Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 18: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars.
1. Peccatum (vel scelus) Jehudah scripture est in stylo ferri (ferreo) et in ungue adamantino, exaratum super tabulam cordis eorum et ad cornua altarium vestrorum.
The Prophet teaches us here in other words what we have often already seen, — that the Jews in vain sought refuges, for their sin had so much accumulated that it was very apparent. It indeed often happens, that men fall; but God, who is ever inclined to mercy, forgives them; and they are also often led astray through levity, and thus their sins are not engraven on their hearts. But Jeremiah says, that nothing remained for that nation but to be entirely swept away, because their iniquity was past recovery. Had they been lightly besprinkled with vices, there might have been still a remedy for them; but when their iniquities were engraven on their hearts, on their marrow and bones, what more remained for them? He had said before,
“Can the Ethiop change his skin?” (Jer 13:23)
though the Ethiop may change his skin, and also the panther, yet thou art still like thyself. They had so completely imbibed a contempt for God, and also perverseness, that they could not by any means be restored to a right mind. We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in this passage.
He says that the sin of Judah was written with an iron pen, with the point of adamant; as though he had said, “They are not only slightly imbued with iniquity, for then there might be some healing; but iniquity is engraven on their inmost feelings, as though one had graven it with adamant or with an iron pen.” It hence appears, that they were wholly unworthy of pardon, as they were in no way capable of receiving mercy, how much soever God might have been inclined to receive them into favor; for their obstinacy had closed the way of salvation; nor could they apply to themselves the promises, for they require repentance in sinners.
He then adds, It is graven on the table of their heart; as though he had said, that they were so addicted to iniquity, that all their inward parts bore the impressions of it. It hence follows that the Jews were so proved to be guilty, that they in vain contrived evasions, for their own conscience condemned them. At the same time, I consider the Prophet as speaking not only of guilt, but also of sin itself, and of their propensity to evil. He means then that the Jews had not only sinned and transgressed God’s law in a way not common, but that they were also so given up to wickedness as to delight in the iniquity that was graven on their hearts. He calls by a metaphor the affections or feelings the tables of the heart: For he compares the heart to tables; as writing appears when cut in stone or brass, so when a sinful impression is made on the hearts of men, iniquity itself may be said to be graven on the tables of the heart.
He afterwards adds, And on the horns of your altars. He had spoken of the heart, he now proceeds farther, — that there appeared openly an evidence of hidden iniquity. Had he spoken only of their hearts, the Jews might have objected and said, “How canst thou penetrate into our hearts? Art thou God, to examine and try our inward emotions?” But the Prophet adds, that their iniquity was sufficiently known by their altars. He at the same time intimates, that they in vain alleged the name of religion; for under that pretense they especially sinned against God; for they had vitiated his pure worship. And to confirm this very thing he adds —
2. Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.
2. Secundum recordari filios ipsorum (hoc est, cum memores erunt filii ipsorum) altarium ipsorum et lucorum ipsorum super arborem frondosam, super colles excelsos.
Interpreters seem not to me to have perceived the design of the Prophet here, at least they have not clearly explained the subject. He proceeds, as I think, with what he said at the end of the last verse, — that the iniquity of Judah was graven on the altars, or on the horns of the altars: how was this? even because they transmitted to posterity whatever they devised as to their ungodly forms of worship. How then was iniquity graven on the horns of the altars? even because it was not a temporary wickedness only, when the Jews cast aside the Law and followed their corrupt superstitions; but, on the contrary, their iniquity flowed down, as it were, by a hereditary right, to their posterity. Justly then does Jeremiah accuse them, that they were not only led away into evil through the whole course of their own lives, but that they also corrupted their children, for they left to them memorials of their own superstitions.
Some give this explanation, “As they remember their children, so also their altars;” as though the Prophet had said, that idolaters burnt with such ardor, that they held the altars dedicated to their idols as dear to them as their own children. But this view seems too forced. I then have no doubt but that the Prophet here amplifies their wickedness, when he says, that it was graven on the horns of the altars; for their posterity remembered the superstitions, which they had received from their fathers. He mentions also their groves; 170 for on or near every shady tree they built altars; and also on all high hills. It follows —
3. O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.
3. Montane, in agro substantiam tuam (opes tuas,) omnes thesauros tuos in praedam dabo propter excelsa tua, propter peccatum tuum in omnibus finibus tuis.
The Prophet again repeats, that punishment was nigh the Jews, and that it availed them nothing to seek for themselves recesses and lurking-places, for God would draw them forth from the mountains and expose them as a prey to their enemies.
Some render הררי, erri, “O my mountain,” etc.; and at the first view this meaning seems appropriate; but as the context requires this to be understood of the Israelites and the Jews, who always resorted to their recesses, when any fear of enemies assailed them, I prefer another rendering. Since then at times of distress they betook themselves to their hiding-places, the Prophet says, that they would in vain attempt to escape, for the mountains would be like the fields: I will expose, he says, as in the field, or the plain, your riches and treasures, that they may become a prey to your enemies. The meaning is, that the Prophet denounces vengeance on the Jews, and at the same time shakes off their foolish confidence, which rendered them secure, so as to despise all the threatenings of God: “Ye think,” he says, “that there will be a safe refuge for you on the mountains; but God will draw forth from thence all your possessions, and expose them on the open field, so that they may become an easy prey.”
He again repeats what he had said, that God would inflict a just punishment on the Jews, because they had sinned very greatly on their high places. By high places he doubtless means all their ungodly and corrupt modes of worship. For God had chosen for himself a Temple on Mount Sion; he designed sacrifices to be offered there: but they, carried away by a foolish zeal, had built for thenlselves many altars, so that there was no hill where they had not set up some altar or another. By stating then a part for the whole, the Prophet here refers to every thing that was inconsistent with the law of God: and in order to amplify their sin, he says, In all thy borders; that is, their impiety was widely and extensively diffused, so that no part of the land was free from their corrupt superstition. Since then the land was throughout contaminated, justly does the Prophet say, “In all thy borders;” he declares that there would be no refuge for them, to preserve them and their treasures from becoming a prey to their enemies. It follows —
4. And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
4. Et derelinqueris et in te ab haereditate tua, quam dedi tibi, et servire to faciam inimicis tuis in terra quam non cognoscis: quia ignem succendistis in excandescentia mea (vel, in nare mea, vultu meo) in saeculum usque (id est, in perpetuum) ardebit.
Here, as it is a concise mode of speaking, there seems to be some obscurity; but as to the subject handled, the meaning of the Prophet is evident, that they would be dismissed from their inheritance, and as it were from their own bowels. Hence he says, You shall be dismissed from your inheritance; that is, though ye think yourselves to be beyond the reach of danger, because as yet the city remains safe, and ye continue in it; yet ye shall perish, as they say, living and seeing. There shall then be a dismissal from the inheritance even as to thee; that is, “Though the Lord should delay the time and suffer you to remain, yet ye shall be like the dead, for God will destroy you, though he may leave you a pining life.” It seems an emphatical expression when the Prophet says that there would be at length a dismissal even as to herself: he intimates, that though some of the people would remain alive, they would yet be given up to exile and dispersion. And it was a condition worse than death for the Jews to have their lives continued and to be scattered among their enemies.
And he says, From the inheritance which I gave to thee; and he says this that they might not expostulate with him, that their own was taken away from them. “How has the land,” he says, “become your inheritance? even because ye have obtained it through my bounty. And now, since ye are so ungrateful, why should I be blamed for taking away what I had given you? or what wrong is done to you? and what can ye object to me? for it has always been my heritage, though for a time I granted it to you. Had ye been thankful to me it would have been yours perpetually; but now when I deprive you of it, this you must ascribe to your own fault.”
For the same purpose he adds, I will make thee to serve thine enemies: and this was much more grievous than to serve their neighbors by whom they were not hated. But he shews here how dreadful would be their calamity, they being constrained to serve their enemies. He adds, In a land which thou knowest not. This is a repetition of what has been said before, and it requires no remark. He in the last place confirms what he had said of their wickedness; Burn, he says, shall fire in my nostril: but אף, aph, may be taken for God’s countenance, though it often means anger. As however he says, “Ye have kindled a fire,” it seems better to render it here, In my face. Further, by the word I never, he intimates that God would be implacable to the Jews, for they had so deserved. 171
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou kindly invitest us every day to repentance, and shewest thyself ready to be reconciled, — O grant that we may not through our perverseness reject so inestimable a favor, but submit ourselves to thee, and become so displeased with our vices as to be touched with a true and sincere concern for religion, and to labor through the whole course of our life for nothing else but to render ourselves and our duties approved by thee, and thus to glorify thy name, so that we may become at last partakers of that celestial and eternal glory which thine only-begotten Son has attained for us. — Amen.
5. Thus saith the LORD, Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
5. Sic dicit Jehova, Maledictus vir qui confidit in homine, et ponit carnem brachium suum, et a Jehova aversum est cor ejus:
6. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
6. Et erit quasi myrica (sic vertunt communiter) in deserto, et non videbit cum veniet bonum (id est, in foecunditas,) et habitabit in siccitatibus in deserto, in terra salsuginis, et quae non habitatur.
The Prophet, I doubt not, prefixed this sentence to many of his discourses, for it was neccssary often to repeat it, as the Jews were so refractory in their minds. We have already seen how sharply he inveighed against their false confidence: but it was necessary to lay down this truth. He then wrote once for all what he had often said. And this deserves to be especially observed, for we shall not sufficiently understand how needful this truth was, unless we consider the circumstances: the Prophet had often found that the promises as well as the threatenings of God were disregarded, that his doctrine was despised, and that he had to do with a proud people, who, relying on their own defences, not only esteemed as nothing what was brought before them under the authority of God, but also, as it were, avowedly rejected it. This then was the reason why the Prophet not only once, but often exhorted the people to repent, by setting before them this truth, that accursed are they who trust in men.
Flesh here is to be taken for man, as we may easily gather from the context. It was a common thing with the Hebrews to state the same thing twice: In the first clause man is mentioned, and in the second flesh: and arm means power or help. The meaning is, that all are accursed who trust in man. But the word flesh is no doubt added in the second line by way of contempt, according to what is done in Isa 31:3, where the Prophet says,
“The Egyptian is man and not God, flesh and not spirit.”
He calls the Egyptians flesh by way of contempt, as though he had said that there was nothing strong or firm in them, and that the aid which the Jews expected from them would be evanescent. So it is in this place, though the Prophet, according to the common usage, repeats in the second clause what he had said in the first, he yet expresses something more, that men are extremely sottish when they place their salvation in a thing of nought; for, as we have said, there is nothing solid or enduring in flesh. As men therefore quickly vanish away, what can be more foolish than to seek safety from them?
But it must be observed that the Prophet had spoken thus, because the Jews, in looking now to the Assyrians and then to the Egyptians, thought to gain sufficient defense against God himself, though they might not have expressly or avowedly despised God: but we shall hereafter see that God cannot be otherwise deemed than of no account, when safety is sought from mortal man. As then this false confidence was an hinderance to the Jews to rely on the favor of God, and to lead them to repentance, the Prophet said Accursed is the man who trusts in man
It seems to be a sentence abruptly introduced; but as we have observed, the doctrine of the Prophet could not have been confirmed, had he not shaken off from his people the presumption through which they were blinded, for they thought the Egyptians would be to them like a thousand gods. We shall thus understand the design of the Prophet, if we bear in mind what was the condition of the Jews, and what were the difficulties the Prophet had to contend with, while he was daily threatening them and labouting to restore them to God. But no progress was made, and why? because all God’s promises were coldly received, for they thought themselves ever safe and secure, while the Egyptians were kind to them and promised them help: his threatenings also were coldly received, because they hesitated not to set up as their shield, and as the strongest fortress, the aid which they expected from the Egyptians. Hence the Prophet was constrained to cry out, not only once, or ten times, but a hundred times, accursed is he who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm 172
This is however a general truth. We also, at this day, advance general truths, which we apply to individual cases. The spirit then declares here generally, that all are accursed who trust in men. We indeed know that men are in various ways deceived while they trust in men: they begin with themselves, and seek in this and in that thing a ground of security; for every one is inflated with vain and false confidence, either in his own prudence or dexterity or power. There is then no one who does not trust in himself before he trusts in others: I speak even of the most wretched. It is indeed what men ought to be ashamed of; but there is no one so contemptible but that he swells with some secret pride, so that he esteems something in himself, and even ascribes to himself some high dignity. Then they who seem prudent in their own eyes take aids to themselves from every quarter, and in these they acquiesce. But when men look behind and before, they gather help to themselves from all parts of the world: however their goings around are useless, and not only so, but they turn out to their own destruction, for God not only derides in this place the folly of them who trust in flesh, but declares that they are accursed This curse of God ought to strike us with terror; for we hence learn that God is highly displeased with all those who seek their own salvation in the world and in creatures.
It is added, And from Jehovah turned away is his heart. Hypocrites draw this to their own advantage; for there is no one who will not object and say, that he does not so trust in man as to take away or diminish anything from the glory of God. Were all asked, from the least to the greatest, every one would boldly say that he leaves God’s honor entire, and never wishes to take anything from it: this would be the common saying. But yet, when confidence is reposed in the flesh, God is deprived of his own honor. These two things are no less contrary, the one to the other, than light is to darkness. Hence the Prophet intended here to shew that these two things cannot be connected together — to put confidence in the flesh and in God at the same time. When water is blended with fire, both perish; so, when one seeks in part to trust in God and in part to trust in men, it is the same as though he wished to mix heaven and earth together, and to throw all things into confusion. It is, then, to confound the order of nature, when men imagine that they have two objects of trust, and ascribe half of their salvation to God, and the other half to themselves or to other men. This is the meaning of the Prophet.
Let us then know that all those who place the least portion of their hope in men do in part depart from God, and therefore turn aside from him. In short, the Holy Spirit declares, briefly indeed, but very solemnly, that all are apostates and deserters from God who turn to men and fix their hope in them. But if this declaration be true as to the present life, when we treat of eternal life, it is doubtless a twofold madness if we ascribe it, even in the smallest degree, either to our own righteousness or to any other virtues. He who looks for aid from men is pronounced accursed by God, even when he expects from them what belongs to this frail life, which soon vanishes; but when we hope for eternal life and the inheritance of heaven from ourselves or from other creatures, how much more detestable it is? Let us then observe this inference, so that the truth taught here by the Prophet may keep us dependent on God only.
But here a question may be raised, — Are we not to hope for help from those men whom God may employ to assist us, and who are not only the instruments of his favor and aid, but who are also as it were his hands? for whenever men assist us, it is the same as though God stretched forth his hands from heaven. Why, them, should we not look for aid from men whom God has appointed as ministers of his favor to us? But there is great emlphasis in the word trust; for it is indeed lawful to look to men for what is given to them; but we ought to trust in God alone, and to hope for all things from him, as well as to pray for them: and this will hereafter appear more clearly. But we must now only briefly observe, that when we seek from men what is given them by God, we detract nothing from his power, who chooses his ministers as he pleases. But this is a rare thing; for when anything is done to us by men, we forget God, and our thoughts are drawn downwards to men, so that God loses a part of his honor; and when anything, even the least, is taken away from him, he condemns us, as we deserve. We ought especially to observe what he declares here, that turned away from him is the heart of man whenever he places his hope in the flesh.
He adds a similitude for the purpose of confirming his doctrine, He shall be like a tamarisk, or a juniper, as some render it. The word ערער, oror, means a copse. But the Jews themselves are not agreed; some think it to be the juniper, and others the tamarisk; but we may hold it as certain that it was a useless shrub, not fruit-bearing for those Jews are mistaken, in my judgment, who consider it to be the juniper, for some fruit grows on branches of that. It was a shrub or a tree, as I think, unknown to us now. 173
Then he says that they were like shrubs which grow in the desert, which see not fruitfulness, but dwell in droughts, in a land of brine. The Hebrews call barren land the land of brine or of salt: and he enlarges on the subject by saying, Which is not inhabited: for where nothing grows there are no inhabitants. The object of the Prophet, then, was merely to shew, that their hopes who look to men would be vain; for God would frustrate thenl, so that they could never succeed.
But we must notice also the other part of the simile; for the Prophet does not compare the unbelieving to dry branches, but to shrubs, which have roots, and bear the appearance of having some life. Such are the unbelieving, while success, as they say, smiles on them; they think themselves happy, and so they become hardened in their own false counsels, and reject every instruction, and, as though they were freed from the authority of God, they rejected all his prophets. Hence the Prophet, conceding something to them, says, that they were like shrubs, which indeed have roots and leaves, but no fruit, and which also dry up when heat comes. As then the heal; of the sun consumes whatever moisture, beauty, and life, may appear in shrubs, so also God would scorch and dry up the hopes of the unbelieving, though they may think that they have roots to preserve them and their life. A similar declaration is found in Ps 129:6, where it is said that the unbelieving are like the grass which grows on the housetops; for such grass appears conspicuous in a high place, while the wheat grows in the low fields, and is even trodden under foot; but that grass, the more elevated it is, the sooner it dries up and perishes without bringing forth any fruit; so also are the unbelieving, who for a time glory and exult over God’s children, and look down on then from their high place, because they are simple and lowly; but as from the corn comes food to us, and that very corn is blessed, so also the elect bring forth fruit in their low and despised condition, while the unfaithful, who occupy elevated stations, vanish away without producing any fruit. It is the same thing that the Prophet means here. These two parts of the comparison ought therefore to be particularly noticed. It follows —
7. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
7. Benedictus vir qui confidit in Jehova, et cujus est Jehova fiducia (ad verbum, et erit Jehova fiducia ejus:)
8. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
8. Et erit tanquam arbor plantata prope aquas, et prope rivum emittet (hoc est, quae emittit) radices suas, et non videbit cum veniet aestus, et erit folium ejus viride, et anno prohibitionis non timebit, et non desinet a faciendo fructu (hoc est, a proferendo fructu.)
Observed ought to be the order which the Prophet keeps; for he could not have profitably spoken of this second part had he not first taken away that false confidence to which the Jews had long cleaved; for when any one casts seed on an uncultivated soil, what fruit can there be to his labor? As then it is necessary to make use of the plough before the seed is sown, so also, when we seek to teach profitably, it is necessary to pull up the vices which have their roots in the hearts of men; and this especially must be the case when we treat of faith in God alone, and of sincere calling on his name. And the Prophet had a particular reason for what he did, because the Jews had long hardened themselves in false confidences, so that they disregarded God in two respects, — they despised his threatenings, and also made no account of his gracious promises. The Prophet then couht have effected nothing had he not pursued this method, — that is, to correct the evil by which they had been long tainted; for noxious weeds must be first taken away before there can be any room for the corn to grow.
But had he spoken only negatively, that is, had he only condemned their false confidence, it would not have been sufficient. The Jews indeed might have said, that they had been deceived in placing their hopes in the Egyptians; but this might have happened through some bad men: and by looking for aid elsewhere, when disappointed, they would indeed have condemned their own counsels, but would yet have remained in suspense and anxious, without seeking God. Hence we see how suitably the Prophet began by condemning the Jews for placing confidence in men, and then how wisely he added this second part; for, as I have said, it was not enough to speak as it were negatively, without inviting them to return to God. But this is often the case in the present day; for we see that many laugh at those superstitions which have hitherto prevailed under the Papacy; but yet no religion appears in them. It is enough for them to ridicule these mummeries; but it would have been better for them to be retained in the fear of God, even by some superstition, than thus to expose evil, and yet to have no reverence for God. It is the same absurdity as to pull down a bad house and to leave man under the open air; for what end can such a thing be done? for he who is compelled to leave his house had something to cover him for a time. Hence it is not sufficient to destroy what is bad, except a good building succeeds.
This is the method and order which the Prophet observed: After having said, that all they are accursed who confide in men, he now adds, Blessed is the man who trusts in Jehovah; as though he had said, that men are wholly inexcusable in relying on themselves or on others, when God willingly offers himself to them. What then in it that prevents men from having their safety secured? Their own sin in rejecting the grace of God, which is freely offered to them; but they prefer to deceive themselves, and to ascribe to themselves and to others what justly belongs to God alone.
We see then that the ingratitude of the whole world is here condemned by the Prophet when he says, that all who trust in Jehovah are blessed: for had God concealed himself there would have been some covering for ignorance; and also a defense of this kind might have been made, — “What else could we do? We sought the aid which was within our reach: had God called us to himself or allowed us to come to him, we would have been very willing; but as he has forsaken us, it was indeed the last refuge of despair to consider what was to be done, and to seek from every quarter aids for ourselves.” Hence the Prophet here shews that all such defences were frivolous, for God had freely invited them to himself; for to no purpose would he have said, that they are blessed who trust in Jehovah, had not God set himself forth as their confidence.
But we must notice what farther confirms this sentence, which is in itself very clear, And whose confidence Jehovah is. No additional light seems to be given to the preceding truth; and then what ambiguity does it contain which requires an explanation? Blessed is the man who trusts in Jehovah; even children can understand this: the words, then, of the Prophet are either superfluous, or there is some reason why he repeats what is so clear. Doubtless the unbelief, which every one of us finds in himself, is the best teacher; for even they who seem to have real confidence in God, yet falter when some trial assails them. Since then it is a common thing with us to look around to various quarters when any danger is near, we may hence, easily know that we do not hope in God. What then seems to us so easy, we find in reality to be very difficult: and hence the Prophet, after having said, that they are blessed who trust in God, has mentioned this in the second place, And whose hope is God; as though he had said, “The world knows not what it is to trust in God: though every one boldly testifies this, and even boastingly declares that he trusts in God, yet not one in a thousand finds that he understands this, or has ever known what it is from the heart to hope in God.” We now see that this repetition is not superfluous or unmeaning.
He then adds a comparison, answerable to that in the former clause, He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which sends its roots upon, or nigh the river, which shall not see when heat comes. Here the Prophet points out the difference between the true servants of God, who trust in him, and those who are inflated with their own false imaginations, so that they seek safety either from themselves or from others: he had said of the unbelieving, that they are like tamarisks, which flourish for a time, but never bring forth any fruit, and are also soon dried up by the heat; but he says now as to the faithful, that they are like trees planted by the waters, and send their roots to the river. The tamarisks have the appearance of life, but there is no moisture in a dry soil; so their roots quickly dry up; but the servants of God, they are planted, as it were, in a moist soil, irrigated continually by streams of water. Hence the Prophet adds, that this tree shall not see the heat when it comes
He indirectly intimates that God’s children are not exempt from adversities; for they feel the heat of the sun, like trees, who are exposed to it; but moisture is supplied, and the juice diffuses itself through all the branches: hence the Prophet says, that the leaf was green, even by means of the moisture which the earth supplied, being itself watered. The Prophet then intimates, that though God’s children feel great heats, as well as the unbelieving; for this is common to both, they shall yet be kept safe; for though the sun dries up by its great heat, there is yet a remedy; for the root has moisture, derived from the irrigation of water.
We now then see how suitable is every part of the comparison. He says farther, that it shall not be careful. The verb דאג, dag, means to fear and to be careful; it means also sometimes to grieve, and so some render it here, “It will not grieve” but the other meaning seems better to me, — that the tree planted nigh streams of waters is not afraid of heat; and then he adds, nor shall it cease from producing fruit 174
Nearly the same similitude is found in Ps 1:3, only that the fear of God and meditation on his law are mentioned, and not hope:
“Blessed is the man, etc., who meditates on the law of God;”
but Jeremiah speaks here expressly of the hope which ought to be put in God alone. Yet the two Prophets well agree together as to this truth, — that all their hopes are accursed, by which men inebriate themselves, while they seek salvation in themselves or in the world, and make more account of their own counsels, virtues, power, or the aids they expect from others, than of God himself and of his promises: for he who really meditates on the law of God day and night, well knows thereby, where to put his trust for salvation, both temporal and eternal. It follows —
9. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
9. Insidiosum cor prae omnibus (super omnia) et perversum (vertunt quidam; alii, durum; alii, eagrotum; possumus vertere, vitiosum, vel, morbidum;) quis cognoscet illud?
10. I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
10. Ego Jehova exquirens (vel, explorans) cor, examinans renes, ad dandum (id est, ut dem, ut reddam) cuique secundum vias ejus, secundum fructum operum ejus.
What is taught here depends on what is gone before; and therefore they ought to be read together. Many lay hold on these words and mutilate them without understanding the design of the Prophet. This is very absurd: for we ought first to see what the prophets had in view, and by what necessity or cause they were led to speak, what was their condition, and then the general doctrine that may be gafilered from their words. If we wist to read the prophets with benefit, we must first consider the reason why a thing is spoken, and then elicit a general doctrine. Thus we shall be able rightly to apply this passage to a common use, if we first understand why the Prophet said, that the heart of man was insidious. He wished, no doubt, to be more earnest with the Jews; for he saw that they had so much wantonness and obstinacy, that a simple and plain doctrine would not have penetrated into their hearts. The declaration, that they are accursed who trust in men, and that no blessedness can be expected except we rely on God, ought to have been sufficient to move them; but when he saw that there was no sufficient power in such a declaration, he added, “I see how it is, the heart is wicked and vicious; so ye think that you have so much craftiness, that ye can with impunity deride God and his ministers: I, says Jehovah, I will inquire and search; for it belongs to me to examine the hearts of men.”
We hence see that there is an implied reproof, when he says, that the heart is insidious and wicked; 175 as though he had said, “Ye think yourselves in this instance wise; is not God also wise?” Isaiah says ironically the same,
“Woe to them who go down to Egypt and make secret covenants, and who trust in horses, as though they could deceive me: ye are wise, I also have a portion of wisdom.” (Isa 31:1)
Notice especially the expression, “Ye are wise, etc.;” that is, “Ye are not alone wise; leave to me some portions of wisdom, so that I may be wise like yourselves.” So also in this place, “Ye are deceitful and insidious, and think that I can be deceived:” for astute men are ever pleased with their own counsels, and seek to deceive God with mere trumperies. “Ye are,” he says, “very cunning; but I, Jehovah, will search both your hearts and your reins.” I cannot finish the whole to-day.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are wholly nothing and less than nothing, we may know our nothingness, and having cast away all confidence in the world as well as in ourselves, we may learn to flee to thee as suppliants, and so put our trust in thee for our present life and for eternal salvation, that thou alone mayest be glorified: and may we be devoted to thee through the whole course of our life, and so persevere in humility and in calling on thy name, that thou mayest not only for once bring us help, but that we may know that thou art always present with those who truly and from the heart call upon thee, until we shall at length be filled with the fullness of all those blessings, which are laid up for us in heaven by Christ our Lord — Amen.
We began yesterday to explain that passage where the Prophet says, that the heart is insidious, or fallacious and wicked, so that no one can penetrate into those deceits which are concealed withill it. We referred to the Prophet’s object in saying this, — -that the Jews might know that their cunning was in vain, while they hid their thoughts as it were under the earth, that is, while they thought that by their false pretences they could deceive God as well as men.
He says then what he takes as granted, “I know that you have a fallacious heart.” This indeed they did not allow; for they made a specious pretext and boasted of their wisdom, and not of deceit and guile. But the Prophet speaks plainly and expresses the fact as it was, “There is in you,” he says, “a fallacious and a wicked heart: hence is the confidence, which inebriates you; for ye think that your deceits cannot be discovered.” Then in astonishment he asks, Who can search it? but the answer immediately follows, I — I Jehovah; that is, “It belongs to one to search the heart and the reins, and so nothing can escape me.” 176 The meaning then is, that when men try to deceive God, they gain nothing, for God knows how to take the wise in their own craftiness, and to discover all their guiles and deceits. Then he adds for what end is this done, That I may render to every one according to his ways, according to the fruit of his works.
By these words he means that they, after having for a long time made many evasions, would yet be brought to judgment, willing or unwilling; for they could not possibly deprive God of his right, that he should not be the judge of the world, and thus render to each the reward of his own works: for the Prophet does not speak of merits or of virtues, but only shews that how much soever the ungodly might hide themselves, they could not yet escape the tribunal of God, but that they must at last render an account to him.
We may further gather from this passage a general truth, — that the recesses of the heart are so hidden, that no judgment can be formed of man by any human being. We indeed know that there are appearances of virtue in many; but it belongs to God alone to search the hearts of men and to try the reins. Rashly then do many form an estimate of man’s character according to their own apprehensions or the measure of their own knowledge; for the heart of man is ever false and deceitful. If any one objects and says, that Jeremiah speaks of the Jews then living, there is an answer given by Paul,
“Whatsoever things are written in the Law pertain to all.” (Ro 15:4.)
Described then is here the character of all mankind, until God regenerates his elect. As then there is no purity except from the Spirit of God, as long as mencontinue in their own nature, their hearts are full of deceits and frauds. So the fairest splendor is nothing but hypocrisy, which is abominable in the sight of God. Let us proceed —
11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.
11. Perdix quae congregat et non parit, qui facit (hoc est, acquirit, vel, comparat) divitias, idque non in judicio (id est, non recte) in medio dierum suorum relinquet illas, et in exitu suo erit nihili.
The Prophet no doubt intended only to shew that those who enriched themselves by unlawful means, or heaped together great wealth, would yet be subject to the curse of God, so that whatever they may have got through much toil and labor would vanish away from them; for God would empty them of all they possessed. There is therefore no ambiguity in the meaning of the Prophet, or in the subject itself. But as to the words, interpreters do not agree: the greater part, however, incline to this view, — That as the partridge gathers the eggs of others, which she does not hatch, so also he who accumulates wealth, shall at length have nothing, for God will deprive him. But the passage seems to me to be plainly this, — Whosoever makes, or procures or acquires, riches, and that not by right, that is, not rightly nor honestly, but by wicked and artful means, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at last shall be of no account, or shall be a mockery: for נבל nabal, means a thing of nought; some render it fool, and rightly, for so it often means.
But there is a similitude employed, As the partridge gathers eggs and produces not. To produce may be here explained in two ways; it may be applied to the pullets or to the eggs. Some consider the word, קרא kora, to be masculine: then it is, The partridge, that is, the male, gathers, or lays on eggs which he has not produced, or did not lay. But to produce may also mean to hatch. 177
It may be now asked, how can this similitude be applied to the subject in hand? The Rabbins, according to their practice, have devised fables; for they imagine that the partridge steals all the eggs of other birds which she can find, and gathers them into one heap; and then that the pullets, when hatched, fly away, as by a certain hidden instinct, they understand that it is not their mother. But neither Aristotle nor Pliny say any such thing of partridges. They indeed say that the bird is full of cunning, and mention several instances; but they refer to no such thing as that the partridge collects thus stealthily its eggs. These things then are fables, which it would be very absurd to believe. But it is said of partridges with one consent, by Aristotle and Pliny, as well as by others, that it is a very lustful bird. So great is their lust, that the males seek after the eggs, and lest the females should lay on them, they break them with their beaks or scatter them with their feet. There is also, as they say, great lust in the females, but a greater concern for their brood: they therefore hide their eggs, except when lust at times compels them to return to the males; and then they lay their eggs in their presence; and the male, when it finds an egg, breaks it with his feet. Hence great is the difficulty to protect the brood; for before the female hatches the eggs, they are often forced out by the male. I doubt not therefore but that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, — that while partridges so burn with love to their brood, they are at the same time led away by their own lust, and that while they conceal their eggs, the male cunningly steals them, so that their labor proves useless. Now the Prophet says, “that all those who accumulate riches in an unjust manner are like partridges; for they are compelled to leave riches unlawfully got in the midst of their days.” 178 The purport of the whole is, that whosoever seeks to become rich by means of injustice and wrong, will be exposed to the curse of God, so that at last he will not enjoy his ill-gotten wealth.
If any one will object and say, that many who are avaricious, perfidious and rapacious, do enioy their riches: I answer, that there is no true enjoyment, when there is no use made of them and no security for them. If we duly consider how the avaricious possess what they have plundered, we shall find that they always gape for more plunder and are like the partridges; for they lay clogs as it were, and yet no fruit appears. Before any fruit is brought forth, or at least before it comes to them, they become destitute in the midst of their days. And though God permits them to hold hidden riches, yet they derive, as it is well known, no benefit from them: nay, their cupidity, as it is insatiable, is a dropsy; for they are always thirsty; and the very mass of wealth so inflames their avarice, that the richest of them has less than he who is contented with a moderate and even with a small fortune. It is then certain, that those who, even to death, possess ill-gotten wealth, do not yet really enjoy it; for they always lay on their eggs, and yet, as I have said, they derive no benefit. And then the more remarkable judgment of God may be noticed; for in a moment the richest are reduced to the extremes of poverty; and though they think to make their children happy by leaving them a large patrimony, they yet leave them nothing but what proves to be snares to them all their life, and turns to their ruin. However this may be, experience sufficiently proves the truth of the old proverb, “What is in-got is in-spent.” And this is what the Prophet means, when he compares to partridges those who accumulate riches, not by right, as he says.
An exception is to be here noticed; for a just man may become rich, as God made Abraham rich; but he became not rich by frauds and plunder and cruelty: the blessing of God made him rich. But they who by wrong and injustice accumulate wealth must necessarily at length be destroyed by God.
He says first, In the midst of his days shall he leave them; that is, even while he has money shut up in his chest, while he has his granaries and his cellars full, even then his wealth shall vanish away. We see that where there is the greatest abundance, the master himself is hungry and famishing; he cannot cat so as to satisfy his hunger, while he could feed hundreds. Thus then his wealth disappears and vanishes in his hands, he afterwards adds, at his end he will be nothing, or he will be a mockery, or he will be a fool. The world indeed esteems those alone wise, who are provident, who are attentive to their own gain, and who plunder on every side, and tenaciously hold what has once come to their hands; but the Lord here condemns them all for their folly and vanity. I think, at the same time, that the slaves of money are here called men of nought and contemptible. It follows: —
12. A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
12. Soilum gloriae excelsum (vel, celsitudo; מרום enim tam adjective capitur, quam substantive) ab initio locus sanctuarii nostri.
No doubt the Prophet refers to the singular favor which God granted the Jews, when he chose for himself an habitation among them. It was an incomparable honor when God was pleased to dwell in the midst of that people. Hence,the Prophet exclaims, that the throne of glory and of loftiness was the place of his sanctuary, which God had chosen in that land. But we must understand the design of the Prophet; for the Holy Spirit sometimes commemorates the blessings of God, to raise the minds of men to confidence, or to rouse them to make sacrifices of praise. Here is then a twofold object, when the Scripture sets before us the blessings of God; it is first, that we may be fully persuaded, that he will be always a father to us, for he who begins is wont to bring his work to an end, according to what is said in Ps 138:8,
“The work of thine hands thou wilt not forsake.”
And then, the Scripture sometimes encourages us to render thanks to God, when it shews how bountifully he has dealt with us. But here is a reproof when the Prophet says, that the glorious throne of God was among the Jews, as though God appeared there openly and in a visible form; for Judea, so to speak, was as it were a terrestrial heaven; for God had consecrated to himself mount Sion, that he might dwell there.
We now then understand why the Prophet here extols the dignity to which God had raised the Jews, when he had commanded a temple for himself to be built on mount Sion. Some will have a particle of comparison to be understood, “As a throne of glory;” that is, as heaven itself in height, so is the place of our sanctuary; but we may take the words simply as they are. We must at the same time repudiate the Rabbinical comment, — that God before the creation of the world had built the temple, as he had appointed the Messiah and other things. But these are foolish trifles. Yet this passage has afforded the Jews an occasion for labling; for it is said from the beginning, מראשון merashun. If the throne of God, that is, the sanctuary, [they say] was from the beginning, it then follows that it was created before heaven and earth. But this is disproved by this single consideration, — that he speaks not here of time but of the order of things, and that that order is; not according to the essence of things, but according to the providence of God. From the beginning, then was the throne of God glorious in Judea, even because God in his eternal counsel had determined to choose the race of Abraham, and then to raise up in that nation the throne of David, and from thence to extend salvation to the whole world. 179 Predestination therefore is the antiquity of the throne of which the Prophet now speaks. Hence the most suitable view is this, — that God had honored the Jews with a singular privilege, because he had purposed to dwell among them, not otherwise than in heaven, so that their condition became more excellent than all human glory. It now follows, —
13. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
13. Spes (vel, expectatio) lsrael Jehova, quicunque abs te discedunt (vel, qui te derelinquunt, עזבוך; hoc verbo nuper fuerat usus de perdicibus loquens) pudefient; qui deficiunt a me in terra scribentur; quia dereliquerunt (idem est verbum) fontem aquarum viventium Jehovam.
It appears more clear from this verse why the Prophet had commended before the excellency of his own nation, even that by the comparison their impiety might appear less excusable; for the more bountiful God had dealt with them, the more atrocious was their sin of ingratitude. As then the Jews had been raised high, so that their elevation appeared eminent through the whole world, the more detestable became their contumacy against God, and also their ingratitude in rejecting and despising a favor so remarkable, when they forsook him and followed idols, vain hopes, and their own false counsels. It is the same as though the Prophet had said, — “What does it avail you, that God dwells among you, and that the Temple is as it were his earthly habitation, where he converses familiarly with you? what benefit is this to you? for no one accepts of this favor; nay, we wilfully, and as it were designedly cast away from us this kindness which is freely offered to us.”
We hence see that all this ought to be read together, — that the throne of God was in Judea, but that the people in the meantime malignantly and wickedly rejected the favor offered them.
But the Prophet turns to God, that he might rouse the Jews, for such was their perverseness that he in vain taught them. And he says, Jehovah, the expectation of Israel! whosoever forsake thee shall be made ashamed; as though he had said, — “The ungodly multitude which accepts not the dignity by which our race excels all other nations, receives no benefit. God indeed dwells in the midst of us, but hardly one in a hundred cleaves to him; nay, almost all treacherously forsake him; but notwithstanding all their glory, they shall be made ashamed who thus reject the kindness of God.” The Prophet, in short, reminds the Jews how vainly and presumptuously they gloried, because God had adopted their race; for a reciprocity was required, so that they were to respond to God and receive his benefits. But when they perversely his favor, what could have remained for them?
Hence he says, Ashamed shall all they be made who forsake thee. By the word forsake, he intimates that the Jews had been favored by God; for this could not have been said in the same sense, and in an equal degree of the heafilens, as the heathens had never been gathered by God into one body; but the Jews alone had enjoyed this favor. When therefore he had manifested himself to them, and testified that he would be their Father, he was forsaken by them. This defection, of which the Jews alone were guilty, is noticed, because God had sought them for himself; he had also come to them, and made with them a covenant. As then they were thus brought nigh to God, this defection was the more execrable. This is what the Prophet means.
He now adds, And they who depart shall be written in the earth. Literally it is, “Who depart from me;” but the י, iod, at the end, as many think, is a servile letter. And some think that the word is a verb, and that the י, iod, at the beginning denotes the future tense, and they regard the י, iod, at the end to be for ו, vau, יסודו isuru, “Who depart.” Others suppose it to be a noun, and read יסורי isuri, for וסורים vasurim 180 As to the meaning, it is evident that the Prophet designed here to shake off from the Jews the vain glory with which they were inflated, when they boasted that they were the people of God, the holy race of Abraham, the royal priesthood; all these things he ridicules as vain, as though he had said, — “Away with all these boastings, which are all false; ye are apostates, therefore your name shall be written in the earth.” No doubt, the earth here is set in opposition to heaven; and Scripture sometimes says, that the name of the wicked shall be a reproach on earth. But as they often acquire a celebrated and honorable name on earth, the Prophet makes a concession and says, “Be it so; let the world regard you as the holy race of Abraham, the blessed seed and the chosen people; let, in short, every one of you claim for himself whatever he pleases, but your name shall be on earth, and shall be blotted out from heaven; there will be no inheritance above for you, no portion in the kingdom of God.” He in short intimates, that the Jews would have no place before God and his angels, for they were unworthy that God shouhi regard them as his children, since they had wickedly denied him. He then grants them a name on earth; but it is the, same as though he had said, that they wickedly lied in boasting that they were a chosen people, since they themselves, as far as they could, obliterated the election of God.
He afterwards adds, Because they have forsaken Jehovah, the fountain of living waters. The Prophet confirms what he had said, lest the Jews should think that they were too severely rebuked, when he said that their name was blotted out from heaven: Ye have forsaken, he says, the fountain of living waters. “What does this mean? God (according to what is said in Jeremiah 2) manifested himself to you; is there not in him a full and sufficient happiness for you? What more can be sought for by a mortal man than to enjoy his God, in whom there is the fullness of all blessings? God has offered himself to you, and his bounty has ever been extended to you, as though he were a fountain from which you might draw enough to satisfy you; but ye have forsaken this fountain. You must therefore perish through thirst, and justly so, for your ingratitude has been so great as to despise these remarkable and invaluable favors of God.” It now follows —
14. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.
14. Sana me Jehova, et sanabor; serva me, et salvus ero; quia laus mea tu es.
Here the Prophet, as though terrified, hides himself under the wings of God, for he saw that apostasy and every kind of wickedness prevailed everywhere throughout the land; he saw that the principal men of his nation were wicked despisers of God, and that they vainly boasted of their own descent, while yet destitute of all care for justice and uprightness. When therefore he saw that the land was thus infected, in order that fainting might not overcome him, he presents himself to God, as though he had said, “What shall become of me, Lord? for I am here surrounded with wickedness; wherever I turn I find nothing but what allures and leads me away from true religion and the sincere worship of thy name. What then will be the case if thou forsakest me? I shall be immediately seized, and it will be all over with me, for there is no safety in the whole land, and no healing, it is as though pestilence prevailed, so that no one can go forth lest he should meet with some contagion.” Thus the Prophet in this passage, on seeing the whole land so polluted with crimes that there was not a corner free from them, flees to God for help, and says, “O Lord, I cannot be safe except thou keep me; I cannot be pure except my purity comes from time.” We now understand the design of the Prophet, and how this verse is connected with the preceding verses.
He says first, Heal me, and I shall be healed; as though he had said that he was now diseased, having contracted a taint from corrupt practices. He therefore seeks healing from God alone, and through his gracious help. And for the same reason he adds that then only he should be safe when saved by God.
We are taught by these words, that whenever stumbling-blocks come in our way, we ought to call on God with increasing ardor and earnestness. For every one of us must well know his own infirmity; even when we have not to fight, our own weakness does not suffer us to stand uncorrupted; how then will it be with us, when Satan assails our faith with his most cunning devices? While therefore we now see all things in the world in a corrupted state, so that we are allured by a thousand things from the true worship of God, let us learn by the example of the Prophet to hide ourselves under the wings of God, and to pray that he may heal us, for we shall not only be apparently vicious, but many corruptions will immediately devour us, except God himself bring us help. Hence the worse the world is, and the greater the licentiousness of sin, the more necessity there is for praying God to keep us by his wonderful power, as it were in the very regions of hell.
A general truth may be also gathered from this passage, that it is not in man to stand or to keep himself safe, so as to be preserved, but that this is the peculiar kindness of God; for if man had any power to preserve himself, so as to continue pure and unpolluted in the midst of corruptions, no doubt, Jeremiah would have been endued with such a gift; but he confesses that there is no hope of healing and of salvation, except through the special favor of God. For what else is healing but purity of life? as though he had said, “O Lord, it is not in me to preserve that integrity which thou requirest:” and hence he says, Heal me, and I shall be healed. And then, when he speaks of salvation, he no doubt intended to testify, that it is not enough for the Lord to help us once or for a short time, except he continues to help us to the end. Therefore the beginning, as well as the whole progress of salvation, is here ascribed by him to God. It hence follows that all that the sophists vainly talk about free-will is reduced to nothing. They indeed confess that it is not in man’s power to stave himself; but they afterwards pull down and subvert what they seem to confess, for they say that the grace of the Spirit concurs with free-will, and that man saves himself while God is co-operating with him. But all this is mere trifling; for the Prophet here not only implores help, and prays God to succor his infirmity, but he confesses that it is God’s work alone to heal and to save him.
And this he further confirms by saying, Thou art my praise; 181 for he thus declares that he effected nothing, but that all the praise for his salvation was due alone to God; for how can God be said to be our Praise, except when we glory in him alone? according to what is said in the ninth chapter. If men claim even the least thing for themselves, they cannot call God their praise. The Prophet then acknowledges here that he contributed nothing towards the preservation of his purity, but that this was wholly the work of God. And then he confirms his own hope, as he doubted not but he would be heard by God, for he asks of him whatever was necessary for his salvation.
We have then this general rule, that if we desire to obtain from him the beginning and the end of our salvation, his praise must be given to him, so that we may glory in him alone. If then we own ourselves destitute of all power, and flee to God under the consciousness of such a want, we shall doubtless obtain whatever is needful for us; but if we are inflated with the conceit of our own power, or of our own righteousness, the door is closed against us. We now then see the benefit of this confirmation; it assures the faithful that they shall find in God whatever they may want, for they do not obscure the glory of God by transferring to themselves what peculiarly belongs to him, but confess that in him dwells what they cannot find in themselves. The rest I defer till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that we may learn, whether in want or in abundance, so to submit ourselves to thee, that it may be our only and perfect felicity to depend on thee and to rest in that salvation, the experience of which thou hast already given us, until we shall reach that eternal rest, where we shall enjoy it in all its fullness, when made partakers of that glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son.--Amen.
15. Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.
15. Ecce ipsi dicunt mihi, Ubi est sermo Jehovae? veniat nunc.
Here Jeremiah complains of the obstinate contempt of the people; he found them not only uncourteous but even petulant towards God, so that they hesitated not to discredit all prophecies, to despise the promises, and boldly to reject all threatenings. The Prophet had often threatened them; and when God delayed the time, they made a wrong use of his forbearance, as it is commonly the case with the reprobate. Nor did they deem it enough even to add sins to sins, but they openly and petulantly provoked God, “Where is the word? many years have now elapsed since thou hast continually spoken of war, of famine, and of pestilence; but we still remain quiet, and God spares us; where then is the word of Jehovah, which thou hast announced?”
We now then see how great was the wilfulness of this people, for the teaching of Jeremiah became not only useless but was treated with ridicule. They had however heard much before from the mouth of Isaiah,
“Alas! when the Lord calls you to ashes and sackcloth, ye say, “Let us eat and drink, to-morrow we shall die.” “As I live, saith the Lord, not forgiven to you shall be this iniquity.”
God then had sworn by his own glory that their sin would be inexpiable, because they continued obstinately in their vices, and were in no degree terrified by the threatenings of the prophets. We however see that they ever became worse and worse. Isaiah was dead when they thus spoke in contempt and mockery, Where is the word of Jehovah? let it now come, as though they designedly provoked God, like one who despises his enemy, and says, “Oh! thou art indeed to be dreaded, if thou art to be believed; let us now see thy power, shew to us what thou canst do.” Thus contemptibly did they utter their scoffs, when God by his servants made known to them the approaching ruin which they deserved. We see, in short, that the Prophet shews here that they had come to a hopeless state. 182 It follows —
16. As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.
16. Ego autem non festinavi, ut essem pastor post te, et diem doloris non concupivi, tu nosti: quod egressum est e labiis meis, coram facie tua fuit.
The Prophet here implores God as his defender, having found his own nation so refractory, that they could in no way be brought to a right mind. There is yet no doubt but he intended to double their fear in thus testifying that he brought nothing of his own, but faithfully executed the command of God, that he did not presumptuously undertake the office of a teacher, but obeyed the call of God, as though he had said, that they (as we shall find in another place) did not resist a mortal man, but God himself. He therefore refers the matter to God, as though he had said, “Contend with God; for what have I to do with you, or you with me? For I do not plead my own cause, nor came I forth through any desire of my own; but as God has committed to me this office, it was necessary for me to obey. As then I am only the instrument of God, what will you at last gain after having quarrelled ever so much? No doubt God will shew that he is an adversary to you, and can ye conquer him?” We now understand the object of the Prophet.
But we have said elsewhere that the Prophet fled to God when he found no equity or rectitude in the world; yea, when all were deaf and so blinded that there was no hope of obtaining notice. When therefore men are thus perverted in their minds, we must necessarily have recourse to God. So the Prophet does now, as he had done before, leaving men he addresses his words to God; and this kind of apostrophe has more force than if he had charged them with perverseness.
But I, he says, I have not hastened. Here interpreters differ; for אוף, auts, means sometimes to hasten, and sometimes to be slow, two contrary things. It signifies also to be careful and to abominate or to dislike; and so some render it here, “I have not disliked, so as not to become a pastor;” for מן men, in Hebrew is often taken as a negative. Others give this version, “I have not been careful,” or anxious, “I have not cared to become a pastor.” But a meaning more suitable to the context may be given to the words, that the Prophet hastened not, for it follows, and I have not coveted. These two expressions, לא אצתי la atsati, hastened,” and, לא התאויתי la ethaviti, correspond the one with the other, I have not hastened,” and “I have not coveted;” and both is a denial of his temerity. Many indeed thrust themselves, as we shall see in the twenty-third chapter, without being called by God; they run of themselves, and are led astray by foolish imaginations.
The Prophet says first, that he had not hastened to be a pastor after God, literally; for many are ruled by ambition, which leads them to undertake more than what is right for them, and they do not regard what may please God. Hence the Prophet says in the first place, that he had not hastened, and then that he had not coveted, which is not different in meaning, but is a confirmation of the same thing. But let us first bear in mind that he thus proves the impiety of the people, for they fought against God himself the author of his call. How so? had he hastened, that is, had he through foolish zeal obtruded himself, the Jews might have justly contended with him, and might have done so with impunity; but as he had waited for the call of God, they had no ground to contend with him, and by opposing the servant of God, they discovered their own impiety. 183
Jeremiah prescribes here a law for all prophets and teachers, and that is, that they are not to aspire to this office as many do, who, as we have already said, are guided by ambition. He then alone is to be deemed a lawful minister and prophet of God and a teacher in his church who is not led by the impulse of his own flesh, nor by inconsiderate zeal, but to whom God extends his hand, and who being called obeys. The beginning then is obedience, if we wish to become lawful teachers. This is one thing.
In the second place he shews, that those who are called to the office of teaching are not endued with a sovereign power, so that they can announce whatever pleases them, but that they are pastors for God. God indeed would have his prophets to take the lead, so as to point out the way to the rest of the people, and he thus honors them with no common dignity. He would have them to be heads or leaders, or ensign-bearers, but still he himself retains his own peculiar honor; hence no one ever so presides over God’s Church as to be the chief pastor, for God takes away nothing from himself by transferring the office of teaching to his ministers, but on the contrary he remains complete in his own authority. In short, he does not resign, as they say, his own right, but substitutcs those who teach in his own place, and in such a way as still to retain what peculiarly belongs to him. Hence these words ought to be carefully noticed, I have not hastened to become a pastor after thee, that is, that he might follow God. Whosoever then takes so much liberty as not to follow God, but is carried away by his own spirit, is to be repudiated, and deserves not to be reckoned among lawful pastors.
But this passage seems to militate against what is declared by Paul when he says, that he who desires the episcopate seeks an excellent work. (1Ti 3:1.) Paul does not there condemn, it is said, the desire, he only reminds us how difficult and arduous is the office of a bishop. To this we may readily answer, that Paul there does not speak of that foolish ardor by which many are inflamed, while they do not consider their own abilities, or rather their own weakness; but he says, that if any offers himself to God for the office of teaching, he is to think and duly to consider that it is no common work. He ought then rather to restrain himself, while bearing in mind how difficult it is to fulfill all the duties of a good bishop. But Jeremiah here refers to what we have seen in the first chapter, for he even dreaded the prophetic office, and confessed that he was not able to speak. As then he alleged his own stammering, he was very far from having any corrupt desire. There is then nothing inconsistent in the words, that Jeremiah did not desire the office of a pastor, and that whosoever desires the episcopate desires an excellent, work.
He now adds a confirmation, The day of grief, he says, have I not desired. Some think the verb to be passive, but I have rendered it with others as an active verb, yet some read, “And the day of affliction, or of sorrow, has not been wished for by me.” But there is, in reality, no difference. He confirms what he had said, for he saw clearly, when God chose him a Prophet, that he would be drawn into hard contests; “Why, he says, should I covet the prophetic office? It would have been an insane ambition.” He found out from the very beginning the consequence of undertaking the office, that he had to contend with the whole people, yea, with every one of them, “I knew how great would be their stubbornness, and how great also would be their cruelty; how then could I have wished of mine own accord to run into danger, and to throw mysdf into so many troubles and so many sorrows?” Jeremiah then shews from what he had apprehended as to the issue, that he had not, been led by any hasty desire.
If one objects and says, that many are notwithstanding led away by a foolish ambition to undergo dangers and troubles which they cannot but foresee. To this I answer, that the Prophet assumes the fact as it was, that not only known to him from the beginning was whatever he after-wards experienced, for he had well considered what the people were, but that he had been also constrained by God’s command to renounce his own will. Many hasten because they consider not the difficulties of the office, hardly one in a hundred at this day duly considers how difficult and arduous it is rightly to discharge the pastoral office. Hence many are led to undertake it as an easy duty, and of no great importance. Afterwards experience too late teaches them, that they have foolishly desired what was unknown to them. Some think that they possess great skill and activity, and also promise themselves great things on account of their own capacities, learning, and judgment; but they afterwards very soon find how scanty is a furniture, as they say, of this kind, for aptness for the work fails them at the very outset, and not in the middle of their course. Some also, while seeing that they are to have many and grievous contests, dread nothing and put on an iron front, as though they were born to fight. Others there are who, in desiring the office of teachers, are mercenaries. We indeed know that all God’s servants are miserable as to this world, and according to the perceptions of men, for they must carry on war against the prevailing dispositions of all, and thus displease men that they may please God; but mercenaries, who have no religion and adulterate God’s word, desire the office, and why? because they see that they can deal in a pleasing manner with men, for they will carefully avoid everything that may offend, But this was not the case with the Prophet; hence he assumes, as I have said, this fact, that he sincerely engaged in his office of teaching, and was not induced by any other motive than that of promoting the well-being of the people.
He say’s that he hastened not; how so? “I should have been,” he says, “altogether insane had I been led by an inconsiderate zeal, for I know that I should have to contend, and to contend not with one man only, but with the whole people, yea, with every one of them.” Hence he calls the warfare which awaits all true pastors, the day of sorrow, for if they please men they cannot be the servants of God. And of this fact he makes God a witness, Thou knowest. Men of wind profess boldly enough that they have nothing in view but to serve God, that they do not rashly enter on their course; but the Prophet here sets himself in God’s presence, and is not anxious to secure the approbation of men, being content with that of God alone. 184
And then he adds, Before thy face has been whatever has proceeded from my lips. By these words he intimates, that he had not vainly spoken whatever came to his mind, but what he had received from God himself, and that before God was everything which had proceeded from his mouth. We hence learn, that it is not enough for one to have been once called, except he faithfully delivers what he has received from God himself, It now follows —
17. Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil.
17. Ne sis mihi in terrorem; protectio mea tu in die mali.
18. Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.
18. Pudefiant qui persequuntur me, et non pudetiam ego; terreantur illi, et non terrear ego; inducas super eos diem mali, et duplici contritione contere eos.
Now the Prophet, having appealed to God as a witness to his integrity, prays him to show himself as his patron and defender. Thus he again implores God’s aid, Be not thou, he says, a terror to me, that is, “Suffer me not while pleading thy cause to be terrified.” Thy the word, terror, he means such a dread as stupifies all the feelings. It would have indeed been wholly unreasonable for the Prophets to fail in constancy and firmness, for it belonged to God to rule them by his Spirit, and to support them by his grace, from the time he committed to them their office. Since then no one is of himself fit to discharge the duties of a faithful teacher, God must: necessarily succor and aid those whom he calls and sends to the work. This is now what the Prophet speaks of when he says, Be not to me a terror, that is, “Be not to me a cause of dread by depriving me of constancy and firmness, so as to render me an object of ridicule to all;” and why? because thou art my protection, or my hope, for the word means both.
Thou art then my protection (of this meaning I mostly approve) in the day of evil, that is, “I have chosen thee as my protector, as though thou were a shield to me; as then I have promised myself the favor of having thee as my help, see that I be not left destitute, since I have to right for thee and under thy banner.” Hence he adds, Ashamed let them be who persecute me, and let not me be ashamed; terrified let them be, and let not me be terrified
The Prophet, as we have seen, had a hard contest, not only with one man or with a few, but with the whole people, and then it is probable that there were many sects, for when he cried against the avaricious, there was a commotion instantly made by all those who lived on plunder, when he spoke against the indulgence of lust, there was a second conspiracy against him; when he condemned drunkenness and intemperance, there was a new combination formed to oppose him. We hence see how all the ungodly in all parts and for various reasons assailed the Prophet, he was therefore constrained to pray, as he now does, Ashamed let them be who persecute me, even because they now testified that they were evidently the enemies of God, for he had no private concern with them, but faithfully obeyed the command of God. As then he knew them to be God’s avowed enemies, he hesitated not to ask God himself to oppose them. 185
We must yet notice what we have said in other places, that the Prophet was not only influenced by a holy and pious zeal, but was also governed by the wisdom of the Spirit. This I again repeat, for there are many foolish imitators, who always appeal to the vehemence which the Prophets shewed, while they themselves are carried away by a violent rather than by a vehement impulse. But we must first see whether the Holy Spirit guides us, lest we should utter imprecations against the very elect; and then we must beware of being influenced by the feelings of our flesh, and intemperate zeal is ever to be feared, for it is a rare gift so to burn with zeal as to join with it the moderation that is required. As then there is always something turbulent in our zeal, we must remember that the Prophets never uttered a word but as the Spirit guided their tongues, and then that they had no regard to themselves, and, thirdly, that they were so calm and composed in their ardor that they were not, guilty of excess.
The Prophet no doubt fully knew that all those were reprobate on whom he imprecated God’s vengeance, but as it does not belong to us to distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, let us learn to suspend and check our zeal, so that it may not be too fervid, for we may often mistake, if we follow generally what the Prophet says here, Bring on them the day of evil, and with a double breach break them. Were we thus to speak indiscriminately of all, our zeal would often hit the very children of God. We must therefore bear in mind, that before the Prophet uttered this imprecation he was taught by the Spirit of God that he had to do with reprobate and irreclaimable men. Now a new discourse follows —
19. Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;
19. Sic dixit mihi Jehova, Vade et sta in porta filiorum populi; per quam ingrediuntur reges Jehudah, et per quam egrediuntur, (ad verbum, e qua egrediuntur in ipsa; sed וב est supervacuum,) et onmibus portis Jerusalem:
20. And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:
20. Et dic illis, Audite sermonem Jehovae, reges Jehudah, et totus Jehudah, et omnes incolae Jerusalem, qui ingredimini per has portas
21. Thus saith the LORD, Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem.
21. Sic dicit Jehova, Custodite vos, (vel, cavete vobis,) in animabus vestris, ne inferatis onus die sabbathi, (ne tollatis,) et inferatis per portas Jerusalem.
This discourse is no doubt to be separated from the preceding one, and whosoever divided the chapters was deficient in judgment as to many other places as well as here. Now the meaning is, that so great and so gross was the contempt of the law, that they neglected even the observance of the Sabbath; and yet we know that hypocrites are in this respect very careful, nay, Isaiah upbraided the men of his day that they made so much of their sanctity to consist in the outward observance of days. (Isa 1:13.) But, as I have already said, the Jews were so audacious in the time of Jeremiah that they openly violated the Sabbath, men were become so lost, as we commonly say, as not to pretend any religion. The licentiousness of the people was so great that they had no shame; nay, they all openly shewed that they had wholly cast away the yoke of God and of his law. When this was the case at Jerusalem, wlmt can we think was done in obscure villages where so much religion did not exist? for if there was any right teaching, if there was any appearance of religion, it must have been at Jerusalem.
We now then see that the Prophet was sent by God to charge the people with this gross and base contempt of the law; as though he had said, “Go to now, and pretend that you retain at least some religion: yet even in this small matter, the observance of the Sabbath, ye are deficient, for ye bring burdens, that is, ye carry on business on the Sabbath as on other days. As then there is not among you even an external sanctity as to the Sabbath, why do you go on with your evasions? for your impiety is sufficiently proved.” We now see what the Prophet means, and what the import of this discourse is which we are now to explain.
He says first, that he was sent, go, to bring this message. He had been indeed chosen before a prophet; but he speaks here of a special thing which he was commissioned to do: and he says that he was sent to the chief gate of the city, through which the kings entered in and went out and the whole people 186 and then that he was sent to all the gates. By these words he means, that it was not God’s will that the profanation of the Sabbath should be partially made known, but be everywhere proclaimed, in order that he might shame not only the king but also the whole people. The prophets usually spoke first in the Temple, and then they went to the gates, where there was a larger concourse of people. But Jeremiah had here something unusual; for God intended most clearly to condemn the Jews for their base and inexcusable contempt of the Sabbath.
He then adds, Thou shalt say to them, Hear the word of Jehovah, ye kings of Judah, and let all the people hear, and let all the citizens of Jerusalem hear, who enter in at these gates. The Prophet was commanded to begin with the king himself, who ought to have repressed so great a licentiousness. It was therefore an intolerable indifference in the king silently to bear this contempt of religion, especially in a matter so easy and so evident; for he could not have pretended that he was unacquainted with it: it was indeed the same as though the Jews intended to triumph against God, and to shew that his law was deemed of no value. Hence the profanation of the Sabbath was a proof of their shamelessness, as they thereby shewed that they cared nothing either for God or for his law. We shall hereafter see how great that wickedness was; but; I shall defer the subject, as I cannot now discuss it at large, and a more convenient opportunity will offer itself.
He bids them to attend, or to beware in their souls. Some render the words, “As your souls are precious to you.” But I take souls, not for their lives, but for the affections of their hearts; as though he had said, “Take heed carefully of yourselves, that this may be laid up in your inmost heart.” The word נפש nuphesh, means often the heart, the seat of the affections. It is said in De 4:15,
“Take heed to yourselves, לנפשותיכם lanupheshuticam,
to your souls.”
here it is, בנפשותיכם, benupheshuticam, “in your souls;” but there, “to” or “for your souls,” as also in Jos 23:11. But the same thing is meant, and that is, that they were to take great heed, to take every care, to exert every effort, and, in short, every faculty of their souls. Take heed then carefully, 187 he says, take heed with every thought and faculty of your soul, that ye carry no burden on the Sabbath-day, and that ye bring it not through the gates of Jerusalem. It was a thing not difficult to be observed; and further, it was a most shameless transgression of the law; for, as I have said, by this slight matter they shewed that they despised the law of God, while yet the observance of the Sabbath was a thing of great importance: it was important in itself, but to observe it was easy. Hence appeared the twofold impiety of the people, — because they despised God’s singular favor, of which the seventh day was an evidence; and, because they were unwilling to take rest on that day, and in so easy a matter, they hesitated not, as it were, to insult God, as it has been before said.
Hence we ought to notice also what he says in these words, Carry no burden, and bring it not through the gatesof Jerusalem: and this was emphatically added; for it was not lawful even in the fields or in desert places to do anything on the Sabbath; but it was extremely shameful to carry a burden through the gates of Jerusalem; it was as though they wished publicly to reproach and despise God. Jerusalem was a public place; and it was as though one was not content privately to do dishonor to his neighbor or his brother, but must shew his ill-nature openly and in the light of day. Thus the Jews were not only reproachful towards God, but also dared to shew their impiety in his own renowned city, and, in short, in his very sanctuary. The rest we must defer.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only in former times sent thy prophets, but makest the testimony of thy will to be declared to us daily, — O grant, that we may learn to render ourselves teachable and submissive to thee, and so willingly bear thy yoke, that thy holy word may gain among us that reverence which it deserves: and may we so submit ourselves to thee, while thou speakest to us by men, that we may at length enjoy a view of thy glory, in which will consist our perfect felicity; and that we may not only contemplate thy glory face to face, but also hear thee thyself speaking, and so speaking, that we shall delight in that sweetness, which is laid up for us in hope, through Christ, our Lord. — Amen.
22. Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
22. Et ne efferatis onus e domibus vestris die Sabbathi, et omne opus ne faciatis (nullum opus faciatis,) et sanctificetis diem Sabbathi, quemadmodum praecepi patribus vestris.
We stated in our last lecture why the Prophet so severely reproved the Jews for neglecting an external rite. It seems indeed a thing in itself of small moment to rest on one day; and God by Isaiah clearly declares, (Isa 1:13,) that he cares not for that external worship, for hypocrites think they have done all their duty when they rest on the seventh day; but God denies that he approved of such a service, it being like a childish play. We know what Paul says, that the exercises of the body do not profit much. (1Ti 4:8.) This was not written when Jeremiah spoke, but it must have been written in the hearts of the godly. It might then, at the first view, appear a strange thing, that the Prophet insisted so much or a thing of no great moment: but the reason I have briefly explained, and that was, — because the gross impiety of the people was thereby plainly detected, for they despised God in a matter that could easily be done. Men often excuse themselves on the ground of difficulty, — “I could wish to do it, but it is too onerous for me.” They could not have alleged this as to the sanctification of the Sabbath; for what can be easier than to rest for one day? Now, when they carried their burdens and did their work on the Sabbath as on other common days, it was, as it were, designedly to shake off the yoke, and to shew openly that they wholly disregarded the authority of the law.
Another reason must also be noticed, which I have not yet, stated: God did not regard the external rite only, but rather the end, of which he speaks in Ex 31:13, and in Eze 20:12. In both places he reminds us of the reason why he commanded the Jews to keep holy the seventh day, and that was, that it might be to them a symbol of sanctification.
“I have given my Sabbaths,” he says, “to you, that ye might know that I am your God who sanctifies you.”
If then we consider the end designed by the Sabbath-day, we cannot say that it was an unimportant rite: for what could have been of more importance to that ancient people than to acknowledge that they had been separated by God from other nations, to be a holy and a peculiar people to him, nay, to be his inheritance?
And it appears from other places that this command was typical. We learn especially from Paul that the Sabbath-day was enjoined in order that the people might look to Christ; for well known is the passage in Col 2:16, where he says that the Sabbath as well as other rites were types of Christ to come, and that he was the substance of them. And the Apostle also, in the Epistle to the Heb 4:9, shews that we are to understand spiritually what God had formerly commanded respecting the seventh day, that is, that men should rest from their works, as God rested from his works after he had finished the creation of the world: and Isaiah, in Isa 58, teaches us with sufficient clearness what the design of the Sabbath is, even that the people should cease from their own pleasure; for it was to be a day of rest, in which they were truly to worship God, and to leave off pursuing any of the lusts of their own flesh. And God did not simply forbid them to do some things; but he says,
“Thou shalt rest from all thy work.”
(Ex 20:10; De 5:14)
To come to the Temple, to offer sacrifices, and to circumcise infants, were indeed works; but we cannot say that it was a human work to circumcise infants, for they obeyed God’s command in thus presenting to him their offspring; and it was the same when they came to sing God’s praises and to offer sacrifices.
We now then perceive that the design as to the ancient people was, that they might know that they were to rest from all the works of the flesh; and God, that he might more easily bend them to obedience, set before them his own example; for there is nothing more to be desired than a mutual agreement between us and God. For this reason God says,
“I rested the seventh day from all my works: therefore, rest ye also now from your works.” (Ex 20:11)
God had no doubt chosen the seventh day, that men might devote themselves wholly to the consideration of his works. However this may be, we see that the principal thing on the seventh day was the worship of God. And even heathen writers, whenever they speak of the Sabbath, mention it as the difference between the Jews and the rest of the world. It was, in short, a general profession of God’s worship, when they rested on the seventh day. When they now regarded it as nothing, by carrying their burdens and violating their sacred rest, it was doubtless nothing less than wantonly to cast away the yoke of God, as though they openly boasted that they despised whatever he had commanded. There was then in the violation of the Sabbath a public defection from the law. As then the Jews had become apostates, Jeremiah with severity justly condemns them; and hence he says that their extreme impiety was sufficiently proved, because they thus disregarded the seventh day.
He says further, Carry not a burden from your houses. Under one thing he includes every worldly business, by which they violated the Sabbath, though he afterwards adds also what is general, And do no work, but sanctify the Sabbath, as I commanded your fathers. To sanctify the Sabbath-day is to make it different from the other days; for sanctification is the same as separation: they ought not then to have done their own concerns on that day as on other days; for it was a day consecrated to God. He then adds, that it was a day which he commanded their fathers to keep holy. He doubtless claims here authority for the law on the ground of time; as though he had said, that he did not introduce the law on that day or on the day before, but that from the time he gathered the people for himself, the precept concerning the observance of the Sabbath had been given, as it was evident; for God at the beginning thus spoke by Moses,
“Remember the seventh day,” etc. (Ex 20:8.)
As then the whole law of God and the whole of religion fell to the ground through the violation of the Sabbath, the Prophet rightly reminded them here that this day was commanded to be observed by their fathers. We may add further, that they were not ignorant of the memorable punishment by which God had sanctioned the observance of the Sabbath, when by his command he who gathered wood on that day was stoned to death. It now follows —
23. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.
23. Et non audierunt, et non inclinarunt aurem suam, et obduraverunt cervicem suam non audiendo et non recipiendo disciplinam.
Here the Prophet exaggerates their crime, — that the Jews had not now begun for the first time to violate this precept of the Law; for he reminds them that the Sabbath had been before violated by their fathers. We have said elsewhere that men are less excusable when the children follow the bad examples of their fathers. This is indeed what the world does not commonly think; for we see at this day, that most men boast of the examples of their fathers, when they wish to reject both the Law and the Prophets and the gospel: they think themselves to be defended by a strong shield, when they can object to us and say that the fathers had done otherwise. But we have seen from many passages how frivolous is such a defense; and Jeremiah here confirms the same thing, by saying that the crime of the people was the more atrocious, because their fathers had many ages before begun to despise this command of God.
But they heard not, 188 he says, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck. By these words he shews most clearly that their fathers had not sinned through inadvertence or ignorance, but because they had hardened themselves in the contempt of God. It often happens that men, rightly taught, go astray through ignorance, as their want of knowledge may prevent them to understand what they hear: but when men incline not their ear, but harden their neck, their obstinacy becomes manifest, for they knowingly and wilfully reject God. Such perverseness then does Jeremiah here set forth by the various expressions he employs, as we have seen done in other places.
As to the hardening of the neck, it is a metaphor, as stated elsewhere, taken from untameable oxen. God compares his law to a yoke, and for the best reason; for as the oxen are tamed that they may labor and are trained to obey when the yoke is laid on them; so also God proves our obedience, when he rules us by his law, for we otherwise wander after our lusts. As therefore God corrects and checks in us by his law, all the unruly passions of the flesh, he is said to lay his yoke on us. Now, if we are intractable and do not submit to the authority of God, we are said to harden our neck. Jeremiah speaks afterwards without a metaphor, and says, That they heard not, nor received instruction, or correction. 189 The word מוסר musar, means teaching or correction. The import of the whole is, that the Jews were not only unteachable when the will of God was plainly made known to them, but that they were also refractory and perverse in their spirit: for when to teaching were added exhortations the more to stimulate them, and when to these were added threatenings, yet God could not by any means subdue their wantonness. It now follows--
24. And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;
24. Et erit, si audiendo audieritis me, dicit Jehova, ne efferatis onus per portas urbis hujus die Sabbathi, et ad sanctificandum diem (hoc est, si sanctificatis diem,) non agendo in eo quicquam operis;
25. Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.
25. Tunc (copula enim hic accipitur pro adverbio temporis) ingredientur per portas urbis hujus Reges et principes, sedentes super solium Davidis, vecti curru et equis, ipsi et proceres eorum, vir Jehudah, et incolae Jerusalem, et habitabitur urbs haec in perpetuum.
Jeremiah introduced, as I have said, a condemnation as to the fathers, that he might make the Jews of his age ashamed of themselves, lest they shouhl imitate the example of those whom they saw to have been disobedient to God. He yet shews, that God would be reconciled to them, provided they from the heart repented; as though he had said, — “Your fathers indeed provoked, for many years, and even for ages, the vengeance of God; but as he is ever inclined to mercy, he is ready to forgive you, if only you cease to follow your fathers and return to him.” In short, he promises them pardon for the time past, if they turned to God.
If by hearing ye will hear, he says, so as to carry no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath-day, and to sanctify (this is connected with “hear”) the sabbath-day, so that ye do no work on it; then shall enter through the gates of this city kings and princes, etc. He first promises them a perpetuity as to the kingdom; and it was the chief happiness of the people to have a king from the posterity of David; for thus they saw as it were with their eyes the favor of God present, with them, inasmuch as David and his posterity were visible pledges of God’s favor. And we must remember also, that that kingdom was a type of a better kingdom, which had not yet been plainly discovered. Hence in the posterity of David the Jews beheld Christ, until he was manifested. For this reason I said, that they were miserable without a king, and that the perpetuity of the kingdom was a main part, of their happiness. This is the reason why Jeremiah now sets before them, as a singular benefit, the continuance of David’s kingdom among them, provided they observed the sabbath-day: and thus God did not only strictly demand what he had a ritht to do, but also allured them by the sweetness of his promise, according to his usual manner. He may indeed in one word command what he pleases; but when he invites us by promises, he has a regard to our infirmity.
But it may be here asked, Was the rest on the seventh day of such a moment, that God should on that account promise to them the perpetuity of the kingdom? The answer has been already given, that is, that the end, which was spiritual, was connected with the outward rite; for God commanded the people to keep holy this day, that they might have a manifest symbol:, as it has been said, of their own sanctification. When therefore the Prophet thus speaks, If ye carry no burden through the gates of this city, that is, If ye observe the sabbath-day, the perpetuity of the kingdom shall be secured to you, — when he thus speaks, he had doubtless, as I have said, a regard to a true observance of the day, which consists not in the naked rite, but included something greater and more excellent, even that they might learn by self-denial to render themselves up to God to be ruled by him; for God will not work in us, unless we first renounce our own reason and the thoughts and feelings of our flesh. In the observance of the Sabbath, therefore, is briefly included the whole of religion: hence he says, Enter in shall kings and princes, sitting on the throne of David.
Noticed also ought to be the state of things at that time: It was a time when the country was nearly in ruins and the kingdom greatly weakened, so that the kings and the whole people were daily exposed to danger. When therefore there were hardly any means to defend the city and to support the kingdom, Jeremiah promised it, as a special favor from God, that the kings and the Princes would be rendered secure. From the family of David, as it is well known, were descended the royal counsellors; and hence he says of the counsellors as well as of the king, that they would sit on the throne of David: and he further says, They shall ride in a chariot and on horses, they the kings and their princes; and he adds, the men of Judah, etc. He extends the promise to the whole body of the people; after having spoken of the chief men, he then adds, that the whole community would be partakers of this blessing and favor of God; for the kingdom was formed, that the whole people might know that they were under God’s care and protection. It was not then without reason that Jeremiah states here that this blessing would be conferred in common on the whole people.
And inhabited, he says, shall be the city perpetually. For the same reason he also adds this; for Jerusalem was then in great danger; nay, there were new terrors daily, and there was a horrible desolation in every part, for the whole country had been visited with many calamities. Jeremiah therefore promised now what in a manner seemed incredible, that is, that the city would be made safe, if they truly and faithfully worshipped God, and testified that by observing the Sabbath. The meaning is, that it would be their own fault, if they found not the aid of God sufficient for them, that even if they were besieged by enemies, yet God would be a sure protector of their safety, provided they became his true and faithful servants. He afterwards adds —
26. And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.
26. Et venient ex urbibus Jehudah, et ex circuitibus (hoc est, ex toto circuitu) Jerusalem, et ex terra Benjamin, et ex planitie, et ex monte (hoc est, ex montibus, vel, regionibus montanis,) et a meridie, afferentes holocaustum, sacrificium, et oblationem מנחה et thus, et afferentes confessionem (vel, laudem,) in domum Jehovae.
Here he mentions the second part of the blessing; for the whole people would be preserved safe in the possession of their kingdom and priesthood, as in both the favor of God appeared; for both the king and the priest were types of Christ. For as by the priesthood they knew that God was propitious to them, they being reconciled to him by sacrifices, and as by the kingdom they knew that God was the protector and guardian of their safety, so these two things constituted a real and complete happiness. Hence the Prophet, having mentioned one of these things, now proceeds to the other, —
They shall come from the cities of Judah ad from the whole circuit of Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from other places, to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Sacrifices of themselves could not indeed serve the people; but Jeremiah assumed this principle, — that reconciliation was not in vain promised to the people by the sacrifices; for sins were really atoned, and Godas it were came forth to gather a people for himself. It was the same as though God said, that he would by all means be gracious to them, if only they observed the Sabbath, that is, if they with a pure heart devoted themselves to his service. The country, as I have said, was in a great measure laid waste; but the Prophet, after having spoken of the city, now adds, that all Judea would become inhabited, for from thence they would ascend to the Temple to offer sacrifices. After having mentioned the whole circuit, he names the land of Benjamin, the half tribe of whom, as it is well known, had continued in the faith, and had not separated from the family of David; indeed a part of the city was in the tribe of Benjamin.
He afterwards adds, the plain and the mountains, as though he had said, God’s worshippers would come from all the neighboring region to celebrate the feasts and to offer sacrifices as usual.
At last he mentions burnt-offering, sacrifice, and oblation, מנחה, meneche; the three principal offerings. But Jeremiah wished to shew briefiy that God would cause religion to flourish and prevail among them as before. But after having spoken of the external worship, he then refers to the end, They shall bring, he says, confession, or praise, תודה, tude, into the Temple. 190 Here by one word Jeremiah includes the chief thing in sacrifices, as we may learn from Ps. 50:14, 23; where it is said,
“sacrifice praise unto God.”
God there rejects the sacrifices which were offered by the Jews without a right motive: he then shews what he required, commanding them to sacrifice praise. So now Jeremiah teaches us that the design of all sacrifices was to celebrate the name of God, that is, that the Jews might profess that they owed all things to him, that they received their life and their safcty freely from him. in short, they were thereby to testify their gratitude before God. So at this day this truth remains the same, though the types have been abolished: we do not offer calves or oxen or rams, but the sacrifice of praise, by confessing and proclaiming his benefits and blessings, according to what the Apostle says in Heb 13:15. But what ought to prevail among us apart from types, was formerly accompanied with types; and yet this truth was observed by the Jews in common with us, — that while they offered their sacrifices under the Law, they were to testify their gratitude by visible symbols. Let us proceed —
27. But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
27. Quod si non audietis me ad sanctificandum diem sabbathi, et non tollendo onus, et ingrediendo per portas Jerusalem die sabbathi; tunc accendam ignem in portis ejus, et vorabit palatia Jerusalem, et non extinguetur.
Now, on the other hand, the Prophet terrifies them, if they hearkened not to the promises of God. God first kindly allures us; but when he sees us to be refractory, he deals with us according to the hardness of our hearts. He therefore now adds threatenings to promises. He had said, that the Jews would be happy, if they worshipped and served God faithfully; for their priesthood and their kingdom would be continued to them.
But he now adds, If ye will not obey, so as to sanctify the sabbath-day, and not to carry a burden on it, and not to enter through the gates of Jerusalem, that is, for the purpose of doing business (for it was lawful for them, as it is well known, to go out of the city, but by entering he means the transaction of business) — If then ye will not hearken to me in this respect, then, he says, I will kindle a fire in the gates of this city. We see the design of the Prophet, — that he would have the Jews to entertain a sure hope of their safety, provided they repented, and provided the pure and uncorrupted worship of God prevailed among them; but that, on the other hand, he wished to fill them with terror, if they went on in their obstinacy.
No doubt this commination greatly offended them; for we know how self-confident they were, and how foolishly they boasted that the city, in which God had his habitation, could not be demolished; and yet the Prophet declares here that the destruction of the holy city was nigh at hand, if they violated the sabbath-day as they had been accustomed to do. But that this punishment might not seem to be too severe, he shews that the people were inexcusable, if they rejected these plain warnings: he says, If ye will not hearken to me; for they might have otherwise objected and said, that they had been deceived, as they did not think that there was so great a sin in violating the Sabbath. Jeremiah now excludes all such evasions, for he says in effect, “Behold I am present with you by God’s authority; if ye will violate the Sabbath as hitherto, what excuse can you make? Have you not been proved guilty of open impiety? for God has spoken; and how is it that ye reject his teaching?” We thus see that this, If ye will not hearken to me so as to sanctify the Sabbath, was said to anticipate an objection.
He then adds, Devour shall the fire the gates of the city, and shall not be extinguished, that is, shall not be extinguished until it shall consume the whole city and its gates. We indeed know that assemblies were then held at the gates, and that they were therefore places of great importance. As to the fire it is to be taken metaphorically for destruction; and yet we know that even fire was kindled by the Chaldeans; for they deemed it not enough to demolish the city, but proceeded still farther: hence the Temple was burnt, and the houses were consumed by fire. We ought however to explain the word of the Prophet as meaning simply this — that God’s vengeance would be like fire, destroying and consuming all things, so that not even the gates would remain. Something usually remains when cities are demolished to the foundations; but God threatens the Jews with something more grievous — that the city would not be in a common way destroyed, but be so wholly consumed that nothing would remain. We shall proceed to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou dost not now prescribe to us one day on which we are to testify that we are sanctified by thee, but commandest us to observe a sacred rest through our whole life, so as to renounce ourselves and the world, — O grant, that we may really contemplate this rest, and so crucify the old man, that being effectually united to thine only-begotten Son, we may become also partakers of that resurrection in which he has led the way, and be gathered into that celestial kingdom which he has procured for us by his death and resurrection, after having so fought in this world, under thy banner, that thou mayest ever reign in us and rule and govern us by thy Spirit, so that nothing throughout life may be our own doing, but that we suffer ourselves to be governed by thee, until thou at length become to us all in all. — Amen.
The word rendered “groves,” means also idols. See 2Ki 23:6, where “grove” in our version must mean an idol. What follows here, “near the green tree,” shews clearly that “idols,” or images, are the things meant; and such is the version given by Venema and Horsley. — Ed.
The whole of this passage, from the first to the end of the fourth verse, is wanting in the Septuagint and Arabic, but is found in the other versions and the Targum. The many emendations of Houbigant and Horsley are quite unwarrantable; the first makes his mostly from the Syriac; and the second from various readings, and those of no value, except in one or two instances, as “their” instead of “your altars” in the first verse, countenanced by very many MSS.; the other nine emendations have, for the most part, nothing of any weight in their favor. The transpositions of Houbigant are quite irreconcilable with any thing like errors incidentally committed by scribes. The same objection does not lie against the emendations of Horsley; but that ten mistakes should occur in the space of four verses is not credible; nor are most of the emendations at all necessary.
The received text is no doubt materially correct, there being no different readings of any weight or suitable, except the one noticed above. The Vulgate, the Syriac, and Targum, differ from one another as much as they do from the Hebrew. They indeed all agree materially as to the beginning of the third verse, in regarding “the mountain” and “the field” as places where the people worshipped idols; and the Vulgate and the Syriac connect the words with the former verse; and this, I believe, is what ought to be done. Then the passage will read as follows: —
1. The sin of Judah is written by a pen of iron, By the point of adamant it is graven, On the tablet of their heart, And on the horns of their altars:
2. As a memorial to their children Are their altars and their idols, Near the green tree, on the high hills, On the mountains, in the field. —
3. Thy substance, all thy treasures For a plunder will I give, Thy high places also for sin in all thy borders;
4. And thou shalt be removed, even for thyself, From thine inheritance which I gave thee; And I will make thee to serve thine enemies In a land which thou knowest not; For a fire have ye kindled in mine anger, Perpetually shall it burn.
According to the frequent manner of the prophets, the last line in the first verse is connected with the first line, and the third with the second. The sin of Judah was “written” on “the horns of the altars;” it was “graven” on “the tablet of their heart.” The services at the altars were visible; the impressions within were seen only by God. They left their altars and their idols to their children. The genitive case in Hebrew may often be rendered by a dative, as here, “A memorial to their children.” All emendations as to the beginning of the third verse are unsatisfactory: it will bear the rendering above; “for thyself,” that is, for thine own fault. — Ed.
Like the Hebrew, there is no need of the verb is, or be, after “cursed,” inWelsh: the sentence is more emphatieal without it. In that language, too, the future tense of “trust” is understood as the present, —
Melldigedig y gwr yr hwn a hydero mewn dyn.
It is a denunciation, not an imprecation; therefore “be,” introduced into the English version, is not proper. — Ed.
It is rendered “a wild tamarisk — ἀγριομυρίκη,” by the Septuagint; “a tamarisk,” by the Vulgate and the Targum; and “a log,” or “a trunk,” by the Syriac. Gataker considers that no particular tree is meant, but that it means a “solitary” or a “barren” tree, agreeably, in his view, with what is contrasted with it in the 8th verse. Blayney renders it, “a blasted tree.” of which Horsley approves. The word is a reduplicate of a verb, which means to be bare; and the wild tamarisk may suitably be thus designated, as it bears a very few leaves. The idea of being “blasted” is foreign to the word.
But Venema contends that the reference is not to any tree, but to a person dwelling in solitude; and he renders the passage thus, —
And he shall be like the naked in solitude, Nor shall he see when good cometh; And is like him who inhabits parched spots in the desert, A land of salt and not inhabited.
The words “see” and “inhabit,” appear doubtless more suitable when the passage is thus rendered; yet what is said of the “tree” in verse 8 is equally metaphorical. What seems most agreeable to the whole context is such a rendering as follows: —
And he shall be like a bare tree in the desert, Which perceives not when good cometh; For it inhabits parched spots in the wilderness, The land of salt and not inhabited.
It is sometimes the case that it is proper in our language to render the copulative ו by “which;” not that it properly means that, but the meaning cannot be otherwise seen. The connection here is with the “bare” tree; it is bare, and perceives or knows not widen good comes, for it inhabits parched places. This seems to be the meaning. — Ed.
The verbs here are all futures, but ought to be rendered in our language, as they are in Syriac, in the present tense, —
And he shall be like a tree which is planted by waters, And nigh the stream sends forth its roots, Which perceives not when heat comes; And its leaf is flourishing, And in the year of drought it suffers not, And never ceases from bringing forth fruit.
The verb דאג, when applied to the mind, means agitation, commotion, trouble, disturbance: but here, as applied to a tree, it must mean a withering effect, a disturbance as to the process of growing. Joined with a negative, it may therefore be rendered, “it suffers not,” or, it withers not, according to the Targum, which applies it to the leaf, but not correctly. “It will not fear” is the rendering of the Septuagint; of the Vulgate, “it will not be careful,” as in our version; and of Blayney, “it is without concern.” None of these give the secondary meaning of the verb, which it evidently has here. — Ed
The early versions and the Targum are neither consistent nor satisfactory as to the beginning of this verse: “Deep is the heart above all things, and it is man,” Septuagint; “Depraved is the heart of all, and inscrutable,” Fulgate; “Hard in heart is man above all things,” Syriac; “The heart, deeper than anything, is human,” Arabic; “Deceitful is the heart above all things, and it is strong.” Targum. Correct, no doubt, is the first clause in the Targum, but not the last. Critics agree as to the first word, “deceitful,” but not as to the word rendered in our version “desperately wicked.” It occurs in all nine times, and four times in other parts of Jeremiah, (Jer 15:18; Jer 17:16; Jer. 30:12, 15) and it is rendered “incurable,” except in Jer 17:16. It means to be so bad as to be past endurance or past remedy. Blayney renders it here, “past all hope;” and Horsely, “incurable,” which is perhaps the best word, —
Deceitful the heart above every thing, And incurable it is,
who can know it?
The meaning is, that it is incurably deceitful; hence the question,” Who can know it?” — Ed.
The beginning of this verse is an answer to the previous question, “Who can know it?” The best rendering would be this, —
I Jehovah, — who search the heart and try the reins, And that in order to give to every man According to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
It is evident from 1Sa 26:20, that the partridge is meant; and it appears from a quotation which Parkhurst makes from Buffon, under the word קרא, that the red partridge is referred to here; for the male of the red kind in eastern countries sits on eggs as well as the female. This explains what appears intricate in this passage; for the word is masculine, and the verbs are in the same gender. What is here stated respecting the partridge is what often happens, the nest being often disturbed; and then the eggs become useless. It is a case of this kind that is here referred to, —
A partridge sitting and not hatching, Is he who gets wealth, and not by right; In the midst of his day shall he leave it, And at his end shall be a fool.
The reason why the partridge sits and hatches not, is intimated in the second clause, when it is said that the getter of wealth leaves it in the midst of his day: various things often compel the partridge to leave its eggs, such as dogs, cattle, etc.: and then nothing is brought forth. So the rich man is constrained to quit his wealth before he derives any benefit from it. This seems to be the comparison. — Ed.
There are many MSS. and the marginal reading, in favor of “days” for “day:” but the latter is more poetical: man’s day is his life. “A fool,” — so the versions, and more suitable here than any other word: he will then appear to all to have acted foolishly and not wisely; and he will find himself to have so acted, though he thought himself before to be very wise.
Some consider the word to be a proper name, Nabal, whose history we have in 1Sa 25:10-39; and they render the line thus, —
And at his end shall be a Nabal.
If we connect “from the beginning” with the following words, and not with “high,” which seems to give a better meaning, we shall get rid of the Rabbinical figment; and it seems also right to join with this verse the first words in the next, as it has been done by the Septuagint, —
A throne of glory on high, Is from the beginning the place of our sanctuary, —
The hope of Israel.
Or we may render the first line thus, —
The glorious throne of the most high.
For so we find מרום rendered in Ps 56:2. — Ed.
The reading of the Keri and of many MSS. is no doubt to be adopted, and the final ם as is sometimes the case, is dropped. It would then be, according to the Septuagint, וסורים Our version is the Vulgate. I would connect “earth” or land with this word, —
And apostates in the land shall they be recorded.
This would be their designation; they were to be handed down to posterity as apostates in the very land which God gave them. The reason why the ם is dropped is the connection of the word with “land,” though preceded by ב — Ed
Both the object and the ground of praise: Thou art he whom I praise or glorify; or, Thou art he who givest me an occasion to praise. “Thou art my boasting (καύχημα,”) is the Septuagint. — Ed.
The Targum thus paraphrases the verse, —
Behold they say to me “Where is what thou hast prophesied in the name of the Lord? let it be now confirmed.”
Their language was similar to that of those mentioned in 2Pe 3:4. — Ed.
It is singular how variously the early versions and the Targum have rendered the first half of this verse. Various, too, have been the opinions of critics. The first verb means to hasten, in a transitive, and in an intransitive sense, to urge, and to be urgent, forward, or hasty. It is used here evidently intransitively. Then the literal rendering seems to be this, —
But I have not been more forward than a pastor
after thee, or following thee.
The meaning seems to be, that he did not exceed his commission; and this is confirmed by the latter part of the verse. The preposition מ has often the meaning of “more than,” or above.
The word “woeful” is the same with what is rendered “desperately wicked” in Jeremiah 17:9. Its meaning is, to be bad beyond recovery; and when applied to day, it may be properly rendered “irretrievable.” I thus render the two lines, —
But I — I have not been forwarder than a pastor following thee, And the irretrievable day have I not desired.
This day was the day of exile which he had foretold. Then the words, “thou knowest,” stand connected with what follows. — Ed.
The Targum connects “thou knowest” with what follows; and such is the version of Blayney, and more suitable it is to the passage, —
Thou knowest what has gone forth from my lips, Before thy face has it been.— Ed.
I would render Jer 17:18 thus, —
18. Ashamed let my persecutors be, That I may not be ashamed; Dismayed let them be, That I may not be dismayed; Bring on them the day of evil, And doubly with breaking break them.
There was a contest between the Prophet and his enemies; the shame and dismay of his enemies would deliver him from shame and dismay. The copulative ו may often be rendered that, ut. The two last lines refer to the two preceding couplets in an inverted order. “The day of evil” was to dismay his enemies, and “the breaking” was to make them ashamed. The breaking was that of the spirit or of the heart; it means sorrow, trouble, such as brings men to a state of helplessness; it does not mean destruction. The line may be thus rendered, —
And doubly with depression depress them.
The word doubly, means what is extreme. — Ed.
There is a peculiarity in the phraseology of the original as to the relative “which,” after “the gate of the city;” literally it is, “which they enter through it the kings of Judah, and which they go out through it.” In Welsh there is exactly the same form of expression, — Yr hwn yr a trwyddo frenhinoedd Iwda, etc. Had this been the Welsh version, it would have been literally the Hebrew, and more consonant than the present version with the idiom of the language. — Ed.
“Guard ye your souls” is the version of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and the Targum; but that of the Syriac is, “Take heed to yourselves;” which is no doubt the meaning, as the word soul, נפש, is often used for one’s self. — Ed.
Our version, “they obeyed not,” is the Targum. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have the same rendering with that of Calvin. The verb is שמע which is to hear, to hearken, to listen. The charge of not hearing God’s word, was often brought by the prophets against the Jews. They would not hear or attend to what was said to them, not that they did not obey it. This is the case still with all who are perverted by superstition and tradition; they will not hear the word of God, and its authority is wholly disregarded. Anything about tradition and the Church will be attended to; but God’s word is neglected; they will not hear it. — Ed
The verse may be thus rendered, —
And they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear; But hardened their neck, So as not to hear, and not to receive correction.
They were reproved and warned; but they refused to be corrected. — Ed.
It is more consistent with the rest of the passage to regard this word as meaning “sacrifice of praise,” or thanksgiving, or confession. There were sacrifices of this kind especially prescribed; see Le 7:12-15, and the word is often taken in this sense, without the word “sacrifice” being connected with it. Offerings according to the Law are the things which are here mentioned: and the same verb “bring,” precedes תודה as in the previous instances, when “burnt-offering, sacrifice,” etc., are named.
The Septuagint, as in many other instances, give only a verbal translation, “praise;” “oblation,” is the Vulgate; “thanksgiving,” the Syriac; and “sacrifice of confession,” the Targum.
All the words are singular in Hebrew — burnt-offering — sacrifice — oblation, (or meat-offering) — incense — thanksgiving. It would be well to retain the singular in a version. — Ed.