Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 18: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
1. Sermo qui fait ad Jeremiam a Jehova, dicendo,
2. Arise, and go down to the potter’s house; and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
2. Surge, et descende in domum figuli, et faciam audire 191 te verba mea.
3. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
3. Et descendi in domum figuli, et ecce ipse faciens opus super lapide (super typo; alii vertunt, super rotam:)
4. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it
4. Et corruptum fuit vas, quod ipse faciebat ex luto (lutum, ad verbum) in manu figuli; et reversus est, et fecit vas aliud sicut rectum fuit in oculis figuli ut faceret:
5. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
5. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad me, dicendo,
6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
6. Annon sicut figulus hic potero vobis facere, domus Israel? dicit Jehova: ecce sicut lutum in manu figuli, ita vos in manu mea, domus Israel.
The sum of what is here taught is, that as the Jews gloried in God’s singular favor, which yet had been conferred on them for a different purpose, even that they might be his sacred heritage, it was necessary to take from them a confidence of this kind; for they at the same time heedlessly despised God and the whole of his law. We indeed know that in God’s covenant there was a mutual stipulation — that the race of Abraham were faithfully to serve God, as God was prepared to perform whatever he had promised; for it was the perpetual law of the covenant,
“Walk before me and be perfect,”
which was once for all imposed on Abraham, and extended to all his posterity. (Ge 17:1.) As then the Jews thought that God was by an inviolable compact bound to them, while they yet proudly rejected all his prophets, and polluted, and even as far as they could, abolished, his true favorship, it was necessary to deprive them of that foolish boasting by which they deluded themselves. Hence the Prophet was commanded to go down to the potter’s house, that he might relate to the people what he saw there, even that the potter, according to his own will and pleasure, made and re-made vessels.
It seems indeed at the first view a homely mode of speaking; but if we examine ourselves we shall all find, that pride, which is innate in us, cannot be corrected except the Lord draws us as it were by force to see clearly what it is, and except he shews us plainly what we are. The Prophet might have attended to God speaking to him at his own house, but he was commanded to go down to the house of the potter — not indeed for his own sake, for he was willing to be taught — but that he might teach the people, by adding this sign as a confirmation to his doctrine.
He then relates what had been enjoined him, that he descended into the potter’s house; and then he relates what he saw there — that when the potter formed a vessel it was marred, and that he then made another vessel from the same clay, and, as it seems, one of a different form; for there is a peculiar emphasis in these words, as it seemed right in his eyes. The application is afterwards added — cannot I, as the potter, change you, O house of Israel? Doubtless, ye are in my hand as the clay in the hand of the potter; that is, I have no less power over you than the potter over his work and his earthen vessels. 192
We now see what this doctrine contains — that men are very foolish when they are proud of their present prosperous condition, and think that they are as it were fixed in a state of safety; for in a single moment God can cast down those whom he has raised up, and also raise up on high those whom he has before brought down to the ground. This is even well known by heathens, for moderation is commended by them, which they describe thus — “That no one ought to be inflated in prosperity, nor succumb in adversity.” But no one is really influenced by this thought, except he who acknowledges that we are ruled by the hand of God: for they who dream that fortune rules in the world set up their own wisdom, their own wealth, and their own strongholds. It must then necessarily be, that they always delude themselves with some vain hope or another. Until then men are brought to know that they are so subject to God’s power that their condition can in a single moment be changed, according to his will, they will never be humble as they ought to be. This doctrine therefore was entitled to special notice, especially when we consider how foolishly the Jews had abused the privilege with which God had favored Abraham and all his posterity; it was therefore an admonition altogether necessary. Besides, if we come to ourselves, we shall find that it requires a great effort to learn to humble ourselves, as Peter reminds us, under the mighty hand of God. (1Pe 5:6.)
With regard to the words we must observe that האבנים eabenim, is a word in the dual number. The Prophet no doubt meant the moulds, des moules; for they who render it “wheel” seem not to understand the subject. 193 The Prophet evidently refers to the moulds, made either of stone, or of wood, or of white clay; and this the number sufficiently proves. He then saw the potter with his moulds, avec ses moules, so that when he had formed one vessel it was marred; then he took the same clay and formed another vessel, and that according to his own will. I have already stated why it was necessary for the Prophet to go down to the potter’s house: he did so that he might afterwards lead the Jews to see their own case in a more vivid manner; for we know what a powerful effect a representation of this kind produces, when a scene like this is set before our eyes. Naked doctrine would have been frigid to slothful and careless men; but when a symbol was added, it had much greater effect. This then was the reason why God ordered the Prophet to see what the potter was doing.
Now, in the application, we must notice how things correspond: As the clay is at the will and under the power of the potter, so men are at the will of God: God then is compared to the potter. There is indeed no comparison between things which are equal, but the Prophet argues from the less to the greater. Then God, with respect to men, is said to be the potter, for we are the clay before him. We must also notice the variety in what was formed: from the same clay one vessel is made, then another different from the first. These three things that are compared ought to be specially observed. It is then said, cannot I, as the potter, do with you, O house of Israel? God includes here two of these comparisons, he compares himself to the potter, and he compares the people to clay. We know that God has much greater power over men than a mortal man over the clay; for however he may form it into vessels he is yet not the creator of the clay. Then much greater authority has God over men than the potter over the clay. But the comparison, as I have said, is of the greater with the less, as though he had said, “The potter can form the clay at his will; am I inferior to him? or, is not my power at least, equal to the power of the artificer, who is a mortal and of an abject condition?” Then he adds, with you, or to you, O house of Israel? as though he had said, “Trust ye in your own excellency as you please, yet ye are not better than the clay, when ye consider what I am and what I can do to you.”
We have now seen two of the comparisons; the third follows--that God can turn us here and there, and change us at his will. Then how foolishly do men trust in their present good fortune; for in a single moment their condition can be altered, as there is nothing certain on the earth.
But we must bear in mind what I have already stated — that vain was the confidence by which the Jews deluded themselves; for they thought that God was bound to them, and so they promised themselves a state of perpetuity, and, as though they could with impunity despise the whole law, they ever boasted that the covenant, by which God had adopted the seed of Abraham, was hereditary. Now the Prophet shews that the covenant was in such a way hereditary, that yet the Jews ought to have regarded it as it were an adventitious benefit, as though he had said, “What God gave you he can take away at any time; there is then nothing certain to you, except so far as God will be propitious to you.” In short, he reminds them that the whole of their safety depended on God’s gratuitous layout, as though he had said, “Ye have nothing as your own, but what God has conferred on you is at his will and pleasure; he can to-day take away even what he had yesterday given you. What meaneth then this foolish boasting, when ye say that ye are exempted from the common lot of men?”
The Jews might indeed have rightly disregarded all the dangers of the world, for God had gathered them under his own protection; they would indeed have been safe under his guardianship, had they observed mutual faithfulness, so as to be really his people as he had promised to be their God; but as they esteemed as nothing his whole law, and made void the covenant in which they foolishly gloried, the Prophet, as we see, did not without reason shake off that confidence by which they deceived themselves.
We may hence gather a useful doctrine: With regard to the whole race of man there is nothing certain or permanent in this life; for God can change our condition at any time, so as to cast down the rich and the eminent from their elevation, and also to raise up the most despised of men, according to what is said in Ps 113:7. And we know this to be true, not only as to individuals, but also as to nations and kingdoms. Many kings have so increased their power as to think themselves beyond the reach of harm; and yet we have seen that God laid them prostrate as by a sudden whirlwind: so also it has happened to powerful nations. With regard then to the condition of mankind, God shews here as in a mirror, or by a vivid spectacle, that sudden changes are often in the world: which ought to awaken us from our torpor, so that no one of us may dare to promise himself another day, or even another hour, or another moment. This is one thing; but this doctrine has a peculiar application to us; for as God has by a peculiar favor separated us from the rest of the world, so he would have us to depend wholly on his mere good will. Faith indeed ought to be tranquil, nay, it ought to disregard whatever may bring on us any terror or anxiety; but faith, where has it its seat? In heaven. Then courage is required in all the children of God, so that they may with a quiet mind disregard all the changes of the world. But we must see that the tranquillity of faith be well founded, that is, in humility. For as we cast our anchor in heaven, so also, with regard to ourselves, we ought always to he low and be humble. Whosoever then flies in vain confidence boasts in vain of faith, and falsely pretends that he trusts in God. Let it then ever come to our minds, and constantly recur to us, that our condition is not through ourselves safe and secure, but through the gratuitous goodness of God. We now see the application of this doctrine. The Prophet proceeds, —
7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
7. Subito loquar contra gentem et contra regnum, ad evellendum et eradicandum (alii vertunt, ad frangendum, vel, conterendum) et ad perdendum.
8. If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
8. Et conversa fuit gens illa a malo suo (hoc est, a malitia sua,) de qua (vel, pro qua) locutus sum adversus illam; et (potius, tunc; copula valet hic adverbium temporis) poenitebit me super malo, quod cogitaveram ut facerem ei.
9. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build, and to plant it;
9. Et repente loquar super gentem et super regnum, ad aedificandum et ad plantandum;
10. If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
10. Quod si fecerit malum coram oculis meis, ut non audiat vocem meam, tunc poenitebit me super bono, quod locutus fueram ut benefacerem ei.
This is a fuller application of the Prophet’s doctrine; for he had said generally before, that the people were in God’s hand as the clay is in the hand of the potter; but he adds here what is more popular or comprehensive, — that all men are in the hand of God, so that he now favors one nation with his blessing, and then deprives them of it, and that he raises up those whom he had previously brought low.
I have said that this part of the doctrine is more popular or comprehensive, for he refers to repentance. When Paul adduced this similitude, — that we are in the power of God as the clay is in the hand of the potter, he spoke not in so popular a manner: for he did not speak of repentance, but ascended higher and said, that before the world was created, it was in God’s power to determine what he pleased respecting every individual, and that we are now formed according to his will, so that he chooses one and rejects the other. Paul then did not refer to faithfulness nor to repentance, but spoke of the hidden purpose of God, by which he has predestinated some to salvation and some to destruction. (Ro 9:21.) Isaiah also seems to have had the same thing in view; for he says only,
“Woe to them who rise up against their Maker.”
Cannot I determine, saith God, with regard to men, as the potter, who forms the clay as he pleases? We must then maintain this principle, — that men are thus formed according to God’s will, so that all must become mute;. for uselessly do the reprobate make a clamor, object and say, “Why hast thou formed us thus?” Has not the potter, says Paul, power, etc.? This is what must be said of God’s hidden predestination.
But Jeremiah here accommodates his doctrine to the people, that he might shew, that God had by a gratuitous covenant cliosen and adopted the seed of Abraham in such a way, that he could still repudiate the unworthy, even all those who despised so great a favor.
We now see the various applications of this doctrine; God determined, before the creation of the world, what he pleased respecting each individual; but his counsel is hid, and to us incomprehensible. There is here a more familiar application made, — that, God at one time takes away his blessings, and that at another he raises men as it were from death, that he might set them on high, according as he pities those who truly and from the heart turn to him, or is offended with the ingratitude of such as reject his offered favors.
Hence he says, Suddenly will I speak against a nation and against a kingdom, to pull down, to root up, or to extirpate, and to destroy. By saying suddenly, he reminds the Jews of their origin; for what was their condition when the Lord stretched out his hand to them, and brought them from that wretched bondage in which they lived? as though he had said, “Consider from whence God raised you, and then acknowledge that he raised you in a wonderful manner and beyond human expectation; for in the same day ye were of all the most miserable, and of all the most happy; one night not only brought you from death into life, but carried you from the deepest abyss above all earthly happiness, as though ye rode on the clouds.” God then suddenly spoke. 194
But he refers also to punishment; God speaks of a nation and of a kingdom, to do it good; and he speaks again, in order to pull down, to destroy a nation and a kingdom. How then comes it, that they who seem for a time to flourish and to be most happy, suddenly perish? Because God punishes men for their ingratitude. And how comes it, that they, who were trodden under foot by all, suddenly rise? Because the Lord pities them.
But the Prophet speaks first of punishment; Suddenly, he says, will I speak of a nation and of a kingdom, to pull down, to extirpate and to destroy; that is, even they who seem far from all danger shall find that they are exposed to my judgment. But if a nation, he says, turns from its wickedness, against whom I have spoken, then I will repent of the evil, etc. The Prophet no doubt intended to shut up the mouths of the Jews, who, as we have before seen, continually contended with God; for he could not convince them that the punishments were just which God inflicted on them for their sins. As then they were thus perverse in their wickedness, and hypocrisy also had hardened them the more, the Prophet says here in God’s name, “When I speak against a nation and threaten final ruin, if it repents, I shall be immediately reconciled to it; there is therefore no ground for the Jews to expostulate with me, as though I dealt with them too severely; for they shall find me reconcilable if they repent from the heart.” It follows then, that their obstinacy was the cause why God proceeded in his judgments, for the repentance of God means no other thing than what Scripture says elsewhere, that he is merciful, slow to wrath, and ready to forgive. (Nu 14:18; Ps 103:8.) He then here testifies, that nothing hindered the Jews from being in a better state but their own perverseness.
On the other hand, he affirms, that the lost are restored, when the Lord speaks suddenly, of a nation and of a kingdom, to build and to plant; as though it was said, — “I will not only forgive, but I am ready to bestow blessings on those whom I had previously rejected as mine enemies.” Then God amplifies his goodness when he says, that he will not only forgive the sins of men, so as freely to pardon them, but that he is ready to bestow on them all kinds of blessings, if they seek to be reconciled to him.
Now follows the opposite clause, But if it will do evil before mine eyes, so as not to hear my voice; that is, when a nation has been planted through my kindness, (for this is required by the context,) then I will repent, etc. By this denunciation is meant, that God would tread in the dust those whom he had favored with singular benefits, on account of the abuse made of them; although he had said, “When I promise bountifully and freely to a nation or a kingdom everything that can be wished, except my favor and goodness be rightly received, then I repent of the good done to it.” The meaning is, that the way of pardon is always open, when a sinner turns to God, and that it is in vain for men to boast of God’s promises, except, they in fear and obedience submit themselves to him.
Both these things were necessary; that is, that the Jews should know that God would be entreated if they repented, and that his promises could not be extended to those who were guilty of such gross abuse as a total disregard of his law and his prophets. Then the Prophet mentions here the ordinary course, — that as soon as men repented, they might safely and fully expect good things from God, for he is inclined to mercy; and then, that no nation, however it may excel in gifts, ought to indulge a foolish confidence and to use its present glory as means to despise its giver, for God can take away what he has given. The real import of the whole then is, that we cannot expect to enjoy the benefits which God bestows on us, except we persevere in faithfulness and in the fear of him. It is indeed cmtain that God’s blessings do not depend on worthiness in man; but still he will not have his bounty to be despised, as was the case with the Jews, and at this day it is a common thing in the world. It now follows,--
11. Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.
11. Et nunc (agedum) dic ad virum Jehudah (hoc est, ad unumquemque,) et incolas Jerusalem, dicendo (alloquere omnes Judaeos et incolas Jerusalem,)sic dicit Jehova, Ecce ego fingo super vos malum, et cogito super vos eogitationem; revertimini igitur quisque a via sua mala, et rectas facite vias vestras et studia vestra.
12. And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
12. Et dixerunt, Actum est; quia post cogitationes nostras ambulabimus, et quisque pravitatem cordis sui mali faciemus.
The Prophet is now bidden to turn his discourse to the Jews, that he might apply the doctrine of repentance, to which he had referred; for a doctrine generally stated, as it is well known, is less efflcient. He then contends here, as it were, in full force with his own nation: Say then to the Jews and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who indeed ought to have shewn the way to others, but were themselves the worst of all, return ye, he says, every one from his evil way. Here God shews, that what he had before stated generally, applied peculiarly to the Jews, — that he is reconcilable when a sinner returns to him, and that they who disregard and despise his goodness cannot possibly escape unpunished.
Return ye, he says, every one from his evil way, and make right your ways; why so? For behold I frame for you an evil, and I think for you a thought; that is, “Vengeance is now prepared and is suspended over your heads, except ye turn in due time; but if ye truly and from the heart repent, I am ready to receive you.” We see how God includes the two things before referred to: He had previously said, “If I speak against a nation, and it turns from its sins, I immediately repent; but when I promise to be a father to a nation or a kingdom, I do not allow myself and my bounty to be despised, which men do when they reject what I offer.” But he now says, Behold, I think, 195 etc.; this refers to the former clause, the threatenings; and then when he adds, Return ye, he promises pardon; for as it has been said elsewhere and often, there can be no exhortation to repentance without a hope of favor, as God cannot be feared, except there be propitiation with him, according to what is said in Ps 130:4
God then shews in this verse, that he was ready to receive the Jews if they repented; but that if they continued perverse as they were wont to be, he would not suffer them to go unpunished, for he thought of evil for them. But this thought included the effect, the execution, as he was the potter, in whose hand and power they were.
Then the Prophet adds what shews how hopeless was the impiety of the people, for all his labor was in vain. It was indeed a monstrous stupidity, when they could not be terrified by God’s threatenings not allured by his kind promises. But the Prophet meant also to shew, that God tried all means to restore the people from ruin to life and salvation, but that all means were tried in vain, owing to the irreclaimable character of the people. I cannot finish the subject to-day; I must therefore defer it till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that since we stand or fall at thy will, we may be conscious of our weakness and frailty, and constantly remember that not only our life is a shadow, but that we are wholly nothing, and thus learn to trust in thee alone, and to depend on thee alone and on thy good pleasure; and as it is thine to begin and to complete whatever belongs to our salvation, may we in real fear and trembling submit ourselves to thee, and proceed in the course of our calling, ever calling on thee, and casting all our cares into thy bosom, until being at length freed from all dangers, we shall be gathered into that eternal and blessed rest which has been obtained for us by’ the blood of thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
The Prophet, having related that he had denounced on the Jews the vengeance of God, adds now, how proudly they despised his threatenings. And their sin was on this account enhanced, because a hope of pardon remained for them, provided they returned to God. But the Prophet says, that they expressly refused to do so. They said, נואש nuash, which we render, “It is all over,” though interpreters in general render it, “It is past hope.” We have spoken of this word in chapter second, and the Prophet now repeats the same thing, — that the Jews were obstinately given to superstitions, and also to perverted counsels, thinking that they could well provide for their own safety and drive away all dangers by connecting themselves, at one time with the Assyrians, and at another with the Egyptians. But as the verb יאש iash, may be taken as signifying, to be weary, as we learn from the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes; it may perhaps be not unsuitably rendered here, “We are become weary;” that is, we are unwilling to consume so much labor in vain; for the ungodly took this as a reason for their obstinacy, that they had labored long and much in something or another; and pride hardened them, and they said, “Have we not hitherto labored in vain?” Now this meaning, “We have become wearied,” Does not appear in-suitable, by which they implied, “Thou oughtest to have called us back at the beginning; but now we have nearly finished the whole journey and are not far distant from the goal; it cannot then be that we shall return to the starting place, for it would be absurd for us to spend so much labor in vain and to no purpose.” Nor is this meaning disapproved of by those who regard the word as a noun, “It is weariness,” that is, “It is now too late to reprove us, for we have now followed this way for many years.” 196
With regard to the main subject, there is but little difference. But the meaning would be clearer were we thus to paraphrase it, “Labor more than enough has been already spent; thou comest then not in due time.”
Isaiah in Isa 57:10, seems to have reproved the Jews for what was praiseworthy, if this declaration of Jeremiah be right; for he spoke thus,
“For ye have wearied yourselves in your ways,”
and no one has said נואש, nuash; and Jeremiah reproves them here for having said נואש, nuash. These two places theft seem inconsistent. But when Isaiah spoke thus, he reproved the insensibility of the Jews, for even experience, which is said to be the teacher of fools, had not made them weary; for when they had so often found by their own calamities that they had been at one time deceived by the Assyrians, and at another by the Egyptians, it was an instance of palpable madness not to learn at length by long experience, and to confess, “We have surely labored in vain.” We thus see in what sense Isaiah blamed them for not saying, “It is weariness;” that is, because they did not consider that their labor had been in vain. But our Prophet here has another thing in view, — that the Jews were unwilling to lose their toil, but went on in their course obstinately, for they had hardened themselves so as to persist in their corrupt habit of sinning.
It follows, For after our thoughts we shall go, and every one will do the wickedness of his evil heart? 197 Doubtless they did not thus speak openly, for they did not avowedly boast that they were ungodly and despisers of God: but the Prophet did not regard what they said, but what their conduct proved, for the Jews were wont to set up their own devices and the fallacies of Satan against the word of God. No wonder then that the Prophet charges them with these impious and sacrilegious words, that they resolved to follow their own thoughts, and the wickedness of their own hearts, rather than to submit to God and to obey his word.
We hence see that hypocrites gain nothing by obtruding their vain mummeries, for God cannot be dealt with sophistically or cunningly. Condemnation then awaits all the ungodly, however they may by disguises cover their wickedness; for whatever is contrary to sound doctrine, is a sinful device, a fallacy of Satan, and, in a word, the impiety of a corrupt heart. Whosoever indeed turns aside from the plain teaching of the prophets, and from the teaching of the law, follow their own thoughts, or the figments of their own hearts. It hence follows that they try evasions in vain, for when they reject pure doctrine they set up their own inventions. In the same sense we are to take the words “his own evil heart,” לבו הרע labu ero; they never confessed that, their heart was evil or wicked, and yet the Prophet charged them with having uttered the words here stated, for he considered, as I have said, what their conduct proved, and not the evasions by which hypocrites usually attempt to deceive God. It now follows —
13. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing.
13. Propterea sic dicit Jehova, Interrogate agedum inter gentes, quis audierit secundum hoc (quis unquam audierit aliquid simile?) foeditatem (vel, portentum) patravit valde virgo Israel.
God shews here that the Jews were become wholly irreclaimable, for they arrived at the highest pitch of impiety, when they were so daring as to reject the salvation offered to them; for what had the Prophet in view but, to extricate them from ruin? God himself by his Prophet wished to secure their safety. How great then was their ingratitude to reject God’s paternal care, and not to give ear to the Prophet who was to be a minister of salvation to them? Now as they were extremely deaf and stupid: God turns to the Gentiles.
Enquire, or ask, he says, among the Gentiles, Has any one heard such a thing? as though he had said, “I will no more contend with those brute animals, for there is no reason in them; but the Gentiles, destitute of the light of knowledge, can be made witnesses of so gross an impiety.” And he says the same thing in Jer 2:10,
“Go, pass through the isles and survey the whole world, has any nation forsaken its own gods, and yet they are no gods?”
As though he had said, “Religion so much prevails among wretched idolaters, that they continue steadfast in their superstitions; as they consider it a dreadful thing to change their god, they therefore shun it as a monstrous thing. Hence it is, that they are devoted to their superstitions, for the god whom they have once received, they think it the highest impiety to forsake, while yet they are no gods; but my people have forsaken me, who am the fountain of living water.” Jeremiah repeats now the same thing in other words, that such an example could not be found among heathens.
He then adds, A base thing has the virgin of Israel done. Some indeed render שעררת, shorret, “a monstrous thing,” and it may be thus taken metaphorically, for the verb שער shor, means to count, to think; and this meaning may be adopted here; but as in many places it signifies baseness, I will not depart from that common meaning. 198 He says then, that it was an extremely base thing for the people to forsake him. He does not call the people the virgin of Israel by way of honor, but to augment their reproach. For God, as we have before seen, had espoused the people to himself; and so it was their duty to observe conjugal fidelity, as a virgin espoused by a husband, who ought not to regard any other, for she is not to look for any other after she has pledged her faith. But the people of Israel, who ought to have been as it were the bride of God, sinned most basely, yea, most disgracefully and infamously, when they prostituted themselves to wicked counsels as well as to superstitions. He now adds comparisons, by whichlte more fully exposes their wickedness, —
14. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?
14. Ar relinquet e rupe agri nivem Libani? an relinquentur aquae alienae et frigidae fluentes?
15. Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burnt incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up;
15. Quia oblitus est mei populus meus, frustra suffitum faciunt (vel, adolent,) dum corruere eos fecerunt (copula enim explicitive accipitur, vel causaliter) in viis suis (vel, ipsorum,) semitis saeculi, ut ambularent per semitas viam non calcatam (quamquam כשל significat etiam impingere, vel, offendere, ideo verti posset, et eos impingere fecerunt in viis suis.)
As I have just said, God here enhances the sin of the people by a twofold comparison; for when one can draw water in his own field, and find there a spring, what folly will it be for him to run to a distance to seek water? And then, when water does not spring up near, but flows from a distance in a pure and cold stream, who will not be satisfied with such water? and if he seeks to find the spring, will not all laugh at such madness? Now God was like a living fountain, and at Jerusalem was the spring where the Jews might drink to their full; and God’s blessings flowed also to them as it were through various channels, so that nothing was wanting to them. We then see that here is condemned a twofold madness in the people, that they despised God’s kindness which was near at hand, as though one close to Mount Libanus refused its cold waters, or as though one would not draw water from a river without going to the spring-head. Since then God offered himself to them in every way, and presented his bounty to them, it was a madness extremely base and inexcusable to reject flowing waters and the fountain itself.
We now perceive the meaning of this passage. It is doubtless natural for all to be satisfied with present blessings, especially when nothing better can anywhere else be found. When one has a fountain in his own field, why should he go elsewhere to drink? This would be monstrous. Dost thou want water? God supplies thee with it; take it from thine own fountain. If one objects and says, “That fountain I dislike; I wish to know whether better waters can be found at a distance.” This we see is a proof of brutal stupidity; for if the water which flows he cold and pure, and he dislikes it, because he wishes to go to the spring, he shews his own folly, whoever he may be. If, for instance, any one at this day would not drink the waters of the Rhone, which flows by here, and would not taste of the springs, but would run to the fountain and spring-head of the Rhone, would he not deserve to perish through thirst? God then shews that the Jews were so void of all sense and reason, that they ought to have been deemed detestable by all; and therefore in the application, when he says, My people have forgotten me, both clauses ought to be repeated. This indeed by itself would have been obscure, or at least not sufficiently explicit; but God here in substance repeats what he had said before, that he is the fountain of living water which was offered to the Jews; and also that his bounty flowed through various channels like living and cold waters. As then the people forgat God they were doubly ungrateful, for they refused to drink of the fountain itself, and disdained the cold and flowing waters, which were not hot to occasion a nausea; they were also pure and liquid, having no impure mixture in them. 199
He again calls them his people, but for the sake of reproaching them; for the less excusable was their perverseness, when God in an especial manner offered himself to them, and they refused his offered bounty. Had this been done by heathens it would have been no small sin, though God had not favored them with any remarkable privilege, but when the Jews had been chosen in preference to all others, it was as it were a monstrous thing that they forgot God, even him whom they had known. He was unknown to heathens, but he had made himself known to the Jews; hence this forgetfulness, with which the Prophet charged them, could not have proceeded from ignorance, but from determined perverseness.
He afterwards adds, In vain 200 they burn incense to me, since to stumble, etc., (the copulative is to be rendered as a causal particle.) When he says, in vain they burn incense, it is to anticipate an objection. For we know that the Jews trusted in their ceremonial rites, so when they were reproved by the Prophets they had ever ready this answer, “We are the worshippers of God, for we constantly go up to the Temple, and he has promised that the incense which we offer shall be to him a sweet odor.” He at the same time includes under this word all the sacrifices, for it is said generally of them all, “A sweet odor shall ascend before the Lord.” Then by mentioning one thing he denotes all that external worship in which the Jews were sufficiently assiduous. But as the whole was nothing but hypocrisy, when the integrity of the heart was absent, the Prophet here dissipates this vain objection, and says, “In vain do they set forth their ceremonial rites, that they attend very regularly to their sacrifices, and that they do not neglect anything in the external worship of God: it is all in vain,” he says.
This truth is often referred to by the Prophets, and ought to be well known by the godly; yet we see how difficult it is to bring the world to believe it. Hypocrisy ever prevails, and men think that they perform all that is required of them when some kind of religion appears among them. But God, as we have before seen, has regard to the heart itself or integrity; yet this is what the world cannot comprehend. Therefore the Prophets do not without reason so often inculcate the truth, that inward piety, connected with integrity of heart, alone pleases God.
He afterwards mentions the cause — that they made them to stumble in their ways He means here no doubt the false teachers, who allured the people from the true and simple worship of God, and corrupted wholesome doctrine by their many fictions. And it is a common thing in Hebrew to leave a word, as we have said elsewhere, to be understood: they then made them to stumble, or to fall. The meaning is, that the sacrifices of the people could not be approved by God, because the whole of religion was corrupted. And the crime the Prophet names was, that the people were drawn aside from the right way, that is, from the law, which is alone the rule of piety and uprightness.
But we hence learn how frivolous is the excuse of those who say, that they follow what they have learnt from the fathers, and what has been delivered to them from the ancients, and received by universal consent; for God here declares, that the destruction of the people would follow, because they suffered themselves to be deceived by false prophets.
As to the words in their ways, or in their own ways, interpreters differ, and many apply the pronoun הם, em, to the false Prophets; but I prefer the other view, that they made them to stumble in their right ways, for by errors they led them away from the right course. When therefore he says, in their ways, the words are to be taken in a good sense; for God had pointed out the right way to the people. He then calls the doctrine of the law the ways to which the people had been accustomed. Then follows the expression, the paths of ages, which is to be taken in the same sense. But we must notice the contrast between those paths, and the way not trodden 201
This brevity may be deemed obscure; I will therefore give a more explicit explanation. The Prophet calls those the ways of the people in which they had been fully taught; and this took away every color of defense; for the people could not object and say that they had been deceived, as though they had not known what was right; for they had not only been taught, but had also been led as it were by the hand, so that the way of the law ought to have been well known by them. Then he adds, the paths of ages; for as the law had not been introduced a short time before, but for many ages, this antiquity ought to have strengthened their faith in God’s law. We now see how these two things bear on what is said, that the Jews, being deceived by false teachers, fell or stumbled in those ways to which they had been accustomed; and then in the paths of ages, that is, in the doctrine long before received, and whose authority had been for many ages established. On the other hand, he says that the Jews had been drawn to paths and to a way not trodden, that is, had been led from the right way into error. And he farther aggravates their sin by saying, that they preferred to go astray rather than to keep the way which had been trodden by their fathers.
But it may be here asked, whether this change in itself ought to be condemned, since we despise antiquity, or rather regard what is right? To this the easy reply is, that the Prophet speaks here in the name of God’ therefore this principle ought to be maintained, that there is no right way but what God himself has pointed out. Had any one else come and boasted antiquity, the Prophet would have laughed to scorn such boasting, and why? for what antiquity can be in men who vanish away? and when we count many ages, there is nothing constant and sure among men. It ought then to be noticed, that God. was the author of that way which the Prophet complains had been forsaken by the people, how the things which follow harmonize together, that the people had strayed from the way which they had long kept; for the Jews, as it has been said, had not followed any men, but God himself, who had been pleased to stretch forth his hand to them and to shew them the sure way of salvation; and we must also observe what sort of people were the fathers, even such as had followed God, and when they had such examples, they ought to have been more and more stimulated to imitate them.
It was therefore an inexcusable wickedness to forsake a way found good by long experience, the way of ages, which had been approved for a long time, and to depart into paths not trodden, for by no example, of the saints who were alone the true fathers, had they been led to devise for themselves new and fictitious modes of worship, and also to depart from the plain doctrine of the law. Had any one answered, that these ways had been long trodden, because they had both the Assyrians and the Egyptians as associates in their superstitions, such an exception could not be admitted, for the Prophet, as I have said, does not speak indiscriminately of any kind of examples, but of the examples of the fathers, who had been ruled and led by the Lord. It follows —
16. To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; terrain every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.
16. Ad ponendum terram eorum in vastitatem, (hoc est, ut ponam terram eorum in vastitatem.) in sibila perpetua; quisquis transibit per eam obstupescet et movebit caput.
The Prophet again denounces the punishment which they deserved, that desolation awaited the land. It would be, he says, their reward to have the land reduced to a solitude, and also to perpetual hissings. The word עולם oulam, which the Prophet had just used, is here also used, but in a different sense, for when he said, the paths of ages, he referred to past time, but now to a future time. As then the Jews had alienated themselves from the ways of ages, that is, from the eternal verity of God, so now he says, that their land would be for the hissings of ages, for the dreadful calamity now at hand would not be for a few years but to the end of the world.
And in the second clause he expresses more clearly what he meant by eternal hissings, that every one passing through it would be astonished and move or shake his head, 202 as one does either in amazement, or in contempt, or in abhorrence; this kind of speaking often occurs in the Prophets. The land of Canaan, after having been given to the Jews, became as it were an extraordinary country, in which all kinds of opulence appeared, for God poured upon it the invaluable treasures of his bounty, so that the very sight of it filled all with admiration; on the other hand, it became the scene of horror and an object of hissing when God cursed it. A confirmation then follows —
17. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
17. In vento orientali, (vel, per ventum orientalem; quidam legunt כ loco ב, et dicunt, tanquam ventus orientalis; sed quod ad mentem Prophetoe spectat nulla est ambiguitas, per ventum ergo orientalem,) dispergam eos coram facie inimici; cervicem, non faciem ostendam ipsis (videre ipsos faciam) in die calamitatis ipsorum, (vel, interitus, ut alii vertunt.)
Though no word of comparison is expressed, if we read ב, beth, and not כ, caph, yet the Prophet employs a comparison, for God did not drive away the Jews by an eastern wind, but as the force of that wind is violent in Judea, the eastern wind often means a storm or a whirlwind, as though he had said, “As by a whirlwind or a storm will I cast them out.” 203 I will disperse or dissipate them, he says, before the face of the enemy. He means that enemies would come to exterminate the Jews from the land; and he adds another thing, that these enemies would be full of terror, for God would give them the force of a whirlwind or a storm to disperse and scatter the Jews, for being terrified by God they would not dare to withstand.
Then follows a commination, that God would turn to them the neck, or the back, and not the face in the day of calamity. It sometimes happens that we are severely chastised by God, he thus often tries his faithful people when he subjects them to the will of the ungodly; but yet all remedy is not taken away from them, as they find consolation in God’s mercy, for as he casts down so he raises up, as he puts to death so he gives life, according to what is said in 1Sa 2:6. But God here denounces a punishment without any prospect of pardon or alleviation, I will scatter them, he says, as by an east wind before their enemies. Then he adds, “In vain shall they flee to me and seek my mercy, though otherwise it is offered to all, yet then they shall implore it in vain, for it is decreed not to pardon them. I will shew to them my back, (or neck, for ערף, oreph, is the hinder part of the head, but here it means the back,) they shall then find that I am turned away from them, so that they shall not be set before my eyes.” For it is an invaluable consolation when God is pleased to look on our miseries, but he deprives the Jews of this hope, for he would turn to them his back in the day of slaughter. I cannot proceed farther now.
Grant, Almighty God, that we may in due time anticipate thy wrath, and never so kindle it by our perverseness as to preclude every remedy; and then also when thou for a time chastisest us, do not wholly cast us away, but let this resort ever remain to us, to seek thee in the day of calamity and to find thee accessible, so that being reunited to thee we may find that thou rememberest mercy even in wrath, until we shall enjoy a full and real participation of thy favor and paternal love in thy celestial kingdom, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
18. Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.
18. Et dixerunt, Venite, et cogitemus contra Jeremiam cogitationes, quia non peribit Lex a sacerdote, et consilium a sapiente, et sermo a Propheta: venite, et percutiamus eum lingua, neque attendamus ad cunctos sermones, ejus.
Here Jeremiah relates how great was the fury which seized the minds of those on whom he had denounced the vengeance of God. It was no doubt a dreadthl thing to hear, that when they should be in a state of despair, no aid from God could be expected: for this is the import of what we have observed, — “In the day of their calamity I will shew them my back and not my face;” that is, “They shall see my back and not my face.” As then there was no hope of pardon remaining for them, was it not a monstrous stupidity not to be moved and humbled, when they saw that God was thus angry with them? But the Prophet shews, that his denunciation was heedlessly despised by them; nay, that there was such obstinacy in their wickedness, that they then more stoutly prepared themselves for battle. For he says that they avowedly conspired against him, after he had warned them of God’s dreadful judgment.
And he introduces them as encouraging one another, Come, and let us think thoughts against Jeremiah. We may observe what it was that they set up against God’s judgment, even their own counsels and purposes: this was in a word to transfer authority from God to themselves. They thus deprived God of his right, and sought to occupy his throne, as though they were the judges and could subject to their own will whatever the Prophet had declared. It is indeed probable, that they did not avowedly or designedly carry on war with God; for hypocrites raise up for themselves mists and clouds, by which they wilfully bring darkness on themselves. In the meantime a diabolical fury possesses them, so that they make no account of God; for were they really to consider the truth brought to them, they might easily understand it. Whence then is this violent fury and madness, that when they seek to contend with man, they really fight with God? Even because their impiety and pride, as I have said, so blinds them, that they hesitate not to rob God of his honor, and thus they put themselves in his place.
The same thing is to be seen now under the whole Papacy: for when they conspire among themselves to oppose plain truths, they do not ask at the mouth of God, nor regard anything taught in the Scriptures, but are satisfied with trumpeting forth their rotten decrees, or rather dreams, in which there is nothing, however futile, which they do not regard as an oracle: and when they bring forth their bulls, they think themselves sufficiently fortified, as though God were deprived of his own right. But this will appear more fully from the context.
They said, For perish shall not the law from the priest 204 This reason, which they added, shews whence that security arose, through which they hesitated not to reject the words of the Prophet: there were priests and prophets who occupied a place in the Church, and who boasted of their titles, though they were nothing but mere masks, having no care to possess what their calling required. Thus the vizarded priests were satisfied with an honorable vocation, and cared nothing for the account that was to be rendered to God: and thus in all ages hypocrites have abused the gifts of God. This is seen most clearly under the Papacy. For doubtless when all things are well examined, we find that the Pope and all his party mainly rely on these weapons; for when they are a hundred times conquered by proofs from Scripture, they still strenuously defend themselves with this one shield, — That the Church cannot err, that the Church is represented by the Pope, the bishops, and the whole clergy, and also that those whom they call prelates are successors of the Apostles: and so they boastingly thunder out a continual succession from Peter. They at length conclude, that the Church of Rome is the mother of all the faithful, and also that the Holy Spirit dwells there; for whosoever succeeds in the place of Peter and occupies his chair, is endued with the same spirit and the same authority. We hence see, that the Papists at this day contend with us with no other weapons than those with which all the ungodly reprobates assailed Jeremiah.
They said first, that it would be enough if they had their own thoughts, that is, if they resolved among themselves what was necessary to be done; for under the word thoughts, they included decrees as well as deliberations; as though they had said, — “We possess an ordinary jurisdiction; for God has set us over his Church: whatever then proceeds from us, ought to be deemed inviolable. The reason is, because the law cannot perish from the priest, and counsel cannot perish from the wise, nor the word from the Prophets.” These three things were very speciously brought against Jeremiah; nor could it have been denied, but that there were legitimate priests as to their vocation, that there was also a church, and that the elders, who were connected with the priests, justly boasted of their dignity; and lastly, that the people ever had their prophets. We hence see that they could have alleged very specious offenses against God’s Prophet, by which they might have easily deceived the simple. If a cornparison be made, doubtless the whole Papal system, cannot justly have any such pretensions; but they are far inferior to those of the Jews. For when they say that they represent the Church, that is disputed; and they are at length constrained to come to this point — to define what the Church is: and when it is settled what the Church is, we are then to inquire whether the bishops or prelates are legitimate. Now their calling is not founded on the word of God; for they are all schismatics; and this appears from their own canons, as there is among them, at this day, no canonical election. It then follows that their calling, of which they are so foolishly and arrogantly proud, comes to nothing. But let us allow them to be lawful ministers, and their calling to be approved according to God’s word, it does not yet hence follow that they are true ministers of God, that is, because they hold an ordinary station and jurisdiction in the Church. For we find that in all ages the Church of God has been subject to the evil of having wolves occupying the place of pastors, of having impious and perfidious men daring to oppose God in his own name.
As it thus happened formerly, neither the Pope nor all his masked bishops can shew any difference in the present day, why we ought not to dread wolves: how so?
“There were formerly,” says the Apostle, “false prophets, so also there will be false teachers among you.” (2Pe 2:1)
He shews that at this time no less than formerly we ought to beware of false bishops, of false prophets, and of false teachers, however high their titles may be. When therefore the Papists vainly boast that the Church cannot err, they are justly objects of ridicule; for we see who those are whom they follow: as formerly the manifest enemies of God contended with Jeremiah, even so now they openly oppose God by this vain pretense only — they are priests, they are prophets, they are elders or presbyters, that is, they hold an ordinary jurisdiction. But this passage is sufficient to confute their folly; for they bring words instead of proof, and rely only on this argument — “The Church cannot err:” and what the Prophet relates further, “The law cannot perish from the priest,” means the same thing. But we find elsewhere what God threatened, even that a dreadful judgment was at hand, when the wise would become blind, when the priests and prophets would become foolish and fatuitous. (Ho 9:7; Isa 29:14.) But we may hence learn on what condition and for what purpose God everywhere honors the ministers and pastors of the Church with high eulogies: it is not certainly that they may be proud through a false pretense, but that they may faithfully execute their office.
However this may be, we see that it is a false confidence, when pastors allege that the law and the word or the truth, cannot depart from them, because they are, and are called priests.
They added, Come and let us smite him with the tongue. They again magnify their own authority, as the Papists do at this day, who, standing as it were on high, look down on us with contempt, and say, “We must not dispute with heretics, for things formerly settled, and which the Church has once decreed, must not be called in question.” For it seems very strange to them, and even unbecoming, when we ask a hearing and wish the controversies, by which the world is now disturbed, to be decided and removed, by the law, and the prophets, and the gospel. “What! are then the Church’s decrees to be reduced to nothing? The Scripture is a nose of wax; it has nothing sure or certain; it can be twisted to favor any party, and hypocrites always pervert the word of God; and therefore it follows that there is nothing certain or clear in the Scripture.” This is to smite with the tongue, as we see to have been done to Jeremiah, — “Why should we dispute with that man, who so daringly threatens us, as though he was superior to others? but he is only one of the people; what need then of long disputation; for we have authority, and it will be enough by one word to determine, that whatever he brings is to be rejected. There is then no reason why we should weary ourselves by a long contest; for our tongue, as they say, decisively settles what is right.”
We see how the ungodly dared to set forward their own decrees, by which they tried to overwhelm the prophetic word and to take away the authority of Jeremiah. Whenever then men thus elevate themselves, so as to seek to smite God’s servants with the tongue, and to suppress his word when spoken by them, we understand how to regard them, and what weight belongs to all their decrees or dceterminations. 205
But the end of this verse shews more clearly how wantonly they despised every truth; for it is a proof of hopeless contumacy when no attention is paid to the prophetic word: Let us not attend, they said; that is, “Let us not care for what he says, and let us boldly despise whatever he may speak.” The Prophet, as I have said, meant by this expression to shew, that they were so blinded by a diabolical impulse, that they hesitated not to reject whatever proceeded from God, to close their ears and designedly to neglect it, as is usual with the wholly wicked. No less contempt is now to be seen under the Papacy; for were they calmly to hear us, were they to consider with tranquil minds and meek hearts what we allege, doubtless the matter would soon be settled between us. But their only resolution is, not to hear; for they are content with this fallacious prejudice, — that as they represent the Church, it is in their power to condemn whatever we say, and that when they have condemned us, there is no need of any disputation.
But we are hence reminded, that when men are guilty of many vices, there is yet some hope of salvation remaining, provided they are not unteachable, and do not with resolute confidence reject what is proposed to them from the law, and the prophets, and the gospel. For as there are many diseases, and those grievous and dangerous, which yet may be healed, so also we ought to conclude that men are healable, as long as they bear to be taught, to be admonished and reproved; but when with closed ears they pass by every truth, when they despise all counsels, when they esteem as nothing God’s threatenings and reproofs, then their salvation is hopeless. It follows —
19. Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me.
19. Attende, Jehova, ad me, et audi vocem litigatorum meorum (hoc est, rixantium mecum.)
As the Prophet saw that his labor as to men was useless, he turned to God, as we find he had done often before. This way of speaking, no doubt, had more force than if he had continued to address the people. He might indeed have said, “Miserable men! where are you rushing headlong? what means this madness? what at last do ye think will be the end, since ye are resisting God, being obstinate against his Spirit? for ye cannot extinguish the light by your perverseness or by your effrontery.” The Prophet might have thus reproved them; but it betokens more vehemence, when he leaves men and addresses God, himself. This apostrophe then ought to be carefully noticed, for we hence gather that the madness of the Jews was reprobated, inasmuch as the Prophet did not deign to contend with them. But he notwithstanding said, “As they do not attend, attend thou, Jehovah, to me.” He saw that he was despised by God’s enemies, and by this prayer he intimates, that his doctrine was in force before God, and retained its own importance and could not fail. Hence he says, Jehovah, regard me, and hear the voice of those who contend with me.
Here Jeremiah asks two things, — that God would undertake his cause, and that he would take vengeance on the wantonness of his enemies. And this passage deserves especial notice, for it is a support which can never fail us, when we know that our service is approved by God, and that as he prescribes to us what to say, so what proceeds from him shall ever possess its own weight, and that it cannot be effected by the ingratitude of the world, that any portion of the authority of celestial truth should be destroyed or diminished. Whenever then the ungodly deride us, and elude or neglect the truth, let us follow the example of the Prophet, let us ask God to look on us; but this cannot be done, except we strive with a sincere heart to execute what he has committed to us. Then a pure conscience will open a door for us, so that we may be able confidently to call on God as our guardian and defender, whenever our labor is despised by men.
He asks, in the second place, that God would hear the voice of those who contended with him. 206 We hence conclude, that the wicked gain nothing by their pride, for they provoke God more and more, when they thus oppose his pure doctrine and contend against his prophets and faithful teachers. Since then we see that the ungodly effect nothing, except that they kindle God’s wrath the more, we ought to go on more courageously in the discharge of our office; for even when for a time they suppress by their great clamours the truth of God, he will yet check them, and so check them, that the doctrine, which is now subverted by unjust calumnies, may shine forth more fully. He afterwards adds —
20. Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them.
20. An reddetur pro bono malum? quia foderunt foveam animae meae; recordare quod steterim coram facie tua ad loquendum proipsis in bonum, ad avertendam iracundiam tuam ab ipsis.
The Prophet in this verse exaggerates the sin of his enemies, for they not only were ferocious against God, but also forgot everything humane, and wickedly assailed the Prophet himself. Impiety is indeed more detestable than inhumanity, inasmuch as God is far above all mortals; but inhumanity has in it more basenes, for it is, so to speak, more gross and more evident. The ungodly often hide their perfidy; but when they come to act towards men, then it appears immediately what they are. Hence the Prophet, having made known the impiety of his enemies, now adds, that they, when tried by the judgment of men, were found to be wholly intolerable, for they rendered a shameful reward to an innocent man who was sedulous in securing their salvation. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet.
Though it often happens that evil is rendered for good, and ingratitude is a common vice, yet nature itself detests ingratitude: hence it has been said that there is no law against the ungrateful, because ingratitude seems a monstrous thing. As then nature dictates that merit deserves a reward, and this ought to be a fixed principle in the hearts of all, the Prophet reasons according to the common sense and judgment of all mankind.
Shall evil, he says, be rendered for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul? 207 and yet I prayed for them, and endeavored to turn away the wrath of God. Since I have set myself humbly to pray for their salvation, how great is their savageness and inhumanity in persecuting me? But as he saw that it was vain to speak to the deaf, he again appeals to God as a witness to his integrity; Remember, he says, that I stood before thy face to speak for them; as though he had said, “Even if malignity prevent men to own what I am, and how I have conducted myself towards them, God will be to me a sufficient witness, and I shall be satisfied with his judgment.” It then follows —
21. Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.
21. Propterea pone filios eorum ad famem (hoc est, projice, vel, prostitue ad famem,) et diffunde (vel, diffluere fac) eos ad manus gladii, et sint mulieres eorum orbae et viduae, et viri eorum sint percussi ad mortem (lethaliter,) juvenes eorum sint percussi gladio in praelio.
The Prophet seems here to have been driven through indignation to utter imprecations which are not consistent with a right feeling; for even if Christ had not said with his own mouth, that we are to pray for those who curse us, the very law of God, ever known to the holy fathers, was sufficient. Jeremiah then ought not to have uttered these curses, and to have imprecated final destruction on his enemies, thouglt they fully deserved it. But it must be observed, that he was moved not otherwise than by the Holy Spirit, to become thus indignant against his enemies; for he could not have been excused on the ground that indignation often transgresses the bounds of patience, for the children of God ought to bear all injuries to the utmost; but, as I have said, the Prophet here has announced nothing rashly, nor did he allow himself to wish anything as of himself, but obediently proclaimed what the Holy Spirit dictated, as his faithful instrument.
We have said elsewhere, that the first thing to be noticed is, that when we pray for any evil on the wicked, we ought not to act on private grounds; for he who has a regard to himself, will ever be led away by too strong an impulse; and even when our prayers are calmly and rightly formed, we are yet ever wrong, when we consult our private advantages or redress our own injuries. That is one thing. And secondly, we ought to have that wisdom which distinguishes between the elect and the reprobate. But as God bids us to suspend our judgment, inasmuch as we cannot surely know what will take place to-morrow, we ought not to imitate indiscriminately the Prophet in praying God to destroy and scatter ungodly men of whom we despair; for, as it has been stated, we are not certain what has been decreed in heaven. In short, whosoever is disposed, after the example of Jeremiah, to pray for a curse on his enemies, must be ruled by the same spirit, according to what Christ said to his disciples; for as God destroyed the wicked at the request of Elijah, the Apostles wished Christ to do the same by fire from heaven; but he said,
“Ye know not by what spirit ye are, ruled.” (Lu 9:55)
They were unlike Elijah, and yet; wished like apes to imitate what he did.
But, as I have said, let first all regard to our own benefit or loss be dismissed, when we would shew ourselves indignant against the wicked; and secondly, let us have the spirit of wisdom and discretion; and lastly, let all the turbulent feelings of the flesh be checked, for as soon as anything human be mixed with our prayers, some confusion will ever be found. There was nothing turbulent in this imprecation of Jeremiah, for the Spirit of God ruled his heart and his tongue, and then he forgot himself; and lastly, he knew that they were reprobate and already doomed to final ruin. He therefore hesitated not, through the prophetic spirit, to imprecate on them what we here read. And there is no doubt but that he was ever solicitous for the remnant, for he knew that there were some faithful; and though they were unknown, he yet prayed God for them. But he fulminates here against the reprobate who were already given up to ruin. This is the reason why he hesitated not to pray that they might be delivered up to famine and given to the sword, 208 so that their women might be bereaved and become widows, and their men put to death, 209 and their youth smitten by the sword. It now follows —
22. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet.
22. Audiatur clamor ex aedibus eorum cum induxeris super eos exercitum repente; quia foderunt foveam ad capiendum me, laqueos occultarunt pedibus meis.
He proceeds with his imprecation, he then wishes that a cry should he heard from the houses, as though he had said, “Let there be no refuge for them when their calamity shall happen:” For his own house is to every one his place of safetyin a disordered state of things. The Prophet then wished them to be slain by their enemies even when concealed in their houses; for it appears from the preceding verse that he meant slaughter. For why should a cry be, except on account of enemies breaking in and raging against them, while they, being not able to defend their life, were driven to lamentations and howlings? Let a cry then be heard from their houses, when thou bringest an army upon them suddenly; and he adds: For they have digged a pit to take me
The Prophet indeed seems here to be the defender of his own cause: but there is no doubt, but that apart from anything personal, he hated the impiety of those of whom he speaks, because they insidiously assailed him, when yet he was doing the work of God. For the Prophet neither sowed nor reaped for himself, but only labored to obey God. When therefore they artfully assailed and circumvented him, what was it but openly to carry on war with God? Let us then remember, that the Prophet does not here complain of troubles which he underwent, or of injuries, but that he only pleads a public cause; for these ungodly men treated him perfidiously, while he was doing nothing else but spending his labor for God, and indeed for their salvation. At last he adds —
23. Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.
23. Et tu Jehovah nosti omnia consilia eorum super me in mortem; ne propitius sis (vel, placabilis) super iniquitate eorum, et peccatum eorum (vel, scelus eorum) a facie tua ne deleas (quidam existimant תמחי esse in kal, et י pont loco ה,) et sint impingentes coram facie tua, in die excandescentiae tuae fac cum ipsis.
I shall not be able to explain this verse to-day.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou exhortest us daily, and even constantly to repent, by the doctrine of thy Gospel, and shewest thyself to us reconcilable, — O grant, that we may not disregard so incomparable a benefit, but with resigned minds devote ourselves wholly to thee, and that we may not so far provoke thy wrath as to be altogether reiected by thee, and to find at last that there is no mercy for us; but may we anticipate extreme judgment, while the time of thy good-will continues, and thus embrace the benefit of reconciliation which thou offerest to us, so that being thankful to thee and accepted in thine only-begotten Son, we may proceed in the course of our vocation, until we shall at length enjoy that eternal inheritance which thine only-begotten Son has obtained for us by his own blood. — Amen.
The words of the last verse of the eighteenth chapter we gave yesterday. Let us now see what the Prophet means by them, and what fruit we ought to gather from them. He says, that God was a witness of the wickedness of his enemies — that all their counsels had in view his destruction. There is, moreover, to be understood a contrast, — that the Prophet, as we have before seen, cared faithfully for their salvation. It was then a most base ingratitude in them to plot the death of the holy Prophet, who was not only innocent, but highly deserved their thanks for laboring for their salvation. We hence conclude that they deserved no mercy. Thou knowest, he says, their counsel, that what they consult among themselves tends to bring death on me: be not thou then propitious to their iniquity, and blot not out their sin
We said in our last lecture that this vehemence, as it was dictated by the Holy Spirit, is not to be condemned, nor ought it to be made an example of, for it was peculiar to the Prophet to know that they were reprobates: and we also shewed why no common law is to be made from particular examples: for Jeremiah was endued with the spirit of wisdom and judgment, and zeal also for God’s glory so ruled in his heart, that the feelings of the flesh were wholly subdued, or at least brought under subjection; and farther, he pleaded not a private cause. We said in the first place, that it was oracular; for God designed to make it known, that they who thus obstinately resisted true doctrine were reprobate and irreclaimable. As all these things fall not to our lot, we ought not indiscriminately to imitate Jeremiah in this prayer: for that would then apply to us which Christ said to his disciples,
“Ye know not what spirit, governs you.” (Lu 9:55.)
And doubtless it ought to fill us with dread when we hear, Be not propitious to them, nor blot out their sin. God testifies in many plaices that he is gracious and inclined to mercy, and that when he is angry it is only for a moment. (Nu 14:18; Ps 103:8; Ps 30:5) There seems then a great difference between the words of the Prophet and these testimonies, by which God makes known his own nature. But we have said already that the destruction of the people, against whom the Prophet thus prayed, had been made evident to him: and we must also bear in mind what we have stated, that he did not include the people without exception; for he knew that there was a seed remaining among them. He then confined his imprecation to the reprobate and irreclaimable, as he knew that they were already doomed to ruin, even by the eternal purpose of God’ and as they had over and over again destroyed themselves, he boldly declares that God would never be propitious to them.
To the same purpose is what follows, Let them ever stumble before thy face. He mentions face here for manifest judgment; for the wicked exult as long as he spares them. The Prophet then would have God to sit on his throne, that he might appear as a Judge, and thus check the wantonness of those who despised his judgment, being constrained to know that they could not escape. There is also a contrast to be understood here between the presence and the absence of God. For hypocrites think that God is absent as long as he is indulgent to them and does not take vengeance hence they grow wanton, as though they had a permission to deceive him: but when God constrains them to acknowledge what they are unwilling to do, they are said to stand in his presence; for they are pressed too near to render it possible for them to evade, and willing or unwilling they are held fast, as the Lord proves that he is their Judge. We hence see the meaning of the expression when the Prophet says, Let them stumble before thy face.
He in the last place adds, In the time of thy wrath deal thus with them. The manner of his presence is set forth. There is, however, no doubt but that the Prophet here checks both himself and all the godly, that they may not be hasty, for we are often too precipitant in our wishes; for we would that God would fulminate every moment from heaven. This hastiness ought to be moderated; and the Prophet here prescribes to us the rule of moderation, by saying, In the time of thy wrath; as though he had said, “Even though thou deferrest and seemest now to connive at these great crimes, yet the time will eventually come in which thou wilt take vengeance on the reprobate.”
Whenever then the Scripture speaks of the time of God’s wrath, let us know that under this form of speaking there is an exhortation to patience, so that excessive ardor may not lead us beyond the limits of moderation, but that we may wait with resigned minds until the due time of judgment comes. This is one thing; but at the same time the Prophet expresses also something more: for he would have the reprobate of whom he speaks, to be so involved in endless judgment as never to be able to extricate themselves. It is said in Ps 106:4,
“Remember me, O Lord, with the favor of thy people,”
that is, “O Lord, this only I ask, to be joined to thy people; for even when thy Church is afflicted and deemed miserable, it will still be enough for me to be of the number of those whom thou honorest with thy paternal favor.” The favor then of God’s people is that paternal regard which he entertains for his Church. So, on the other hand, the time of wrath is that judgment by which God devotes the reprobate to eternal perdition, so that there is no hope of salvation remaining for them. Deal thou with them, but when? even in the time of thy wrath; that is, deal with them as thou art wont to deal with thine irreclaimable enemies, to whom thou wilt never be reconcilable. 210 This is the meaning. Now another discourse follows.
Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate improperly render the verb “thou shalt hear;” but the Targum retains the causative sense, “I will cause thee to hear.” — Ed.
The proper rendering of the former part of this verse, according to Gataker and Venema, is as follows, —
“And marred was the vessel which he made,
at the clay was in the hand of the potter.”
Though there be readings, and many, which have ב instead of כ before “clay,” yet the received text is the most suitable. The word “clay” is omitted in the Septuagint. The meaning is, that the vessel was marred, while it was yet as a soft clay in the hand of the potter, after he had formed it on the stones. As to “potter,” the noun here is used instead of the pronoun, “in his hand,” which is often the case in Hebrew. The pronoun “his” is what is given by the Septuagint and the Vulgate. — Ed
“On the stones,” is the Septuagint; “on the wheel,” the Vulgate and the Targum; “on the anvil,” the Syriac.
“There can be no doubt,” says Blayney, “that the machine is intended on which the potters formed their earthen vessels; and the appellation οἱ λίθοι, ‘the stones,’ will appear very proper if we consider this machine as consisting of a pair of circular stones, placed upon one another like millstones, of which the lower was immovable, but the upper one turned upon the foot of a spindle or axis, and had motion communicated to it by the feet of the potter sitting at his work, as may be learned from Ecclesiastes 38:29 [sic]. Upon the top of this upper stone, which was flat, the clay was placed, which the potter, having given the stone the due velocity, formed into shape with his hands.”
“At length,” or finally — πέρας, is the Septuagint; “suddenly,” theVulgate; but the Targum renders the word here, “At one time,” and in ver. 9, “At another time;” and this seems to be the meaning of רגע, when repeated, as it is here. Let it be so rendered, and let the future verb which comes after it be viewed as present, which is often the case in Hebrew, and the whole passage may be literally rendered, without giving an unusual meaning to the copulative, ו, —
7. At one time I speak of a nation and of a kingdom, In order to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy
8. And that nation returns from its evil, Against which I had spoken, And I repent of the evil Which I had thought of doing to it:
9. And at another time I speak of a nation and of a kingdom, In order to build and to plant; And it doeth evil in mine eyes, So as not to hear my voice; And I repent of the good Which I had spoken of doing to it, or of making good to it.
The whole is a striking narrative of God’s dealings with nations and kingdoms. — Ed.
More is meant by this word than expressed, which is often the case in all languages. “I contrive with respect to you a contrivance.” is perhaps the most literal rendering. “Device” is taken commonly in a bad sense. — Ed.
The variety of the versions is remarkable as to the word נואש; “We shall be men, or act manly,” is the Septuagint; “We have despaired,” the Vulgate; “We shall perish,” the Syriac. It is a participle, and may be rendered “Hopeless.” Blayney’s version is, “It is a thing not to be hoped.” — Ed
More literally, —
For after our own contrivances shall we go;
And we shall do, each, the resolutions of his evil heart.
It is rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate as a noun in the plural number, and more suitably in this place, —
13. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, Enquire I pray among the nations, Who hath heard such things as these — The horrible things which she hath fully done, The virgin of Israel.
The particle מאד, much, very much, etc., must from its position be construed with the verb, and not with “horrible.” It may be rendered, “which she hath done excessively.” — Ed
The general drift of this verse is no doubt given here, though the version seems not to be correct. The early versions and the Targum are all different, and hardly present any meaning at all. The versions of Blayney and Horsley are not much better. Venema appears to have given the most satisfactory version, which is as follows, —
Will any one forsake for a rock A field irrigated by the snow of Libanus? Shall for strange waters Be abandoned cold streams?
To make the two clauses alike, the preposition מ is put before “waters,” which is found before “rock.” “Strange waters” were those conducted to a place by artificial means. But to give מ the meaning which it often has, rather than, the verse may be thus rendered, —
Shall it be forsaken, rather than the rock, The field watered by the snow of Libanus? Shall they be abandoned rather than strange waters, The cooling streams (or rills)?
The change proposed in the last verb is unnecessary, as both verbs are nearly of the same meaning. The second line literally rendered is, “The field of the snow of Libanus;” so called as being irrigated by the melted snow from that mountain. To prefer a rocky dry ground for such a field, symbolized the conduct of the Jews, as well as to prefer waters brought by pipes from a distance to refreshing streams. — Ed.
So the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Targum, but the Syriac and Arabic are like our version, “to vanity,” the idol being often so called: and this is the most suitable rendering here, as it shews the object of their worship when they forsook Jehovah. The word may be rendered “to a lie,” or, what is meant, “to a false god.” See Ro 1:25. — Ed.
I propose the following rendering of the verse, —
For forsaken me have my people; To vanity they burn incense, And make them stumble in their ways, The paths of ages; So that they walk in the tracks Of a way not prepared; literally, not cast up or raised.
That “they” were the false priests is evident, because to burn incense was the office of the priests. To stumble in God’s ways is to transgress his law; and these “ways” were “the paths of ages,” or, of antiquity, or, “ancient paths,” as they had for ages been made known to the people. — Ed.
More literally, “And shall nod with his head.” — Ed.
Many copies read ב, though all the versions retain the כ; “As a burning wind will I scatter them,” is the version of the Septuagint and the Vulgate; “As a hot wind,” etc, is the Syriac. — Ed
It would be better to render this, “The law cannot perish,” etc.; for the future with a negative may often be thus rendered: כי, translated, “For,” often means certainly, truly, surely, doubtless, and might be so translated here, —
Surely, not perish can the law from the priests,
Or counsel from the wise, Or the word from the Prophet.
These things they thought were impossibilities. How like are errors and the delusions of men in every age! “The word” was what the prophets taught and preached: hence “the word” in the New Testament often means the preaching of the gospel — Ed.
This phrase, “Let us smite him with the tongue,” is thus literally rendered by the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Arabic; but by the Syriac, “Let us smite his tongue,” and paraphrased by the Targum, “Let us testify against him false testimonies.” “With our tongue,” is Piscator’s; that is, by accusations to the king; “For his tongue,” is Junius’s; that is, for his denunciations; “On the tongue,” is Blaney’s; that is, on the offending part, an allusion to a mode of punishment that was practiced; or, as Gataker suggests, in order to stop his mouth.
The most probable meaning is, that they meant to accuse him before the authorities; therefore “with the tongue,” as countenanced by the best versions, is the best rendering.
“Let us accuse him, let us speak so ill of him, that no man may attend to him, but that all may flee from him,” Cocceius. — Ed.
“The voice of my justification,” is the Septuagint, “the voice of my adversaries,” the Vulgate; “the voice of my oppression,” the Syriac, “the voice of my strife,” the Arabic. But the best is our version and that of Calvin. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac are wholly wrong: for the verb ריב never means any one of the ideas which they convey. — Ed.
It is better to render these lines like the Septuagint and Vulgate, —
Is not evil rendered for good?
For they have dug a pit for my soul.
Or thus, —
Should evil be rendered for good? —
For they have dug a pit for me.
So should “soul” be rendered here and in many other places. There is here an allusion to the practice of digging pits to take wild beasts. — Ed.
The rendering of this line is various: our version, “pour out,” etc., cannot be sustained; nor “drain them,” etc., by Blayney. The idea generally given by the versions and the Targum to the verb, is that of giving up, delivering, committing. The Syriac seems to give the original correctly, “deliver them into the hands of the sword;” only the verb גדה, signifies to draw or drive rather than to deliver. Perhaps the literal rendering would be, “drive them on the hands of the sword,” as though the sword was a person with hands stretched cut to receive what might come in its way: but “hands” in this instance mean power; so that the best version would be,
And deliver them into the power of the sword.
Literally, “the slain of death,” as in the next line, “the smitten of the sword.” The two lines are literally thus, —
And let their men be the slain of death;
Their youths the smitten of the sword in battle.
“Death” here, notwithstanding what Horsley has said, evidently means pestilence. See Jer 15:2. The “men” were those past the time of ervice, and “youths” or young men were those fit for war. — Ed.
The last line in the Syriac is, —
In the time of thine indignation act against them.
“Take vengeance on them,” is the paraphrase of the Targum. Horsley would have it,” deal with them,” leaving out “thus” in our version. It is no doubt an expression which includes more than what is stated. It may be rendered “do for them,” that is, wholly destroy them; — Ed.