"They knew not... the voices of the
prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).
shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished,
that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation,
saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the
Chaldeans; and I will make it desolate for ever" (Jeremiah
in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word
of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be
accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus
king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout
all his kingdom..." (2 Chronicles 36:22, Ezra
1:1 onwards: see also Isaiah 45:1-8).
is the vindication of Jeremiah. But he never lived to see
it. Therein lies one of the most testing things that a
faithful and greatly opposed servant of the Lord can have
to accept. Jeremiah had to fulfil his ministry knowing
that, so far as his own time and the people thereof were
concerned, it would be an apparent failure; he would not
live to see that part of his commission fulfilled -
"To build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10).
How many of the servants of the Lord have been called
upon to follow Him in this so searching and testing path!
They, as He, have had to do their work for a time to
come. We observe the seeming failure of the Lord's own
earthly life and labours when "He was crucified
through weakness". We see the desertion, forsaking,
discrediting, and discounting which marked the closing
days of the Apostle Paul's earthly course. What a galaxy
of lonely heroes of the faith compose the noble army of
the "despised and rejected of men", upon whose
costly ministry men passed the verdict 'It was to no
purpose'! But if their ministry and labours had anything
of God in them, that element is eternal and immortal, and
it will live again: God will vindicate, and "the men
of Anathoth" (Jeremiah 11:21,23) will be the ones
upon whom history and eternity will heap the shame. The
tears of the Jeremiahs will - as the Psalmist says - be
kept in God's bottle. This is one of "the voices of
the prophets" which, although not heard by dull
spiritual ears, will be shouted for all to hear by the
events of history. Ezra and Nehemiah, and Daniel's
visions in fulfilment, will be the answer to Jeremiah's
be a pagan, having no personal knowledge of the Lord, but
his irreligious solicitude for God's interests will
declare for all time that, while Jeremiah may be ignored
or discounted, the God who called and appointed him
cannot be so dismissed. If there is one voice that shouts
from the book of Jeremiah it is the voice of Divine
Sovereignty. The whole book is contracted in the Lord's
words to His servant in the Potter's House: "Cannot
I do with you...?" (Jeremiah 18:1-11). The
Sovereignty of God is a difficult thing to be against.
Ask Jerusalem and the Jewish nation about that in the
year A.D. 70 when the sovereign words of Jesus Christ as
recorded in Luke 19:41-44 were so literally fulfilled.
then, for the inclusive 'voice' of Jeremiah. But what
were some of the things that our Prophet had specifically
to encounter and cry against? We can put these into a
phrase. He cried concerning certain basic and fundamental
contrasts. We point to three:
The Fountain and the Cisterns
This is a
contrast that the Lord vehemently called an
"evil" - "My people have committed two
evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living
waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns,
that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Let us
be duly impressed - before we pass on - with the Lord's
judgment upon this alternative procedure, it is Evil!
The Lord says that it is a fundamental evil.
several features of these alternatives.
feature of the One and the many: the one Fountain; the
have a voice of the Prophet which, having been missed,
has resulted in - not only Israel's undoing - but,
largely in that of organized Christianity, and is not
absent from evangelical Christianity. It is a matter to
which the Bible gives the most serious attention, and
upon which the New Testament is very largely built. It is
no less a question than that of the all-sufficiency of
God or - alternatively - the many devices of men. It is
just the exclusive and final fulness of God or the
independent or plus resource of human effort. This is the
inherent principle of the One Fountain or of the many
hewn out cisterns. Into what a lot of Christian work and
activity this issue has become real! From the dawn of
man's active relationship with God there has been this
incorrigible propensity of man to "put forth his
hand" and lay it possessively or controllingly upon
God's things. Probably this is Satan's (Lucifer's) sin
which led to his fall, and was the very nature of his
'tempting' and deceiving Adam. That is why God calls this
'evil'. It is the evil of dividing God's place; of
insinuating man's independence, and implying man's
ability. It is at the heart of humanism, of autocracy, of
dictatorship. It is the essence of that so oft-referred
to symbolic term in the New Testament - "the
flesh". It is the principle of the 'uncircumcised
heart', which - like the 'uncircumcised Philistines' -
insinuates itself in the things of God. It is full of
significance that it was not until David came fully and
pre-eminently to the throne that the Philistines were
finally subdued. Theirs was a hand against the throne.
Not until Christ is absolutely Lord will this tendency to
self-assertion be overruled.
many "cisterns" represent in their form and
nature is just legion; too many things produced by human
strength, intelligence, and ingenuity to tabulate or
There is a
very serious and solemn precautionary reason why, after
having given the command and commission to His Apostles
to go into all the world, He added "But, tarry
ye... until ye be clothed with power from on high"
(Luke 24:49); "He charged them not to depart... but
to wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4).
The world-commission must never be taken upon any kind of
natural energy. The Holy Spirit alone, and that as a
definite bit of personal history, is to be the source of
Another difference is indicated in our text.
cisterns of religious man's hewing can "hold no
water". Perhaps the emphasis should be upon the word
"hold". They are 'empty' because they are
leaky. They have to be repeatedly and continually filled
artificially. Their hewers are involved in the arduous
task of finding and replenishing the resources. They get
something and it leaks away, and dryness demands more and
more human effort to defeat it. What a true description
of all that comes from man putting his hand upon God's
work! His are indeed leaky cisterns. On the other hand
there is the Fountain. Full, final, inexhaustible, and
ever fresh, never stagnant.
water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of
water springing up unto eternal life" (John 4:14).
of him shall flow rivers of living water" (John
thing it is to have an opened Heaven, and never to have
to hew out a message, a discourse, a ministry, an
enterprise! It was against this weary, disappointing,
laborious life that Jeremiah testified, and his
"Voice" must be listened for in this matter
today for an evil thing has limited the life of
the Lord. Fulness is always a mark of the good pleasure
of the Lord.
The Wheat and the Chaff
is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah
contrast which gave point to Jeremiah's ministry had to
do with the source of the life of God's people; the
second had to do with the ministry to them and the
teaching. This challenge and interrogation direct from
"the Lord of Hosts", as the context shows, was
directed to the false Prophets. "I have heard what
the prophets have said", etc. (verse 25 onwards).
The Prophets claimed to have a vision, a dream, a
revelation from the Lord, but it was as empty and unreal
the characteristics of chaff? The answer to the question
will prove whether the ministry is of man or of God;
whether it is false or true. Note that the immediate
connection here is that of the Word of God, and what is
indicated by the whole paragraph is that there is much
that claims to be, and is affirmed to be the Word of God
which is not so. Between that which is offered as God's
Word and the true Word there is all the difference, as
between chaff and wheat.
is so light and unsubstantial as to be carried away by
any wind and not found again. Spiritual weight is in
minus quantity. It is the ministry (?) to please itching
ears. It is wholly superficial, without depth. There is
nothing solid about it and there is no 'body' in it.
Pretty, clever, and wordy, with facility of speech,
diffuse but powerless.
Jeremiah was very
strong against the men who offered such light stuff to a
with this aspect goes the fact that chaff deceives. It
has an appearance of wheat and is associated with it, but
it is not it. It may be a pretence and not the
reality. It has the language, the phraseology, the terms,
but it is different, it misleads. It is something on the
outside and will not stand up to reality.
(c) Chaff is not food.
It will never satisfy. It will not nourish. Spiritual
malnutrition will result from such a diet. There is no
nourishment and building property in it. Hungry souls
look up and are not fed. They are famished for bread. The
kind of people, as to their spiritual measure will show
what they have been fed on.
The real Word of God is
different from chaff in all the above respects. It is
effective. Note what immediately follows our text. A
series of other contrasts is implied.
"Is not my word
like as fire? saith the Lord." It burns, it
melts, it purifies, it tests.
"And like a
hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Sooner
or later the word truly given by God will undo all
resistance and self-assurance. Jesus said: "The word
that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last
day" (John 12:48). True ministry of the Lord builds,
satisfies, abides, and - in time or eternity -
The final admonition in
ministry as in the "voice" of this Prophet is
"faithfully" - "Let him speak my word
Jeremiah was himself as
great an example of this as any man before or since. It
cost him dearly. Rejection, ostracism, smiting, the muddy
dungeon, shame, reproach, loneliness, and much more; but
God vindicated him in history, and, say what you will
about his 'melancholy', his pessimism, he is - as we have
said - as near to the Lord Jesus as a "suffering
servant" as any man has been. His sufferings had
their fruit in 'the remnant that returned', and he has an
honoured place in the New Testament. (See our next
The Two Covenants
days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new
covenant with the house of Israel..., not according to
the covenant that I made with their fathers... which my
covenant they brake" (Jeremiah 31:31-32).
The immensity of this
"Voice" of the Prophet can be detected, if not
comprehended, in that Christianity and the whole
dispensation from the first to the second advents of
Christ are built upon and constituted thereby. The Letter
to the Hebrews is a comprehensive delineation of the
nature of this dispensation, and at the heart of that
Letter lies this very quotation from Jeremiah. (See
Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24.)
Moreover, it was to
this that Jesus referred when He said "This is the
new covenant in my blood." Surely Jeremiah is
vindicated! The context of Jeremiah 31:31 is that of
"the Branch" and that "Branch" is
called "Jehovah-Tsidkenu" - the Lord our
Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16). Upon this all our
salvation - in Christ - rests. It is too vast to even
What we are immediately
concerned with is the contrast of the two covenants. For
the Old we have but to read the Letters to the Romans and
Galatians, and to see the deplorable situation that the
Jews were in in the days of Christ's earthly life. One
word covers a many-sided condition which was just
terrible; that word is 'bondage'. That is how the Old
Covenant resulted in life - or existence. Why? Because
it was all on the outside! It was a structure built
upon the sinking sand of human weakness and depravity.
Its demands only exposed the helplessness of human
nature. In its presence the convicted cry of one man was
the cry of all men: "O wretched man that I am, who
shall deliver me?" (Romans 7:24). It is a long and
heart-breaking story of man's failure because of man's
nature. Righteousness is the big issue. Which means God
having all that He has a right to in man as to character.
And man just cannot rise to it. But he has got to!
and that is the trouble. God has got to be satisfied or
man is condemned. Well, that firstly is the whole case
for justification and glory.
Here, then, enters the
New Covenant, the terms of which are forecast by
Jeremiah. There are two aspects of this: one the nature,
the other the Means.
Jeremiah 31:33 - quoted
by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews: "I will
put my law in their inward parts, and in their
heart will I write it." We supply the italics - "inward
parts... their heart". In this
dispensation everything is inward. This determines
whether the Christianity is true or false. This is the
great terminal point represented by the Letter to the
Galatians. As to the Means - note the capital M - the
Apostle Paul has two great words: "God... who shined
in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"; and note,
the context of that statement is the Old Covenant - 2
Corinthians 4:6: and "Christ in you, the hope of
glory" (Colossians 1:27).
is Christ within by the Holy Spirit.
This was a
saving revelation to Jeremiah. The book bearing his name
is just about as hopeless a revelation of man's miserable
state as could be. Well might the Prophet weep and cry
out in mortal distress! But it is not eternally hopeless.
The "Branch of Righteousness" will be 'raised
up' - "The Lord our Righteousness".
What a 'voice' of a Prophet! 'Every Sabbath, but they
knew Him not.' Hopelessness doubled and confirmed because
of hardness of heart, pride, prejudice.
uncover our inner ears!