the beasts of the field to serve him.8. And it shall be that the nation and kingdom, which will not put their neck into the yoke of the king of Babylon, with the sword and with the famine(514) shall I visit them -- Rede of the Lord -- till they be consumed at his hand (?).9. But ye, hearken ye not to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers,(515) nor to your soothsayers, nor to your sorcerers, who say, |Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon|; for they prophesy a lie unto you, to the result of removing you far from your own soil.11. But the nation which brings its neck into the yoke of the king of Babylon and serves him, I will let it rest on its own soil and it shall till this and abide within it.

This is followed by a similar Oracle to Sedekiah himself, 12-15, and by another, 16-22, to the priests concerning a matter of peculiar anxiety to them.

16. Thus saith the Lord, Hearken ye not to the words of the(516) prophets, who prophesy to you saying, Behold, the vessels of the Lord's House shall be brought back from Babylon; for a lie are they prophesying to you. I have not sent them.(517) 18. But if prophets they be, and if the Word of the Lord is with them, let them now plead with Me [that the vessels left in the House of the Lord come not to Babylon].19. Yet thus saith the Lord concerning the residue of the vessels, which the king of Babylon did not take when he carried Jeconiah into exile from Jerusalem, unto Babylon shall they be brought -- Rede of the Lord.

The Hebrew text concludes with a prophecy of the restoration of the vessels, which had it been in the original the Greek translators could hardly have omitted, and which is therefore probably a post factum insertion. Not only, then, were the sacred vessels taken away in 597 to remain in Babylon, but such as were still left in Jerusalem would also be carried thither. It is possible that this address is now out of place and should follow the next chapter, XXVIII, which deals only with the vessels carried off in 597. Like the Hebrew the Greek text gives XXVIII a separate introduction which dates it in the fifth month of the fourth year of Sedekiah, but omits the Hebrew statement that the year was the same as that of the events and words recorded in XXVII. The extent of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek continues to be at least as great as before,(518) as a comparison will show between the Authorised Version and the following rendering which adheres to the Greek.

Jeremiah was still wearing his symbolic yoke of wood and thongs in the Temple, when his prediction that the sacred vessels would not be restored was flatly contradicted and with as much assurance that the contradiction was from the God of Israel, as Jeremiah's assurance about his own words. The speaker was like himself from the country of Benjamin, from Gibeon near Anathoth, Hananiah son of Azzur, who said --

XXVIII.2. Thus saith the Lord, I have broken(519) the yoke of the king of Babylon! 3. Within two years I will bring back to this place the vessels of the House of the Lord, and Jeconiah and all the exiles of Judah that went to Babylon; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.5. Then said Jeremiah to Hananiah, before the priests and all the people(520) standing in the House of the Lord -- yes, Jeremiah said,(521) Amen! The Lord do so! The Lord establish the words thou hast prophesied, by bringing back the vessels of the Lord's House and all the exiles from Babylon to this place! 7. Only hear, I pray thee, the Word of the Lord which I am about to speak in thine ears and in the ears of all the people.8. The prophets who have been before me and thee from of old, they prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms of war [and of famine (?) and pestilence].(522) 9. The prophet who prophesies of peace (it is only) when the word(523) comes to pass that the prophet is known(524) whom in truth the Lord hath sent.10. Then Hananiah(525) took the bars off the neck of Jeremiah and brake them.11. And Hananiah spake before all the people saying: Thus saith the Lord, Even so will I break the yoke of the king of Babylon [within two years](526) from off the necks of all the nations. And Jeremiah went his way.12. Then came the Word of the Lord to Jeremiah, after Hananiah had broken the bars from off his neck, saying, Go tell Hananiah, Thus saith the Lord: Thou hast broken the bars of wood but I will(527) make in their stead bars of iron.14. For thus saith the Lord, An iron yoke have I put upon the necks of all [these] nations, that they may serve the king of Babylon.15. And Jeremiah said to Hananiah,(528) The Lord hath not sent thee, but thou leadest this people to trust in a lie.16. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am about to dispatch thee from off the face of the ground -- this year thou shalt die.17. And he was dead(529) by the seventh month.

All praise to Baruch for his concise and vivid report, and to the Greek translator who has reproduced it! The editors of the Hebrew text have diluted its strength.

With this narrative we are bound to take the section of the Book entitled Of the Prophets, XXIII.9-32. The text is in parts uncertain, and includes obvious expansions. These removed, we can fairly distinguish a continuous metrical form up to 29, with the exception perhaps of 25-27. The metre is sometimes irregular enough to raise the suggestion(530) that the whole is rhetorical prose, between which and metre proper it is often hard, as we have seen, to draw the line. But we have also learned how often and how naturally irregular, when the subject requires it, Jeremiah's metres tend to become. So I have ventured, with the help of the Greek, to render the whole as metre, in which form are parts beyond doubt. Verses 18 and 30-32 are in prose, and both, but more probably the former, may be later additions, as are 19, 20, and clauses in 9, 10.

There is no reason against taking the remainder as Oracles by Jeremiah himself. No dates are given them; they probably come from various stages of his ministry, for he early found out the false prophets, and his experience of them and their errors lasted to the end. But probably this collection of the Oracles was made under Sedekiah; that Baruch gathered it still later is not so likely.

Of the prophets: -- XXIII.9
Broken my heart within me,
All pithless my bones.
I'm become like a drunken man
Like a wight overcome with wine.(531)
Of adulterers the land is full 10
Their course it is evil,(532)
Their might not right.
For prophet and priest alike 11
Are utterly godless.(533)
E'en in My House their evil I find --
Rede of the Lord.
Therefore their way shall they have 12
In slippery places,
Thrust shall they be into darkness(534)
And fall therein,
When I bring calamity on them,
The year of their visitation.
In Samaria's prophets I saw the unseemly, 13
By Baal they prophesied.(535)
In Jerusalem's prophets I see the horrible -- 14
Adultery, walking in lies.
They strengthen the hands of ill-doers,
That none from his wickedness turns.
To Me they are all like Sodom,
Like Gomorra her(536) dwellers!
Therefore thus saith the Lord:(537) 15
Behold, I will feed them with wormwood,
And drug them with poison.(538)
For forth from Jerusalem's prophets
Godlessness starts o'er the land.
Thus saith the Lord of Hosts 16
Hearken not to the words of the prophets
They make them bubbles,(539)
A vision from their hearts they speak,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.
Saying to the scorners of His(540) Word 17
|Peace shall be yours;|
To all who follow their stubborn hearts
|No evil shall reach you!|

18. [For who hath stood in the council of the Lord and hath seen His Word? Who hath attended and heard?](541)

I have not sent the prophets, 21
Of themselves they run.
I have not spoken to them,
They do the prophesying.
If they had stood in My Council, 22
And heard My Words,
My people they would have been turning(542)
From(543) the wrong of their doings.
I am a God who is near 23
Not a God who is far.(544)
Can any man hide him in secret 24
And I not see him?
Is it not heaven and earth that I fill? --
Rede of the Lord.
I have heard what the prophets say 25
Who preach in My Name,
Falsely saying, |I have dreamed,
I have dreamed, I have dreamed.|(545)
Will the heart of the prophets turn,(546) 26
Who prophesy lies?
And in their prophesying ... (?)(547)
The deceit of their heart,
Who plan that My people forget My Name(548) 27
Through the dreams they tell,
Just as their fathers forgot
My Name through Baal.
The prophet with whom is a dream 28
Let him tell his(549) dream;
But he with whom is My Word,
My Word let him speak in truth.
What has the straw with the wheat?(550)
-- Rede of the Lord --
My Word, is it not(551) like fire 29
And the hammer that shatters the rock?

30. Therefore, Behold, I am against the prophets -- Rede of the Lord -- who steal My Words each from his mate.31. Behold, I am against the prophets who fling out their tongues and rede a Rede.(552) 32. Behold, I am against the prophets of false dreams who tell them and lead My people astray by their falsehood and extravagance(553) -- not I have sent them or charged them, nor of any profit whatsoever are they to this people.(554)

We have now all the material available for judgment upon Jeremiah's life-long controversy with the other prophets. His message and theirs were diametrically opposite. But both he and they spoke in the name of the same God, the God of their nation. Both were convinced that they had His Mind. Both were sure that their respective predictions would be fulfilled. Each repudiated the other's claim to speak in the name of their nation's God. With each it was an affair of strong, personal convictions, which we may grant, in the case of some at least of Jeremiah's opponents, to have been as honest as his. At first sight it may seem hopeless to analyse such equal assurances, based apparently on identical grounds, with the view of discovering psychological differences between them; and as if we must leave the issue to the course of events to which both parties confidently appealed. Even here the decision is not wholly in favour of the one as against the others. For Jeremiah's predictions in the Name of the Lord were not always fulfilled as he had shaped them. The northern executioners of the Divine Judgment upon Judah were not the Scythians as he at first expected; and -- a smaller matter -- Jehoiakim was not buried with the burial of an ass, dragged and flung out from the gates of Jerusalem, but slept with his fathers.(555) Yet these are only exceptions. Jeremiah's prophesying was in substance vindicated by history, while the predictions of the other prophets were utterly belied. This is part of Jeremiah's meaning when he says, Of no profit whatsoever are they to this people.(556)

What were the grounds of the undoubted difference? On penetrating the similar surfaces of Jeremiah's and the prophets' assurances we find two deep distinctions between them -- one moral and one intellectual.

We take the moral first for it is the deeper. Both Jeremiah and the prophets based their predictions on convictions of the character of their God. But while the prophets thought of Him and of His relations to Israel from the level of that tribal system of religion which prevailed throughout their world, and upon that low level concluded that Yahweh of Israel could not for any reason forsake His own people but must avert from them every disaster however imminent; Jeremiah was compelled by his faith in the holiness and absolute justice of God to proclaim that, however close and dear His age-long relations to Israel had been and however high His designs for them, He was by His Nature bound to break from a generation which had spurned His Love and His Law and proved unworthy of His designs, and to deliver them for the punishment of their sins into the hands of their enemies.(557) What else can I do? Jeremiah hears God say. The opposing prophets reply, Not He! This is the ground of his charge against them, that they plan to make the people forget the Name, the revealed Nature and Character, of God, just as their fathers forgat Him through Baal,(558) confusing His Nature with that of the lower, local god.(559) This ethical difference between Jeremiah and the prophets is clear beyond doubt; it was profound and fundamental. There went with it of course the difference between their respective attitudes to the society of their time -- on the one side his acute conscience of the vices that corrupted the people, on the other their careless temper towards those vices. They would heal the hurt of the daughter of my people lightly, saying it is well, it is well when well it is not, and in their prophesying there was no call to repentance.(560) Moreover, though this may not have been true of all of them, some both in Jerusalem and among the exiles were partakers of other men's sins; for Jeremiah charges them with the prevailing immoralities of the day -- adultery and untruth. Instead of turning Judah from her sins, they were the promoters of the godlessness that spread through the land.(561) Though we have only Jeremiah's -- or Baruch's -- word for this, we know how natural it has ever been for the adherents, and for even some of the leaders, of a school devoid of the fundamental pieties to slide into open vice. Jeremiah's charges are therefore not incredible.

But the grounds of the difference between Jeremiah and the other prophets were also intellectual. Jeremiah had the right eye for events and throughout he was true to it. Just as he tells us how the will of God was sometimes suggested to him by the sight of certain physical objects -- the almond-blossom that broke the winter of Anathoth, the boiling caldron, or the potter at his wheel -- so the sight of that in which the physical and spiritual mingled, the disposition and progress of the political forces of his world, made clear to him the particular lines upon which the ethically certain doom of Judah would arrive. He had the open eye for events and allowed neither that horror of his people's ruin, of which he tells us his heart was full, nor any other motive of patriotism, nor temptations to the easier life that had surely been his by flattery and the promise of peace to his contemporaries, to blind him to the clear and just reading of his times, to which God's Word and his faith in the Divine character had opened his vision. On the contrary the other prophets, to take them at their best, were blinded by their patriotism, blinded by it even after Carchemish and when the grasp of Babylon was sensibly closing upon Judah -- even after the first captivity and when the siege of Jerusalem could only end in her downfall and destruction. Nothing proved sufficient to open such eyes to the signs of the times.

Making allowance, then, for the fact that we depend for our knowledge of the controversy upon the record of only one of the parties to it, and imputing to the other prophets the best possible, we are left with these results: that as proved by events the truth was with Jeremiah's word and not with that of his opponents, and that the causes of this were his profoundly deeper ethical conceptions of God working in concert with his unwarped understanding of the political and military movements of his time.

To this were allied other differences between Jeremiah and the prophets who were against him.

Along with the priests they clung to tradition, to dogma, to things that had been true and vital for past generations but were no longer so for this one, which turned exhausted truths into fetishes. To all these he opposed the Word of the Living God, Who spoke to the times and freely acted according to the character and the needs of the present generation.

Again, the other prophets do not appear to have attached any conditions to their predictions; these they delivered as absolute and final. In contrast, not merely were Jeremiah's prophecies conditional but the conditions were in harmony with their fundamentally moral spirit. His doctrine of Predestination was (as we have seen) subject to faith in the Freedom of the Divine Sovereignty, and therefore up to the hopeless last he repeated his calls to repentance, so that God might relent of the doom He had decreed, and save His people and His land to each other.

Further, despite his natural outbursts of rage Jeremiah showed patience with his opponents, the patience which is proof of the soundness of a man's own convictions. He believed in |the liberty of prophesying,|

The prophet with whom is a dream
Let him tell his dream,
And he with whom is My Word,
My Word let him speak in truth!

Jeremiah had no fear of the issue being threshed out between them. The wheat would be surely cleared from the straw.(562) That is a confidence which attracts our trust. In the strength of it Jeremiah was enabled to pause and reflect on the apparently equal confidence which he encountered in his opponents, and to give this every opportunity to prove itself to him before he repeated his own convictions. I cannot think, as many do, that his words to Hananiah were sarcastic; and when Hananiah broke the yoke on Jeremiah's shoulders, and it is said, But Jeremiah went his way, this was not in contempt but to think out the issue between them.(563) Nor do I feel sarcasm in his wish that his opponents' predictions of the return of the sacred vessels from Babylon might be fulfilled.(564) His brave calm words to the prophets and priests who sought his life in the Temple in 604(565) bear similar testimony. All these are the marks of an honest, patient and reflective mind which weighs opinions opposite to its own.

Further still, Jeremiah had to his credit that of which his opponents appear to have been devoid. As we have seen no prophet was less sure of himself, or more reluctant to discharge the duties of a prophet. Everywhere he gives evidence of being impelled by a force not his own and against his will.(566) But the other prophets show no sign of this accrediting reluctance. They eagerly launch forth on their mission; fling about their tongues, and rede a Rede of the Lord.(567) They give no impression of a force behind them. Jeremiah says that they run of themselves and prophesy of themselves, they have not been sent.(568) We still keep in mind that we owe the accounts of them to Jeremiah and Baruch, their opponents. But our own experience of life enables us to recognise the portraits presented to us, as of characters found in every age: pushful men, who have no doubts of their omniscience, but, however patriotic or religious or learned, leave upon their contemporaries no impression of their being driven by another force than themselves, and whose opinions either are belied by events, or melt into the air.

One point remains. In answering Hananiah Jeremiah adduced the example of the acknowledged prophets of the past as being always prophets of doom, so that the presumption was in favour of those who still preached doom; yet he allowed that if any prophet promised peace, and peace came to pass, he also might be known as genuine. That was sound history, and in the circumstances of the day it was also sound sense.

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