“Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good” (Jer. 18:11). As the “therefore” denotes, practical application is here made of what has been before us in the context. The Prophet had been called upon to witness an object-lesson set before him in the potter’s house. Then the Lord had made known to him the relations which He sustains unto nations, viz., Sovereign, Ruler and Judge over them, and the principles which regulate His dealings with them: authority and power, righteousness and mercy. A specific yet illustrative example of such is here shown us . . . Israel had long provoked God to His face, and though He had been slow to anger, the time had now arrived when He would take them to task and deal with them for their wickedness. The dark clouds of His wrath were suspended over them, yet even at this late hour if they genuinely departed from their evil ways and walked the paths of virtue, mercy should “rejoice against judgment.”
God speaks to us not only through His word (both personal and written) but also through His works and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:1-4). Creation testifies to the excellencies of the Creator. The Divine providences, too, are vocal: “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity” (Jer. 22:21)—My bounties declared My goodness and should have melted your hearts. God’s judgments also carry with them a definite message: that is why we are exhorted to “hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9)—observe how the verse opens with “the LORD’S voice crieth unto the city.” His “rod” bids us consider the Hand that wields it and calls upon us to forsake our sins. When God speaks in judgment it is the final warning that He is not to be trifled with. When the Almighty is roused to fury who can stand before Him? Nations are no more able to successfully resist Him than can the clay hinder the fingers of the potter who shapes it; yea they are counted as “the small dust of the balance” (Isa. 40:15), which signifies utter insignificance. May we exclaim, “who would not fear Thee, O King of nations!” (Jer. 10:7). No spiritual warrant whatever has any people to put their trust in human greatness, the sire of their armies, the excellency of their equipment, the strength of their defenses. God has but to blow upon them and they are immediately overthrown, entirely demolished. Mark how this is emphasized in Jeremiah 18, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it” (v. 7): it is done in a moment—suddenly, swiftly, invincibly.
“Behold I frame evil against you.” It is the evil of punishment about to be inflicted on the evil of sin. It is no momentary outburst of uncontrollable anger, but dispassionate and deliberated retribution, and when the almighty “frames” or devises that evil against a kingdom, no power can deliver it. Though Lucifer himself says, “I will ascend above the heights of the cloud: I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14), yet is his proud boast seen to be an empty one, for the Lord says, “yet thou shalt be brought down to Hell, to the sides of the Pit” (v. 15). “Damascus is waxed feeble and turneth herself to flee, and fear hath seized on her: anguish and sorrows have taken her as a woman in travail” (Jer. 49:24)—suddenly, sorely, irresistibly, from which there is no escape. How this should make the wicked to tremble and depart from their evil ways! God turneth “a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Psa. 107:34).
“Behold I frame evil against you.” Calamities and judgments come not by chance, nor are they originated by inferior agents or secondary causes. Though He may be pleased to make use of human instruments, yet the Lord is the Author of and principal Agent in them. Before the Assyrians fell upon apostate Israel Jehovah declared, “I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of My wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (Isa. 10:6). The Lord moved him, though he was in no wise conscious of any Divine impulse or commission. And when God had finished making use of the Babylonians and raised up the Medes and Persians to humiliate them into the dust, He declared of Cyrus “thou art My battle-axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms” (Jer. 51:20). Cyrus was as truly God’s “servant” as Moses or any of the Prophets: see Isaiah 45:1; Ezra 1:1. Curses as much as blessings, calamities as much as boons, judgments as truly as favours proceed from the Almighty, and it is but a species of atheism to deny the fact.
“Behold I frame evil against you.” How this word needs to be pressed upon this evil and adulterous generation, which is occupied with anyone and anything rather than the living God. In a land where Bibles are so plentiful we are without excuse when we look no higher than the agencies now threatening us. Yea, it is a grievous sin for us to throw the blame of our present trials and troubles upon human instruments instead of upon our national iniquities, and refuse to see God employing those instruments against us. Hitler is but a scourge in the hand of the Almighty. Nor are they helping any to fix their gaze on the supreme Framer of Evil who constantly direct attention to the machinations of the pope and his longing to see the British empire destroyed. Doubtless the papacy was behind the entrance of Italy into active conflict and the perfidy of France, as she is responsible for Eire’s refusal to grant us naval bases, of Vichy’s steady opposition, of the French Canadian’s disloyalty, and of many other hostile factors and forces; but who is permitting the “Mother of Harlots” to employ her powerful influence thus? None other than the Lord of Hosts. He is righteously using Rome as a rod on the back of an apostate Protestantism.
We cannot expect the unbelieving nations to look beyond Hitler and his fellows, but it is the privilege of Christians to “look unto the LORD” (Micah 7:7). It is the very nature of faith to be occupied with its Author. It is the duty of faith to “set the LORD always before” it (Psa. 16:8). When the Ammonites and Moabites came up against Judah, Jehoshaphat turned unto God and said, “we have no might against this great company that come against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee” (2 Chron. 20:12). This is the first message to His own people which the voice of the Lord has in His judgments: look above the human scourges and behold My hand in righteous retribution. And it is the business of God’s servants at such a time to urge upon the saints to “consider in thine heart that the LORD He is God in Heaven above and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deut. 4:39). O that it may be the experience of both writer and reader—“Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens” (Psa. 123:1) and then shall we prove for ourselves “they looked unto Him, and were lightened” (Psa. 34:5).
“Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I frame evil against you and devise a device against you” (Jer 18:11). That is the language of God unto a kingdom whose overthrow is threatened by His judgments, to whom the dispensations of his providence announce impending ruin. The dark clouds of calamity overhead testify to God’s disapproval of a nation’s sins. Under such solemn presages of the impending storm of Divine wrath proud spirits ought to be tamed and the masses brought to realize what a vain thing it is to fight against the Almighty and how fearful are the consequences of flouting His authority and treading underfoot His laws. The effects of evil doing are termed by the Spirit “gall and wormwood,” but it is not until God brings a nation into external miseries they are made to realize the truth thereof. “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee and thy backsliding shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God and that My fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts” (Jer 2:19).
“Behold, I frame evil against you.” The speaker is the Most High and “none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest thou?” He framed evil against the antediluvians. “The earth was filled with violence… all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Gen 6:11,12). Warnings of impending doom were given by Enoch (Jude 14,15) and Noah, but none heeded. Then the storm burst: “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven opened” (Gen 7:11). And what could men do to help themselves? Nothing whatever. God “framed evil” against Sodom and Gomorrah and what could their inhabitants do when He “rained fire and brimstone” upon them (Gen 18:24). They were powerless to withstand it. God “framed evil” against Egypt. Her haughty monarch exclaimed “who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Exo 5:2), but discovered that He was not to be defied with impunity when He “took off their chariot wheels” and drowned him and his hosts in the Red Sea.
When the Almighty sends a devastating earthquake, what can puny man do? When He withholds the rain and famine ravages a land, who can resist Him? When He visits with a pestilence which cuts off millions in the prime of life, as the “flu” did in 1918, who can say Him nay? When He unleashes the dreadful hounds of war, who can turn them back? Is there, then, no hope? Yes, if the masses will truly humble themselves beneath the Hand that has begun to smite them. God’s judgments are articulate: they call upon all to throw down the weapons of their high-handed rebellion against Heaven. God takes away their peace and comforts that they may put away their idols. Calamities are sent upon evil-doers that they should depart from their wickedness. God is able to destroy the mightiest kingdom in the twinkling of an eye, but usually He spreads His judgments over a period, as in the ten plagues upon Egypt, granting space for repentance and allowing an interval between the announcement of His having “framed evil,” and the actual and full execution thereof.
Thus it is here in Jeremiah 18:11: after declaring He had devised a device against a nation God adds, “Return ye now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.” Conversion ought to be the immediate outcome of God’s judgments, whether they be threatened or in actual course of fulfillment. If men would forsake their sins God would soon lay aside His rod. But observe the urgency of the Call: “return ye now every one from his evil way.” There is no time for delay: God will not be trifled with. Men are very prone to procrastinate: they put off the day of repentance and defer their reformation. They hope and resolve, yet postpone the same, and the longer they do so the harder their hearts become and the more completely the Devil obtains possession of them. Agrippa was “almost persuaded,” but that was as far as he went: his lusts held him fast. “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Psa 95:7): if ever there was a time when it was imperative to heed that exhortation it is now.
“And they said, There is no hope” (Jer 18:12). There are three possible interpretations of those words. First, they may be regarded as the language of despair: there is no hope for us in God, we have sinned beyond the reach of mercy. But that would necessarily presuppose they were deeply convicted of their guilt, and the remainder of the verse definitely precludes any such concept. Second, “there is no hope” might be the language of confessed helplessness. There is no hope in us: we are too besotted to reform, too wedded to our sins to break from them; but the remainder of the verse is flatly against this too. Third, “there is no hope” was the language of blatant defiance. There is no hope for you: it is useless to preach to us, our minds are fully made up, we are determined to have our own way, and nothing you say can change us. “We will walk after our own devices and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart” they declared. It was the language of open rebellion, whether expressed in words or in deeds.
That this is the obvious meaning of their “there is no hope” is clear not only from the words which immediately follow but also from other passages in Jeremiah. “But they hearkened not nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (7:24); “thou saidst, I will not hear: this hath been thy manner from thy youth that thou obeyedst not My voice” (22:21 and see 44:16,17). They declined to be affected by the heavy clouds of judgment over their heads. They refused to forsake their evil ways. They were determined to persist in their disobedience. They openly defied the Almighty. They were impervious to all expostulations and admonitions. Their hearts were fully set in them to drink their fill of iniquity. “For the people turneth not unto Him that smiteth them neither do they seek the Lord of Hosts” (Isa 9;13). “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock” (Jer 5:3).
“We will walk after our own devices.” We are quite resolved to continue in sin, and no preaching can change us. We are fully determined to do so, no matter what it may cost us. Of old God sent a shortage of food on Israel, but it produced no reformation: “yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” He smote them with blasting and mildew so that their gardens and vineyards were destroyed, but it moved them not: “yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” He sent pestilence among them and slew their young men, but they continued impenitent: “yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” He destroyed some of them by fire, but they persisted in their sins: “yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (Amos 4:6-10). And history has repeated itself! It is still doing so before our very eyes. The perversity of ancient Israel finds its counterpart in the contumacy of modern Christendom. God has given Britain “space to repent,” alas, it has to be added “and she repented not” (Rev 2:21), nor is their the slightest indication she will yet do so.