With this chapter, Jeremiah 19:1-6 of the next ought undoubtedly to be connected to complete the narrative. Jeremiah here comes before us performing another symbolical action. By breaking a potter's vessel he foreshows the ruin impending over Jerusalem for the idolatry practiced in the valley of Hinnom. Not (remarks Graf) as if the worship of Moloch had been restored after the death of Josiah; verse 13, in fact, sufficiently shows that the Tophet had, ever since Josiah's time, continued to be an unclean place, and the sins which are here rebuked are the unexpiated abominations of Manasseh's reign (described in Jeremiah 15:4, as the immediate causes of the Captivity). Jeremiah's prophecy on the Tophet is followed by one on the fate of a certain Pashur, a high officer in the temple. The principal prophecy presents striking points of contact with Jeremiah 7:1-34. (comp. Jeremiah 7:4-6 with Jeremiah 7:30-32; and Jeremiah 7:13 with Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 8:2), and we may presume that the events here related belong to the time to which we have already referred Jeremiah 7:1-34, viz. the early part of the reign of Jehoiakim. The same date is confirmed for the narrative of Pashur by the office which is therein given him; for according to Jeremiah 29:25, Jeremiah 29:26, the office was not held by him, but by Zephaniah.
A potter's earthen bottle. Dr. Thomson speaks of the extreme cheapness and brittleness of the common pottery of Palestine (comp. Isaiah 30:14). The ancients of the people. The natural popular representatives (comp. Exodus 3:16; 2 Samuel 19:11; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Kings 20:7). It was an announcement concerning the whole people that Jeremiah was about to make. The ancients of the priests.
The valley of the son of Hinnom (see on Jeremiah 7:31). The east gate; rather the potsherd gate, i.e. the gate where potsherds were wont to be thrown. Another possible rendering is "sun gate," of which "east gate" is but a paraphrase. But there is evidently a connection between the name of the gate and the action performed by Jeremiah. The Authorized Version seems to have misled Captain Warren into identifying the valley of Hinnom with that of Kedron. He confirms his view, it is true, by the Arabic nomenclature, which speaks of the Kedron as the Wady Jehinnam—a nomenclature, however, which is by no means uniform. The situation of the "potsherd gate" must remain uncertain.
O kings of Judah; i.e. the numerous clan of royal princes, kings by courtesy (see on Jeremiah 17:20). His ears shall tingle.
Have estranged this place; rather, have treated this place as strange; i.e. as one that did not belong to their God, that was unholy (comp. Jeremiah 16:18, "They have defiled ray land"). With the blood of innocents; comp." Innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters" (Psalms 106:38)—the children sacrificed in Hinnom to Moloch.
Baal. This seems to be used loosely for Moloch (comp. on Jeremiah 2:8).
(Comp. Jeremiah 7:32.) Tophet; rather, the Tophet (see on Jeremiah 7:31).
I will make void; literally, I will pour out, alluding to the etymology of the word rendered "bottle" in Jeremiah 19:1.
(Comp. Jeremiah 18:16.)
The same description, almost verbatim, is given in Deuteronomy 28:53; (comp. Le 26:29; Ezekiel 5:10). For the fulfillment, see Lamentations 4:10.
As one breaketh a potter's vessel (comp. Isaiah 30:14). Dr. Them-son speaks of the utter indifference with which the common pottery of Palestine is handled. It is not only brittle, but so cheap that no one is distressed at breaking it. And they shall bury them in Tophet, etc. These words form the conclusion of Jeremiah 7:32 (see note), the greater part of which is repeated in Jeremiah 7:6. They are certainly out of place here, and are wanting in the Septuagint.
As Tophet; i.e. an unclean spot, avoided by mankind.
The houses of the kings of Judah; i.e. the palaces and other buildings which together made up the king's house (Jeremiah 22:6). Shall he defiled as the place of Tophet. This is one of the few places in which the Authorized Version has allowed itself to interfere with the received text; for the Hebrew has "which are defiled," etc. The common reading, in fact, seems untranslatable. Because of all the houses; rather, even all the houses.
Jeremiah 19:14, Jeremiah 19:15
Here begins a fresh section of the narrative. Jeremiah has executed his commission, and now proceeds to the temple, where he repeats before the assembled people his announcement of the awful judgment.
Upon all her towns. The cities of Judah are regarded as in a manner subject to the capital.
The broken bottle.
That was a strange scene—the royal family, the nobles, the chief priests, together with the populace of Jerusalem, gathered, at the summons of a prophet whose power could not be ignored though his teaching was opposed, in the valley of Hinnom, now reeking with the odors of foul crime; and the prophet facing them, alone and fearless, with a common potter's vessel in his hand, while he draws a most awful picture of impending calamity, and sternly charges his audience with the terrible wickedness which is bringing it upon their heads, and brings his discourse to a dramatic climax by breaking the vessel to pieces.
I. CONSIDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DISCOURSE.
1. It was addressed especially to the leaders of the people (Jeremiah 19:1). "To the poor the gospel is preached," but to the great sterner messages must often be declared. Nothing in the history of the prophets is more exemplary than the directness of their accusations of guilt in high places. They were no flattering court preachers. Yet they were court preachers. -They did not reserve their harsh words for the poorest and lowest of the people, as modern popular preachers are too apt to do. The leaders were first in crime; they should be first in responsibility.
2. It was spoken on the site of the greatest wickedness. The guilty people had the memorials of their crimes before their eyes while judgment was being pronounced for them. Men naturally shun these valleys of Hinnom, these scenes of old sins, the sight of which stings the conscience. But they must revisit them. It is sometimes the duty of the preacher to take his hearers back in memory to the circumstances of the past which they would gladly forget.
3. It was dearly and boldly expressed. The language was precise, detailed, and graphic, the description of the approaching ruin vivid and appalling. Jeremiah used no euphemisms. His words are enough to make our blood curdle as we read them, more than a score of centuries after they were spoken. How must they have sounded in the ears of the criminals who heard them as the sentence of their own doom? Lurid pictures of future punishment frequently strike one as unreal, as though only drawn for effect; they rouse unbelief in some, despair in others, or a hardening in sin. Yet a clear and uncompromising statement of the scriptural revelation of the horrors of the future is not to be set aside for more pleasing doctrines, especially in preaching to the great and the self-satisfied.
4. It was accompanied by a significant action. Jeremiah broke the bottle in the presence of his audience. This would strike the eye and impress the imagination. It is not enough that we convince the reason of a truth; we must rouse the imagination to realize it before it will be effectual. The Eastern imagery of the Bible is useful to us in this way. The preacher finds the value of illustrations in making truth vivid and interesting. Ideas may be received through the eye as well as through the ear.
II. CONSIDER THE SUBJECT OF THE DISCOURSE.
1. It accused of sin,
We must feel the intensity of guilt to realize the justice of punishment.
2. It denounced a most terrible doom. This was to correspond to the crimes committed. The Tophet of sin was to be the Tophet of punishment. They who had sacrificed children to Moloch would eat the flesh of their sons, etc.
3. It exposed the rottenness of false confidence. "I will pour out the counsel of Judah." People imagine that somehow, without repentance, by ingenuity or by daring, they may escape the consequences of their sins. They will find that all such devices must end in ignominious failure.
4. It was accompanied by a symbol of hopeless destruction. The bottle was broken.
Jeremiah 19:14, Jeremiah 19:15
The warning confirmed.
The warning of the discourse in the valley of Hinnom is confirmed by a repetition of it under more ordinary circumstances.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CONFIRMATION OF THE WARNING.
1. It was repealed. The scribe must bring from his treasury things old as well as things new. Men need "line upon line." Unpopular truths must not only be revealed once for all, they must be impressed upon people until they are accepted.
2. It was repeated in the temple. The horrible associations of Tophet were wanting there. All was decorum, order, propriety. Yet the message was not the less true there than in a more congenial place. Terrible truths must be uttered in face of the religious respectability of our Church worship. Such outward correctness should not make us forget the true condition of men's hearts, which is apparent enough in the darker scenes of life, in the Tophets of iniquity. We are tempted to be deceived by the appearance of religions assemblies into a blindness to the greatness of sin which is visible enough in common life.
3. It was repeated in the ears of all the people. The leaders were first selected to hear the warning (Jeremiah 19:1). But it was not confined to them. The people generally were guilty. They had quietly acquiesced in the wickedness of their great men. Nay, they had furthered, them, in it (Jeremiah 5:31), had followed their example, and become guilty' of similar crimes. They, too, must not expect to escape in the hour of judgment.
II. THE FORM IN WHICH THE WARNING WAS CONFIRMED.
1. It was epitomized. Truth needs to be broken up into detail that it may be clearly understood and vividly conceived by the imagination. But it is possible to lose ourselves in details and miss the drift of the sum of them. Hence the advantage of broad, sweeping enunciations of principle.
2. It was repeated as a prediction of real facts. The warning was not to be regarded as an empty threat, nor as the indication of a danger that might be evaded. 'I will bring … the evil that I have pronounced,' etc. It is both weak and cruel to threaten without the intention of executing the threat—weak, for the hollowness of the alarm is soon discovered by experience, and then it is impotent; cruel, for why create distress about a mere "bogey" danger? God is merciful, but firm. His threats are conditional, but, while the conditions subsist, the execution is as certain as any event that depends on the uniform laws of nature.
3. It was repeated without diminution. All the evil pronounced will fall on all the towns. The effect of stern warnings fades with the lapse of time. We are tempted to think that things will not be so very bad as at first seemed likely, and to take comfort from such reflections. But danger is not lessened by our growing indifference to it.
4. It was strengthened by an appeal to the increasing necessity for it. "Because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words." A deep consciousness of guilt makes the just punishment of it seem inevitable. Willful persistence in wickedness after warning can only increase the guilt and make the punishment the more certain and the more severe.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 19:1, Jeremiah 19:2, Jeremiah 19:10, Jeremiah 19:11
The breaking of the potter's vessel.
Another symbolic action, but in this case the revelation to the mind of the prophet was not dependent upon its being performed. It is because of the public significance of it he is enjoined to perform it. The "elders of the priests" and the "elders of the people" are invited to the scene.
I. THE SYMBOL. This was a "potter's earthen bottle [or 'vessel']," and thus had to be carefully distinguished from the "clay" spoken of in Jeremiah 18:1-23. The latter is soft and unshaped, and may be molded as the potter wishes; but the vessel is already formed and hardened into a certain definite shape, which it is impossible materially to alter. As that represented the stuff or material of which nations and institutions could be made, this must stand for the Jewish nation, with its character historically matured and fixed. Jehovah had already given it the form he intended it to assume, and placed it in certain relations with himself as a theocracy. The historic institutions and nations of the world are the creation of God. He has raised them up and controlled the forces that molded and determined their specific character and work. "The powers that be are ordained of God." The position, character, and life of individual men are also his work. No man is "self-made" in any fundamental sense of the word. A gracious providence has nurtured and cared for him; and, it may be, saving grace has redeemed and sanctified him. He "is the noblest work of God."
II. THE ACTION. This was threefold, viz:
1. The vessel was bought. "Get;" literally, "buy." Jehovah had redeemed Israel to be a people for himself. The outlays of Divine love and mercy are suggested. The providence and grace of God are now being expended. The blood of Christ was shed for all nations, "the Jew first, and afterwards the Gentile;" and for every man born into the world. "Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price. A deeper, obligation is thereby incurred to him, and a grander authority on his part justified. We are all made and saved, or, as it may be expressed, made and remade by him.
2. It was probably poured out. Jeremiah 18:7, "I will make void [literally, 'pour out']." This action would be natural under the circumstances, and highly impressive. And if it be objected that the vessel was empty, that very fact might still render the action the more emphatically significant. Their counsels were also vain and empty. God suffers wicked nations and men to devise evil, but only as it works out his own ends is it allowed to be executed. He will bring to naught the counsel of the ungodly. That which is devised without his blessing will come to no successful issue.
3. It was broken. (Jeremiah 18:10.). This was intended to depict the extreme and final character of the impending, judgment—"As one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again" (Jeremiah 18:11). The nationality of the Jews was to be destroyed. The Babylonion captivity, although only obscurely predicted, is apparently alluded to; but some hold that, as this was but an incomplete fulfillment, the Roman conquest must have been meant. All nations and individuals are on their trial, and may be subjected to this extreme penalty. God holds the sovereign power in his own hand. There is no remedy; the past is irrevocable. And there is no appeal from his sentence, when the limit of his forbearance has been Fussed.
4. It was disgraced by being cast into Tophet. A double purpose was thereby expressed. The scene of idolatrous rites was to be disgraced by being made the burial-place of the slaughtered thousands of Jerusalem, as, on the other hand, such a burial and the necessity for it would be humiliating to the metropolis of the faith.
III. THE ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. It was done in presence of the representatives of the nation. "Take of the ancients [eiders] of the people, and of the ancients of the priests." They were probably responsible for the national guilt, and by their personal and artificial influence might be able to avert the catastrophe. Those who influence a nation's life—kings, princes, statesmen, ministers of religion, authors, etc.—should be specially appealed to in cases of national sin. So the parent for the child. It is both respectful and just that such persons should be addressed in the first instance. But every man is responsible for his own sin. His intelligence and moral nature must, therefore, be addressed.
2. The language used was such as to recall the general penalties to be incurred by breaking the Law. (Deuteronomy 28:1-68.) The fact was thus suggested that the judgment was willfully and knowingly incurred. There is nothing new about the evils that come upon transgressing nations and individuals, or about their history. It is not for man to judge. God knows the reasons for his procedure, and the sinner himself is not ignorant.
3. The meaning of the breaking of the vessel is fully explained beforehand. This is ever the Divine order. There is "space for repentance" given even to the worst sinners. No man will go wholly unwarned into perdition. Nay, even the historic and so-called secular character of nations, institutions, and individuals is precious in God's eyes, and effort is constantly made to convert it into an influence of blessing. The sinner is offered the "means of grace" that he may become a saint and a servant of the Most High. And it is only as he obstinately continues in his sin that the irrevocable judgment falls.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Denunciations of doom.
This chapter is filled with these awful warnings of the prophet. And they are made the more awful by the reflection that, fitted as they were to rouse the most careless and hardened, yet they failed with those to whom they were addressed. And so this sad chapter teaches us such lessons as these:
1. The earnest purpose of God to save man from his sin. Hence these warnings.
2. The awfully hardening power of the sin which could despise them.
3. What wise methods are to be employed in the endeavor to arouse and alarm the ungodly. On this we will dwell awhile. This chapter shows—
I. THAT THOSE MOST LIKELY TO INFLUENCE THEM SHOULD BE SPECIALLY APPEALED TO. Cf. Jeremiah 19:1, "Take of the ancients," etc. No doubt this was because of their influence over the people generally. If they could be won the rest would follow.
II. WE SHOULD AVAIL OURSELVES OF ANY LOCALITIES LIKELY TO LEND FORCE TO WHAT IS SAID. The prophet led forth his audience to "the valley of the son of Hinnom." It was the Tophet, the Gehenna, the place haunted with memories of Divine wrath against idolatry, and whose ever-burning fire and gnawing worm symbolized the quenchless anger of God against it. With what added power, then, would the prophet's message come when spoken in such a place!
III. SUCH MODES OF ADDRESS SHOULD BE ADOPTED AS WOULD BE MOST LIKELY TO IMPRESS. The prophet was bidden take an earthen bottle, and, after he had solemnly denounced the doom of God against the idolatrous city, he was to dash the bottle on the ground and shatter it utterly, past all possibility of mending. By this dramatic action he was to declare the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. Thus vividly and powerfully to the minds of such as witnessed him would the awful truth he had to tell be impressed on their minds. But also in clear words and in full copious detail he set forth what was to come. Now, such symbolic action as that of the prophet might be of very little service to such as we speak to, however impressive to the Oriental mind, but it teaches us that whatever is likely to deepen the effect of our words upon men's minds we are to use, and fearlessly, as did the prophet, set forth the coming judgments of God. And most of all—
IV. OUR MESSAGE MUST BE GOD'S MESSAGE. God put into the prophet's mouth the words he was to speak and taught him how to speak them, and he obeyed. Here is the great essential. If denunciations of judgment be spoken simply as part of an orthodox sermon, or for any other reason than that God has borne in upon our souls the conviction that we must speak such words, we are likely to do but little good—indeed, harm rather than good. And let such servant of God who speaks as God bids him remember that, even when speaking thus, his words may fail in the effect designed and desired. "Lord, who hath believed our report," etc.? They did so here. But they will never entirely fail. God's promise is against that. Some will receive them. Some did even in Jeremiah's day. There was a faithful remnant. And the preacher will have delivered his own soul, and God's righteousness in the doom of the impenitent will be vindicated before all. May we be delivered from the necessity of declaring such doom as that which Jeremiah had to speak of; but if we have to, may we be taught of God, as he was, and have better success.—C.
The sin and punishment of Pashur.
This man is to be distinguished from him of the same name mentioned in Jeremiah 21:1. The Pashur mentioned here was a priest, and one holding high office in the temple. After Jeremiah had delivered his discourse at Tophet, he seems to have returned to the city and temple, and then to have spoken in substance the same predictions of woe. Whereupon Pashur, with less patience than these who heard the prophet and had seen his symbolic declaration of the coming ruin when he broke the earthen bottle at Tophet, falls upon him and smites him, and tortured him by putting him in what is called the stocks (see Exposition). Thus—
I. HE CRUELLY PERSECUTED THE PROPHET OF GOD. It was sad that any one should do this. But yet more that it should be the act of a priest of God, and holding high position amongst the priests. What hope can there be of the people when their appointed leaders and those to whom they are wont to look up for instruction and example in what is good thus prostitute their office? Thus the "wicked husbandmen beat" the servants who were sent to them (Matthew 20:1-34 :35). And it was the same order that ever opposed, and yet more fiercely, our Lord himself. The sanctity and authority attaching to the priest's office have ever been fatal to the integrity of unworthy holders of the office, and have caused that amongst the most infamous of mankind not a few priests should be found. But—
II. HE FAILED TO SECURE THE END HE HAD IN VIEW. Jeremiah was not silenced, but goaded, as it were, to declare yet more terrible judgments in which Pashur himself should be awfully involved (cf. Paul, "God shall smite thee," etc; Acts 23:3). The stout heart of a true servant of God is an anvil on which many hammers may fiercely smite, but it will wear them out long before they wear it out. Saul of Tarsus found that the persecution he had done so much to further in connection with Stephen only made matters worse. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. And the reason is that a faith for which men are willing to die convinces all beholders that it must be exceedingly precious and well founded, and inspires them with an irresistible desire to know and possess it for themselves, or at least to know what it is.
III. HE BROUGHT DOWN ON HIMSELF SORE JUDGMENT. Jeremiah declares to him that the Lord has changed his name to Magor-Missabib, for he will be given up a prey to the torments of mortal anguish, his friends shall be slain before his eyes, Judah carried away to Babylon, all its treasures plundered; he himself shall witness all this and die and be buried in Babylon, "There thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies." Thus, look where he would, he should see nothing but terror. Above—the anger of God; beneath—a dishonored grave; around—calamity and woe on all near and dear to him, and of which he had been largely the procuring cause; within—a conscience tormenting him day and night. It was an awful doom. "Let persecutors read it and tremble; tremble to repentance before they be made to tremble to their ruin."—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The breaking of the potter's vessel.
I. THE PRELIMINARIES OF THE BREAKING. Spectators of the proper sort needed to be deliberately gathered together in the proper place. We may suppose that the elders of the people and of the priests were peculiarly responsible for all that concerned the safety of the city. This symbolic action was best performed before the select responsible few. As they went forth with the prophet they had time to ask themselves what the meaning of this unusual summons might be. It is, perhaps, a little to be wondered at that they should have gone with the prophet at all. And yet, although none might have quite the right motive for going, each would have his own motive, and so an acquiescent assembly be formed. God knows how to subdue and blend the motives of men for his own purposes. In some minds there would be a superstitions regard for the prophetic office; in others, curiosity would operate; and in a few there might be somewhat of the hearing ear and understanding mind. We are, then, to imagine this company going forth; and they do not go forth at random. It is not for mere seclusion they go out of the city. They are led to the very place which, because of the abominations practiced in it, is to be one of the principal causes of future woe. Thus we see how carefully God arranges the circumstances in which his truth is to be proclaimed.
II. THIS BREAKING HAD A REASON. The thing was not clone in mere wantonness and thoughtlessness, nor in passion, nor in carelessness. The prophet did not draw his lesson from a jar which some one else had happened to break. He got the vessel with the deliberate purpose, divinely put into his mind, of breaking it. This was far enough away from the purpose with which it was made, and the vessel, once shattered, could be of no further use for this first purpose; but in its destruction it served a far nobler end than if it had been carefully kept to carry water for many long years. Rightly considered, indeed, the vessel was not destroyed, but only its service divinely and wisely changed. So, looking from the symbol to the reality behind it, we must bear in mind that the capture of Jerusalem and the conquest of the land of Israel served certain purposes of God. He did not separate this people and give them this laud that at last they might be scattered, even beyond the usual scattering of a conquered people. But when the scattering did come, he sought to make it evident that it was from his hand. It was not a mere chance of war, but something prepared for and prophesied—something to teach and warn the thoughtful among all nations.
III. THE REASONS WHY THIS VESSEL WAS THUS SHATTERED BEFORE THESE SPECTATORS.
1. To show the ease with which God can shatter any construction of man. One lesson had already been drawn from the potter's vessel (Jeremiah 18:1-10). That lesson was drawn from the plasticity of the raw material. Now another lesson has to be drawn from the fragility of the finished article. This fragility was part of the nature of the article. The potter could not be blamed because the result of his work was so fragile. Fragility, indeed, is a relative quality. An insect could no more have broken this vessel than men by a single blow could level a forest tree. Men talk of their power to do and their power to resist; but this is only in ignorance of the immense, exhaustless power which God in mercy hides from the eyes of man. A potter's vessel may be preserved for millenniums if it is sufficiently guarded; but it has no strength in itself. These people of Jerusalem were reckoning on the natural position and artificial securities of their city. Yet these very things would only heighten their calamities and miseries. For they would persist in defense, ever hoping against hope, until, in their extremity, they were forced to devour their very children. We need to bear in mind that, however great our natural advantages, our prudence and foresight, we, as far as our natural life is concerned, are but as this fragile vessel in the prophet's hand.
2. To show the impossibility of man retrieving the disaster. "That cannot be made whole again" (Jeremiah 19:11). This vessel was not merely cracked. It was more than simply broken. It not only fell, but was dashed to the ground with special force and determination. These people of Israel, once scattered, could not gather themselves together again. God could do it, but only God. And God would not do it; because that would only have been to reconstitute, the fragile. The breaking' of this vessel is only one of many lessons by which God would teach man his natural weakness. He destroys the old and the fragile, that he may put in its place the new and the indestructible. Our wisdom is not to waste time in trying to strengthen what is inherently weak; but to accept with glad thankfulness that real mercy of God which, in destroying the old Jerusalem, makes way for the new and heavenly Jerusalem, that city of God based on the truly everlasting hills.—Y.