Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 18: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests;
1. Sic dicit Jehova, Vade et acquire (alii vertunt, posside; et קנה significat utrunque, sed hic non convenit verbum possidendi; acquire tibi) lagenam figuli testaceam, et quidem cum senioribus populi, et cum senioribus sacerdotum:
2. And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee:
2. Et egredere ad vallem filii Hinnom, quae est in introitu portae orientalis, (alii vertunt, fictilis,) et clama illic (hoc est, alta voce pronuntia) sermones quos loquutus fuero ad te;
3. And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.
3. Et dices, Audite sermonem Jehovae, reges Jehudah et incolae Jerusalem, Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ecce adduco malum super locum hunc, de quo quisque audierit, tinnient aures ejus.
We see that the Prophet was sent by God to shew the people that there was no firmness in that state of which hypocrites boasted; for God, who had favored the people of Israel with singular benefits, did no less retain them in his own possession than the potter. The Prophet had before shewn to the Jews that the potter formed his vessels as he pleased, and also, that when he had taken the clay and the vessel did not please him, he formed another. This prophecy has a similar import, yet it is different, as we shall presently see. The Prophet is here bidden to buy an earthen vessel of the potter, and at the meeting of the people to break it, that all might understand that they were like earthen vessels, and that being thus admonished of their fragility, they might no longer be proud, as though they possessed a firm and perpetual state of happiness.
The main object of the two visions is, however, the same: for the Jews thought that they were not subject to the common lot of men, because they had been chosen as a peculiar people; nor would they have gloried in vain with regard to that inestimable privilege, had there been a mutual agreement between God and them; but as they were covenant-breakers, their glorying was vain and foolish, in thinking that God was bound to them. For what right had they to claim this privilege? God indeed had adopted the whole race of Abraham, but there was a condition introduced,
“Walk before me and be perfect.” (Ge 17:2)
When they all had become apostates, the covenant, as to them, was abolished. Then God could not have been called, as it were, to an account, as though he had violated his covenant with them, for he owed them nothing. They had become aliens; for through their wickedness and perfidy they had departed from him. God then designed to show how vain and how false was their confidence, when they said, “We are a holy race, we are God’s heritage;” because they had wholly departed from the covenant which God had made with their fathers.
But in the form adopted, as I have said, there is some difference. The Prophet had before introduced the potter to shew that there was no less power in God than in a mortal man, because we are before him as the clay, so that he can form and destroy his vessels as he pleases: but here the Prophet shews, that though the Jews had been formed for a time, and so formed as to have been like an excellent and a beautiful vessel, yet it was not a perpetual condition. And it is probable that when they had heard that God could, like the potter, form and re-form them, they had devised an evasion, according to what men usually do who deal sophistically with God, — “O, be it so, the potter can from the same clay form both a precious and a worthless vessel; but we are the precious vessel, and God has given us that form; for when he made a covenant with Abraham, he adorned him with this singular distinction: he afterwards brought our fathers out of Egypt, and then there was a better form added; and since at length he raised a kingdom among us with this promise, that the throne of David would be perpetual, it cannot possibly be otherwise than that we are to continue in our state.” Hence the Prophet expresses here more than in the former prophecy, that not only God had the power of a potter in forming his vessels, but that when the vessel is already formed and possesses great splendor, it can again be broken: he stated this lest the Jews should object by saying, that the state in which they were under David and his posterity would be perpetual. He says, “This is nothing: for the earthen vessel, though splendid and elegant in its form, can yet be broken in the third or fourth year no less than at the time when it is formed, and can be broken for ever,” according to what is afterwards implied by the similitude.
We shall proceed now to the words: he says, Go and get for thee an earthen vessel. The Rabbins think the name given to the vessel to be factitious, as the grammarians say, that is, made from its sound; for it appears to have been a flagon or a bottle; and as the bottle has a narrow mouth, it makes this sound, בקבק bakbuk, when we drink from it; and hence they think the name is derived. There is, however, no ambiguity as to the thing itself, that the word means a bottle, not only made of earth, but also either of glass or of wood. By adding the word חרש cheresh, he specifies what but בקבק, bekbek, is a general word. He then adds what is literally, From the elders, and interpreters think that the words “bring with thee” are to be understood; and as to the sense I agree with them, for we shall hereafter see, that in the presence of those who went with him he broke the vessel: it then follows that the elders here spoken of were taken by Jeremiah as his companions; but as מ mem, sometimes means “with,” as in the fifty-seventh chapter of Isaiah, (Isa 57:8)
“and made thee a covenant with them, מהם”
I take it to be of the same meaning here; and this is doubtless suitable here, for he was to go with the elders of the people and with the elders of the priests 211
And he adds, Enter into the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is at the entrance of the east gate, rendered by some “of the earthen gate,” for which I see no reason; but I leave this to be examined by those who are more versed in the language. It is indeed thought that ש, shin, is changed here into ס, samech; but if we take the word as it is, it means “solar,” for חרס cheras, from which חרסית cherasit, is derived, signifies the sun; and it seems to have been called the solar gate by way of excellency, because it looked toward the rising sun. 212 I do not yet oppose the idea of those who think that the Prophet alludes to חרש, cheresh, of which he had spoken, and that he calls it the east gate, though it was as it were an earthen gate; for the two letters ש, shin, and ס samech, as it is well known, are closely allied. Cry there, he says, the words which I shall speak to thee.
I come now to the subject: God bids his Prophet to get from the potter an earthen vessel, and to do so in the presence of the elders; for it was necessary to have witnesses in a matter so important; and as the public safety of the people was concerned, it was God’s purpose, lest the prophecy should be despised, that there should be present the gravest witnesses, suitable, and, as they say, authorized, or approved; and he calls them the elders of the people and of the priests; and no doubt they were chosen from a great number, even from among the priests who were chief. There were also Levites of the sons of Aaron; but there were then chief priests a large number; but, as they say, it was a turbulent rabble. They were chosen from those first orders who ruled the Church, and Jeremiah calls them the elders of the priests. There were also others chosen from the people who presided over the Church. And we know that there were two public functionaries, or, as they say, a twofold government: the priests were the rulers of the Church with regard to the law, so that their government was spiritual; there were also the elders of the people who managed civil affairs; but there were some things in which they ruled in common. We now then see what the Prophet meant by saying that he was bidden to call witnesses to see what is afterwards stated, and that they were taken partly from the priests and partly from the people.
He says; Enter into the valley of the son of Hinnom. This valley was in the suburbs, and was called תפת Tophet, as we shall hereafter see. It is thought that this name is derived from drums, because they did beat drums when infants were killed, lest their cry should excite any feeling of humanity. But, we shall again say something on the etymology of this word. In this valley they were accustomed to sacrifice and offer their children by casting them into the fire. Many indeed performed this in a different way, by purifying their children and carrying them round the fire, so that they felt only the flame and escaped unhurt. But there were those who wished to shew their zeal above others, whose ambition drove them farther, and they killed their children and then burnt them. But of this matter I have spoken elsewhere, and I shall now only briefly notice it. This opinion is not, what is commonly received; but it seems to me that it may be gathered from many parts of Scripture, that many killed their children, and that some only purified them. However this may have been, God justly abominated the sacrifice; for his will was that sacrifices should be offered only in one place. When any one offered a calf or a lamb in any other place than at Jerusalem, it was a spurious sacrifice; and the Jews ought to have followed what God had prescribed, and not to have done anything presumptuously, for obedience is ever better than any sacrifices.
But here there was a double crime; they left the Temple and sought to obtrude on God sacrifices against his expressed will; and then there was another crime still more atrocious, for they devoted their children to Baalim or to Baal, and not to the only true God. (I pass by now their slaughter and burning.) This then was the reason why the Prophet was commanded to go to this place. How detestable that service was to God appears dear from this, that the prophets give the name of hell to the valley of Hinnom, גיא הנם gia-enom. And we know that at the time of Christ it was the common name for hell; and whenever Christ speaks of Gehenna, he uses the word according to its common acceptation at that time. The word has indeed been corrupted by the Greeks, for it is properly גיא הנם gia-enom. But what does the word mean in the gospel? Hell itself; and whence was its origin? We indeed know how great and how incurable was the madness of those who gave themselves up to their own superstitions; for though the prophets strongly condemned the place, yet the people proceeded in their usual idolatry; it was therefore necessary to give the place a disgraceful name in order to render it more abominable.
It is now added, that the place was by the entrance of the east gate. As it was especially a celebrated gate, and as the sun, rising there, reminded them to behold the light which God had kindled for them in his law, it was a monstrous stupidity proudly to tread, as it were, under foot. the law of God in so renowned a place, and to profane his worship, as though they openly wished to shew that they esteemed as nothing what God had commanded. If any still think that there is an allusion to the word חרש cheresh, before used, I offer no opposition; that is, though this gate was indeed oriental, it was yet as it were an earthen gate.
He says, Cry there, or, proclaim with a clear voice, the words which I shall speak to thee. The Prophet no doubt said this expressly, in order to add more weight to his prophecy. He indeed did nothing but by God’s command; but as his authority was not acknowledged by the Jews, he here testifies for their sakes that he would say nothing but what God himself would command. This preface then confirmed the authority of his prophecy, so that the Jews might not reject what he might say, as though it came from Jeremiah himself.
But a general doctrine may be hence gathered, — that ministers are to bring forward nothing but what they have learnt from God himself. For though Jeremiah was a great man and endued with excellent gifts, yet he was not to bring one word or a syllable as from himself: how great then must be the presumption of those who seek to be superior to him by bringing their inventions, and at the same time demand to be deemed oracles? This passage confirms the doctrine of Peter, who says,
“He who speaks, let him speak the words of God.”
He now adds, Hear ye the word of Jehovah. This is a confirmation of the former sentence. We hence see why it was said, Cry, or, with a clear voice proclaim, what I shall say to thee; it was, that they might know that he spake not according to his own ideas as a man, but that he was a celestial herald to proclaim what God commanded. Hear, he says, ye kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. We see how the Prophet did not spare even kings, according to what God had before commanded him, that he should act boldly and shew no respect of persons, (Jer 1:8.) He then faithfully performed his office, as he did not flatter kings, and was not terrified by their dignity and power. But he addressed them first, and then the people, because they who had most grievously sinned, were made rightly to bear the first reproof. We hence see what the next passage means,
“Reprove mountains and chide hills,” (Mic 6:1)
and also this passage,
“I have set thee over nations and kingdoms,”
for heavenly truth ought to bring under subjection, as Paul says, everything high in the world, so that all the pride of man may be subdued. (2Co 10:5.) Kings indeed do very ill bear to be thus boldly treated; for they wish to be exempt from every law and to be free from every yoke. But if they now acknowledge not their subjection to God’s word, they must at last come before his tribunal; and then they shall find how perversely they have abused their power. As to teachers, they ought, small and great, to teach after the example of Jeremiah; they ought to reprove and to rebuke, when necessary, without shewing any respect of persons.
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, and the God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing an evil on this place, of which whosoever shall hear, tingle shall his ears. The prophetic word had more power when the Jews were brought to the very place where the event was exhibited, he might have said the same thing in the Temple or in the gate or in the palace of the king but his prophecy would not have been so effectual. We indeed know how much tardiness there is in men in general; but so great was then the obstinacy of the Jews, that however forcibly the truth might have been set forth, yet it was received with so much indifference, that it was neglected. God then intended to shew to them, as it were, the event itself. He says, Jehovah of hosts and the God of Israel; and he used these words, that they might know, as we have stated elsewhere, that they had to do with God, whose power is dreaded even by angels. And in order to shake off their foolish boasting, that they were the children of Abraham, — “God,” he says, “has sufficient power to chastise you, and the same is the God of Israel, whose name ye falsely and absurdly pretend to profess.” These subjects I only in a brief manner handle, because I have explained them more fully elsewhere.
He says that such a calamity was nigh that place as would make the ears to tingle: when there is a violent noise, our ears are stunned, and there is at the same time a certain tingling or ringing. When a man is killed, or when ten or twelve men are slain, there is a dreadful cry; but in a great tumult occasioned by men perishing, such is the noise that it stuns in a manner the ears, like that which proceeds from cataracts; for the violent noise of the Nile, they say, causes some degree of deafness. So also the Prophet says here, I am bringing, says God, a calamity on this place, which shall not only terrify those who will hear of it, but also render them quite astonished, so that their ears shall tingle, as is the case when there is a violent and dreadful noise. The cause follows —
4. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burnt incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;
4. Propterea quod reliquerunt me et alienarunt locum hunc, et suffitum fecerunt in eo diis extraneis, quos non noverunt ipsi neque patres ipsorum, neque reges Jehudah; et implerunt locum hunc sanguine innocentium;
5. They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:
5. Et extruxerunt excelsa (aedificarunt excelsa) ipsi Baal, ad comburendum filios suos igne in holocaustum ipsi Baal; quod non mandavi et non loquutus sum, et non ascendit super cor meum (vel, in cot meum.).
The reason is given why God would so severely deal with that place. We indeed know that hypocrites are ever ready with their answer; as soon as God threatens them, they bark and bring forward their evasions. The Prophet then shews that the judgment announced would be just, lest the Jews should pretend that it was extreme.
God first complains that he had been forsaken by them, because they had changed the worship which had been prescribed in his Law. And this is what ought to be carefully considered; for no one would have willingly confessed what Jeremiah charged upon them all; they would have said, — “We have not forsaken God, for we are the children of Abraham; but what we wish to do is to add to his worship; and why should it be deemed a reproach to us, if we are not content with our own simple form of worship, and add various other forms? and we worship God not only in the Temple, but also in this place; and further, we do not spare our own children.” But God shews by one expression that these were frivolous evasions; for he is not acknowledged except what he orders and commands is obediently received. Let us know, that God is forsaken as soon as men turn aside from his pure word, and that all are apostates who turn here and there, and do not follow what God approves.
Then he says that they had alienated the place. God had consecrated to himself the whole of Judea: he would not indeed have sacrifices offered to him in every place; but when the Jews worshipped him, as they were taught by Moses and the prophets, the whole land was as it were an altar and a temple to him. Then God complains that his authority in that part of the suburbs was taken away; as though he had said, — “The whole of Judea is my right and my jurisdiction, and Jerusalem is the royal palace in which I dwell; but ye, deluded beings, do by force take away my right and transfer it to another, as though one gave to a robber a place nigh a royal residence.” Thus God justly complains that they had alienated that place 213
But we must remember the reason, which immediately follows, because they had burned incense to Baal. They pretended, no doubt, the name of God; but yet it was a most preposterous superstition, when they worshipped inferior gods, as the Papists do at this day. The word Baal is sometimes used in the singular number by the prophets, and sometimes in the plural: but what is Baal? a patron. They were not content with one patron, but every one desired a patron for himself: hence under the words Baal and Baalim, the prophets characterized all fictition is modes of worship: when they worshipped God’s name, they blended the worship of patrons, who had not been made known to them; hence he adds, They have made incense in it to foreign gods. He afterwards says, that these foreign gods were such as neither they nor their fathers nor their kings knew. By saying that they were gods unknown to their fathers as well as to themselves and to their kings, he no doubt calls their attention to the doctrine of the law, and to the many certain proofs by which they had found that he was the only true God.
The Jews might have raised such an objection as the Papists do at this day, — that their modes of worship were not devised in their time, but that they had derived them from their ancestors. But God regarded as nothing those kings and the fathers, who had long before degenerated from true and genuine religion. It must be here observed, that true knowledge is connected with verity: for they who had first contrived new forms of worship, doubtless followed their own foolish imaginations; as when any one in the present day asks the Papists, why they weary themselves so much with their superstitions, good intention is ever their shield, — “O, we think that this is pleasing to God.” Therefore rightly does God here repudiate their inventions as wholly vain, for they possess nothing solid or permanent. At the same time, he by implication condemns the Jews for rejecting his law, whose authority had been established among them, so that they ought not to have entertained any doubt: for it would have been the greatest ingratitude to say, “We know not who introduced the Law!” God had indeed sanctioned the law by so many miracles, that it could not have been disputed; and they had also found by many evidences and proofs that he was the only brue God. tie had then been known by their fathers as well as by their kings, even by David and by all his godly successors. Hence their crime was exaggerated, by seeking for themselves foreign gods.
Now we also see how foolishly the Papists lay hold on this passage and similar passages, in order to commend their abominations by the pretext of antiquity, for vain are their disguises when they say, “O, we have been thus taught by our ancestors, and we have the authority of kings.” But the Prophet here does not speak of fathers indiscriminately; but by fathers he means those who had embraced the true and pure worship of God, as they had been taught by the law; and those kings were alone worthy of imitation, who had faithfully worshipped God according to the doctrine of the law: and thus he excludes all those fathers and kings who had degenerated from the law of Moses.
He at last adds, that that place was filled with the blood of innocents; for there they killed their children. And by this circumstance Jeremiah again amplifies the wickedness of the people; for they had not only despised God and his law, but also cruelly destroyed their innocent infants; and thus he proved them guilty not only of impiety and profaneness in vitiating the worship of God, but also of brutal and barbarous savageness in not sparing innocent blood.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast been pleased to shew to us the way in which we cannot err, provided we obey thee, — O grant, that we may render ourselves really teachable and ready to obey, and never undertake anything but what we know is approved by thee, nor turn aside on the right hand or on the left; but continue in that form of worship which thou hast prescribed to us in thy word, so that we may be able to bear witness, not only before the world, but before thee and the holy angels, that we obediently follow thee; and may we never blend anything of our own, but with submissive minds worship thee alone, and strive to render ourselves wholly subject to thee, until having at length rendered to thee due service through the whole course of our life, we shall reach that blessed rest which thy Son has procured for us by his own blood. — Amen.
6. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.
6. Propterea ecce dies veniunt, dicit Jehova, et non (hoc est, quibus non) vocabitur locus hic ampliusThopheth et vallis filii Hinnon, sed vallis interfectionis.
We saw in the last Lecture that the Prophet was sent by God’s bidding to the house of the potter, that he might there take an earthen bottle, carry it to Topher, and there explain the judgment of God, which was nigh at hand on account of his worship being violated. And he shewed why the Jews deserved reproof, even because they made incense to Baal, built groves and high places for themselves, and committed their sons and daughters to the fire: they were not only profane towards God, but also cruel towards innocent souls. Now, lest they pretended an excuse, he also added, that such a thing never came to God’s mind; and this is worthy of notice, because God by this one expression fulminates against all those inventions with which men delight themselves. As then there is no command, it follows that whatever is thus attempted is frivolous and useless.
He now denounces punishment, The days are coming, or shall come, in which this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. This seemed incredible to the Jews; for they had chosen that place for themselves to perform their superstitions: they thought therefore that a great part of their safety depended on their false worship.
As to the word Tophet, some think that it is to be taken simply for hell, or for eternal death; but this cannot by any means be admitted. More probable is their opinion who derive it from תף, teph, which means a drum; for they think that they did beat drums when infants were killed, that their cries might not be heard. But as this is only a conjecture, I know not whether another reason may be given. Some derive the word from יפה iphe, which signifies to be decorous or beautiful; and this etymology has something apparently in its favor. And perhaps it ought to be so taken in Job 17:6, where the holy man complains that he was become a proverb, and that he had been תפת Tophet, in the presence of all. There are indeed some who explain the word there as signifying something monstrous, and thus take it in a bad sense. But it seems rather to have been put in contrast with the former clause, — he had been a pleasant spectacle, but he was now become detestable. But they who take the word there as meaning hell, do so entirely without any reason, for that Job perished, seeing and knowing his perdition, as they say, is a forced view. I doubt not then but that he said, that he had been תפת Tophet; that is, an object of joy and of praise, but that he was then a sad and mournful spectacle. And it is certain that his name, תפת, Tophet, was given to the valley of Hinnom, because of the hilarity and joy which thence arose to the people; for they thought that God was propitious to them, when they so sedulously offered there their sacrifices, and yet they provoked his wrath. Then Tophet is to be taken in a good sense, when we regard the origin of the word. It is indeed true that in Isa 30:33, Tophet is to be taken for Gehenna; but it may be that the prophets had now begun so to execrate the place as to call hell indiscriminately Gehennon and Tophet; for the word Gehenna, as we have stated elsewhere, had its origin from the same place; it is indeed corrupted, but its origin is not doubtful. Now, the reason why the prophets and other faithful men called the place hell, was plainly this, — because the devil reigned in that place, when God’s worship became vitiated, and the whole of true religion was subverted; and especially, because superstition became so deeply fixed in the hearts of the people, that it could not be rooted up except by an extraordinary force and power.
However this may have been, we may conclude from this passage, as well as from other passages, that this name was given on account of the joy experienced there, even because they thought themselves altogether happy, as God was pacified towards them. But what does Jeremiah say? This place shall be no more called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. This seemed, as I have said, incredible to the Jews. But it however behoved the Prophet boldly to declare what was to be. It afterwards follows, —
7. And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.
7. Et exinaniam consilium Jehudah et Jerusalem in loco hoc, et prosternam eos in gladio coram inimicis ipsorum, et in manu quaerentium animam eorum, et ponam (dabo) cadaver eorum in cibum volucri coeli (hoc est, avibus coeli, est enallage) et bestiae (hoc est, bestiis) terrae.
This amplification further exasperated the minds of the people, — that they in vain trusted that this place would be to them a fortress. For, as we have already stated, they had persuaded themselves that it was abundantly sufficient to reconcile them with God, when they spared not their own children, and so zealously performed tlheir acts of worship. And hypocrites are commonly inflated with this presumption, for they prefer what pleases them to what pleases God; they regard not what the law bids, what God approves, but they adore their own inventions. Since then almost all the superstitious are filled with such a presumption, God here rightly declares, that he would make void their counsels 214
It is indeed certain that there is neither wisdom nor counsel in deluded men, while they thus devise new and frivolous modes of worship, for these are sheer mummeries. But we ought to observe what Paul says in Col 2:23, that all the fictions which men devise for themselves have in them some appearance of wisdom; for we know that wherever our imagination may carry us, we think ourselves wise, and that whatever God prescribes becomes insipid to us. Then the Prophet concedes “counsel,” though improperly, to frivolous and vain inventions, but not without reason, for experience teaches us sufficiently, that men ever take great delight in their superstitions, for they wish to subject God as it were to their own will. He then says, by way of concession, that the counsels of the whole people, especially of the city Jerusalem, would be made void, which was above others the teacher of errors, while yet the doctrine of the law ought especially to have prevailed there. And it may be also that there is an allusion to that word בקבק bekbek, which we have before seen, and which the Prophet will repeat again, for it means to make void or empty, though some think it to be a factitious word, because the sound, bekbek, is produced while the bottle is emptied. However this may be, the allusion is still sufficiently striking.
He afterwards adds, And I will lay them prostrate by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. In this second part, the Prophet intimates that the hatred entertained by their enemies towards the Jews would not be common. Wars are carried on sometimes in such a way, that the conquerors are satisfied with the spoils; but the Prophet intimates, that the cruelty of their enemies would be such, that they would seek the life of the whole people, and delight in slaughter; as though he had said, that they would be deadly enemies and altogether implacable. He will again repeat these words, and in the same sense.
He then adds, I will give your carcase to be meat to the birds of heaven, and to the beasts of the field 215 We have said elsewhere that it is deemed a punishment inflicted by heaven when the carcases of the dead remain unburied; for it is the last office of humanity to bury the dead. And this is a distinction which God would have to be between men and brute animals, for animals have not the honor of a burial. It has also been ever granted as a singular privilege to men to be buried, in order to set forth the hope of resurrection. When, therefore, a burial is denied, it is a proof of extreme dishonor. It has indeed often happened that the saints have been without a burial; but temporal punishment is ever turned to salvation to God’s children. As to the reprobate it must be deemed a judgment from God, when he casts away their carcases, as then there is no difference between them and animals. But I have treated this subject more fully elsewhere, and I shall not proceed with it now. It follows —
8. And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof.
8. Et ponam urbem hanc in stuporem et sibilum; quisquis transibit per eam stupebit et sibilabit super omnen plugam ejus.
Jeremiah proceeds with his denunciation, and it was necessary for him to add this amplification, that he might penetrate into their hard and perverse hearts; for had he employed only a single sentence, or a common mode of speaking, in describing their calamity and the ruin of the city, they would not have been at all moved. Hence he enlarges on the subject, and advances with greater vehemence, and always speaks in the person of God, that his denunciation might have greater weight.
I will set, etc. Here is to be noticed a second reason; for it was not enough that a calamity should be denounced on the Jews, without adding this, that it was inflicted by God’s hand, and that thus the punishment of their wickedness was just. Then he says, I will set this city for an astonishment; for so in this place the word שמה sheme ought to be rendered, inasmuch as the reason afterwards follows, astonished shall be whosoever shall pass through it 216 He adds also, for a hissing, which is rather a mark of detestation than of scorn; yet the desolation of the whole land, and also the ruin of the holy city in which God had chosen an habitation for himself, might have filled all with terror, and ought justly to have done so. Whosoever, he says, shall pass through shall be astonished, and shall hiss on account of all her stroke; 217 for it was not to be a common calamity, but one in which might be seen God’s dreadful judgment. It follows —
9. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them.
9. Et pascam eos carne filiorum suorum et carne filiarum suarum, et vir carnem proximi sui comedent (hoc est, singuli comedent carnem proximi sui) in afflictione et angustia, qua angent (vel, constringent) eos hostes ipsorum, et qui quaerent animam ipsorum.
Here the Prophet goes farther — that so atrocious would be the calamity, that even fathers and mothers would not abstain from their children, but would devour their flesh. This was indeed monstrous. It has sometimes happened that husbands, in a state of extreme despondency, have killed their wives and children, (anxious to exempt them from the lust of enemies,) or have kindled a fire in the midst of the forum, to cast their children and wives on the pile, and afterwards to die themselves; but it was more barbarous and brutal for a father to eat the flesh of his son. The Prophet then describes an unusual vengeance of God, which could not be classed among the calamities which usually happen to mankind.
We know that this was also done in the last siege of that city; for Josephus shews at large that mothers in a brutal manner slew their children, and that they so lay in wait for one another that they snatched at anything to eat. This was also an evidence of God’s dreadful vengeance.
But it was no wonder that God visited in such an awful manner the sins of those who had in such various ways, and for so long a time, provoked him; for if we compare the Jews with other nations, we shall find that their impiety, and ingratitude, and perverseness, exceeded the crimes of all nations. Then justly did God inflict such a punishment, which even at this day cannot be referred to without horror. The whole indeed is to be ascribed to his judgment; for it was he who fed 218 the fathers with the flesh of their children; for as they had sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, as before stated, so it was necessary that the vengeance of God should be openly pointed out as by the finger. This was done when God imprinted marks on the bodies of children, which even the blind could not but perceive.
He adds, In the tribulation, 219 and straightness with which their enemies shall straiten them. We have said that those who had been long besieged, and were not able to resist, have been often reduced to the necessity to freeing their wives, or their children, or themselves, from dishonor; but to protract life in the manner here mentioned was altogether brutal. It follows —
10. Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee.
10. Et conteras lagenam in oculis virorum qui proficiscentur (vel, qui profecti fuerint) tecum.
Jeremiah summoned witnesses, that the confirmation of the prophecy might be more fully attested to the people. With regard to the history of this transaction we may add, that he was first sent to the house of the potter, from whence he procured the bottle; he then went to Tophet, and there spoke against their impious and corrupt superstitions; and at last, to seal the prophecy, he broke the bottle in the presence of the witnesses whom he had brought with him. And we have said that it was necessary thus to deal with a people, not only ignorant and stupid, but, which is worse, perverse and obstinate. There was not only importance in the sign, that they might thence learn the doom of the city and of the whole land, but it was also a solemn sealing of the prophecy; and on this account he was commanded to break the vessel, even that he might show, by a visible act, the near approach of God’s vengeance, of which the Jews had no apprehension. It follows —
11. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury.
11. Et dices ad eos, Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Ita confringam populum hunc et urbem hanc, sicut quis confringit vas figuli, (hoc est, vas testaceum; vel, vas fragile, figulinum,) quod non poterit reparari amplius: et in Thopheth sepelientur; quia non erit locus ad sepeliendum (ad verbum, a non loco ad sepeliendum.)
The Prophet again confirms what he had shewn by the external symbol, and he does this by a new coremtrod from God. We know that signs are wholly useless when the word of God does not shine forth, as we see that superstitious men always practice many ceremonies, but they are only histrionic acts. But God never commanded his prophets to shew any sign without adding doctrine to it. This is what we see was done on this occasion; for Jeremiah spoke against impious superstitions, and as a celestial herald denounced punishment; he then sealed the prophecy by breaking the bottle, and a repetition of the doctrine follows again, Thus shalt thou say to them. This is not said of the Prophet’s companions, the pronoun is without an antecedent, but the whole reople are the persons referred to.
Thus saith Jehovah, I will so break this people and this city. He mentions the city, in which they thought they had an impregnable fortress, because the temple of God was there. But as they had profaned the temple and polluted the city with their crimes, Jeremiah reminded them that no confidence or hope was to be placed in the city. Then he says, As one breaks a vessel which cannot be repaired, etc. Here again he shows that they were wholly to perish, so as no more to rise again. We indeed know that sometimes those who are most grievously afflicted retain some remnants of strength, and are at length restored to their former vigor; but the Prophet shews that the approaching calamity would be wholly irremediable. It is no objection to say, that God a. fterwards restored the people, and that the city and the temple were rebuilt, for all this was nothing to the ungodly men of that age, as their memory wholly perished. A curse and God’s vengeance remained on the heads of those who thus continued obstinate in their wickedness; and hence those who returned from exile are said in Ps 102:19, to have been a people created again, as though they rose up as new men,
“A people, who shall be created, shall praise the Lord.”
He then says, Buried shall they be, in Tophet, for there will be no place elsewhere 220 They had chosen that place at a time when they thought that they had some evidence of God’s favor, and a cause for joy; but he declares that that place would be filled with dead bodies, for they would flee in great numbers into the city, which afterwards would become so full of dead bodies that no room for burial could be found except in Topher. It follows —
12. Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this city as Tophet:
12. Sic faciam loco huic, dicit Jehova, et incolis ejus; et ad ponendum (et ponam) urbem hanc sicut Thopheth.
As he had said before that the valley would be the place of slaughter, that thence it might take its name, so now he declares the same as to the city; “As then Tophet shall be the valley of slaughter, so shall Jerusalem be.” 221 They were no doubt kindled into rage (as we shall see in the next chapter) on hearing this prophecy; but yet God purposed, however irreclaimable and refractory they were, to let them know what was approaching, and though they did not believe the words of the Prophet, God touched and even deeply wounded their consciences, so that before the event came they were miserable. For the same purpose he adds —
13. And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.
13. Et erunt domus Hierusalem et domus regum Jehudah, sicut locus Thopheth immundae; ad omnes domos in quibus suffitum fecerunt super tecta eorum universae militiae coelorum, et libarunt libamen diis alienis.
He describes, as I have said, more at large what he had briefly expressed, for he had spoken of the city; but as the belief of that was difficult, he now enumerates particulars, as though he had said, that Jerusalem was a wide city and splendidly built, for there were there many large and elegant houses, and the royal palaces, yet he says, that all these things would not prevent God to demolish the whole city. And this deserves particular notice, for we know that Satan dazzles our eyes whenever he suggests anything that gives a hope of defense, but what God threatens we think is vain, and as it were fabulous, or at least produces no effect on us. Since then so gross an hypocrisy prevailed in the hearts of the people, the Prophet rightly tried to shake off from them whatever might deceive them.
Hence he says, The houses of Jerusalem, etc. — these were many and splendid — and the houses of the kings of Judah, their palaces either within or without the city shall be as the place of Tophet; that is, no house shall be exempt from slaughter, and no palace shall protect its inhabitants. They shall be unclean, he says, that is, on account of dead bodies, for men slain would be found everywhere; and this is, as it is well known, often mentioned in Scripture as a pollution or defilement. With regard to all the houses; some read, “On account of all the houses,” and ל lamed, is often a causal preposition. But it seems rather to be taken here as explanation; and hence I render the words, With regard to all the houses, so that the Prophet speaks of all the houses in, which they made incense. 222 As then there was no house free from sacrilege, he says that God’s vengeance would penetrate into all houses without any exception.
He says also, On the roofs, with the view of condemning them for their effrontery; for they raised their baseness as a standard, that it might be seen at a distance. They indeed thought that God was delighted with such a service; but how came they to entertain such a foolish persuasion, except through their neglect and contempt of the law, and also through a mad presumption in giving more credit to their own fictions than to certain truth. The Prophet then justly condemns them, for they had cast off all shame, and went up to the roofs of their houses, that their doings might be more open. Then he mentions the whole host of heaven; and says further, that they had poured a libation to foreign gods. We see that many kinds of superstitions prevailed among the people; for he spoke of Baal in the singular number, he mentioned also Baalim, patrons, and he now adds, the whole host of heaven; that is, the sun, the moon, and all the stars.
We hence see that the Jews kept no limits as to their sacrileges, which is usually the case with all the ungodly; for as soon as men begin to turn aside from the pure and genuine worship of God, they sink into the lowest depths. It is then this wantonness that the Prophet now refers to, when he intimates that their various forms of worship were so increased, that they had devised as many gods as there are stars in heaven; which is similar to what is said elsewhere,
“According to the number of thy cities, O Judah, are thy gods,”
(Jer 2:28; Jer 11:13.)
14. Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whether the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’S house; and said to all the people,
14. Et venit (reversus est) Jeremias e Thopheth, quo miserat eum Jehova ad prophetandum; et stetit in atrio domus Jehovae, et dixit ad totum populum,
15. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
15. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ecce ego adduco super urbem hanc et super omnes urbes ejus omne malum quod loquutus sum super eam, quia obduraverunt cervicem suam, ut non audirent sermones meos.
Jeremiah had been led to the very place, when he foretold the punishment, which was nigh at hand, on account of the superstitions of Tophet or of the valley of Hinnom. That his doctrine might be more efficacious, God intended that he should preach before the very altar and in the very valley, then well known for ungodly and false modes of worship. He says now that he went to the Temple and delivered there the same message. We hence learn how great must have been the stupidity and indifference of the people, for the repetition of the prophecy was not unnecessary. For as God knew that the Jews were extremely tardy and slow, he caused them to be warned twice by his servant, and in two different places.
Jeremiah, it is said, returned from Tophet, where God had sent him to prophesy; which last words were added, that we may not suppose that he without reason preached in the valley of Hinnom. God then commanded Jeremiah to denounce there, as it were in the very place, on the Jews their own destruction. And he stood, it is added, in the court of Jehovah’s house. As it was not lawful for the people to enter into the Temple, they usually assembled in the court, which was a part of the Temple. Then Jeremiah stood there; for he had to speak, not to a few, or in a corner, but to the whole people, and to make them witnesses of his prophecy. But we read here nothing new; for, as it has been stated, he was bidden to declare twice the same thing — the approaching calamity; and he was so bidden, because the Jews were so hardened, that they could not easily be moved. That he connects other cities with Jerusalem is not to be wondered at; he thereby intimates, that the whole land was guilty before God, and that therefore desolation was near at hand, as to all the towns and cities; as though he had said, “God will not spare Jerusalem, though it has been hitherto his sanctuary; but as lesser cities are not innocent, they shall also feel the hand of God together with Jerusalem.”
The reason is subjoined, Because they have hardened their neck. He again confirms what we have before observed, — that they had fallen, not through ignorance, but through perverseness; for they had learned with sufficient clearness from the law what was right, and they had also been often warned by the prophets. Hence then their wickedness appeared and their untameable spirit, for they had heard the sound doctrine of the law, and had many to warn them.
Now this passage teaches us that there is no pardon left for us, when we, as it were, avowedly reject the yoke of God. And this ought to be carefully noticed, for we see how difficult it is to subdue men, even when they confess that the word of God is what they hear. Since then there is in all mankind an innate perverseness, that hardly one in a hundred allows himself to be ruled by God’s word, it behoves us seriously to consider what is here said, — that they are unworthy of mercy who harden their neck. Hence it is said in Ps 95:8,
“Harden not your hearts like your fathers.”
And a clearer definition follows, That they might not hear my words. Though there be hardness in all mortals, yet when the doctrine of salvation is made known and not received, then a greater impiety and pride shew themselves; for in that case, men hear God speaking, and yet rob him of his authority. It then follows, that the more clearly God makes known his truth, the less ground of excuse there is; for then especially comes to light the impiety of men, and their disdain seems incapable of being subdued.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast been pleased to prescribe a rule for us, by which we may truly and purely worship thee, — O grant, that we may follow this plain rule, and never indulge our own imaginations, nor trifle with thee through our own fancies or through the foolish wisdom of our flesh, but continue in thy law, and in the doctrine which thine only-begotten Son, our Lord, has delivered to us, so that we may advance more and more in the knowledge of that glory, the foretaste of which thou givest us now, until we shall at length fully and perfectly enjoy it, when we shall be gathered into that celestial kingdom, which thy Son has procured for us by his own blood. — Amen.
The literal rendering of this verse I conceive to be the following, —
“Thus saith Jehovah, go and get; bottle from the maker of earthenware, and some of the elders of the people and of the elders of the priests.”
The מ, of, or from, before elders, implies a part; and it is the idiom of the language not to put in “some,” — “get (or take) from the elders,” etc. He was first to get the bottle, and then some of the elders. The Vulgate very strangely represents the Prophet as taking the bottle from the elders, omitting the ו, and as taking it from both elders! — Ed
It appears that the valley of Hinnom was not to the east, but to the south of Jerusalem. See Jos 15:8. The Keri and several copies read החרסית and it is given untranslated by the Septuagint the Syriac, and the Arabic. It is rendered “earthen” by the Vulgate, as though the ס, as Calvin mentions, is substituted for ש. In this case it might be rendered “the potsherd” — “at the entrance of the gate, The potsherd.” It was the gate, before which did lie all the broken vessels, and the dirt and filth from the Temple. For this reason it may be that the Targum renders it here, “the gate of the dunghill.”
Parkhurst, however, takes the word as it is in the text, and gives this version, “the gate of the burnings,” so called because of the practice of burning children in the valley opposite the gate. See Jer 7:31. All these names would properly designate the south gate. — Ed.
Perhaps the idea would be better expressed, if we were to say, “They had alienized the place,” or heathenized it, made it a heathen place. To alienate is to transfer a right or property from one to another. This was indeed true, for they separated as it were the place from God and transferred it to heathen deities. But the idea here seems to be, that they made the place heathenish: “and have heathenized this place.” “Alienated” is the Septuagint; “made it alien,” the Vulgate; “polluted,” the Syriac; and “defiled,” the Targum. — Ed.
The plain meaning is, I will frustrate all your plots and projects, whereby you think to escape and to secure yourselves, and make them as vain and empty as this earthen bottle is. — Gataker.
The words are in the singular number — “The bird of heaven and the beast of the field.” — Ed.
Blayney gives the same meaning, —
“And I will make this city an object of astonishment and of hissing.”
The Vulgate and the Syriac are the same; but the Septuagint and the Targum have “desolation” instead of “astonishment.” The word שמה signifies both, as in Hebrew the same word often expresses the cause and the effect: desolation is the cause, astonishment is the effect. The primary meaning is what is given mostly by the Septuagint and very seldom the secondary. The literal rendering of the sentence is, —
“And I will set this city for an astonishment
and for a hissing.”
Plagam; the original word is considered to be in the plural number, and means strokes, stripes, scourges, but not plagues in the usual sense of the word — pestilences: it may be rendered smitings, or more properly, inflictions. It occurs three times in De 28:59, and is rendered plagues, but it ought to be smitings or inflictions; and so here, “on account of all her inflictions.” — Ed.
The expression, according to the Hebrew, is, “I will cause them to eat.” What a punishment! Those who sacrificed their children to their idols were judicially brought to such straits as to be driven to eat their own children! God often punishes men in a way that corresponds with their sin. Through superstitious madness the Jews willingly offered their children in sacrifice to demons; and through the extreme cravings of hunger they were constrained to eat their own children! — Ed.
The word is מצור, which means a siege, as well as tribulation or distress; and the former is the most suitable word here; and so it is rendered by the Targum and the early versions, except the Syriac. — Ed
This is evidently the meaning, and not that given in our version. See note in vol. 1, p. 415. — Ed.
The ellipsis in the last clause is what often occurs in Hebrew; it may be supplied in our language by that, —
“Thus will I do to this place, saith Jehovah, and to its inhabitants, and that to make this city like Tophet.”
The full sentence is, “and thus will I do to make,” etc. — Ed.
On account of all the houses,” is the Septuagint and the Targum; “all the houses,” is the Vulgate and the Syriac, being put in apposition with “the houses of Jerusalem,” etc.
The words which follow are literally, — “which they have burned incense on their roofs,” which we properly render in our language, “on whose roofs they have burned incense;” but the Welsh is literally the Hebrew, Y rhai yr arogldarthasant ar eu pennau, — “which they incensed on their roofs;” but “incensed” in this sense is not used. — Ed.