<< JEREMIAH’S BONDS AND YOKES. >>
Thus saith Jehovah unto me, Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck: and send them to the kings. . . . NOW have I given all these into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. . . . And all nations shall serve him. . . . And Hananiah, . . . the prophet, . . . spake unto me, … saying, Thus speaketh Jehovah, . . . I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. . . . Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck, and brake it. … Then the Word of Jehovah came unto Jeremiah, … saying, Go and tell Hananiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron.-JEREMIAH xxvii. 2, 3, 6; xxviii. 1, 2, 10, 12, 13.
IT is better for degenerating men to fall into ignorance, than to plunge further into evil, while in the perception and acknowledgment of truth, and thus to sin against light.
THE LITERAL STORY.
Our text and the context refer to very troubled times in the history of Israel. They were days of degeneracy, when the people, including priests and rulers, had sunk into very sensuous conditions; and when Divine things, although professed, were only superficially regarded. The spirit of selfish worldliness swayed almost all, in all classes. A portion of the people had previously been carried away to Babylon, as captives. And, now, again, the hordes of the Chaldeans were besieging the holy city, Jerusalem. Fear, doubt, distrust, and even despair, were on every side. Food was scarce. And there was no confidence in the army, because of its former inability to oppose the same enemy. The city was full of excitement. And, worse than all, the people were divided into two parties, one counselling surrender to the Chaldeans, and the other party advocating continued resistance, and an effort to induce Egypt to join in opposing the Chaldeans. In these troubled conditions, Jeremiah, as the prophet of Jehovah, raised his voice in the name of Jehovah, informing the people that it would be far better for them to surrender to the Chaldeans, and to go peaceably to Babylon, to join their fellow country-men, already there, than to suffer a terrible war, and finally be defeated and treated far more harshly, besides involving the destruction of the holy city, and of the temple of Jehovah.
Hananiah, one of the sons of the prophets, was active in the party opposing surrender, and favoring war. Jeremiah, at the command of Jehovah, repeated his prophecies, and emphasized the Divine counsel with the enacted parable narrated in our text. He made bonds and yokes, and put them on his own neck; and afterward he sent them to the surrounding Gentile kings, counselling submission to Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean king of Babylon.
And thus Jeremiah exerted considerable influence upon many of the Jews, especially upon the weak and vacillating king of Judah, Zedekiah.
But Hananiah set himself to overcome the influence of Jeremiah, especially with Zedekiah. Hananiah boldly asserted that he had been called to prophesy in the Lord’s temple, that the Jews should resist, and overcome the Chaldeans; and that even the Jews now in captivity in Babylon should soon return to Jerusalem ; bringing with them the precious and holy vessels of the temple of Jehovah, which had been taken away by the Chaldeans. And, to corroborate his lying prophecy, Hananiah boldly took from the neck of Jeremiah, and forcibly broke, the yoke which Jeremiah had worn in prophecy, at the command of Jehovah.
Hananiah’s action was sacrilegious, because it was done in defiance of the acknowledged prophet of Jehovah, and thus against the Word of Jehovah. But the Word of Jehovah carne again to Jeremiah, the true prophet, repudiating Hananiah’s claim to prophecy, and rebuking his attempt to deceive and injure the people; and prophesying his speedy death. The literal story brings into sharp contrast the two prophecies and their meaning.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
In these days, we are especially interested in the spiritual meaning of these things, as they apply to our own personal life. And, now, remembering that the spiritual meaning of our Lord’s words always applies to the things of our inward life, let us transfer all these scenes to the inward world of our mind, that we may see what they mean to us, and within us.
The central point in the case is captivity. The bonds and yokes were the familiar evidence and representatives of captivity. The normal condition of a good man, is freedom, in which he can carry out his own purposes and plans. Hence, captivity is a restriction of liberty, which limits the action, and cramps the affections and thoughts.
Natural bonds are of two kinds, voluntary bonds, which the man willingly takes upon himself, in carrying out his purposes, in social, business, and political associations; and involuntary bonds, which are forced upon him, when he breaks the laws of the community, And there is a similar distinction in spiritual bonds. The regenerate man is bound to the Lord and to the neighbor, in the ties of mutual love, which are voluntary and delightful, and which afford the greatest fulness and freedom to the affections, thoughts, and conduct.
But unregenerate men are bound by laws which are obnoxious to them, and which restrain their desires, plans, and action; and which govern them by fears of future loss and restraint. And this bondage of the unregenerate man is spiritual captivity, under restraint.
When men are not willing to be bound by love of goodness, they must be bound by fear of penalties. Every mind which rejects Divine truths, thereby falls into captivity to false principles, which shut up the mind, in spiritual darkness.
And there are human conditions in which it is better for the mind to be held in ignorance, than to be in the clear perception of spiritual truth, while, at heart, hating such truth, and profaning it in the daily life. In the administration of a prison, it is far better, not only for the general outside community, but also for the criminals, themselves, that the prisoners should be kept in restraint, and in order, under strict laws, with penalties for disobedience. For, in such case, the criminal is protected, to some extent, from his own evil tendencies which, if allowed freedom, would sink him more and more deeply into evil, and into crime. And the case is parallel in spiritual things. It is for the good of the criminal, to be kept under the bond of fear. And this bondage. is the central point in the representative parable of our text.
For a free man, or nation, to go into captivity, would represent a mind falling into lower states of affection and of thought, and adopting a lower standard of life. But, at the time of our text, the Jews were in very bad conditions. And it was better for them to fall into captivity, where they would be under some restraint, and where their infernal pride would be broken, than to go on, as they were then going on, further into all kinds of evils and sins, while yet filled with selfish natural pride, as ttie supposed chosen people of God.
Babylon was a great centre of power, pride and learning. But the life and learning were those of the natural senses, and of the natural mind. There was no knowledge of spiritual things. The power, pomp and glory were of the flesh, and of this world. And, hence, Babylon represents the external and sensuous side of man’s nature, especially in the will, or heart, in which even the worship is external and formal, and not of the spirit.
Thus, the Jews who went out and surrendered to the army of Babylon, represent the man of the church who has had knowledge of spiritual truths, but who has begun a degenerate course; and who is now permitted to fall into ignorance, and into natural-minded feelings and ideas, so that he will not go on sinning against spiritual light. But those who remained in Jerusalem, represented the man who remains in the knowledge and acknowledgment of spiritual things, and yet sinks deeper into a life of evil.
Of course, if a man will arouse himself, and break off his evil habits, and restrain his evil inclinations, it will be better for him to remain in spiritual freedom, in the light of spiritual truth, and in the warmth of spiritual worship. But, if he will not do so, the Lord allows him to fall into ignorance, for his protection. The loving and protective providence of the Lord always regards the best condition at present attainable by the man. And thus the Lord preserves whatever there may be, in the man, of spiritual life, even if it be very little; even if it be to save the man in the lowest heaven, rather than to let him fall into any form of hell. But, if the man will not be saved in any form of heaven, but persistently makes a hell of his own heart, then the Lord allows the man to go into the mildest form of hell which he can be led to accept. And, from the Divine methods, modern human professed reformers might learn far greater wisdom than many of them practise. Too often, they fix their minds upon the highest possible condition of men, according to their views; and then they demand that every man needing reform shall come up to their measure, and by their plan, or else they leave him, to sink into the worst evil. In this way, they often hinder the partial reformation of many whom the Lord is seeking to help to climb part way up the ladder, at least. Our Lord, in His grander and broader providence, does not compel every man to attain the same highest standard, or nothing; but He leads each individual as far, and in such a way, as that individual is then willing and able to go. And our Lord’s infinite love finally saves many men whom many modern reformers would abandon to destruction.
But our Lord always gives, to every man , such spiritual discipline as will then be useful to him. And all discipline which our Lord permits, whether spiritual or natural, is always for our good, in the final outcome. ” All the paths of Jehovah are mercy and truth, unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” And the more fully and freely we accept such discipline, and receive the good intended by it, the more good we can receive, and the more our Lord can do for us, in character and in happiness. But, when we refuse to accept the discipline which comes to us, but resist it, we make it necessary for our Lord to permit still harder discipline to reach us.
This was the case with the Jews who remained in Jerusalem, as narrated in our text and the context. And Jehovah, through the prophet Jeremiah, informed them that, in refusing to submit to yokes of wood, they would bring upon themselves yokes of iron, which would be colder, heavier and harder.
WOOD AND IRON.
Wood represents natural good; or, in the perverted sense, natural evil; and iron denotes natural and literal truth; or, if falsified, natural falsity. To wear a yoke of wood, mentally, as in our text, means to be under the influence of natural evils, which our unregenerate affections love. But to wear a yoke of iron, is to be confronted with literal truths, which oppose our evils; as, for instance, the Ten Commandments, which restrain evils. And this iron bondage is harder to bear because in it, our understanding sees the literal truth, while our heart does not consent to it.
THE TWO PROPHETS.
The competition between the true prophet, Jeremiah, and the false prophet, Hananiah, to influence the Jews, represents the competition in our minds, between the Lord’s truth and our self-derived notions, which we try to establish as truths. And it is interesting to know that this name, Hananiah, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, is the same as Ananias, in the Greek of the New Testament. And there was a parallel between them: Hananiah was a false prophet, lying in the name of Jehovah, and In the holy temple. And he brought himself to a speedy death, at the prophetic word of Jeremiah. And Ananias was the typical liar of his day, also lying against the Lord, and in the Lord’s temple, and falling dead at the word of the Apostle, Peter. Both men were guilty of profanation, in tempting the Spirit of God. And they both represent the lying spirit of self-love, which constantly obstructs regeneration. Our only safe way is to follow the Divine Teachings, wherever they are indicated, knowing that He who leads us will develop the best results, by the means which He provides and permits, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903