Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 17: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. At that time, saith the Lord, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves:
1. In die illo, dicit Jehova, extrahent ossa regum Jehudah et ossa principum ejus, et ossa sacerdotum, et ossa prophetarum, et ossa civium Jerosolymae (habitantium,) e sepulchris suis;
2. And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth.
2. Et expendent coram sole et luna et toto exercitu coelorum, quae dilexerunt (nam relativum neutrum comprehendit et solem et lunam et exercitum; vel, si magis placeat vertere, quos exercitus dilexerunt,) et quibus servierunt, et post quos ambularunt, et quos quaesierunt, et coram quibus prostrati sunt (hoc est, se inclinarunt;) neque colligentur, et non sepelientur, in stercus in terrae superficie erunt.
I Have said that Jeremiah repeats in the first verse what he had before said, — that the Jews would be deprived of their graves, in order that there might be on the dead a mark of God’s vengeance; as though he had said, that after having been destroyed by the hand of enemies, they would have their punishment extended farther by having their dead bodies exposed to the wild beasts and birds. The faithful, as I have said, suffer no loss, when burial is denied them; but yet they do not disregard burial, inasmuch as it is a badge of the resurrection. Though God suffers them to be involved in this disgrace with the reprobate, yet this does not hinder but that God should execute his vengeance on the wicked by such a temporal punishment as turns to a blessing to the faithful. It is therefore no unmeaning denunciation, when the Prophet says that the time was at hand, when their bones would be taken out of their graves.
He mentions the bones of kings, and of priests, and of prophets, and of the whole people The kings thought that as soon as they were hid in their graves, their dead bodies would be deemed sacred: the same notion prevailed as to rulers, priests, and prophets: but he says that no grave would be untouched or free from the outrage of enemies; and thus he shews, that the city would be rooted up from its foundations. Were the city to remain safe, the graves would be spared. Hence this punishment could not have been inflicted, without the very foundations of the city being dug up by the enemies. In short, he points out here a dreadful and final overthrow; and at the same time he shews the reason why God would manifest such severity towards the Jews.
It was, because they served the sun, and the moon, and the stars It was God’s just vengeance, that their bones should be taken from their graves, in order that the sun and moon and all the stars might be witnesses of his judgment. By these words Jeremiah indirectly reprobates the senselessness of the people for thinking that they performed an acceptable service to the sun and moon. He therefore says, that all the stars and the planets would become as it were spectators of the vengeance which God would execute; as though he had said, that the whole celestial host would approve of that punishment; for nothing is more detestable to creatures, than when the glory of their Maker is ascribed to them. It is indeed true that the sun, moon, and stars are without sense or reason; but the Prophet here attributes reason to them, in order that he might shake off from the Jews that stupidity in which they hardened themselves, while they thought that they were rendering to the sun an acceptable service. At the same time he alludes, as it appears also from other places, to the punishment inflicted on adulterers: for when a harlot is drawn out and led forth in contempt and disgrace in the presence of her adulterers, it is deemed a most just punishment. And thus as the Jews had as it were committed adultery with the sun and the moon and the stars, so the Prophet says here, that their disgrace and baseness would be made manifest in the sight of the sun, and the moon, and the stars.
He says, which they have loved He no doubt alludes to the blind ardor by which idolaters were possessed, when they zealously pursued their illicit devotions; for it was a species of an unbridled and mad passion, as it appears from other places; for no fornicator burns with a more impetuous lust after a woman, than idolaters do, when Satan dazzles their eyes and fascinates their hearts. Of this impure love then does the Prophet now speak; and at the same time, he indirectly condemns the Jews for having alienated themselves without a cause from God, who was their legitimate husband. There is indeed nothing less tolerable than for men thus perfidiously to forsake God, when he has invited them to himself, and contracted as it were with them a holy and an inviolable marriage.
He afterwards adds, whom they have served This was still more base; they devoted themselves to the work of serving the sun, the moon, and the stars. He mentions in the third place, that they walked after them. God had shewn them the right way, and had commanded them to follow him: but they forsook God, says the Prophet, and followed the stars of heaven. He states in the fourth place, that they sought them. By this he refers to their perverseness. Some render the word “consulted,” of which I do not approve, for it is strained and far-fetched. 215 The Prophet, I doubt not, denotes here the persevering attention of the Jews to the objects of their worship; for they followed their idols not by a sudden and momentary impulse, but they resolutely devoted themselves to them and became as it were fixed in their wicked purpose. And he says in the last place, that they prostrated themselves before them. This was the way in which they served them. It is an evidence of reverence when men prostrate themselves before their idols; and thus they serve them, for it is an act of worship. The Prophet might indeed have sufficiently expressed in one sentence the impiety of the people; but he joins together several sentences for the sake of amplification, in order that he might render more evident the ingratitude of the people in seeking for themselves unknown gods, and in setting up false and fictitious modes of worship, rather than to render obedience to the only true God and to acquiesce in his law, which is a certain rule, and never leads any astray. 216
He afterwards adds, They shall not be gathered, nor be buried; for dung shall they be on the face or surface of the land He confirms what he had said of the punishment before mentioned, — that they had acted disdainfully towards God, and had prostrated themselves before their idols, so after death they would be made base and detestable, so that the mind would revolt at such a hateful sight. This is the meaning. It follows —
3. And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the Lord of hosts.
3. Et eligetur (ad verbum esset, electa est) mors (sed debet resolvi in futurum tempus) prae vita ab omnibus reliquiis, quae residuae erunt ab hac prava natione (a natione hac mala) in omnibus locis ubi residui fuerint, ad quae expulero eos (ad quae illuc; sed שם, est supervacuum,) dicit Jehova exercituum.
He intimates in this verse, that all survivors would be doubly miserable, as it would be better for them to die at once than to pine away in unceasing evils: for they who give another meaning to the words, seem not to understand the design of the Prophet. The import then of the passage is, — that however dreadful God’s judgment would be, when slaughters everywhere prevailed, and dead bodies were drawn out which had been previously buried, yet all this would be a slight punishment in comparison with what God would inflict on the rest, such as remained alive: and he also intimates that their life would be more miserable than death itself, yea, than ten deaths.
That those then who would escape death might not think that they gained any advantage, the Prophet says, Chosen shall be death before life by all the residue We hence learn how grievous was to be God’s vengeance; for nothing would be better or more desirable than to undergo death at once, as life would be nothing else but a continued languor and torment. Expected then will be death in all places in which there shall be survivors, where I shall drive them He mentions a reason for this twofold misery, — they would not be allowed to live in their own country, but would become aliens, — and they would find in their exile God’s hand against them, and as it were following them everywhere. 217
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou terrifiest us daily with thy judgments, and as it is needful for our sloth to be stimulated, and for our corruption to be thus corrected, — O grant, that we may be moved by thy threatenings, and at the same time suffer ourselves to be kindly invited by thee, and make such progress in thy word, that, being terrified by threatenings, we may also readily and willingly obey whenever thou in a paternal manner callest us to thyself, and labor in every way to devote ourselves wholly to thee, by subduing the corrupt affections of our flesh, so that nothing may hinder us to be submissive to thy will, until we shall at length enjoy the rest of that eternal inheritance, which thou hast promised to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
4. Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?
4. Et dices ad eos, Sic dicit Jehova, An qui ceciderunt non resurgent? si quis aversus fuerit non revertetur?
5. Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
5. Quare rebellis est populus hic Jerosolymae rebellione perpetua? (forti, ad verbum;) adhaeserunt fraudi (vel, apprehenderunt fraudem,) noluerunt reverti.
Though God had reminded his Prophet of the event, yet he still invites the Jews to repentance; not that there was any hope of restoring them to a right mind, (for he had said that they were wholly irreclaimable,) but that their perverseness might be less excusable; and it was also his object to afford some relief to the small number of the godly who still remained; for they had not all fallen away into impiety, though the great body of the people had become corrupt. God then, partly to aggravate the sin of the ungodly, and partly to provide for his faithful people, exhorts those to repentance, who were yet wholly intractable. And here we ought to consider that God’s goodness, when abused, brings a much heavier judgment. God does here in a manner contend with the wickedness of his people, by setting before them the hope of pardon, if they repented.
Thou shalt then say to them; that is, “Though I have already testified to thee that thy labor would be in vain, yet thou shalt not give over thy work.” Shall they who have fallen rise again? This sentence is variously explained; the greater part of interpreters confine it to the Jews only, “Shall the Jews who have fallen rise again?” As to the second clause, some give this explanation, “If Israel returns, will not God also return?” that is, from his wrath, or, “Will he not be propitious?” Or, “If Israel turns away, will not God also turn away?” Others understand both parts of the sentence of the people, “If the people have once turned away, will they not yet return to God?” For the verb שוב, shub, has contrary meanings; it means, to fall away, to rebel, to go back; and it means also to return. But after having maturely considered the words and the design of the Prophet, I think it to be a general statement, as though he had said, “When any one falls, he immediately thinks of recovering his fall; when any one deviates from the right course, being warned of his going astray, he immediately looks for the road. This is what is usually done, what then means this so great a stupidity, that the people of Jerusalem do not repent, when yet they ought to have long ago acknowledged their fall and their wanderings?”
Whoever will impartially consider the discourse of the Prophet must see that this is the real meaning; for, in the second of these verses, he says, Why is this people of Jerusalem, etc.; he now first speaks, as it clearly appears, of the people. It then follows that the former verse ought not to be applied to the people; but it contains only a general statement. In short, Jeremiah condemns here the madness of the people, because they followed not the example of those who have either fallen or deviated from the way by mistake. For it is what is naturally implanted in all, that they do not willingly perish in their misfortunes. He then who falls immediately strives to rise again; and he who leaves the right way, tries if possible to return to it again. This then is what the most foolish will do; why then, says Jeremiah, do not this people imitate such an example? He therefore shews by this comparison, that their conduct was monstrous; for they obstinately adhered to their vices, and never thought that there was a hope of reconciliation if they from the heart returned unto God. And he emphatically mentions Jerusalem; for had such obstinacy prevailed among the Chaldeans or the Egyptians, it would indeed have been inexcusable; but not so strange as among a people to whom the law had been given, and to whom God had plainly revealed the way of salvation. When, therefore, this people so hardened themselves as to reject all warnings, was it not monstrous? 218
Then he says, that they were rebellious with a pertinacious rebellion; that is, that they forsook God not only through levity or want of thought, or some sudden impulse, but so pertinaciously, that the prophets spent their labor in vain in teaching and exhorting them. Hence he calls it a strong rebellion, though the word may be taken here as in other places in the sense of perpetual And he assigns the cause, because they laid hold on deception, that is, they adhered fast to deception. But the Prophet means by deception, not that by which a neighbor is deceived or circumvented, but hypocrisy, by which men so blind themselves, that they are unwilling either to attend to God’s word, or to open their eyes to see the light. When, therefore, men through willful obstinacy bury themselves in darkness, they may be said to lay fast hold on deception 219
David says, in Ps 32:2, that the man is blessed in whose spirit there is no guile: he entertains no guile, as we commonly do. Now, to entertain guile is to possess a deceitful heart. He had before said that they are blessed whose sins are forgiven and to whom iniquity is not imputed: he adds by way of explanation, provided there be no guile in the spirit; and why? Because wicked men seem to themselves to be blessed, for they perceive not their own misery, because they are enveloped in their own coverings: and this is the guile of which David speaks. According to the same meaning, our Prophet says, that those laid fast hold on deception, who were so involved in darkness or so blinded by their lusts, as to seek to deceive God; but they deceive themselves. This then is the cause why those whom God corrects and chastises feel no penitence; for they are willfully blind, they close their eyes and deafen their ears, and seek to be deceived by the devil; they attend not to the holy warnings given them for their salvation. If then, we wish to be healed of our vices, let us ever begin in this way, — let us carefully examine our thoughts and our motives, and not please ourselves nor deceive ourselves by empty flatteries, but strive to shake off whatever is reprehensible and vicious. The very beginning of true repentance is to renounce all deceptions and fallacies and to seek the light, which can alone discover to us our evils. It afterwards follows —
6. I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
6. Attendi et audivi, non loquentur recte; nemo est quem poeniteat (ad verbum, non vir poenitens super malo suo; sed sensus clarior est, nemo est quem poeniteat) malitiae suae, dicendo, Quid feci? omnis vertitur (ad verbum pro omnes vertuntur) ad cursos suos, sicut equus ruit (ad verbum, inundat; sed metaphorica est locutio; Sicut ergo equus praeceps ruit) in praelium.
These words may be considered as spoken by God himself, — that he from heaven examined the state of the people; but it is more suitable to regard them as spoken by the Prophet; for he was placed, as it were, in a watch — tower in order to observe how the people acted towards God. He now testifies, that having seen their pursuits and their doings, he saw nothing that was right. The people ought to have been more touched by these words. We indeed know how ready we are naturally to lay hold on any pretences, when we wish to continue quiet in our dregs. So the greater part are wont to object and say, “O, indeed, thou reprovest me, but inconsiderately; for thou knowest not what is in my heart.” Hence the Prophet says, that he had carefully examined what sort of people they were, and that he spoke of what was well known to him, and fully seen by him, —
I have heard, he says, and attended; but they speak not rightly He means, that so far were the Jews from repenting truly and sincerely, that they did not even with their mouths profess to do so. It is less to confess sins than really to amend; but the Prophet says, that they did not even say what was right. It hence follows, that they were very far from having any serious thoughts of repentance, since they were so wanton with their tongues, or at least afforded no evidence of sorrow.
He then adds, that there was no one who repented, saying, etc. This clause is explanatory, for Jeremiah proves here more clearly that they did not speak rightly, for they did not say, What have I done? But he says first, that there was no one who repented of his wickedness He afterwards shews, that what is first necessary for repentance is, that the sinner should call himself to an account; for as long as we rest secure in our sins, it is impossible for us to repent, It is hence necessary that every one should examine himself, so as to call himself to an account, and in a manner to summon himself before God’s tribunal. We then see that men can never be brought to repentance, except they set their own evils before their eyes, so as to feel ashamed, and to ask themselves, as it were in great fear, What have we done? for this question is an evidence of terror. Many, we know, formally own their sins; but this is useless, for afterwards such an acknowledgement vanishes without producing any benefit. Then real repentance necessarily requires that the sinner should not only be displeased with himself, should not only be ashamed, but that he should also be filled with terror at his own sins; for this is what is meant by the inquiry, What have I done? for it implies astonishment.
We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet’s words: he says, that he did not inconsiderately reprove the people, but that he found such perversity in them that no one spoke rightly, that no one repented, because they did not consider what they were, nor examined their own lives, but slept securely in their sins.
He pursues the same subject when he says, that all turned to their own courses, that is, to their own lusts. But by the word “courses” the Prophet means impetuous movements; as though he had said, that the Jews were so precipitant in following their lusts, that they in a manner ran headlong after them; and he compares them to horses rushing into battle. We know with what impetuosity horses advance when they hasten to battle; for they seem to fly, to cut the air, and to dig the ground with their hoofs. Thus the comparison is exceedingly suitable, when the Prophet says that the Jews were so impetuous in pursuing their lusts, that they rushed on, not less precipitantly than war — horses when advancing to battle. It now follows —
7. Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.
7. Etiam ciconia in coelis cognoscit tempora sua, et turtur et hirundo (alii vertunt, picam; sed nomen hirundinis est aptius, quemadmodem statim patebit,) et grues observant tempus itineris; populus autem meus non cognoscit judicium Jehovae.
Here again Jeremiah condemns the shameful insensibility of the people, — that they had less wisdom than birds, not endued with reason and understanding. He then says, that the Jews were more foolish than cranes, swallows, and storks. He no doubt deeply wounded the feelings of the people by so severe a reproof; but it was necessary thus sharply to reprehend the despisers of God; for it appears evident by these words, that they were become exceedingly hardened in their vices. No wonder, then, that the Prophet declares that they were more silly than cranes and swallows. Isaiah also exposes the same sort of madness, when he says that the ox knew his own master, and the ass his master’s crib, but that God was not known by his people. (Isa 1:3.) Now Isaiah made the Jews worse than oxen and asses, because these brute animals possess something like memory, so that they keep to their own manger and crib. So now Jeremiah, speaking of storks, etc., says, —
Behold, the stork knows the time in which it ought to migrate from one country to another; and the same is observed by swallows and cranes 220 For at stated times they seek a warmer climate; that is, they leave a cold country, that they may escape the severity of winter; and they afterwards know the time in which they are to return. As, then, the birds of the air observe their seasons, how is it that my people do not consider the judgment of God? By mentioning the heavens, he no doubt alludes to the constant flying of birds, the birds having hardly any rest, for they continually rove through the air. Since, then, there is so much wisdom in birds, which yet the air wafts here and there, how comes it, that a people, who dwell quietly at home, who can leisurely meditate on God’s law — how comes it that this people understand nothing? We hence see that there is an import in the word heavens which has not been noticed. Readers may yet have their doubts; for it is nothing strange that birds in the heavens should have a clearer view, as they come nearer the sun and the element of fire: but different seems to have been the Prophet’s object; which was to shew, that though birds labor as it were continually, they yet contrive to know the suitable time for going and returning. Hence, then, is exaggerated more fully the insensibility of that people, who, while sitting leisurely at home, did not consider what God did set before them.
The particle גם, gam, even, is emphatical; Even the stork, he says. What means this, that birds, though not possessed of understanding, do yet know their time? But my people, etc. By saying “my people, “the Prophet no doubt intended more clearly to set forth their wickedness. For, as I have before said, such blindness in heathens would not have been so strange; but as they were the holy and peculiar people of God, it was far more shameful and monstrous that they knew not his judgment.
Christ uses other words in condemning the Pharisees for not attending to the time of their visitation; for he says, “Ye are wont to conclude what will be the state of the heavens in the morning; for if the sky be red in the evening, ye say, It will be fine to — morrow; and ye know the signs of future and approaching rain: ye possess, he says, judgment sufficiently acute in external things, which conduce to the benefit of the present life; yet ye know not the time of your visitation, and still ye seek signs: but were ye attentive, God would shew to you in a way clear enough, and as it were by the finger, that the time of deliverance which ye pretend to expect is now nigh at hand.” But the Prophet reproves the Jews in a severer strain, when he says that there was more fatuity and madness in them than in birds. They know not, he says, the judgment of Jehovah, though it had been shewn to them many times, and for a long season.
But some one might have objected and said, “No wonder if we perceive not God’s judgment, for his judgments are a great deep; and since these exceed what we can comprehend, there is no reason to find fault with us.” But the Prophet speaks not here of hidden judgments, which elude the comprehension of men, but of punishments, of which they had been so often warned. Since, then, they were so blind as not to see what was clear and evident, the Prophet justly says that they were more foolish than cranes, and the other birds which he mentions. It follows —
8. How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.
8. Quomodo dicetis (pro dicitis; significat continuum actum) sapientes nos (hoc est, nos sumus sapientes,) et lex Jehovae nobiscum est (vel, penes nos, melius:) certe ecce frustra aptavit stylum (vel, calamum) scriptor; frustra sunt seribae.
Interpreters think that the Prophet here directs his words to the priests, and the false prophets, and the other chiefs of the people, because they proudly arrogated to themselves the knowledge of the law: but what is said may be no less extended to the whole people; for, as we shall presently see, all of them, from the least to the greatest, no doubt boasted that they were sufficiently wise. I hence think that the Prophet here inveighs against the whole body of the people; for all, almost without exception, rejected his teaching, as we see also to be done at the present day; for who is there that can bear to be admonished and reproved? All say that they are wise enough: “Oh! do you think that I am a child?” or, as it is commonly said, “Do you think that I am a goose? I know how I am to live, and I am not without reason.” Thus the rudest and the most ignorant set up their own wisdom and sharpness of wit against God and his prophets. Such audacity and ferociousness prevailed no doubt in the time of Jeremiah. For when he sharply reproved them, they were ready with their answer, — “Oh! thou treatest us as though we were barbarians, as though God’s law was unknown to us, as though we had not been taught from our childhood how we are to live: does not God dwell in the midst of us?” Since, then, the Jews did set up as it were this shield against the doctrine of the Prophet, he attacks them here with great vehemence, —
How say ye, We are wise? He afterwards describes the kind of wisdom which they claimed, The law of God is with us: and doubtless, to attend to God’s law is the way of becoming really wise. Had they justly boasted that they had the law, the Prophet would not have brought against them the charge, that they were doubly foolish. But as they falsely made this pretense, he says to them, How? and here he asks a question as to what was very strange, “How are you so foolish, “he says, “that ye think yourselves wise, as though the law of God were with you? Surely, if so, in vain has the law been written; for ye shew by your whole life that you have never known anything of what God by the law commands and sets before us, and what the design of it is.”
Thus Jeremiah shows by their life that there was no ground for their foolish boasting; for they gave no evidence of their wisdom. It is indeed necessary for those who seek to be God’s disciples to bring forth some fruit: but as there was among them so much impiety, so much contempt of God, and as, in short, their whole life proclaimed them to be wholly insane, he says, In vain has he prepared his pen, even the writer of the law; and in vain have been the scribes, that is, the teachers; for by scribes, in the second place, he understands teachers. 221
I explain this passage somewhat different from other interpreters; for there seems to be implied a kind of irony, as we commonly say, Il faut bruler tous les livres. Hence Jeremiah derides their folly, in saying that they knew how they were to live, because the teaching of the law prevailed among them. “If it be so, “he says, “what is God’s law? Doubtless, nothing, as the whole of its teaching must in this way be deemed as nothing.” We now then see that the Jews are here reproved as false, for they claimed the law, as though it were a shadow without a body, and possessed not a particle of right knowledge. He afterwards adds —
9. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?
9. Pudefacti sunt sapientes, territi sunt et capti sunt (תחת significat proprie frangere, vel, conterere, sed transferter ad animum, et tunc significat terrere; dicit igitur esse territos, deinde illaqueatos; postea adjungit causam, nempe,) quia respuerunt in verbo (sed ב est supervacuum, verbum ergo) Jehova (reprobarunt, vel repudiarunt,) et sapientia quid illis (prodest, subaudiunt quidam interpretes; alii vertunt, et quid est in ipsis sapientiae? Ego autem aliter accipio, ut statim dicam.)
He says now that the wise were ashamed, and astonished, and ensnared By which words he means, that the Jews gained nothing by their craftiness, while they arrogated to themselves wisdom, and under this pretense rejected all admonitions, and sought to be spared.
“This wisdom, “he says, “avails you nothing, for God, as it is said in another place, will take you unawares.” (Isa 29:14; 1Co 1:19.)
Ashamed, then, he says, are they; not that they were then ashamed; for be said before, in Jer 6:15, and will state the same presently, that they were so hardened that they could not be made ashamed, nor be made to blush: 222 but he here denounces a punishment, which was soon to overtake them; as though he had said, “Ye have now an iron front, and think that ye can elude God and his servants with impunity; but God will take you unawares, and will so shake off the masks under which you hide yourselves, that your disgrace shall be made manifest to all.” This is the meaning.
For the same purpose he says, “Ye are now secure, but God will shortly fill you with such terror, that he will make you greatly astonished ” He intimates, then, that nothing would benefit them while they took delight in their vices, and increasingly hardened themselves; for God would deprive them of their craftiness, and cast them down with terror, however secure and perverse they were now.
By the third word he sets forth the manner in which they would be treated: God would have his snares by which he would take them. He alludes to the subterfuges in which those hypocrites trust, who proudly oppose God, while they think that by their arts they can escape in this or that way, and often devise some new schemes by which they may deceive God. Hence the Prophet, alluding to their perverse cunning, says, that God would be as it were a fowler, who would ensnare them, and hold them captive.
He afterwards assigns the reason, Because they had repudiated, or despised or rejected, 223 (for the verb means all these things,) the word of Jehovah And he uses a demonstrative particle, Behold, that they might not, as usual, make any evasions: “The thing, “he says, “is sufficiently known, and even children can be judges of your impiety, that you have rejected the word of Jehovah.” He draws hence this inference, What does wisdom avail them? or, What is their wisdom? Either of these meanings may be admitted, They were wise to no purpose, while they provoked God by their impious contempt. “I hate the wise who is not wise for himself, “is an old proverb. As then the Jews ill consulted their own benefit, by rejecting the word of God, in which their safety was involved, the Prophet justly alleges, that their wisdom availed them nothing. Others read, “What is their wisdom, “when there is no fear of God? And doubtless it ever remains a truth, that the fear of God is the beginning and the chief part of wisdom. (Pr 1:7; Pr 9:10; Ps 111:10.) Since then they had basely despised God’s word, rightly does the Prophet ask, “What is their wisdom?” But there is a third meaning which is suitable, even this, And wisdom, what to them? So it is literally, — What is wisdom to them? He still speaks to them ironically, as though he said, “They are indeed wise, but in their own esteem; they have therefore no need of being taught: What then is wisdom to them!” The meaning is, that they were so swollen with pride that they received no instruction. How so? They refused wisdom through the false conceit with which they were inflated. Let, however, every one choose for himself; my object is to shew what I mostly approve. There will be no lecture to — morrow, as a consistory is to be held.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou ceasest not daily to rouse us, as also our sloth requires continual warnings, — O grant, that we may not be unteachable, and that our perverseness may not hinder us to return immediately and willingly to thee, from whom we have, through our own fault, alienated ourselves: and may we not only feel some desire to repent, but persevere so constantly in the exercise of penitence, that through the whole course of our life we may contend with our lusts, until having at length subdued them all, we shall reach the goal which has been set before us, and enjoy in heaven that eternal inheritance, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only — begotten Son. — Amen.
10. Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
10. Propterea dabo uxores eorum alienis, et agros eorum possessoribus; quia a parvo usque ad magnum omnes cupiditatem concupiverunt (vel, cupiditate concupiverunt;) a propheta usque ad sacerdotem omnes egerunt fallaciter.
GOD here threatens punishment, because he found that he effected nothing, and that he had to do with an obstinate people, having before tried whether they were reclaimable. Having seen that exhortations were of no avail, he now comes to extreme severity, I will give, he says, their wives to strangers. He sets forth, by a particular instance, the evils which usually accompany wars: and nothing is more distressing than when the wife is snatched away from her husband; for if husbands had their option, they would prefer instant death than to bear such a disgrace. Jeremiah then shews that the most atrocious thing that happens to conquered nations was nigh the Jews, — that their men would be deprived of their wives. He afterwards says the same thing of their fields; God declares that he would give the fields to their possessors. By this mode of speaking he intimates, that they would be deprived of their fields, not for a short time, but perpetually.
There is, indeed, a contrast here implied: for it sometimes happens, that enemies prevail and plunder everything; but yet they take no long possession of the fields, for a change succeeds: but when he calls enemies possessors, he means that there would be such a calamity, that the Jews would for a long time, even for their life, be banished from their country, and would lose their possessions. They thought that the land was so given to them, that it could never be taken from them: and doubtless the Lord would have never expelled them, had they not defiled it with their pollutions; but as they had polluted it by their sins, they deserved to be banished from it. So the Prophet shews that their confidence was absurd, in thinking that they would be the perpetual inheritors of that land: “Succeed you, “he says, “shall others, who shall possess it as it were by an hereditary right.” We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning.
He afterwards mentions the reason why God had resolved to deal so severely with them, For they are, he says, from the least to the greatest given up to avarice 224 He means that no equity prevailed among the people; for under one kind of sin he includes all frauds and plunders, and every kind of injustice. He then says, that every one was addicted to his own gain, so that they practiced mutual wrongs without any regard to what was right and just.
He then enlarges on the subject and says, that all, from the prophet to the priest, acted deceitfully There is here also a part mentioned for the whole. But Jeremiah in various ways sets forth the wrongs by which men harassed one another. Nor does he exclude violence when he speaks of fraud; but it is the same as though he said, that they, being forgetful of what was right, practiced fraud of every kind. It was, indeed, a dreadful thing, that there remained no rectitude or justice in the prophets and the priests, who ought to have carried light for others, and to have shewn to them the right way, as God had constituted them to be the leaders of the people. Since, then, even these acted deceitfully, there must have been among the common people the most disgraceful injustice. Hence the Prophet shews by these words, that God could not be charged with too much rigor, as though he treated the people cruelly; for there was such a mass of wickedness, that it could no longer be borne. It follows —
11. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
11. Et curarunt vulnus filiae populi mei super nihilo, dicendo, Pax, pax; et nulla pax.
THE Prophet repeats what we have noticed in the sixth chapter: but it was necessary to reiterate often, to the deaf and the slothful, what had already been forgotten, or what had not touched their hearts. As these things have been already explained, I shall now only refer briefly to the main points.
He no doubt condemns here the priests and the prophets. He spoke before generally of the whole people, “from the least,” he said, “to the greatest.” But as for the sake of amplifying, he had expressly mentioned the prophets and the priests as given to fraudulent dealings, he now in an especial manner condemns them, not only for grievously offending God, but also for deceiving others by their flatteries, as though they were allowed to sin with impunity. It is, indeed, an inexcusable crime in those, who ought to lead others, to be no less wicked than the common people; for they not only by their example, but also by their doctrine, corrupt the whole community, and thus they increase the evil twofold. It was therefore an intolerable impiety, when they were so presumptuous as to spread those falsehoods, by which they led the people to despise God and his law. Hence he says, that they healed the wound of the people, while God was yet shewing tokens of his wrath. And he speaks, as it has been said elsewhere, by way of concession, as though he had said, that they were very foolish physicians in applying plaisters to cover the wrath of God. 225
Behold, he says, they have healed the wound of my people, saying, Peace, peace By mentioning the word twice the Prophet shews more clearly how supine was their security; for they deceived the people not only once, but proceeded obstinately in the work of deceiving the wretched people by their false promises. He adds, When there was no peace This may be taken in two ways, — that God by the event exposed their madness, — or, that when there was no prosperity, they still fallaciously promised peace. As God elsewhere complains that the prophets flattered the people, so he does here: such sentences we have already often explained. He then adds —
12. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.
12. An pudor (est enim interrogative hoc legendum, sicuti capite sexto diximus, subaudienda igitur est particula, An; An ergo pudefacti sunt) quod abominationem patrarunt? etiam in pudore non pudifacti sunt, et erubescere non noverunt; propterea cadent inter cadentes; in tempore visitationis ipsorum impingent (vel, corruent,) dicit Jehova.
The Prophet in these words shews still more clearly that they were wholly irreclaimable; for they had divested themselves of every shame. It is no doubt a proof of a wickedness past all remedy, when no shame remains. This verse has been also explained in the sixth chapter; it forms the fifteenth verse. But we must bear in mind the design of the Prophet. It is then briefly this, — to shew that the wickedness of the people was unhealable, and for this reason, because they had an iron front.
Hence he asks, Have they been ashamed, because they have committed abomination? as though he had said, “They have been proved guilty of wickedness, can they be made to feel any shame?” To this he answers, Even in their shame they are not ashamed The particle גם, gam, even, is emphatic, Then the meaning may be thus given, — that when God brought against them their shameful conduct, and proved them guilty, so that they could not escape by any evasion — that when they were thus convicted, they yet had no feeling of shame. At the same time, this passage may be explained as referring to what is commonly called actual conviction; for they were well — nigh consumed with miseries, through their untamable perverseness, while contending with God’s judgment. Even then in shame itself they had no feeling of shame
Added is the reason, They know not how to blush By this want of shame, then, Jeremiah proves that they were men past remedy. And on this account he adds, Fall therefore shall they among those who fall, and in the time of their visitation they shall perish, or stumble. By these words he intimates that they were no longer to be reasoned with, and that God’s vengeance would be just in wholly destroying them, for he had in vain spoken to them, he had in vain contended with them, he had in vain tried to bring them to the right way. The import of the whole then is, — that the only thing that remained for them was destruction; for they had without shame rejected all instruction and every warning.
And he says, among the fallen, because every one, as it is commonly the case, encouraged others in their contempt of God, and in their perverseness. When therefore they saw others to be like themselves, they entertained hope of impunity; and hence they were allured to sin by this deception. On this account the Prophet says, that ruin was nigh them all. They shall fall, he says, among the fallen, 226 and stumble in the time of their visitation. He shews that God had fixed a day in which they were to be destroyed. But if he deferred the time, there was no reason for them to think that it would be to their advantage; for they would by their obstinacy procure for themselves a heavier judgment. In short, though God might spare them for a time, yet the Prophet warns them, that this would avail them nothing, as God’s time of visitation was fixed. Then follows a confirmation —
13. I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.
13. Colligendo colligam (vel, perdendo perdam,) dicit Jehova: non uvae in vite (vel, botri,) et non ficus in ficulnea; et folium decidet, et dabo illis, transibunt (hoc est, quae dedere illis transibunt ab ipsis.)
He confirms, as I have said, what he had declared in the last verse, tie had said, that there would be the ruin of the whole people: for the same purpose he now adds, Destroying I will destroy them The verb אסף, asaph, properly means “to collect, “but metaphorically, “to destroy;” as we say in our language, Trousser; Je les trousserai tous ensemble. And hence it more fully appears, that the Prophet explains what he had said, that destruction was nigh them all, so that none would remain, that is, with regard to the people as a body, as a community; for God ever preserved a remnant. We have, indeed, said elsewhere, and we shall have to notice the same thing often again, that the prophets, regarding the people as a body, threatened them all with destruction; but when they addressed the elect, and the faithful, they added a modification: Destroying I will then destroy them
He afterwards shews the manner: No grapes shall be on the vines, and no figs on the fig — trees The word for “fig” means the fruit as well as the tree, as it is well known. And that he might more fully set forth God’s vengeance, he says, that the very leaves would wither. The meaning is, that God would soon come as an avenger, however securely the Jews might be resting in their sins: and he shews the kind of vengeance that awaited them, — that God would deprive them of all sustenance and support; by mentioning a part for the whole, he includes everything necessary for life. He speaks not of wine, and of corn, and of oil; but by figs and grapes, as I have said, he comprehends every kind of sustenance; and even the leaves would wither and fall.
In the second place, he adds, Even, what I shall give them shall pass away from them Some apply this to the fruit in the granaries and cellars, as though he had said, “Even if they should have provisions in their storehouses and cellars, and be furnished with plenty, all this shall yet avail them nothing, for it shall be all taken away; for to pass away has often this meaning; and the מ, mem, affixed, is the same as though it was מהם, meem, from them. Others render the words, “they shall pass over them;” but this is too strained. They refer to the precepts granted to the Jews, which they had rendered void or neglected: but this cannot suit the passage. And as to the first explanation, it seems to me too limited. I therefore take this to be the meaning, — “Even if the grapes and figs come to maturity, yet what they shall consider as already prepared shall be taken away.” The Prophet then means, that there would be various ways by which the Jews would be reduced to penury and want; for either the enemies would rob them of their grapes and figs, or he himself would send sterility; or, when they thought their provisions secured to them, they would not yet be allowed to enjoy them. This is the import of the whole. 227 It follows —
14. Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the Lord our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord.
14. Ut quid nos sedemus? congregate vos, et ingrediamur urbes munitas (urbes munitionis, ad verbum,) et quiescamus illic: certe Jehova Deus noster silere nos (vel, quiescere nos) fecit, et potavit nos a quis venenatis (vel, aquis fellis; nam ראש, significat fel et venenum;) quia impie egimus contra Jehovam.
This verse, and those which follow, are explained in different ways; but I will briefly shew the meaning of the Prophet. I have no doubt but that he speaks here in the name of the whole people. The Prophet, then, in these words, represents what occupied their minds, and the counsels which the Jews adopted: and further, there is no doubt but that he shews in these words that they, as hypocrites are wont to do, had recourse to expedients, by which they thought they could protect themselves from God’s wrath. For they who think that the Prophet spoke his own sentiments are greatly mistaken: on the contrary, he relates here the purposes which the Jews formed; and at the same time he reproves their hardness in turning here and there, and in thinking that they could turn aside the judgment of God; for hypocrites, unless constrained, never ascend to the first cause; that is, they never acknowledge nor regard the hand of him who strikes them, as it is said in another place. (Isa 9:13.) They indeed feel their evils, and seek to apply remedies; but they stop at the nearest reliefs, without seeking to pacify God and to return into favor with him; and when the smallest hope is given them, they think themselves to be safe, if they betake themselves to this or that hiding-place.
This feeling is what the Prophet describes: Why do we sit? or, “Why do we rest?” But the word here means to sit still: Why do we then sit still? as though they had accused themselves of sloth or idleness: “What means this our slothfulness? we sit still in the villages, which are exposed to the violence of enemies: gather then yourselves, and let us enter into fortified cities; we shall rest there.” They thought that they should be safe, if they entered into fortified cities. Then, on the other hand, Jeremiah shews how foolishly they trusted to such refuges. Surely, he says, our God hath made us silent He had said before ונדמה-שם, vanudame-shem, “and we shall there rest.” The verb, means to rest, and to be silent. He repeats the same word, “Surely, our God hath made us to be silent;” but in a different sense. There is then a striking allusion in the verb דמה, dame, or the sameness of sound. “Jehovah hath made us to be silent, “or to rest; or, he hath cut us off, for in Hiphil, it has this meaning. 228
We hence see, that on the one hand is declared what might have given some comfort to the Jews, for there were fortified cities which might have protected them from the assaults of enemies; but, on the other hand, the Prophet shews that they were greatly mistaken, for God would make them to rest in a different manner, as he would reduce them to nothing; for the dead are said to rest, or to be silent. In short, he means a quiet state when speaking in the name of the people; but he refers to destruction when speaking by God’s command.
He afterwards confirms the same thing in a metaphorical language, God will give them the waters of gall, or, poisoned waters: and he adds, Because they have acted impiously against Jehovah We may learn from this last part, that the Prophet is now performing the duty of his office. The people indeed never willingly allowed that they were suffering punishment justly due to their sins; but the Prophet here reproves them for hoping to be safe by fleeing to fortified cities, as though God could not follow them there. He then says that God’s vengeance would closely pursue them, and that wherever they fled, they would still be exposed to evils, for they carried with them their impieties, which would draw upon them the wrath of God. It follows —
15. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!
15. Expectando 229 pacem (vel, ad pacem) et non bonum; ad tempus sanationis, et ecce terror (aut, turbatio.)
He explains his meaning more clearly in this verse, — that the Jews in vain flattered themselves, while they entertained vain hopes. He then says that there was no reason for them to deceive themselves; for were they to promise themselves peace a hundred times, ruin would still be nigh them, and that though they hoped for a time of healing, terror would assail them. We hence see that in the last verse his purpose was to shew how foolish the people were, who thought that they would be safe by means of the remedies which seemed to be at hand, though they despised God’s judgment. It follows —
16. The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.
16. A Dan auditus est fremitus equorum ejus, a voce hinnituum robustorum ejus tremefacta est (vel, contremuit) tota terra; quia venient (nam copula hic resolvi debet in causalem particulam) et comedent terram et plenitudinem (vel, copiam) ejus, urbem et habitatores ejus.
He says, Heard has been the snorting of horses from Daniel Dan was on the extremities, as it is well known, of the land of Canaan. Some think that the loudness of the noise is intended, as it was heard from such a distance in the holy city itself; but I know not whether this can be gathered from the words of the Prophet. The simpler and the correcter meaning then is, that though Jerusalem rested securely, they were not yet in a quiet state on the borders of the land, for they were disturbed by the snorting of the enemies’ horses. From Dan then has been heard a snorting When the inhabitants of a city indulge in pleasures, while the borders of the land are assailed by enemies, it might be pertinently said to them, “Why do ye here live at your ease? your neighbors and your brethren are exposed to the assaults of enemies: war therefore ought to be waged in your land, though it has not yet reached your gates and your walls.” So the Prophet speaks here: “From Dan has been heard the snorting of his horses.” The relative “his” may be applied to the Assyrians; for the Hebrews often use relatives without antecedents. But it is more probable that Jeremiah refers to the first mover of the war, even God; as though he had said, — “God will send forth hostile armies, which will disturb the borders of your land.” He then calls them the horses of God; for the Chaldeans did not wage that war, but under the authority of God, as we have often seen, and shall have to notice often again.
Then he says, At the noise of the neighings of his strong ones, etc. He calls the horses “strong,“ אבירים, abirim; and as he had not described them, he now does so. Trembled, he says, has the land at the noise of the neighings of his strong ones As he mentions the neighings of horses, we must understand “strong” as referring to the horses themselves. Come, he says, shall they, and shall devour the land and its fullness, the city and its inhabitants Here is an irregularity as to the number; for he puts city for cities, as he threatens not only Jerusalem, but also the neighboring cities. Whatever then might be the abundance in the land, the enemies would devour it; and he says also, that they would devour the cities and their inhabitants. It follows —
17. For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord
17. Quia ecce ego mitto in vos serpentes, regulos (quidam tamen subaudiunt copulam, serpentes et regulos) quibus nulla erit incantatio, et mordebunt vos, dicit Jehova.
He increases their terror by another comparison, — that not only enemies would violently attack them, but that their bitings would be venomous. He had spoken of horses, and mentioned their violent onsets; but he now expresses another thing, — that the Jews would have to carry on war with vipers and basilisks The Prophet no doubt only meant to shew that they could not possibly escape; for as from serpents men can hardly escape, especially when they are numerous, and assail them on every side, so he intimates, that the war would be fatal to the Jews, when attacked by serpents and vipers.
They shall bite you, he says, and for them there will be no incantation; that is, by no means can they be driven away from you. If one asks, Can serpents be driven away by incantations? the answer is, — that the Prophet here does not refer to what is true, but speaks according to the common opinions of men. It has been thought in all ages, that serpents can be driven away by incantations, or be killed, or be deprived of the power of hurting. “The deadly snake, “says Virgil, in Eclo. viii., “is dissolved in the meadows by singing.” What that heathen poet has said has been believed also by other nations; and as I have already said, it has been a commonly received opinion that serpents may be charmed. As then it was a common belief, the Prophet says, “If ye think that these serpents can be turned away, and the hurt that proceeds from them, ye are greatly deceived; for there will be for them no incantation.” There is also a mention made of incantation in Ps 58:6: but as I have already said, the prophets accommodate their words to the comprehension of men. The Prophet does here also indirectly reprove the Jews, by comparing their false resources to incantations, as though he had said, — “Ye think that ye can soothe your enemies by flatteries and bribery, so that they may not hurt you; and ye also think that ye have ready at hand various means by which you may avert the evils which impend over you: in vain, he says, ye deceive yourselves with such hopes; for all your incantations as to these serpents shall be to no purpose, and wholly useless.”
We now then perceive the Prophet’s intention, and see that by this figure he ironically derides the crafty measures of the people, and all the remedies which they thought they had in readiness when assailed by their enemies. It follows —
18 When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
18. Roborate meum (vel, quum vellem roborare me) super dolorem, super me cor meum infirmum est.
Interpreters explain differently the word מבלגיתי, mebelgiti. Some take מ, mem, in the sense of ב, beth; but others, with whom I agree, regard it as a servile, deriving the word from בלג, belag; and this letter is prefixed to it to shew that it is a noun. The ת, tau, also at the end, is a servile. 230
The Prophet then means, that he sought strength in his sorrow, but that his heart was weak He no doubt, I think, sets forth in this verse the perverse character of the people, — that they sought through their obstinacy to drive away every punishment. This could not indeed be referred to himself, or to those who were like him, as we know how fearful are God’s servants with regard to his wrath; for as the fear of God prevails in their hearts, so they are easily terrified by his judgment; but hypocrites and wicked men ever harden themselves as far as they can. They then strengthened themselves against God, and thought in this way to be conquerors. Since they thus perversely contended with God, the Prophet sets forth here the great hardness of the people: I would, he says, strengthen myself in my sorrow; but my heart is within me weak; that is, “In vain are these remedies tried; in vain have ye hitherto endeavored to strengthen yourselves, and have sought fortresses and strongholds against God; for sorrow will at length prevail, as the Lord will add troubles to troubles, so that ye must at length succumb under them.”
He means the same when he says, his heart was within him weak: “I have, “he says, “been oppressed with sorrow, when I thought I had strength enough to resist.” For thus the ungodly think manfully to act, when they madly resist God; but at length they find by the event that they in vain seek thus to strengthen themselves; for our heart, he says, will become within us weak, and debility itself will at last oppress and overwhelm us.
Grant, Almighty God, that since we have been abundantly taught by ancient examples how insane they are who bend not under thy threatenings, and repent not in due time while thou invitest them to repentance, — O grant, that we may wholly give up ourselves to be disciplined by thee, and that we may not only bear with submissive minds to be chastised, but also learn by thy warnings to return without delay to thee, and that we may so remain in obedience to thee, that with unceasing perseverance we may fight under thy banner, until having at length finished our warfare, we shall enjoy that blessed rest which has been prepared for us by Christ our Lord. — Amen.
19. Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?
19. Ecce vox clamoris filiae populi mei a terra longinqua, An Jehova non est in Sion? an rex ejus non est in ea? Quare provocarunt me ad iram in suis sculptilibus? in vanitati-bus aiieni?
The Prophet in this verse assumes different characters: he first denounces ruin, which, though near, was not yet dreaded by the people; he then represents the people, and relates what they would say; in the third place, he adds an answer in God’s name to check the clamors of the people.
When he says that the daughter of his people uttered a cry, he is to be understood as referring to a future time; for the Jews as yet continued perversely in their sins, and ridiculed all threatenings, and regarded as nothing what was said by the prophets. Jeremiah then does not mean that his own nation cried, as though they dreaded future calamities, (for they were heedlessly secure;) but he condemns their indifference, as though he had said, “Ye indeed do now indulge your own delusions, and think that your felicity is to be perpetual; but in a short time your cry will be heard.” The words, From a distant land, interpreters apply to the Chaldeans and Assyrians, as though the Prophet had said, “Ye hope for a perpetual rest, because your enemies are far from you; hence distance and delay in marching produce this security in you; for it seems not to you credible that your enemies shall make such a journey, except with much expense and much trouble; but in this opinion you are deceived; for though the Chaldeans and the Assyrians are far distant from you, yet they shall soon come and constrain you to utter a cry: ye cannot now bear the warnings of the prophets, my voice ye cannot endure; but God will constrain you to utter a different voice, for ye shall cry, but without any avail.”
This meaning is not without reason on its side: if then the Prophet’s words be thus taken, I offer no objection; for hypocrites derive confidence from the present appearance of things; when they see that there is quietness on every side, they fear no danger; when God threatens them, and shews not immediately his rods, they ridicule or despise them.: thus have we seen in other places.
But another meaning is not unsuitable, — that Jeremiah describes the lamentations of the people in exile, after having been driven into Chaldea and Assyria: The voice, then, of the daughter of my people from a distant land; 231 that is, after having been deprived of their country, they will then begin to cry, and for this reason, because they wished the prophets to give them rest, and refused to bear any reproofs. Appropriate also is this view; but I prefer the former, — that the people would shortly find out how foolishly they deluded themselves, when God by his servants threatened them with ruin and destruction: and hence he uses the demonstrative particle, “Behold:” Behold, he says, the voice of crying; and yet great was the silence then at Jerusalem: for though in their pleasure they uttered some voices, yet as to weepings and lamentations the whole city was silent. The Prophet then refers to what was hidden. But God usually acts in this way, as he afterwards executes suddenly his judgment; for when the wicked say, Peace, peace, destruction comes and suddenly overwhelms them. (1Th 5:8.)
He adds in the second place, Is not Jehovah in Sion? Is not her king in her? The Prophet no doubt expresses here the complaints of the people on finding themselves overwhelmed with so many and so great evils, without receiving any aid from heaven. For hypocrites ever expostulate with God; and as they consider that they are unjustly chastised, they reject every instruction, and avoid it as much as they can; in short, they seek stupidity, that they may deceive themselves with vain delusions. As then it is usual with hypocrites to reject every apprehension of God’s wrath, Jeremiah strikingly describes their contumacy, “Is not Jehovah in Sion? Is not her king in her?” For they accused God of falsehood, as though he had deceived them, since he had promised to be the defender of the city, and of the whole land. As then they thought that God was bound to them by this promise, they daringly raged against him, “What means this? for God has chosen this place, where Abraham’s race might worship him; it has been as it were his earthly kingdom: but now what can this mean, that enemies are coming here? Can God ever permit them to do so? This is not possible, except God himself be overcome.”
We hence see the import of the Prophet’s words; for he here imitates the perverse language of the people, and recites the words which he knew most of them used. We have before found him addressing them,
“Trust not in words of falsehood, saying, The temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah,”
for they were wont perversely to allege against God, the temple, and to regard it as a shield to ward off every evil. In the same way the Prophet says now, “Is not God in Sion?” and then, “Is not her king in her?” The Jews were not only persuaded that God would be propitious to them, but they doubted not of their own safety, while they could turn their eyes to their king. They therefore uttered these words, as though they were beyond the chance of danger: for we know what God had declared respecting the kingdom, that it would continue for ever: So long as the sun and moon shall be in heaven, shall remain the seat of David, and his posterity flourish. (Ps. 89:36, 37.) Hence they connected the king with God; as though they had said, “Here is God worshipped, and his power dwells in the temple; the king also, whom he has set over us, is a sure pledge of his favor; and the perpetuity of his kingdom has been promised to us: it then follows, that either God is untrue, and that we have been deceived with vain promises, or that our enemies will come in vain; for when they shall make every effort, God, who is the guardian of our safety, will easily drive them away.”
At the first view this seems to be an evidence of faith, as the people seemed persuaded that they should be safe and secure under the protection of God, and as they turned their eyes to that kingdom, which was a remarkable exhibition of God’s presence: for as David was a type of Christ, and also his posterity, no other refuge could have been sought by the faithful than that which is here described. But we know how hypocrites swell with vain confidence, while yet they are wholly destitute of faith, and how they become wantonly insolent whenever God threatens them, as though they held him bound at their will. As then the ungodly are wont thus to abuse the name of God, it is no wonder that they imitate the language of his true servants: but yet they are wholly different. How so? They lay hold on the promises, but they have no faith nor repentance. “This is my rest for ever: it then follows that we shall be ever safe, for God cannot be overcome by any force of arms, by any onset of enemies; since he has taken us under his protection, what have we to fear?” But, at the same time, they despised God and all his teaching.
We hence see how foolish was the boasting of that people, since they wholly despised the holy name of God, and did swell only with wind, inasmuch as they were altogether destitute of faith and piety. We must also ever keep in mind what I have already said, — that the Jews not only entertained this vain confidence, but also presumptuously rose up against God, as though he had deceived them, having promised that Sion would be his perpetual rest: they now ask him, why he did not defend the city, as he dwelt in Sion? and why was not the king their protection, since it had been said, “So long as the sun and moon shall be in heaven, shall remain the throne of David?” Now follows God’s answer.
Why then have they provoked me with their carvings, and the vanities of the foreigner? Here God retorts their false complaints. We hence learn, that in the last clause the contumacy of the people is what is set forth by Jeremiah: they raged against God, because he did not aid them in time. God shews how absurdly they complained against him, and accused him: Why, he says, have they provoked me? “They say now that they are forsaken, because there is no faithfulness in me: I have not betrayed them, nor forsaken them, but they have forsaken me ” We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet. We observe, indeed, that the passage is abrupt, for the Prophet assumes different characters; but as to what is meant there is nothing doubtful.
God says, that he was provoked with carvings: it hence follows, that the temple was polluted. God had indeed promised to dwell in the temple, but on a certain condition, provided he was faithfully, and in a legitimate manner, worshipped there; but the people with their pollutions had defiled the temple. God then shews that there was a just cause why he had departed, according to what is set forth more fully in the tenth chapter of Ezekiel: God shews to his servant in that vision that he had left the temple, and for this reason, — because his holiness could not be blended with ungodly and filthy profanations. He first mentions carvings generally, and then he adds, the vanities of the foreigner: and here he amplifies the sin of the people, because they borrowed here and there from foreigners such superstitions as were unknown to their fathers, as though they wished to banish God from the temple, and from the whole land. 232 It follows —
20. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
20. Transiit messis, finita est aestas, et nos non sumus servati.
The Prophet shews now in the name of the people what was the hindrance. At the time Jeremiah spoke, the Jews confidently boasted that God was their defender; and they did not think that the Chaldeans were preparing for an expedition. But as they were inflated with false confidence, the Prophet here recites what they would presently say, Passed has the harvest, ended has the summer, and we have not been saved; that is, “We thought that the associates, with whom we have made alliances, would at length come to our aid; and we have in this respect been deceived.” In saying, that the harvest had passed, some think that they expected help from the Egyptians after they had gathered their corn into barns; for there is then more leisure, and then also there are provisions for the army. But the Prophet seems to include the whole time suitable for carrying on war; as though he had said, “What will become of us at last? for if the Egyptians intended to bring help, they would have done so at the suitable time of the year; but passed has the harvest, and the summer has ended: will they come now, when the severity of winter constrains them to keep at home?.”
It is the same as though they had said, “There is no hope of aid either from the Egyptians or from other confederates, for the seasonable time is gone by.” There was nothing less credible to the Jews at that time; for as it; has elsewhere appeared, they doubted not but that the Egyptians would bring them aid, and supply them with help instead of God: but the Prophet intimates, that whatever the Egyptians might have promised would be in vain, and wholly useless, that the people would at length find out by experience that their promises were mere trumperies, yea, impostures and deceits. In short, he describes in the name of the people (that what he said might be more emphatical) what they would soon find out, though they would not believe it at that time. It follows —
21. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
21. Super contritione filiae populi mei contritus sum, obtenebratus sum, stupor (nam שמם est stupere et attonitum esse; stupor ergo) apprehendit me.
As the hardness of the people was so great, that the threatenings we have observed did not touch them, the Prophet now ascribes to himself what he had before attributed to them. We then see how the Prophet varies his mode of speaking; but it was necessary, for he was at a loss to find a way to address them sufficiently strong to penetrate into their stony and even iron hearts. We need not wonder, then, that there are so many figurative terms used by the Prophet; for it was needful to set before them God’s judgment in various ways, that the people might be awakened out of their torpid state.
He then says, that he was bruised for the bruising of his people. He was no doubt ridiculed by most of them: “Oh! thou grievest for thine own evils; it is well and prosperous with us: who has asked thee for this pity? Think not, then, that thou canst gain any favor with us, for we are contented with our lot. Weep rather for thine own calamities, if thou hast any at home; but suffer us at the same time to enjoy our pleasures, since God is propitious and indulgent to us.” Thus then was the Prophet derided; but yet he warns the obstinate people, that they might be less excusable: he says, that he was rendered black; for sorrow brings blackness with it, and makes dark the face of man: it is a metaphorical expression. He says at last, that he was astonished 233 The astonishment with which he was seized he no doubt sets down as being the opposite of the people’s torpor and insensibility, for they had no fear for themselves. It follows —
22 Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
22. An resina (aut, balsamus) non est in Gilead? an medicus non illic est? nam cur non ascendit sanitas filiae populi mei?
The Prophet intimates in these words that the slaughter of the people would be so fatal that they would in vain seek remedies; as though he had said, that the disease would be incurable, and altogether deadly. The people, no doubt, ever devised for themselves many kinds of aids, according to what is commonly done; for ungodly men, when any danger appears, look around them on all sides; and when they think that they can be protected by any kind of assistance, or by any of the means they contrive, they rest secure and free from every trouble. Hence the Prophet, that he might dispel such vain confidences, says that there would be no rosin to heal their diseases. The rosin is a liquid which flows, not from every tree, but from the pine, and trees of that kind.
We may conclude from this passage, as well as from other passages, that the best and the most valuable rosin was found in that part of Judea, called Gilead. Indeed the whole of Judea produced rosin; but as it was more abundant in Gilead, and as that rosin was more odoriferous and more powerful, he expressly mentions that place. The word צרי tsari, means also balsam: and as to this let each follow his own opinion, for the Jews themselves do not altogether agree. They who render it “treacle” wholly depart from the meaning, and offer what is absurd; for we know that treacle is made up of several ingredients: now rosin is not any sort of gum, but a thick liquid, as I have said, which belongs to trees; and from it comes rosin, and mastic, and other things; for the liquid becomes thick after it has flown from the trees.
He says then, as one astonished, Is there not rosin in Gilead? Is there not a physician there? But the Prophet foretells here by the Spirit, that there would be such a destruction as could not by any means be avoided, that the disease would be incurable. For why, he says, does not health come to the daughter of my people? The reason is added, because healing could not be expected by the people; not that the Jews perceived this, for, on the contrary, they boasted, as I have said, of their perfect safety. But the Prophet here declares that a deadly disease was at hand, which would inevitably destroy the wicked 234 Afterwards follows —
Though it be improper to render the word “consult;” yet the meaning is the same: they sought them, that is, their counsel and direction. They sought them in all emergencies. “To inquire of the Lord,“ in Ge 25:22, is literally “to seek the Lord;” and “to inquire of God,” in Ex 18:15, is literally “to seek God.” Indeed, to inquire of or to ask, that is, counsel, seems to be the most common meaning of the word. “Sought,“ is the Vulgate and Targum, — “consulted,“ is the Syriac, — and “cleaved to,“ is the Septuagint and Arabic; and this is the idea of Calvin. — Ed.
It would be better to render אמונהbefore the verbs here as an adverb, because, as, or inasmuch as. There is a pronoun following every verb, —
2. And they shall expose them to the sun, And to the moon, and to all the host of heaven: As they had loved them, and as they had served them, And as they had walked after them, And as they had sought them, And as they had bowed down to them, They shall not be gathered, nor buried; For dung on the face of the land shall they be.
The order here is from the principle to the action, and not the contrary, as is often the case: love — service — walking according to the rules prescribed — seeking counsel-and worshipping. — Ed.
The literal rendering of this verse is as follows, —
And chosen shall be death rather than life by all the remnant, — Who shall remain of this wicked family, In all the places of such as shall remain, Whither I shall have driven them, Saith Jehovah of hosts.
Blayney justly observes, that the participle in the second line is in apposition with “remnant,“ as explanatory of it, and is not to be put in the genitive case, as in our version. A similar construction is found in Jer 24:8. But there is no sufficient authority or reason for omitting the same participle after “places,“ as is done by Blayney. Such repetitions are common in the prophets. — Ed.
Most agree in this view,-Gataker, Venema, Henry, Lowth, Blayney, and Scott. All the versions favor this view, giving two different meanings to שוב, repeated in the last clause, except the Syriac, which gives this version, “Though they ought to repent, they yet do not repent.” — Ed
The idea of revolt or apostasy is given by the ancient versions to the verb used at the beginning of the verse, and also to the noun which follows, and not that of rebellion, as by Calvin. The same meaning is given by Gataker, Venema, and Blayney; and they consider that Jerusalem is in apposition with “this people,“ in this manner, — Why has this people, Jerusalem, Revolted with perpetual revolt? As it has been already observed, the verb שוב, with all its derivations, means strictly to turn, but is used in the sense of turning to or from, that is, of returning or of departing. The context is our guide. It can hardly be supposed to have these two meanings in the same passage. All agree in giving it the idea of returning, at the end of the fourth verse, and at the end of this verse, the fifth; and in the three other instances in which it occurs here, they give it the idea of turning away or departing. I am disposed to think that it has the first meaning throughout the passage. I would render these two verses thus, —
4. Thou shalt also say to them, Thus saith Jehovah, — Do men fall and not rise again? Does any one return and not return? —
5. Why, — often have this people returned, Jerusalem is returning continually! — They hold fast deceit, they have refused to return.
The hypocrisy of the people is the subject: they pretended to return, but did not really return; they were deceitful. It is a sort of a dialogue. The beginning of the next verse is an answer to the end of this, —
6. I hearkened and heard, “No:“ thus they say: Yet no man has repented of his evil, — Saying, What have I done? Every one returns to his own course, Like a horse rushing into battle.
The charge of refusing to return was negatived. — Ed.
It is curious the variety as to the names of birds in this verse, as given in the ancient versions: Vulgate; kite — turtle — swallow — stork; Septuagint, stork — turtle — swallow — sparrows; Syriac, stork — turtle — crane — swallow; Arabic, crane — turtle — swallow — birds; and the Targum is, stork — turtle — crane — swallow. The names in our versions seem to be the most correct, and are adopted by Venema and Blayney, stork — turtle — crane — swallow; the same with the Syriac and the Targum — Ed.
The latter part of this verse has another meaning according to the ancient versions. They are substantially to this purport, —
Behold, surely to deceive is what the false pen of the scribes has done.
The Vulgate, with which the rest materially agree, is as follows, —
Verily, falsehood has the false pen of the scribes wrought.
As a proof of this it is added in the next verse, that those who pretended to be wise were made ashamed, etc. That the reference is made to the false glosses of the scribes, the expounders of the law, is confirmed by verse 11. I render the whole verse thus, —
8. How can ye say, “Wise are we, And the law of Jehovah is with us?” Indeed! — Behold, to deceive Has the deceptive pen of the scribes served.
He ironically admits that they had the law; but he refers to the false interpretation of the teachers; and in the next verse he mentions the effect on the pretended wise, and the fact as to God’s law, —
9. Ashamed have become the wise, They have been dismayed and ensnared: Behold, the word of Jehovah have they despised; And wisdom, what have they!
It would be better to consider the shame in this verse as referring to the people, and the want of shame in Jer 8:12, as applied to the teachers, the scribes, the false interpreters of the law, who promised peace, while there was no peace. — Ed.
The verb is here followed by ב: see note on Jer 2:37
It would be more suitable to render “for” because, as it is explanatory of לכן, “for this,“ or, for this reason, at the beginning of the verse. This illative, and others too, are often used anticipatively, —
For this reason, give will I Their wives to strangers, their fields to inheritors; Because from the least even to the greatest, Ever one covets gain; From the prophet even to the priest, Every one practices deception.
See note on Jeremiah 6:14.
This may be differently understood. There are here throughout the passage two parties spoken of, — the people, and the priests together with the prophets. The “wise” men, in Jer 8:9, made ashamed were the people deluded by the priests and prophets. Those who felt no shame, mentioned in this verse, though their words proved false, were the priests and prophets: and hence we see the import of this expression here, that they were appointed to fall with the fallen, that punishment would reach them as well as the people.
This verse is somewhat different from the fifteenth of the sixth chapter, and may be thus rendered, —
12. Have they been ashamed, Because they have done abomination? Even with shame they are not ashamed, And how to blush they know not: Therefore fall shall they with the fallen; At the time of their visitation They shall perish, saith Jehovah.
The “abomination” was the perversion of the law so as to justify idolatry and all kinds of wickedness. — Ed.
The verse may be thus rendered, —
13. I will gather their ingathering, saith Jehovah: No grapes shall be on the vine, And no figs on the fig-tree, Even the leaf shalt fade away; For I will give these to those who shall pass through them.
God threatens the Jews with the deprivation of the fruits of the earth. He would gather their fruits by means of their enemies, such as would pass through them; and there would be no limits for them. As to the last line, it is a common thing in Hebrew to leave out the relative “who” before a verb in the future tense. So it is in Welsh —
Canys rhoddav y rhain iddynt hwy a dramwyant trwyddynt.
The most literal and the most suitable to the context is this rendering. — Ed.
The verb דמהmeans, to be silent, to be reduced to silence; and the silence is that of inactivity, or of weakness, or of death. The silence of inactivity seems to be the meaning in the first instance, and the silence of weakness in the second: “Let us be silent,“ or, let us rest; “God hath made us silent,“ or, made us feeble, or, reduced to nothing our strength: —
14. Why do we sit still? be ye assembled, And let us go into fortified cities, And let us be silent there; For Jehovah our God has reduced us to silence; And he has given us to drink the water of hemlock, Because we have sinned against Jehovah.
That ראשis “hemlock,“ or some poisonous herb, is evident from Ho 10:4. “The water” seems to be the juice in this instance — “the juice of hemlock.” It is rendered “the water of gall, ὕδωρ χολὢς,” by the Septuagint, and the same by the Vulgate; “bitter waters,“ by the Syriac; “water of bitterness,“ by the Arabic; “the cup of malediction,“ by the Targum. “Water of hemlock” is the rendering of Blayney.
Horsley renders the third and the fourth line as follows: —
And let us there sit in despair, Since the Lord our God hath brought us to despair.
The word is קוה, hoping, or longing, rendered by all the ancient versions, as though it were in the first person plural. It may be taken as a noun, —
The hope was for peace, but there was no good! For a time of healing, but behold terror!
The ancient versions and the Targum all differ as to the meaning of this word; and it is difficult to make the original to agree with any of them. The word, as in the received text, is a verbal noun from Hiphil, with a iod affixed to it, and is either a personal noun in the feminine gender, “my consoler,“ or “strengthener,“ meaning his own soul,-or a common noun, “my consolation,“ or “strength,“ meaning God. But Schultens, regarding the verb as signifying to smile or to laugh, and thinking that it means here the laugh of misery or of contempt, renders it “O thou (i.e., the daughter of Sion) that grinnest at me for pain,“ and sayest, “within me the heart is sick.” The Targum seems to favor this view, as it mentions the division of the people. Blayney, according to several copies, divides the word thus, מבלי גיתי, and considers the one as a negative, and the other a verbal noun from גהה, to heal, and renders the verse thus: —
Sorrow is upon me past my remedying,
My heart within me is faint.
Still the simplest way, and the most suitable to the passage, is to take the word as a common noun, signifying consolation, comfort or strength, and to consider the words as addressed to God, —
My strength! within me is sorrow, Within me is my heart faint.
“Faint,“ that is, through grief. It is rendered “grieve,“ or “is sorrowful,“ by all the ancient versions and the Targum. — Ed.
Literally it is, “The voice of the shout of the daughter of my people,” four words in succession, and three in regimine by juxtaposition. The Welsh is exactly the same, “Llev gwaedd merch vy mhobl“ — Voice shout daughter my people. — Ed.
The meaning of this verse is viewed by some differently. Their exile is considered as referred to at the beginning of the verse, “from a distant land,” — or literally, “from the land of the remote ones.” All the versions render the preposition “from,” and not “because of,” as in our version. The Prophet contemplates them as in banishment, and relates what they would say, and what answer God had for them: and they seem to have been thus contemplated to the end of the chapter, —
19. Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people From the land of the remote ones, — “Was not Jehovah in Sion? Was not her king within her?” “Why! they provoked me with their carved images, With the vanities of the foreigner.”
Then follows the continuation of the cry in exile, —
20. “Passed has the harvest, Ended has the summer, And we have not been saved!”
The “King,” in verse 19, is “Jehovah” in the former line. “The vanities of the foreigner” were idols: they were vanities, because they could do nothing, neither good nor evil. What made them gods were the imaginations of the infatuated and superstitious. The gods of many now are nothing better. Every notion of God is false but what is consistent with his word. The Socinian god is not the true God; it is the fiction of a perverted mind. Nor is the god of the thorough Papists anything better, nor the god of the Pharisee. — Ed.
To keep throughout the metaphorical character of this verse, it ought to be rendered thus, —
For the bruising of the daughter of my people I was bruised, I became black;
Desolation possessed me.
But taking the words as applied to the mind, divested of metaphor, we must render them thus, —
For the sorrow of the daughter of my people I sorrowed, I mourned;
Astonishment possessed me.
And this “astonishment” he explains in the next verse: there were means of restoration, and yet the people were not restored; at this he was astonished. — Ed.
As the whole passage, from the 19th verse, is anticipative, and represents the ease of the Jews in captivity, this verse is to be viewed in the same light, and rendered in the past tense, —
22. Was there not balm in Gilead? Was there not a healer there?
Why then has not succeeded The recovery of the daughter of my people?
Whether balm or rosin be meant, it makes no great difference; its healing virtues had become proverbial; and in this sense it is to be taken here. Kimchi held that it was balm or balsam, which Josephus reports was first brought to Judea by the Queen of Sheba. But the tree which produced צרי, was not an exotic, but indigenous in Judea, as it appears from Gen. 37:25, Gen. 43:10; and it grew especially in Gilead, as it appears from this passage and from Jer 46:11 Bochart maintained that rosin is meant by the word, the gum drawn from the Terebinthus or the turpentine tree, which possesses strong healing virtues. It is rendered, “ῥητίνη — rosin,” by the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Arabic; and “cera — wax,” by the Syriac. “Healer,” or physician, is rendered “ἰατρὸς — healer,” by the Septuagint, and “medicus,” by the Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic. It appears that Gilead was not only celebrated for its healing gum, but also for its medical men.
The balm was the word of God, and the healer who applied it was the prophet or the teacher.
Perhaps the most literal rendering of the first two lines is the following, and the most suitable to express astonishment, —
The balm, not in Gilead!:
Verily, a healer, not there!