1. A reminder of the renewal of the covenant between Jehovah and the people lately made under Josiah ( Jeremiah 11:1-8 ).
2. First stage of the conspiracy; all Israel, instead of keeping the covenant with Jehovah, conspires against him ( Jeremiah 11:9-13 ).
3. The punishment of the conspiracy is an irreversible, severe judgment ( Jeremiah 11:14 17).
4. Second stage of the conspiracy; the plot of the men of Anathoth ( Jeremiah 11:18-23 ).
5. Third stage; the plot in the prophet's own family ( Jeremiah 11:1-6 ). Naegelsbaeh, however, with violence to exegesis, continues thus (assuming the homogeneousness of Jeremiah 12:1-6 and Jeremiah 12:7-17 ):
6. Israel's conspiracy punished by a conspiracy of the neighboring peoples against Israel ( Jeremiah 12:7-13 ).
7. Removal of all antitheses by the final union of all in the Lord ( Jeremiah 12:14-17 ).
The opening verses of this chapter give us (as we have seen already in the general Introduction) a most vivid idea of the activity of Jeremiah in propagating a knowledge of the Deuteronomic Torah ( i . e . the Divine "directions" with regard to the regulation of life). It may even be inferred from verse 6 that he made a missionary circuit in Judah, with the view of influencing the masses. It was, in fact, only the "elders" of the different towns who had taken part in the solemn ceremony described in 2 Kings 23:1-37 . "The words of this covenant" had been ratified by the national representatives; but it required a prophetic enthusiasm to carry them home to the hearts of the people. Hence it was that "the word came to Jeremiah from Jehovah, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah," etc.
A conspiracy . The language is figurative. Jehovah is the King of Israel; to commit sin is "to rebel against" him (Authorized Version sometimes weakens this into "transgress'); and to encourage one another in wickedness is "to conspire against" God. We need not suppose any open combination against spiritual religion; it is enough if" the spirit of the time" was directly contrary to it.
The covenant with the fathers binding on the children.
Here it is necessary to go back over all the history of Israel, and consider the great covenant transactions between God and his people. Such transactions we find to have been filled with great solemnity, so that they might make a deep mark in history. We trace the beginnings of the great covenant in God's dealings with Abraham. Indeed, the covenant with Israel as a nation was the necessary consequence of the covenant with Abraham as an individual. Then, as Jeremiah says here, there was a definite interchange of promise in the day when Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt. He could then ask them for an undertaking of obedience and separation from the idolatrous and impure heathens. While they were in servitude to Egypt and manifestly crushed in spirit, it was not possible to ask anything from them. But when Jehovah had abundantly proved his power, his grace, and his nearness, when he took his stand amid the freshness of glorious Divine achievements, then the covenant appeared, to the generation to which he proposed it, in all its fitness, as an instrument for the attainment of further ends. The gracious purposes of this covenant are made strikingly apparent in the continuance of it even after the people had lapsed into their riotous gathering around the golden calf ( Exodus 34:10 ). But this covenant in all its amplitude, and with all the difficulties surrounding the observance of it, is nowhere set forth with greater solemnity and particularity than in Deuteronomy 27-30. There we find the curses and the blessings detailed and illustrated, and the provision made that between Ebal and Gerizim, in the very midst as it were of the land of promise, the covenant should receive a great national acceptance. " But ," an Israelite might have said to Jeremiah, " these things happened so long ago ." Men think they can easily set aside claims that rise out of the distant past. In the case of this particular claim, however, no such rejoinder was possible. In 2 Kings 22:1-20 . we read of the discovery of the Book of the Law in the reign of Josiah, and in Jeremiah 23:1-40 ; we read of the decisive and comprehensive action which Josiah took upon making the discovery. The description in Jeremiah 23:2 of how he gathered in the house of the Lord all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, priests and prophets, and small and great, reminds us of the gathering long before, between Ebal and Gerizim ( Joshua 8:35 ). All the people, we are further told, "stood to the covenant." Josiah was enabled to make a general overthrow of all the external visible instruments of idolatry, and what is of particular moment to be observed is the keeping of the Passover as arising out of this renewed covenant ( 2 Chronicles 35:1-19 ). It was like coming face to face with that great event in the early history of the people, their deliverance from the iron furnace. Thus when we bring into one view all these great transactions in relation to the covenant, we see how weighty and urgent is the message Jehovah here sends Jeremiah to deliver. His covenant was with a nation in the whole duration of its existence. Each generation as it died handed on its land , its possessions, its national customs, but in the midst of all it had to hand on this covenant. The land was Israel's only upon a certain condition. The owner of a piece of land may covenant with some one that he and his heirs and assigns shall have the use of the land in perpetuity, on the observance of certain conditions. If these conditions are willingly, perhaps eagerly, accepted, there is no just right to complain of forfeiture if the conditions are completely and carelessly set at naught. God's works, we are made to observe, go on to their completion through the service of many generations of his creatures. How many generations of insects have died in making the beautiful coral islands! We amid our spiritual light and advantages are the inheritors of many privileges, we have the use of an estate, which has been enriched by the toils and sufferings, the prayers and tears, of many ancestors. But we can inherit no privilege, no joy, no promise, no hope, without inheriting the responsibilities of a covenant. We may, indeed, neglect the covenant, but surely it requires great audacity to assert that we have even the faintest pretence of right to do it.—Y.