4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 6 Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. 7 But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. 8 Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. 9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. 10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.
Here is, I. Jeremiah’s early designation to the work and office of a prophet, which God gives him notice of as a reason for his early application to that business (v. 4, 5): The word of the Lord came to him, with a satisfying assurance to himself that it was the word of the Lord and not a delusion; and God told him,
1. That he had ordained him a prophet to the nations, or against the nations, the nation of the Jews in the first place, who are now reckoned among the nations because they had learned their works and mingled with them in their idolatries, for otherwise they would not have been numbered with them, Num. xxiii. 9. Yet he was given to be a prophet, not to the Jews only, but to the neighbouring nations, to whom he was to send yokes (ch. xxvii. 2, 3) and whom he must make to drink of the cup of the Lord’s anger, ch. xxv. 17. He is still in his writings a prophet to the nations (to our nation among the rest), to tell them what the national judgments are which may be expected for national sins. It would be well for the nations would they take Jeremiah for their prophet and attend to the warnings he gives them.
2. That before he was born, even in his eternal counsel, he had designed him to be so. Let him know that he who gave him his commission is the same that gave him his being, that formed him in the belly and brought him forth out of the womb, that therefore he was his rightful owner and might employ him and make use of him as he pleased, and that this commission was given him in pursuance of the purpose God had purposed in himself concerning him, before he was born: “I knew thee, and I sanctified thee,” that is, “I determined that thou shouldst be a prophet and set thee apart for the office.” Thus St. Paul says of himself that God had separated him from his mother’s womb to be a Christian and an apostle, Gal. i. 15. Observe,
(1.) The great Creator knows what use to make of every man before he makes him. He has made all for himself, and of the same lumps of clay designs a vessel of honour or dishonour, as he pleases, Rom. ix. 21.
(2.) What God has designed men for he will call them to; for his purposes cannot be frustrated. Known unto God are all his own works beforehand, and his knowledge is infallible and his purpose unchangeable.
(3.) There is a particular purpose and providence of God conversant about his prophets and ministers; they are by special counsel designed for their work, and what they are designed for they are fitted for: I that knew thee, sanctified thee. God destines them to it, and forms them for it, when he first forms the spirit of man within him. Propheta nascitur, non fit–Original endowment, not education, makes a prophet.
II. His modestly declining this honourable employment, v. 6. Though God had predestinated him to it, yet it was news to him, and a mighty surprise, to hear that he should be a prophet to the nations. We know not what God intends us for, but he knows. One would have thought he would catch at it as a piece of preferment, for so it was; but he objects against it, as a work for which he is unqualified: “Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak to great men and multitudes, as prophets must; I cannot speak finely nor fluently, cannot word things well, as a message from God should be worded; I cannot speak with any authority, nor can expect to be heeded, for I am a child and my youth will be despised.” Note, It becomes us, when we have any service to do for God, to be afraid lest we mismanage it, and lest it suffer through our weakness and unfitness for it; it becomes us likewise to have low thoughts of ourselves and to be diffident of our own sufficiency. Those that are young should consider that they are so, should be afraid, as Elihu was, and not venture beyond their length.
III. The assurance God graciously gave him that he would stand by him and carry him on in his work.
1. Let him not object that he is a child; he shall be a prophet for all that (v. 7): “Say no any more, I am a child. It is true thou art; but,” (1.) “Thou hast God’s precept, and let not thy being young hinder thee from obeying it. Go to all to whom I shall send thee and speak whatsoever I command thee.” Note, Though a sense of our own weakness and insufficiency should make us go humbly about our work, yet it should not make us draw back from it when God calls us to it. God was angry with Moses even for his modest excuses, Exod. iv. 14. (2.) “Thou hast God’s presence, and let not thy being young discourage thee from depending upon it. Though thou art a child, thou shalt be enabled to go to all to whom I shall send thee, though they are ever so great and ever so many. And whatsoever I command thee thou shalt have judgment, memory, and language, wherewith to speak it as it should be spoken.” Samuel delivered a message from God to Eli, when he was a little child. Note, God can, when he pleases, make children prophets, and ordain strength out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.
2. Let him not object that he shall meet with many enemies and much opposition; God will be his protector (v. 8): “Be not afraid of their races; though they look big, and so think to outface thee and put thee out of countenance, yet be not afraid to speak to them; no, not to speak that to them which is most unpleasing. Thou speakest in the name of the King of kings, and by authority from him, and with that thou mayest face them down. Though they look angry, be not afraid of their displeasure nor disturbed with apprehensions of the consequences of it.” Those that have messages to deliver from God must not be afraid of the face of man, Ezek. iii. 9. “And thou hast cause both to be bold and easy; for I am with thee, not only to assist thee in thy work, but to deliver thee out of the hands of the persecutors; and, if God be for thee, who can be against thee?” If God do not deliver his ministers from trouble, it is to the same effect if he support them under their trouble. Mr. Gataker well observes here, That earthly princes are not wont to go along with their ambassadors; but God goes along with those whom he sends, and is, by his powerful protection, at all times and in all places present with them; and with this they ought to animate themselves, Acts xviii. 10.
3. Let him not object that he cannot speak as becomes him–God will enable him to speak.
(1.) To speak intelligently, and as one that had acquaintance with God, v. 9. He having now a vision of the divine glory, the Lord put forth his hand, and by a sensible sign conferred upon him so much of the gift of the tongue as was necessary for him: He touched his mouth, and with that touch opened his lips, that his mouth should show forth God’s praise, with that touch sweetly conveyed his words into his mouth, to be ready to him upon all occasions, so that he could never want words who was thus furnished by him that made man’s mouth. God not only put knowledge into his head, but words into his mouth; for there are words which the Holy Ghost teaches, 1 Cor. ii. 13. It is fit God’s message should be delivered in his own words, that it may be delivered accurately. Ezek. iii. 4, Speak with my words. And those that faithfully do so shall not want instructions as the case requires; God will give them a mouth and wisdom in that same hour, Matt. x. 19.
(2.) To speak powerfully, and as one that had authority from God, v. 10. It is a strange commission that is here given him: See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms. This sounds very great, and yet Jeremiah is a poor despicable priest still; he is not set over the kingdoms as a prince to rule them by the sword, but as a prophet by the power of the word of God. Those that would hence prove the pope’s supremacy over kings, and his authority to depose them and dispose of their kingdoms at his pleasure, must prove that he has the same extraordinary spirit of prophecy that Jeremiah had, else how can be have the power that Jeremiah had by virtue of that spirit? And yet the power that Jeremiah had (who, notwithstanding his power, lived in meanness and contempt, and under oppression) would not content these proud men. Jeremiah was set over the nations, the Jewish nation in the first place, and other nations, some great ones besides, against whom he prophesied; he was set over them, not to demand tribute from them nor to enrich himself with their spoils, but to root out, and pull down, and destroy, and yet withal to build and plant.
[1.] He must attempt to reform the nations, to root out, and pull down, and destroy idolatry and other wickednesses among them, to extirpate those vicious habits and customs which had long taken root, to throw down the kingdom of sin, that religion and virtue might be planted and built among them. And, to the introducing and establishing of that which is good, it is necessary that that which is evil be removed.
[2.] He must tell them that it would be well or ill with them according as they were, or were not, reformed. He must set before them life and death, good and evil, according to God’s declaration of the method he takes with kingdoms and nations, ch. xviii. 9-10. He must assure those who persisted in their wickedness that they should be rooted out and destroyed, and those who repented that they should be built and planted. He was authorized to read the doom of nations, and God would ratify it and fulfil it (Isa. xliv. 26), would do it according to his word, and therefore is said to do it by his word. It is thus expressed partly to show how sure the word of prophecy is–it will as certainly be accomplished as if it were done already, and partly to put an honour upon the prophetic office and make it look truly great, that others may not despise the prophets nor they disparage themselves. And yet more honourable does the gospel ministry look, in that declarative power Christ gave his apostles to remit and retain sin (John xx. 23), to bind and loose, Matt. xviii. 18.
– Matthew Henry Commentary