OF THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET
The Prophecies of the Old Testament, as the Epistles of the New, are placed rather according to their bulk than their seniority; the longest first, not the eldest. There were divers prophets, and writing ones, that were contemporaries with Isaiah, as Micah; or a little before him, as Hosea, and Joel, and Amos, or soon after him, as Habakkuk and Nahum are supposed to be: and yet the prophecy of Jeremiah, who began many years after Isaiah had finished, is placed next to his, because there is so much in it: where we meet with most of God's word, there let the preference be given; and yet those of lesser gifts are not to be despised or excluded. Nothing now occurs to be observed further concerning prophecy in general; but concerning this prophet Jeremiah we may observe,
I. That he was betimes a prophet; he began young, and therefore could say it from his own experience, that it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, the yoke both of service and of affliction. Lam. iii. 27. Jerome observes, that Isaiah, who had more years over his head, had his tongue touched with a coal of fire, to purge away his iniquity; (ch. vi. 7.) but that when God touched Jeremiah's mouth, who was yet but young, nothing was said of the purging of his iniquity, (ch. i. 9.) because, by reason of his tender years, he had not so much sin to answer for.
II. That he continued long a prophet; some reckon fifty years, others above forty. He began in the 13th year of Josiah, when things went well under that good king, but he continued through all the wicked reigns that followed; for when we set out for the service of God, though the wind may be fair and favourable, we know not how soon it may turn and be tempestuous.
III. That he was a reproving prophet, was sent in God's name to tell Jacob of their sins, and to warn them of the judgments of God that were coming upon them; and the critics observe, that therefore his style and manner of speaking is more plain and rough, and less polite, than that of Isaiah and some other of the prophets. Those that are sent to discover sin, ought to lay aside the enticing words of man's wisdom. Plain dealing is best when we are dealing with sinners, to bring them to repentance.
IV. That he was a weeping prophet; so he is commonly called, not only because he penned the Lamentations, but because he was all along a mournful spectator of the sins of his people, and of the desolating judgments that were coming upon them. And for this reason, perhaps, those who imagined our Saviour to be one of the prophets, thought him of any of them to be most like to Jeremiah, (Matth. xvi. 14.) because he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
V. That he was a suffering prophet; he was persecuted by his own people more than any of them, as we shall find in the story of this book; for he lived and preached just before the Jews' destruction by the Chaldeans, when their character seems to have been the same as it was just before their destruction by the Romans, when they killed the Lord Jesus, and persecuted his disciples, pleased not God, and were contrary to all men, for wrath was come upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thess. ii. 15, 16. The last account we have of him, in his history, is, that the remaining Jews forced him to go down with them into Hottinger, out of Elmakin, an Arabic historian, relates, that he, continuing to prophesy in Egypt against the Egyptians and other nations, was stoned to death; and that long after, when Alexander entered Egypt, he took up the bones of Jeremiah where they were buried in obscurity, and carried them to Alexandria, and buried them there. The prophecies of this book, which we have in the nineteen first chapters, seem to be the heads of the sermons he preached in a way of general reproof for sin, and denunciation of judgment; afterward they are more particular and occasional, and mixed with the history of his day, but not placed in due order of time. With the threatenings are intermixed many gracious promises of mercy to the penitent, of the deliverance of the Jews out of their captivity, and some that have a plain reference to the kingdom of the Messiah. Among the Apocryphal writings, an epistle is extant, said to be written by Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon, warning them against the worship of idols, by exposing the vanity of them, and the folly of idolaters. It is in Baruch, ch. vi. But it is supposed not to be authentic; nor has it, I think, any thing like the life and spirit of Jeremiah's writings. It is also related concerning Jeremiah, (2 Mac. ii. 4.) that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Chaldeans, he, by direction from God, took the ark and altar of incense, and carrying them to mount Nebo, lodged them in a hollow cave there, and stopped the door; but some that followed him, and thought that they had marked the place, could not find it: he blamed them for seeking it, telling them that the place should be unknown till the time that God should gather his people together again. But I know not what credit is to be given to that story, though it is there said to be found in the records. We cannot but be concerned, in the reading of Jeremiah's prophecies, to find that they were so little regarded by the men of that generation; but let us make use of that as a reason why we should regard them the more; for they are written for our learning too, and for warning to us and to our land.