Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 19: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, came this word unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
1. Principio regni Jehoiakim filii Josiae regis Jehudah fuit sermo hic ad jeremiam a Jehova, dicendo,
2. Thus saith the LORD to me; Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck,
2. Sic dicit jehova ad me (mihi,) fac tibi vincula et juga, et pone ea super collum tuum;
3. And send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah;
3. Et mitte ad regem Edom, et ad regem Moab, et ad regem filiorum Ammon, et ad regem Tyri, et ad regem Sidonis, per manum nuntiorum, qui venient Jerusalem ad Zedechiam regem Jehudah;
4. And command them to say unto their masters, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Thus shall ye say unto your masters;
4. Et mandata dabis illis ad dominos suos, dicendo, Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Sic dicetis ad dominos vestros,
5. I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me.
5. Ego feci terram, hominem et jumentum quod super faciem terrae est, in virtute mea magna, et brachio meo extento; et dedi eam illi qui placeret in oculis meis.
Jeremiah prefaces this prediction by saying, that it was delivered to him at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign. But this beginning, as we have said, extended to the whole of his reign while it was prosperous and entire. While, then, Jehoiakim enjoyed a quiet possession of the kingdom, Jeremiah was bidden to make known what had been committed to him, not to Jehoiakim himself, but, as we learn from the third verse, to Zedekiah who had not immediately succeeded him, but became at last king after various changes. God, then, committed this prophecy to his servant, but did not design it to be immediately promulgated. If it be asked, why God designed what he purposed to be made known to be concealed for so long a time? the answer is this, — that it was done for the sake of the Prophet himself, in order that he might with more alacrity perform his office, knowing of a certainty that no one thought that it could ever happen, and certainly the thing was incredible. 177
God’s design then was to communicate this to his Prophet himself, that he might see afar off what no one, as I have just said, had thought could ever come to pass. This is the reason, as I think, why this prophecy was not immediately published, but was like a treasure deposited in the Prophet’s bosom, until the ripened time came. I shall defer till tomorrow the explanation of this prophecy.
Grant, Almighty God, that when at any time thou grievously threatenest us, we may not, on that account, become angry, but learn to acknowledge our sins, and truly to humble ourselves under thy mighty hand, and also to deprecate thy wrath, and to prove by true repentance, that we profit by thy word, and believe thy denunciations, so that we may become partakers of that mercy, through which thou promisest to be propitious to all who turn to thee: and may we thus advance more and more, and persevere in the right course of repentance, until having at length put off all the vices of the flesh, we shall attain to a perfection of righteousness and the fruition of that glory which has been laid up for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture one Hundred and Third
We explained yesterday why this command was given to Jeremiah at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign, which was not yet to be executed until the time of Zedekiah: it was God’s design to strengthen him in the meantime, lest he should faint in his course. Let us now see what was the object of this prophecy and what is its meaning.
The Prophet seems to have addressed the ambassadors who were sent by neighboring kings to King Zedekiah; and he was bidden to command them to declare each to his master, that they were all to come under the yoke of the king of Babylon. There is, moreover, no doubt but that God designed especially and chiefly to give a lesson to Zedekiah and to the Jews; for these legations mentioned here might have so emboldened them as to despise all prophecies, and to think themselves beyond all danger. For the purpose for which these legations were sent by the king of Sidon, by the king of Tyrus, by the king of Moab and Ammon, ought to be particularly observed: when they saw that the king of Babylon would not spare them, they began to join their forces. Every one at first consulted his own advantage, and saw no need of mutual help; and so it was that the Chaldeans easily overcame them while they were disunited. Experience at length taught them, that neither the king of Judah nor ally of the neighboring kings could sustain the contest unless they formed a confederacy. Thus, then, it happened that the king of Tyrus, the king of Sidon, the king of Moab, and the king of Ammon, offered their forces and their money to the king of Judah, and that he also promised to help them in return, if the Chaldean attacked them. It was therefore a new occasion for confidence to the Jews, so that they gathered courage, and thus were emboldened to resist, relying on so many neighboring kings.
The Chaldeans had been hitherto successful, for they had assailed each by himself; but when all of them were ready by their united forces to oppose and restrain their attacks, it was hardly credible that they could be conquered. It was therefore God’s purpose to remove this false confidence, and to warn Zedekiah and the whole people, lest they should be deceived by such allurements, but that they might know that they were patiently to endure the punishment inflicted on them by God. This therefore was the reason why the Prophet was sent to the ambassadors who had come to Jerusalem. He was not set a teacher over them; but this was done with reference to Zedekiah and the people. It is yet probable that these commands were set forth before the king, that the king might know that he had been wholly deceived, and that he still foolishly trusted to the subsidies which had been offered.
We may easily imagine how grievous it must have been to the king and to the people to hear this prophecy. The ambassadors were in a manner dishonored; the kings, by whom they had been sent, might have complained that they were treated with great indignity. Hence the king and the people must have been very incensed against Jeremiah. But the Prophet boldly performed what God commanded him, as it behoved him. And we shall hereafter see, that his words were addressed to King Zedekiah rather than to these heathens.
We now understand the reason why God would have his Prophet to give these commands to the ambassadors, who had been sent by heathen kings to King Zedekiah: it was that the king might know that it was wholly useless for these kings to promise their assistance; for he had to do, not with the Chaldean king, but rather with the judgment of God, which is irresistible, and which men in vain struggle with.
Though the Prophet was bidden to command the ambassadors to say to the kings by whom they had been sent, Thus saith Jehovah, of hosts, 178 they yet might have refused to do so, and that with indignation: “What! Are we come here to be ambassadors to thee? and who indeed art thou who commandest us? besides, dost thou think that we are so mad as to threaten for thy sake, our kings and masters, and to declare to them what thou biddest, that they are shortly to become the servants of the Chaldean king?” The ambassadors then might have thus treated the holy Prophet with derision and laughter: but, as we have said, the whole was done for the sake of Zedekiah and the people, in order that the Prophet might dissipate that vain splendor and pomp, by which he saw that Zedekiah and all the Jews were deceived; for they thought that they had as it were high and large mountains to be set in opposition to the Chaldean king and his army: “On what part can they assail us, since the king of Tyrus is on our side, and also the king of Sidon, the king of Moab, and the king of Ammon? these rule widely, and their cities are impregnable.” Thus, then, the Jews were convinced that they would be exempt from every trouble and molestation; but in order that they might not deceive themselves with that vain display, Jeremiah said,
“Declare, ye ambassadors, to your masters what God has spoken, even that ye must submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon.”
And a visible symbol was added in order to confirm the prediction: the Prophet was bidden to put a yoke on his neck, or yokes, for he speaks in the plural number. טומ muth, means a pole, a yoke, a transverse piece of wood: and no doubt he applied some pieces of wood to his neck, like the yoke laid on oxen; and then he tied this yoke or crossbar; for רסי, isar, means to bind or tie, and so תורסומ, musarut, are bands; רסומ, musar, also means sometimes a girdle; but here it is to be taken for bands or ligaments. It was a sad spectacle to see on the neck of Jeremiah, when he went forth, the symbol of the bondage of all kings and nations: he was as it were in the place of all a captive before the time: but when God laid a yoke on the Jews and on all other nations, Jeremiah was then a free man; for though he bore this mark of bondage, he yet expected God’s judgment with a resigned mind, while others disregarded it. But this confirmation rendered them more inexcusable, as the case is, when God, to strengthen faith, adds sacraments or other helps to his word, by which means he impresses us the more, for he thus teaches not only our ears, but also our eyes and all our senses: when God thus omits nothing that may tend to strengthen our faith in his word, a heavier condemnation awaits us, if such signs avail not.
We then perceive the reason why the Prophet applied to his neck the symbol of future bondage: were there any teachable among the people, to see such a sign with their eyes must have been useful to them. But as the greater part had hardened themselves in their obstinacy, what ought to have done them good, by humbling them in time before God, so as to anticipate his judgment, had no other effect but to render their punishment more grievous.
Then follow these words, I have made the earth, the man and the beast, which are on the face of the earth, by my great power, and by mine extended arm. 179 The spectacle would have been unmeaning and to no purpose, had Jeremiah only put the yoke on his neck, and added no instruction; for we know that all signs are as it were dead, except life is given them by the word. As then an image avails not much, so whatever signs may be set before our eyes, they would be frivolous and without meaning, were no doctrine added as the life. And hence also is condemned the madness of the Papists, who amuse the minds of the people with many signs, while no doctrine is conveyed. It therefore follows that they are mere figments, and attended with no profit. God, then, has ever added to signs his doctrine, which may therefore be truly compared to the soul, which gives life to the body, that would otherwise be without motion or strength. On this account Jeremiah shews what the yoke meant. He also speaks of the power and sovereign authority of God; for kings, though they confess that God holds the government of the world, cannot yet entertain the idea that they can be in a moment overwhelmed and cast down from their dignity. For they seem to themselves to be fixed in their nests, and so they promise to themselves a permanent condition, and imagine that they are not subject to the common lot of mortals.
As, then, kings are so inflated with pride, the Lord used this preface, that he made the earth and all living beings. He speaks not of heaven, but mentions only that he made the earth, and man, and the animals which are on the face of the earth; and adds, by my great power and extended arm Why was this said, except that men might be awakened on hearing that the earth continues not as it is, but as it is sustained by God’s power by which it was once created? The same power preserves men and animals; for nothing can remain safe except God exercises from heaven his hidden power. This, then, was the reason why these words were introduced. God set his own arm and power in opposition to the pride of those who thought that they stood by their own power, and did not acknowledge that they were dependent on the nod of God alone, who sustained them as long as he pleased, and then overthrew and reduced them to nothing when it seemed good to him.
This doctrine, then, ought to be applied to ourselves: for Jeremiah did not speak generally and indiscriminately of God’s power, but accommodated to the subject in hand what he said of God’s power, that men might, know that there is nothing fixed or permanent in this world, but that God preserves men and animals, and yet in such a way, that at any moment he can by a single breath reduce to nothing all those who exist and all that they have. It follows —
6. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him.
6. Et nunc ego dedi omnes terras istas in manum Nebuchadnezer regis abylonis servi mei, atque etiam bestiam agri (hoc est, bestias agrestes) dedi illi ad serviendum ei:
7. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him.
7. Et servient ei omnes gentes et filio ejus, et filio filii ejus usque dum venerit temput terrae ejus, atque etiam ipsius; et servient ei gentes multae (vel, magnae) et reges magni.
God, after having claimed to himself the government of the whole earth, and shewn that it is in his power to transfer kingdoms to whom he pleases, now declares his decree — that he would subject to the king of Babylon all the neighboring lands, even Tyrus and Sidon, the country of Moab, the country of Ammon, the country of Edom, and even Judea itself. If Jeremiah had begun by saying, that God had given to King Nebuchadnezzar these lands, the prediction would not have been so easily received, for pride would have been as it were an obstacle to bolt up their minds and hearts. But the preface, as it has been stated, served to shew that they were not to think that they could stand against the will of God. After having then brought down the great height which seemed fixed in their hearts, he now declares that King Nebuchadnezzar would be the lord over Judah as well as over all the countries around, for God had set him over these lands.
He extends also this subjection, of which he speaks, over the very beasts, and not without reason; for he thus indirectly condemns the hardness of men, if they resisted, as though he had said, “What will it avail you to attempt with refractory hearts to shake off the yoke? for the very beasts, tigers, wolves, lions, and every fierce and savage animal in the land, even all these beasts shall know that the King Nebuchadnezzar is their master, even by a hidden instinct. Since, then, these beasts shall obey King Nebuchadnezzar, because he has been raised by God to that dignity, how great must be the stupidity of men in not acknowledging what the very beasts understand?” We hence see the design of mentioning the beasts; the Prophet upbraided men with their madness, if they ferociously resisted the King Nebuchadnezzar; for in that, case the beasts of the field were endued with more intelligence than they. For whence is it that beasts have fear, except that God has imprinted certain marks of dignity on kings, according to what is said by Daniel. (Da 2:38.) As, then, the majesty of God appears in kings, the very beasts, though void of reason and judgment, yet willingly obey through a hidden impulse of nature. Hence inexcusable is the pride of men, if at least they do not imitate the example of the very beasts. 180
Nebuchadnezzar is afterwards called the servant of God, not that he was worthy of such an honor, as it had never been his purpose to labor for God; but he was called a servant, because God designed to employ him in his service, as those are called in the Psalm the sons of God, to whom the word of God was addressed, that is, to whom he gave authority to rule. (Ps 82:6; Joh 10:35.) So also Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant, because he was divinely endued with sovereign power. This he did not know, nor was this said for his sake, nor was he honored with such a name, as though God regarded him as one of his own people; but this had a reference to the Jews and to all the other nations, in order that they might be fully persuaded that they were obeying God in humbling themselves and in undertaking the yoke of the king of Babylon, for this pleased God. There is no power, says Paul, but from God, (Ro 13:1,) and that sentence is derived from this principle, that all power is from God; for he gives the power to rule and to govern to whom he pleases. Whosoever, then, are endued with the power of the sword and public authority, are God’s servants, though they exercise tyranny and be robbers. They are servants, not with respect to themselves, but because God would have them to be acknowledged as his ministers until their time shall come, according to what follows —
Serve him shall all nations, and his son, and the son of his son The greater part think that Nebuchadnezzar had only two successors of his own posterity, Evil-merodach and Belshazar; others name five, and two of them between Evil-merodach and Belshazar. Those who think that there were no more than three, quote this testimony of the Prophet, for he names only the king’s son and his grandson; but this would be no sufficient reason. I am, however, disposed to follow what has been more commonly received, that Belshazar, the last king of Babylon, who was slain by Cyrus, was the third from Nebuchadnezzar. 181
But this is not the main thing; for the Prophet speaks of the time of the Chaldean monarchy as well as of the king, until the time of his land shall come. The time of the land was that determined by heaven; for as to every one of us there is a limit fixed beyond which no one can pass, so we ought to judge of kingdoms. As, then, the life of every individual has its fixed limits, so God has determined with regard to the empires of the whole earth; thus the life and death of every kingdom and nation are in the hand and at the will of God. For this reason it is now said, that the time of Chaldea would come, and then it is added, and of the king himself. 182 This ought not to be confined to Nebuchadnezzar himself; but as his grandson represented him, the time, though not strictly, may yet be aptly said to have been that, when God had put an end to him and to his power when Babylon was taken by the Medes and Persians. This was, however, at the same time for the comfort of the godly; for it was not God’s design to leave the faithful without some alleviation in their trouble, lest grief should overpower them; when they found themselves oppressed by the Chaldeans, and in a manner overwhelmed, doubtless despair might have crept in, and hence murmurings and blasphemies might have followed. It was, therefore, God’s purpose to mitigate in some measure their bitterness when he added, that the time of Nebuchadnezzar himself would come, that is, the time in which he was to perish. When, therefore, the faithful saw him taking possession of all lands, and dreaded by all nations, they were not to despond, but rather to extend their thoughts to that time of which Jeremiah had predicted, that they might receive some alleviation to their grief, and be enabled to bear with more resignation the cross laid on them. In this expression, then, is included a promise; for the hope of deliverance was set before them, when they understood that reverses would soon happen to King Nebuchadnezzar.
He afterwards adds, serve him shall great, or many nations (for the word םיבר, rebim, means both) and great kings 183 This was distinctly expressed, that no conspiracy might deceive the Jews and other nations; for they thought that when united together they could offer an effectual resistance: “Accumulate your forces and your efforts,” says God; “yet all these shall be dissipated; for my decree is, that great kings and many nations shall serve the Chaldeans.” It follows —
8. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
8. Erit autem ut gens et regnum, quae non servierint ei, nempe Nebuchadnezer regi Babylonis, et qui non posuerit collum suum sub jugo regis Babylonis, gladio et fame et peste visitabo super gentem illam, dicit Jehova, donec interfecero ipsos in manu ejus.
After having promulgated his decree by the mouth of Jeremiah, God now adds a threatening, in order that the Jews as well as others might willingly, and with resigned and humble minds, undertake the yoke laid on them. The Prophet, indeed, as we have said, had the Jews more especially in view; but he extended, as it were by accident, his prediction to aliens. We hence see why this denunciation of punishment was added. It ought, indeed, to have been enough to say, that Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant to subdue Judea; but as it was a hard thing for the Jews to receive that enemy, nor could they be induced to submit to him, it became necessary to add this threatening, “See what ye do, for ye cannot be stronger than God.” This threatening is indeed included in the former verse; but we know how tardy men are to learn, especially when any false impression has preoccupied their minds. As, then, the Jews refused the authority of Nebuchadnezzar, though the Prophet had testified to them that he was God’s servant, they would not have hesitated still to evade and to be refractory, had not their hardness and obduracy been broken by this commination.
And it shall be, that the nation and kingdom, which will not serve him, even Nebuchadnezzar, and not put their neck under his yoke, it shall be, that I shall visit that nation, etc. God speaks without distinction of all nations; but the Jews ought to have reasoned from the less to the greater; for if God would so severely punish the pride of the Gentiles, in case they withdrew themselves from under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, how much heavier and more dreadful vengeance ought the Jews to have dreaded, who had been warned by the Prophet, and who doubtless knew that this happened not to them by chance, but that it was God’s righteous judgment, by which their sins were punished? Were they obstinately to attempt to shake off the yoke from their neck, would not this have been to fight against God? We now, then, perceive that the Prophet spoke thus indiscriminately of all nations, that he might sharply rebuke the Jews; and he showed that their ferocity would be inexcusable were they not willingly to humble themselves.
By mentioning twice, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, he seems to imply something important; for they might have objected and said, “What have we to do with a king so distant? and by what right does he now invade our countries? why is he not content with his own burdens? why does he not abide in his own city and in his own land?” And the name of Babylon was at the same time hateful, for they had carried on war with many nations, and reduced the Assyrians under their yoke, who were neighbors to the Jews, and the Assyrians were also in a manner connected with them; and their name was no doubt abhorred by the Jews, on account of the wars perpetually carried on by them. Hence God meets here these objections, and shows that however odious Babylon might be to the Jews, and that however remote Nebuchadnezzar might be from Judea, yet his yoke was to be borne, as it had been so appointed by God. This seems to me to be the reason why Jeremiah repeated the words, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon
There is also a denunciation of punishment, that God would visit with pestilence, famine, and the sword We know that these words are commonly mentioned in Scripture, when it is God’s purpose to set forth the signs of his wrath. He has indeed various and innumerable ways by which he chastises us; but these are his most remarkable and most known scourges, the pestilence, the sword, and the famine. He then says, that he would visit the nations who would not obey King Nebuchadnezzar with these three scourges; and at the same time he shews what the end would be, until I slay, or consume them by his hand He not only threatens them with pestilence, famine, and the sword, but he also shows that the end would be such, that the nations who might at first obstinately resist, would yet be constrained to undertake the yoke, and to acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as their king and master. This is the reason why he says, by his hand
Death might have seemed lighter, if only they could have escaped the tyranny of Nebuchadnezzar; but since both would happen to them, even to be consumed by famine, the sword, and the pestilence, and yet not to be able to escape bondage, it was a miserable prospect indeed. We now then perceive why God speaks of the hand of the King Nebuchadnezzar; it was, that the Jews might know that they could effect nothing by seeking means to escape, for they would at length, willing or unwilling, be brought under the hand and under the yoke of this king.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not in various ways to arm thine hand against us, we may, being at least touched by thy holy admonitions, humble ourselves under thy mighty hand, and thus anticipate thy judgment, so that thou mayest meet us as a merciful and gracious God, and not only remit to us the punishments which we have deserved, but also shew and perpetuate to us thy paternal favor, until, having been led by thine hand, we shall come unto that celestial kingdom which thou hast prepared for us, and which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fourth
9. Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon:
9. Et vos ne audiatis prophetas vestros, et divinos vestros, et somniatores vestros, et augures vestros, et incantatores vestros, qui dicunt vobis (loquuntur vobiscum dicendo; est quidem idem verbum, sed repetitio esset nimis dura,) Non servietis (vel, ne serviatis) regi Babylonis (est verbum futuri temporis, sed quidam accipiunt in modo hortandi, ut satis tritum est in lingua Hebraica.)
As Jeremiah had declared to the king, as well as to the citizens, that they could not escape the punishment that was at hand, he now shakes off from them that vain confidence, which was as an obstacle in the way, so that they were not touched by threatenings, nor received wholesome warnings. For the false prophets deceived them by their flatteries, and promised that all things would happen prosperously to them. As then the Prophet saw that the ears both of the king and of the people were closed against him, so that he could do little or nothing by exhorting and threatening them, he added what he deemed necessary, even that all the things which the false prophets vainly said were altogether fallacious.
He therefore said, Hear ye not your prophets and your diviners; for םסק, kosam, is to divine; then he adds, your dreamers; in the fourth place, your augurs; in the fifth place, your sorcerers, or charmers. Some indeed regard םיננע, onnim, as observers of time, for הנוע, oune, is a stated time, hence they who imagine that a thing is to be done on this or that day, and promise a happy issue, were called, as they think, םיננע onnim, because they superstitiously observed hours and periods of time. But as ןנע, onen, means a cloud, they may also be called םיננע, onnim, who divined by the stars, and hence took counsel as to what was to be done. 184
But let us now inquire, whether Jeremiah speaks of such dreamers, and others as were among the Jews, or whether he includes also such as were found among the neighboring nations. It seems probable to me, that what he says ought to be confined to the Jews; for I take the word ye, as emphatical, Hear ye not, etc. There follows afterwards an explanation, According to these words have I spoken to the king; and then he adds, that he spoke to the priests and to the people. Hence then we conclude, that the whole of this part was probably addressed to the Jews alone. Divinations,
auguries, and incantations, were indeed prohibited in the Law; but we well know how often the Jews gave up themselves to these tricks of the devil, the Law of God being wholly despised by them. It is then no wonder if at this time there were among them magicians, as well as augurs and diviners, notwithstanding the manifest prohibition of the Law. We may, however, so understand these words, as that the Prophet compared these false prophets to diviners, as well as to augurs and sorcerers. He sets, in the first place, the prophets, but in mentioning them, he seems to mark them with disgrace, because they had departed from their own office, and had assumed another character, for they deceived the people, as augurs, diviners, and magicians were wont to deceive the nations.
It is indeed certain, as I have before reminded you, that the Prophet spoke, not for the sake of other nations, but that the Jews might be rendered inexcusable, or, if there was any hope of repentance, that they might be reminded not to proceed in their usual course. We hence see the meaning of the words, and at the same time perceive the design of the Prophet, or rather of the Holy Spirit, who spoke by his mouth.
I said at first that the Prophet met an objection, which might have lessened or taken away the authority of his doctrine; for it was not a small trial, that the prophets denied that any evil was at hand. For the prophetic name was ever held in great repute and respect among the Jews. But we see also at this day, and experience sufficiently teaches us, that men are more ready to receive error and vanity, than to receive the word of God; and so it was then, and the Jews imagined that they honored God, because they regarded his Prophets. But when any one faithfully performed the prophetic office, he was often despised. The Jews therefore were taken up only with a mere name, and thought that they did all that was required by saying that they attended to the prophets, while at the same time they boldly despised the true servants of God. It is so at this day; while the name of the Catholic Church is boasted of under the Papacy, it seems that a regard is had for God; but when the word of God is brought forward, when what has been spoken by apostles and prophets is adduced, it is regarded almost as nothing. We hence see that the Papists separate God as it were from himself, as the Jews formerly did.
And hence also we see how necessary it was for Jeremiah to remove such a stumblingblock; for the Jews might have pertinaciously insisted on this objection, — “Thou alone threatenest us with exile; but we have many who glory in being prophets, and who promise safety to us: wouldest thou have us to believe thee alone rather than these who are many?” Thus the Prophet, being alone, had to contend with the false prophets, who were many. And we have now a similar contest with the Papists; for they boast, of their number; and then they object, that nothing would be certain, if it was allowed to every one to appeal to the word of God. They hence conclude that we ought simply to believe the Church, and to receive whatever is brought under the pretense of being Scripture. But Jeremiah had confidence in his own vocation, and had really proved his divine mission, and also that he proclaimed the messages which he had received from the mouth of God. As then he had given certain proofs of his vocation, he had a right to oppose all those false prophets, and not only to disregard their lies, but also in a manner to tread them under his feet, as he seems to have done, Hear ye not, he says, your prophets
He concedes to them an honorable name, but improperly. It is therefore a catachristic way of speaking, when he names them prophets; but he leaves them their title, as it was not necessary to contend about words. Yet he shews at the same time that they were wholly unworthy of being heard. Hence no authority was left them, though a mere empty name was conceded to them. It is the same at this day, when we call those priests, bishops, and presbyters, who cover themselves with these masks, and yet shew that there is in them nothing episcopal, nothing ecclesiastical, and, in short, nothing that belongs to the doctrine of Christ, or to any lawful order.
He afterwards adds, Who say to yote, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon We have said that the last clause is rendered by some as an exhortation, Serve ye not the king of Babylon, as though the false prophets stimulated the Jews to shake off the yoke.: But the proper meaning of the verb may be still retained, Ye shall not serve; for we know that the false prophets, when they came forth, pretended to be God’s ambassadors, sent to promise tranquillity, peace, and prosperity to the Jews. Thus they reigned to do, when yet God, as it has been stated, and as we shall again see presently, had testified that there was no other remedy for the people but by submitting to the king of Babylon. It follows —
10. For they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish.
10. Quia mendacium ipsi prophetant vobis, ut procul abducant vos e terra vestra, et ejiciam vos, et pereatis.
This verse also confirms what I have said, — that this discourse was designed for the Jews, and that it was peculiarly for them; for what is said here could not be applied to heathen nations. What then had been lately said of augurs, magicians, and diviners, ought no doubt to be understood of those impostors who, under the name of prophets, deceived that miserable people.
He says that they prophesied falsehood Many, no doubt, adduced, for the purpose of opposing him, their own evasions: “Art thou alone to be believed? dost thou alone tell the truth? how dost thou prove that what thou teachest is an oracle from heaven, and that these deceive us?” For so do the ungodly usually clamor, as we see to be the case at this day with the Papists, who cover themselves with a pretense of this kind: for whatever abomination there may be, they cover it over by means of this sophistry alone — that the Scripture is obscure, and that controversy is uncertain, and that therefore nothing is to be believed but what the Church has decreed: so with them the definition of men, as they say, is the only rule of faith; and hence, also, the whole authority of Scripture is by them trodden under foot, as though God had in vain spoken by his own prophets and apostles. There is no doubt but the doctrine of Jeremiah was opposed by such clamors: he however persevered in the course of his office, and boldly condemned the prophets, that they only deceived the Jews by their lies.
He adds, that they may remove you far from your land I have said that this cannot be applied to other nations: but God gave a hope of mercy to his people, provided they willingly obeyed the king of Babylon. It was not indeed a full pardon; yet it was owing to his kindness that God did not treat the Jews with strict justice, but chastised them with gentleness and paternal moderation: for it was an endurable punishment, to remain in their own country and to pay tribute to the king of Babylon. God then would have mitigated the punishment of the people, if only they had willingly undertaken the yoke., This is what Jeremiah now says: “The false prophets seek only this, to drive you far from your country; for they would have you to think that you shall be free from all punishment: but God is prepared to deal gently with you; though he will not wholly pass by your vices, yet your chastisement will be one easily borne, for ye shall remain in your own country. But if ye will believe these impostors, they will lead you away into distant exile; for God says, I will cast you away, and ye shall perish.” 185
If it be objected again that the Jews could not form a certain opinion, whether Jeremiah was to be believed rather than the others who were many, the answer is at hand: they were themselves conscious of being wicked, and there was no need of long debates to ascertain what was true; for every one found God’s judgment to be against himself, as they had departed from the pure worship of God, and had polluted themselves with many ungodly superstitions, and a license in all kinds of sins had also prevailed among them: they had been warned, not once, nor for one day, but by many prophets, and also continually and for a long time. As then they had thus provoked God’s vengeance by their obstinate wickedness, how could they be in doubt respecting Jeremiah, whether he had, as from the mouth of God, and as a celestial herald declared to them what they deserved? And surely whenever men pretend that they have fallen through error or ignorance, they can always be deprived of this evasion; for their own conscience convicts them, and is sufficient to condemn them.
God adds, that the Jews would perish, except they anticipated extreme judgment, that is, except they submitted to paternal chastisement. This passage deserves to be specially noticed, as we shall presently see again; for we are here taught that whenever God shews some signs of displeasure, there is nothing better for us than to prepare ourselves for patience; for we shall thus ever give place and a free passage to his mercy: but by pertinacity we gain nothing, and do nothing but kindle his wrath more and more. This then is what Jeremiah means when he declares, that they who submitted not to the king of Babylon would perish. It follows —
11. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein.
11. Gens autem quae adduxerit cervicem suam sub jugum regis Babyonis, et servierit ei, relinquam eam in terra sua, dicit Jehova, et colet eam et habitabit in ea.
He seems indeed to speak here indiscriminately of all nations; but the admonition belongs to the Jews alone, as we have said, and as it appears from the context. He seems however to mention the nations, that he might more sharply touch the Jews, as though he had said, “Though God’s promises are not to be extended to heathen nations, yet God will spare the Tyrians and the Moabites, if they submit quietly to the king of Babylon, and take upon them his yoke. If God will spare heathen nations, when yet he has promised them nothing, what may his chosen people expect? But if he will punish nations who err in darkness, what will become of a people who knowingly and wilfully resist God and his judgments?” For obstinacy in the Jews was mad impiety, as though they avowedly designed to carry on war with God; for they knew that Nebuchadnezzar was the executioner of God’s vengeance. When therefore they ferociously attempted to exempt themselves from his power, it was to fight with God, as though they would not submit to his scourges.
We now then perceive why Jeremiah spoke what we here read, not only of the Jews, but also generally of all nations, The nation that brings its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serves him, I will leave it in its own land We must yet bear in mind what I have before said, that the Jews were the people especially regarded. If, then, they had given place to God’s kindness, he would have graciously spared them, and they would have perpetually enjoyed their own inheritance; but it was their obstinacy that drove them far into exile. And hence he adds, I will leave it in its land; and it shall cultivate it and dwell in it
There is a striking allusion in the word דבע, obed, for it means to serve, and also to cultivate; but there is to be understood a contrast between cultivating the land and that subjection, to which he exhorted the Jews, as though he had said, — “Serve the king of Babylon, that the land may serve you; it will be the reward of your obedience, if you will submit yourselves to the power of the king of Babylon, that the land will submit, to you, and you will compel it to serve you, so that it will bring forth food for you.” We hence see that God promised that the land would serve the people, if they refused not to serve the king of Babylon.
And hence also we may gather useful instruction, — that all the elements would be serviceable to us, were we willingly to obey God, but that on the contrary, the heaven, and the earth, and all the elements will be opposed to us, if we pertinaciously resist God. But Jeremiah speaks here more expressly of the submission which men render to God, when they calmly receive his correction, and acknowledge, while he inflicts punishment, that they justly deserve it, and do not refuse to be chastised by his hand. When, therefore, men thus submit to God’s judgment, they obtain his favor, so that the earth, and heaven, and all the elements will serve them. But the more perversely men exalt themselves and raise their horns against God, the more bondage shall they feel; for their own chains bind them stronger than anything else, when they thus struggle with God and do not humble themselves under his mighty hand. The same thing the Prophet still more clearly confirms when he says, —
12. I spake also to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.
12. Ad Zedekiam ergo regem Jehudah loquutus sum secundum conctos sermones istos, dicendo, Adducite colla vestra ad jugum regis Babylonis et servite ei et populo ejus, et vivetis.
This verse proves with sufficient clearness that what we have hitherto explained was spoken especially to the chosen people; for Jeremiah tells us here, that he spoke to the King Zedekiah, and in the sixteenth verse he adds that he spoke to the priests and to the people. He was not then sent as a teacher to the Moabites, the Tyrians, and other foreign nations; but God had prescribed to him his limits, within which he was to keep. He therefore says, that he spoke to the king
We hence learn what he had before said, that he was set over kingdoms and nations; for the doctrine taught by the prophets is higher than all earthly elevations. Jeremiah was, indeed, one of the people, and did not exempt himself from the authority of the king, nor did he pretend that he was released from the laws, because he possessed that high dignity by which he was superior to kings, as the Papal clergy do, who vauntingly boast of their immunity, which is nothing else but a license to live in wickedness. The Prophet then kept himself in his own rank like others; and yet when he had to exercise his spiritual jurisdiction in God’s name, he spared not the king nor his counsellors; for he knew that his doctrine was above all kings; the prophetic office, then, is eminent above all the elevations of kings.
And skilfully no less than wisely did the Prophet exercise his office by first assailing the king, as he had been sent to him. At the same time he addressed him in the plural number, Bring ye your neck, he says; and he did so, because the greater part of the people depended on the will of their king. Then he adds, Serve ye his people It was, indeed, a thing very unpleasant to be heard, when the Prophet commanded the Jews to submit, not only to the king of Babylon, but also to all his subjects; it was an indignity that must have greatly exasperated them. But he added this designedly, because he saw that he had to do with men refractory and untamable. As, then, they were not pliant, he dealt the more sharply with them, as though he wished to break down their foolish pride. It was not therefore a superfluous expression, when he bade the Jews to obey all the Chaldeans; for they had been so blinded by perverse haughtiness, that for a long time they had resisted God and his prophets, and continued untamable.
There is afterwards added a promise, and ye shall live, 186 which confirms the truth to which I have referred, — that it is the best remedy for alleviating evils, to acknowledge that we are justly smitten, and to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God; for thus it happens, that evils are turned into medicines, and thus become salutary to us. Whatever punishment is inflicted on us for our sins, as it is a sign of God’s wrath, so in a manner it places death before our eyes. Punishment, then, in itself can do nothing but fill us with dread, nay, overwhelm us with despair; and I speak of punishment even the slightest; for we suffer nothing which does not remind us of our sin and guilt, as though God summoned us to his tribunal. How dreadful surely it must be to sustain this, and to fall into the hands of the living God? Hence, when God touches us as it were with his little finger, we cannot but fall down through fear. But this comfort is given to us, that punishment, though in itself grievous and as it were fatal, becomes profitable to us, when we allow God to be our judge, and are prepared to endure whatever seems good to him.
This is what the Prophet means, when he promises that the Jews would live, if they submitted to the king of Babylon; not that they could merit life by their obedience; but the only way by which we can obtain God’s favor and be reconciled to him, is willingly to condemn ourselves; for we anticipate extreme judgment, as Paul says, when we condemn ourselves; and then we shall not be condemned by God. (1Co 11:31.) For how is it, that God is so angry with the wicked, except that they wish to be forgiven while in their sins? But this is to pull him down from his throne, for he is not the judge of the world, if the ungodly escape unpunished and laugh at all his threatenings. So also on the other hand, when in true humility we suffer ourselves to be chastised by God, he becomes immediately reconciled to us. This, then, is the life mentioned here. 187 It follows, —
13. Why will ye die, thou and thy people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the LORD hath spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?
13. Quare peribitis tu et ppopulus tuus gladio, fame et peste, quemadmodum loquutus est Jehjova super gentem quae non servierit regi Babylonis?
Here is a threatening added; for all means were used not only to invite the Jews, but also to stimulate them to repent. The Prophet offered them pardon, if they quietly submitted to be chastised by God. It was to be their life, he said, when the Lord punished them according to his will. As they could not be sufficiently moved by this kindness, he now adds, “See ye to it, for except ye receive the life offered to you, you must inevitably perish. Therefore thou, Zedekiah, wilt precipitate thyself with all thy people into eternal destruction, if ye continue to be perverse and obstinate against God.”
We hence see that nothing was left undone by the Prophet to bend the Jews to obedience and to lead them to repentance. By speaking of the sword, famine, and pestilence, he intimates that there would be no end, until they were consumed by God’s vengeance, except they suffered themselves, as we have said, to be thus chastised by his paternal kindness, for this would be salutary to them.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not often and continually to provoke thy wrath against us, we may of our own accord anticipate thy judgment, and not harden ourselves in our sins, having been especially warned by thy word, but in due time repent, and so submit ourselves to thee, that whatever thou mayest appoint for us, we may not doubt but thou wilt be propitious to us; and while fleeing to thy mercy, may we not refuse the punishment thou deemest expedient to bring us to the right way, until having at length put off all our corruptions, we shall enjoy that eternal inheritance, which is laid up for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifth
We said yesterday, that as the Prophet saw that there was great insensibility in the Jews, so that they disregarded all God’s promises, he added terror to the hope of mercy. Hence he said, “Ye shall perish, thou and thy people.” He was, no doubt, constrained by necessity to speak in this severe way; for the kind exhortation which he had used availed nothing; and yet God shewed at the same time by his threatening how much he loved the people; for he had a sympathy for them, and as it is said elsewhere, he willed not the death of the sinner, but sought to induce those who were not wholly irreclaimable to repent that they might live. The same thing we now from these words of the Prophet; for God assumes the character of a man ready to give help, and sympathizes with the miseries of a people whom he saw rushing headlong into destruction. It now follows, —
14. Therefore hearken not unto the words of the prophets that speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.
14. Et ne audiatis verba prophetarum, qui dicunt vobis (qui loquutur vobiscum, dicendo,) Non servietis regi Babylonis; quia mendacium ipsi prophetant vobis.
He repeats the same words which we have met with before; there is therefore no need of dwelling long on them here. Yet the repetition was not superfluous; for he had a hard contest with the false prophets, who had attained great authority. As Jeremiah alone made an onset on the whole multitude, the greater part of them might have objected and said, that in matters of such perplexity there was nothing certain or clear. As therefore it was not easy to convince the Jews who were disposed to believe the false prophets, it was necessary to say the same thing often, as we shall also see hereafter. He adds, —
15. For I have not sent them, saith the LORD, yet they prophesy a lie in my name; that I might drive you out, and that ye might perish, ye, and the prophets that prophesy unto you.
15. Quia non misi eos, dicit Jehova, et ipsi prophetant in nomine meo ad mendacium (id est, fallacium) ut vos ejiciam, et pereatis vos et prophetae, qui prophetant vobis.
He confirms what he had said, that they had not been sent by God. The object is to shew the Jews, that they were not to receive thoughtlessly everything presented to them under God’s name, but that they were to exercise discrimination and judgment. This is a passage worthy of special notice, for the devil has ever falsely assumed God’s name; and for all the errors and delusions which have ever prevailed in the world, he has not obtained credit otherwise than by this false pretense. And at this day we see that many are wilfully blind, because they think they are excused before God if they can pretend ignorance, and they say that they are not wickedly credulous, but they dare not make curious inquiries. As then there are many who wilfully put on nooses and also wish to be deceived, we ought to notice what the Prophet says here, that we ought to distinguish the true from false prophets; for what purpose? even that we may receive them only, and depend on their words who have been sent by the Lord.
It may be here asked, how comes this difference? It was formerly necessary for prophets to be raised in a special manner, for it was a special gift to predict future and hidden events, hence the prophetic was not an ordinary office like the sacerdotal. That promise indeed ever continued in force,
“A prophet will I raise to thee from the midst of thy brethren.” (De 18:18.)
But though this was a perpetual favor conferred by God on the Israelites, yet the prophets were ever called in a special manner; no one was to take this office except endued with an extraordinary gift. Though Jeremiah was a priest, yet he was not on that account a prophet; but God, as we have seen, made him a prophet. But with regard to us, the matter is different, for God does not at this day predict hidden events; but he would have us to be satisfied with his Gospel, for in it is made known to us the perfection of wisdom. As then we live in “the fullness of time,” God does not reveal prophecies so as to point out this or that thing to us in particular. We may now obtain certainty as to the truth, if we form our judgment according to the Law, and the Prophets, and the Gospel. There is indeed need of the spirit of discernment; but we shall never go astray, if we depend on the mouth of God, and follow the example of the Bereans, of whom Luke speaks in the Acts, who says, that they carefully read the Scriptures, and searched whether things were as they were taught by Paul. (Ac 17:11.) No wrong was done to Paul, when the disciples, in order to confirm their faith, inquired whether his preaching was agreeable to the Law and to the Prophets. So also now, all doctrines ought to be examined by us; and if we follow this rule, we shall never go astray.
As to the ancient people, they could not, as it was said yesterday, be deceived, for the prophets were only interpreters of the Law. With regard to future things, this or that was never predicted by the prophets, unless connected with doctrine, which was as it were the seasoning, and gave a relish to the prophecies; for when they promised what was cheering, it was founded on the eternal covenant of God; and when they threatened the people, they pointed out their sins, so that it was necessary for God to execute his vengeance when their wickedness was incurable. Ever to be borne in mind then is that which is said in Deuteronomy, that God tried his people whenever he gave loose reins to false prophets, (De 13:3,) for every one who sincerely and undissemblingly loves him shall be guided by his Spirit. This then is the sure trial which God makes as to his faithful people, according to what Paul also says, who refers to this testimony of Moses, that heresies arise in order that they who are the faithful and sincere servants of God, might thereby shew what they really are, (1Co 11:19;) for they do not fluctuate at every wind of doctrine, but remain firm and constant in the pure obedience of faith. Rightly then does Jeremiah say, that they who gave hope of impunity to the people, had not been sent by the Lord; for every one had his own conscience as his judge.
He adds, They prophesy falsely in my name We see how sedulously and prudently we ought to take heed lest the devil should fascinate us by his charms, especially when the name of God is pretended. It is then not enough for us to hear, “Thus has God spoken,” unless we are fully persuaded that those who use such a preface have been called by him, and that they also afford a sure evidence of their call, so that we may be certain that they are as it were the instruments of the Spirit. Ungodly men will find here an occasion for clamoring, because God does in a manner make a mock of the anxiety of men, for he might send angels from heaven, he might himself speak; but when he employs men, and permits false prophets to boast of this word and of that, while they wholly dissemble, he seems in this way as though he designedly bewildered miserable men. But there is nothing better for us than to acknowledge that our obedience is tried by God, when he addresses us by men; for we know that nothing is more contrary to faith than pride, as also humility is the true principle of faith and the real entrance into God’s kingdom. This then is the reason why God makes use of men.
In the meantime, when impostors creep in and boast that they are true legitimate prophets, it is indeed a grievous trial, and much to be feared; yet. God, as I have said, will ever relieve us, provided we trust not to our own judgment, and assume not to ourselves more than what is just and right, but look to him as the judge, and submit ourselves to his word; and further, if we suffer ourselves to be ruled by his Spirit, he will ever give us wisdom, which will enable us to distinguish between true and false prophets. However this may be, we clearly see that it is no new thing for Satan’s ministers to prophesy in God’s name, that is, falsely to assume his name, when in reality and truth they are vain pretenders.
He afterwards adds, that I might drive you out, and that ye might perish, as well as they. Here Jeremiah reminded them, that the prophets who promised impunity could not at length escape, but that they would have to suffer punishment not only for their presumption, but also for those sins by which they, together with the whole people, had already provoked the wrath of God; for their crime was twofold: despising God, they had promised all liberty to indulge in sin; and they had also dared to come forth and to pretend God’s name, though they had not been called, nor did they bring, as we have said, any message from God. But the Prophet again repeated, that such prophets were instigated by the devil’s artifice, in order to aggravate God’s judgment; for the people, inebriated with joy, added sins to sins, as security is wont to lead men to all kinds of wickedness. There is therefore nothing more ruinous than for false teachers to flatter sinners, and so to cajole and wheedle them as to make them to think that they have nothing to do with God; for the devil rules then indeed, when men’s consciences are thus asleep in a deadly lethargy. He afterwards adds, —
16. Also I spake to the priests, and to all this people, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Hearken not to the words of your prophets that prophesy unto you, saying, Behold, the vessels of the LORD’S house shall now shortly be brought again from Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.
16. Et ad sacerdotes et ad populum hunc loquutus sum, dicendo, Sic dicit Jehova, Ne audiatis sermones prophetarum vestrorum, qui prophetant vobis, dicendo, Ecce vasa domus Jehovae reducentur e Babylone nunc cito; mendacium ipsi prophetant vobis.
Jeremiah, as we have seen, did not deal privately with the king alone, for he did not separate him from the people; but as he had directed his words chiefly to him, he therefore expresses now what might have seemed obscure, that though he had begun with the king, he yet included all the Jews. It was indeed necessary to begin with the king, for we know that earthly kings think much of their own dignity, and that the whole people are dependent on their will. Hence Hosea condemned them, because they rendered a too willing obedience to royal edicts, and worshipped God according to what it pleased the king and his counsellors to dictate. (Ho 5:11: Mic 6:16.) As then the royal name served to dazzle the eyes of the simple, Jeremiah was bidden to address first the king himself; but he now shews that the priests and the people were included.
It was indeed like something monstrous, that the priests, whom God had designed to be the interpreters of his Law, should have become so stupid as thoughtlessly to receive, together with the common people, what they had heard from the false prophets. This surely was by no means compatible with that high encomium by which they are honored by Malachi, that the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and that from him the Law is to be sought, because he is the messenger of the God of hosts. (Mal 2:7.) As then they were the guardians of the Law and of knowledge, as they were messengers from God himself to the people, how was it that their stupidity was so monstrous, that they did not distinguish between truth and falsehood, but were led astray, together with the most ignorant, by what the false prophets delivered!
This ought to be carefully noticed, that we may not at this day be too much disturbed, when we see the pastoral office assumed by ignorant asses, and that those who are called, and wish to be thought ministers, are so inexperienced in Scripture that they are deficient as to the first elements of religion. And we see the very thing happening at this day especially under the Papacy, as existed among the ancient people; for the Papal bishops are for the most part extremely stupid and presumptuous. There are to be found many husbandmen and artisans, who know nothing of learning, but have only heard what is obscure and indistinct, and yet they can speak better on the general principles of faith than these haughty prelates in all their splendor. How is this? even because the just reward for their sloth is rendered to them. They are verily ignorant of what should qualify them to be bishops, and yet they glory in the name! Yea, though they do not think that Episcopacy consists in anything but in revenues, and also in vain symbols, such as to be mitred, to wear an episcopal ring, and to exhibit other like trumperies, they yet suppose themselves to be a sort of half-gods. Hence it is, that God exposes them to the utmost reproach. The same was the case with the priests under the Law, as Jeremiah now shews; for they were not ashamed of their ignorance, but encouraged the people to believe the false prophets; so at this day do the bishops; they scud forth their monks and such like brawlers, who run here and there to deceive the ignorant people, and they secure a hearing to them. And what is the burden of their message? to bid men to attend to the holy Catholic Church; and what is the Catholic Church? The Synod which the Pope assembles, where the mitred bishops sit; for what purpose? That they may know what pleases these brawlers, to whom is committed the office of disputing. We hence see that all things under the Papacy are at this day in great disorder; and yet this horrible disorder differs nothing from that of old. And it is, as I have said, what ought to be particularly noticed, that our faith may not fail, when we see all things in a confusion and hardly any order remaining.
Now also is added a clearer explanation, — that the Jews were warned, lest they should receive the false prophecy respecting the restoration of the vessels of the Temple; for in order to render the people secure as to the future, the false prophets boasted in this manner, “The splendor of the Temple shall shortly be restored; for the vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar has taken away, shall return together with the captives, and everything decayed shall be repaired.” But Jeremiah said, that what they promised was false; “Believe them not,” he says, “when they say to you, Behold, the vessels of Jehovah’s house shall be brought back, (or restored, that is, shall return hither;) for the king of Babylon shall either be constrained to restore what he has taken away, or he will of his own accord restore it.” And they also added, Now soon, in order that the shortness of time might be all additional chain to captivate the minds of the people; for had a long time been mentioned, the prophecy would have been less plausible and by no means acceptable to them; but they said, “Almost within a day the vessels of the Temple shall be brought back here.” And Jeremiah also, as we have already seen, and shall presently see again, did not deprive the people of every hope, but had assigned seventy years for their exile. Now these prophets, in order to dissipate this fear, said, — “Shortly shall the vessels be restored;” but he declared that they prophesied falsely to them. It follows —
17. Hearken not unto them; serve the king of Babylon, and live: wherefore should this city be laid waste?
17. Ne audiatis ipsos, servite regi Babylonis, et vivetis: ut quid erit urbs haec desolatio (hoc est, in vastitatem?)
It is not to be wondered at that Jeremiah said the same things so often, for, as we have seen, he had to contend with false prophets. When any one speaks, and there be no dispute and no adversary opposing him, he may calmly deal with the teachable and confine himself to a few words; but when contention arises, and opponents appear, who may seek to subvert what we say, then we must exercise more care, for they who are thus driven different ways, will not be satisfied with a few words. As, then, Jeremiah saw that the people were fluctuating, he found it necessary, in order to confirm them, to use many words; not that prolixity is in itself sufficient to produce conviction; yet there is no doubt but that Jeremiah spoke efficiently so as to influence at least some portion of the people. Besides, it was necessary to dwell more expressly on a subject not very plausible; the false prophets were heard with favor, and the greater part greedily devoured what was set forth by them; for the hope of impunity is always pleasing and sought after by the world.
But what did Jeremiah say? Serve ye the king of Babylon; that is, “No better condition awaits you than to pay tribute to the king of Babylon; be subject to his authority, and patiently endure whatever he may prescribe to you.” This was indeed a very hard speech; for subjection was not unaccompanied with reproach; besides, he bade them to surrender themselves to a most cruel enemy, as though they were to expose their life to him; and lastly, they were to risk the danger of being spoiled of all that they had. What Jeremiah taught then was very much disliked, as he thus exhorted the people to endure all things. This was, then, the reason why he had not declared in a few and plain words what God had committed to him; it was difficult to persuade the people to undergo the yoke of the king of Babylon, and to submit to his tyranny.
We hence see that there were two very just reasons why the Prophet insisted so much on this one subject, and confirmed what he might have briefly said without any prolixity; Hearken, ye to them, he says; serve ye the king of Babylon and ye shall live 188 We must again bear in mind what we said yesterday, that patiently to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand is the best remedy for mitigating punishment, and that in this way punishment is turned into medicine; so on the other hand, when we are like refractory and ferocious horses, whatever punishment God inflicts on us, is only a prelude to endless destruction. Let us then lay hold on this truth and constantly meditate on it, — that our punishment becomes vivifying to us, when we acknowledge God to be a righteous judge and suffer ourselves to be corrected by him. But I refer only briefly to this subject now, for I spoke of it more at large yesterday.
He adds, Why should this city be a desolation? He set before them the city in which God’s sanctuary was, and by the sight of it he tried to turn them to repentance; for it was extremely base to harden themselves against the warnings of the prophets, so as to cause the Temple of God to be demolished, and also the holy city to be reduced to a waste, in which God designed to have his dwelling, as he had said,
“This is my rest for ever.” (Ps 132:14)
In short, he declared to the Jews that a most awful condemnation awaited them, if they suffered the city to perish through their own fault, and that they would be the authors of their own ruin, if they undertook not the yoke of the king of Babylon. It follows —
18. But if they be prophets, and if the word of the LORD be with them, let them now make intercession to the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, go not to Babylon.
18. Qued si Prophetae sunt, et si est sermo Jehovae cum ipsis (id est, apud ipsos,) intercedant ipsi apud Jehovam exercituum, ne veniant vasa, quae supersunt in Temple Jehovae, et in dome regis Jehudah et Jerosolymae Babylonem.
Here the Prophet laughs to scorn the foolish confidence with which the false prophets were swollen, when they promised all happiness in time to come. He hence says, that they were not to be believed as to the prosperity of which they prophesied, but that on the contrary they ought to have dreaded a most grievous punishment.
He then says, If they are prophets, let them intercede with Jehovah, that what still remains may not be taken away from Jerusalem. They promised the return of the vessels, which had been already carried away to Babylon; and yet what still remained in the Temple and in the palace of the king and in the whole city, was to be removed to Babylon. We now perceive the Prophet’s design; he compares the future with the past, and shews that these impostors foolishly promised some better state of things, even when God’s heavy judgment was impending over them; for the city and the Temple were doomed to entire ruin. The verb עגפ, pego, means to meet, to go to meet, and is taken metaphorically in the sense of interceding; for he who meets one as an intercessor, in a manner restrains the opponent; and the Scripture uses this word, when it speaks of the saints as supplicating God; the proper word is interceding. 189
From this passage we learn that these two things are united — teaching and praying. Then God would have him whom he has set a teacher in his Church, to be assiduous in prayer. And so the Apostles said, when they spoke of appointing deacons, that they could not attend to tables; for they said that they were sufficiently engaged in teaching, and they mentioned also prayers. (Ac 6:2-4.) The same also we learn from this place, where Jeremiah ascribes the office of interceding to God’s true and faithful servants who conscientiously discharged the office of teaching; If they be prophets, he says, let them intercede with Jehovah, that the remaining vessels be not taken away. Let us at the same time notice the definition he gives; for by this he also shews who are to be counted true prophets, even those who have the word of God, as we have found elsewhere,
“The Prophet who has a dream, and who has my true word, let him speak my word.” (Jer 23:28)
We said by these words of the Prophet it may be determined who they are who deserve to be called prophets, even those who have the word of God. Jeremiah confirms the same here when he says, If they are prophets, and if the word of Jehovah is with them These two clauses ought to be read together, for the latter is exegetic, or explanatory of the former. But I cannot now finish the whole, I must therefore defer the rest till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continually by our many vices draw on ourselves new punishment, we may strive to be reconciled to thee, and thus anticipate thy judgment, and so submit to thee in true humility, that we may not by struggling against thee be untamable, but confess our guilt, obtain thy favor, and find reconciliation with thee, until having at length put off all our vices, we shall come to that blessed rest, which thine only-begotten Son has procured for us by his own blood. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Sixth
19. For thus saith the LORD of hosts concerning the pillars, and concerning the sea, and concerning the bases, and concerning the residue of the vessels that remain in this city,
19. Quia sic dicit Jehova exercituum de columnis et de mari, et de basibus, et de residuo vasorum quae supersunt in urbe hac,
20. Which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took not, when he carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem;
20. Quae non abstulit Nebuchadnezer rex Babylonia, cum adduxit captivum Jechaniam filium Jehoiakim regem Jehudah e Jerusalem, Babylonem, et omnes proceres Jehudah et Jerusalem;
21. Yea, thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that remain in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah and of Jerusalem;
21. Certe sic dicit Jehovah exercituum, Deus Israel, de vasis quae supersunt in domo Jehovae et in domo regis et in Jerusalem;
22. They shall be carried to Babylon, and there shall they be until the day that I visit them, saith the LORD; then will I bring them up, and restore them to this place.
22. Babylonem transferentur, et illic erunt usque ad diem quo visitabo ea (vel, cos, quod mihi magis placet,) dieit Jehova; et ascendere faciam eos et reducam cos ad locum hunc.
Jeremiah said, in the passage we considered yesterday, that it was more to be desired that God should keep what remained at Jerusalem, than that what had been taken away should be restored, for the time of punishment had not yet passed away; and thus he condemned the false teachers, because they had presumptuously and boldly promised a quick return as to the king as well as to those who had been led with him into exile, he now confirms the same thing, and says that what remained as yet at Jerusalem was already destined for their enemies the Babylonians, and would become their prey. Nebuchadnezzar had in part spared the Temple and the city; he had taken away chiefly the precious vessels, but had not entirely spoiled the Temple of its ornaments. As, then, some splendor was still to be seen there, the Jews ought to have learned that he had acted kindly towards them. He now says, that the Temple and the city would be destroyed; and this may be gathered from his words when he says, that there would be nothing remaining.
Thus saith Jehovah concerning the pillars, etc. There is no doubt but that Solomon spent much money on the pillars, as the Scripture commends the work. He adds, concerning the sea, which was a very large vessel, for from it the priests took water to wash themselves whenever they entered the Temple to perform their sacred duties. And though it was made of brass, it was yet of no small value on account of its largeness; and for this reason it was called sea. He mentions, in the third place, the bases 190 Jerome reads, “To the bases,” for the preposition is לא, but it means often of, or concerning, as it is well known. He then declares what God had determined as to the pillars as well as the sea and the bases. There were, indeed, other vessels besides; but he specified these in order that the king, and also the people, might know that nothing would be left remaining in the Temple.
And he also adds, The residue of the vessels which remains, in this city By adding, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took not away, he indirectly condemned the Jews, because they did not acknowledge that the cruelty of their enemy had been moderated by divine power. For we know how cruel were Babylonians, and how insatiable was their avarice, and that nothing would have been left in the Temple had not their hands been in a manner restrained by the hidden power of God. The Jews ought to have duly considered this, and therefore the Prophet alludes to their ingratitude when he says, that Nebuchadnezzar had not taken away the vessels when yet he led captive the king and all the chief men, both of the city and the whole land. There is, indeed, to be understood here a comparison between the less and the greater, as though he had said, “Nebuchadnezzar would not have been so gentle had not God moderated his spirit, for he spared not your king, he led into exile all your chief men; how, then, was it that he left anything to remain in your city, and that the pillars were not taken away? Did he despise them? They have been polished with exquisite skill, and the materials are very costly. Ye hence see that God gave you a proof of his mercy, for some things still remain safe in the city as well as in the Temple; yet ye disregard this so great a benefit bestowed on you by God; what, then, will at length happen to you?” We now perceive the Prophet’s design in these words when he says, that the vessels were not taken away, even when the king was taken captive, and when the chief men of the land were led into exile.
Useful instruction may also be hence gathered. Whenever God chastises us, let us ever consider that he does not proceed to extremities; for the cause of murmuring, and often of despair, is this, — because we think that he deals with us with extreme rigor. But this happens through our sinful and perverted judgment; for God never afflicts us so severely but that some portion of kindness and of moderation ever appears; in a word, his judgments are always founded on his goodness. Were any one, therefore, rightly to call to mind how far he is from suffering extreme evils, it would conduce much to alleviate his sorrows. But when we reject every knowledge of God’s goodness, and only consider his severity, we either murmur or in a manner become furious against him. But this passage teaches us, that when God leaves some residue to us, it is an evidence of his paternal favor, and that therefore something more may be hoped for, provided we from the heart repent.
The design, then, of the Prophet’s warning was, that the Jews might receive this remaining favor of God, and not proceed in their obstinacy until God again stretched forth his hand to destroy them.
He repeats again the same words, Yea, thus saith Jehovah, etc.; for so ought the particle יכ, ki, to be rendered in this place. 191 And he emphatically expresses what was of itself sufficiently clear, that he might deeply imprint on their minds this declaration of God, and that thus some terror might penetrate into the hearts of those who were so obdurate that it was not easy to effect anything by a simple statement of the truth. Thus, then, saith Jehovah of the vessels which yet remain in the Temple of Jehovah and in, the palace of the king, They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall be, etc. Jeremiah intimates that the Jews had no hope, as they were perversely resisting God and refusing to be chastised by his hand. And he says, until the day in which I shall visit them, the vessels; for so the reference may suitably be made; but as it is often the case in Hebrew to put a pronoun when anything remarkable is spoken without any noun, or a subject, as they say, preceding it, I am inclined to refer it to the Jews themselves; for the restoration of the vessels depended on that of the people. He means, then, that the vessels would be held captive until God allowed a free return to the people, which happened through the edict of Cyrus, after he had obtained power in Chaldea and Assyria.
It was the same thing as though the Jews were reminded that the exile which had been predicted would be long, and that they foolishly hoped for what the false prophets had promised as to the vessels; for God had no greater care for the vessels than for his chosen people, as the vessels were acceptable to God for the people’s sake. Here, then, Jeremiah confirms what he has said elsewhere, and that often, that the people would be captives until the day of visitation, that is, till the end of seventy years. When, therefore, says God, I shall visit the Jews themselves, I will then bring back also the vessels; and so it was permitted by the command of Cyrus. We now understand the simple meaning of the words. Another narrative follows, —
The manner in which Calvin accounts for this prophecy being so long kept hid is ingenious; but modern authors are not satisfied. Lightfoot says, that Jeremiah was ordered to make these yokes in Jehoiakim’s time to signify the subjection of Judah to the king of Babylon, but that he was ordered to send them to foreign kings in the reign of Zedekiah. The first verse is omitted in the Sept.; the Greek version as given by Theodoret, has “Jehoiakim,” and so the Vulg. and the Targ., but the Syr. and Arab. have “Zedekiah;” and there are three Hebrew MSS. in which the same is found. What seems most decisive is the beginning of the next chapter, where Hananiah comes forward in “the fourth year” of Zedekiah and breaks the yoke of Jeremiah. Gataker, Henry, Lowth, Scott, and Blayney, are all inclined to think that the mistake originally was that of the scribe. — Ed.
The fourth verse in our version is not correct, “And command them to say to their masters,” it ought to be, “And command them as to their masters (or lords,) saying,” — for the Hebrew will not admit of such a transposition. — Ed.
Whenever the pronouns are set down in Hebrew, they are emphatic: the beginning of this verse ought to be rendered, “I myself,” or “made have I, even I, the earth, the man also and the beast that are on the face of the earth,” (not as in our version, “upon the ground,”) etc. The last clause, “and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me,” according to Calvin and our version, ought rather to be, “and I will give it to whom it shall seem right in my eyes.” So Venema and Blayney; and it is according to the Sept., though the other versions are the same with our own. The verb indeed is in the past tense, but it is preceded by ו conversive. Then follows the next verse, “And now I — given have I all these lands,” etc. The fifth verse contains a general declaration of truth; God made the earth, and would give it to whom he pleased: the sixth includes his determination as to all these lands; he had given them to Nebuchadnezzar. — Ed
Some give this view as to the beasts of the field, that not only towns and cultivated lands would be given up to Nebuchadnezzar, but also hills and mountains, deserts and forests, which were inhabited by wild beasts, and that this was said in order to shew that a complete possession of their lands, and of all things within them, would be given to that king, not excepting the wild beasts. — Ed.
It seems that there were two besides, who exercised for a time regal power, but they were not the descendants of Nebuchadnezzar. — Ed.
This is rendered differently, “until the time of his land, even his, shall come.” So the early versions, and so Venema and Blayney. — Ed.
Here Calvin has followed the Vulg.; but our version gives the true meaning. See note on Jeremiah 25:14. The two clauses may be thus translated, “Until the time of his land, even his, shall come; then reduce him (or it, that is, land) to subjection, shall many nations and mighty kings.” Such substantially is the version of Venema and of Blayney, and also of Piscator and Junius. — Ed
The five names here mentioned are thus explained by Venema, —
1. Prophets — who claimed divine inspiration;
2. Diviners — who prognosticated by means of lots and arrows;
3. Dreamers — who pretended that they had divine dreams;
4. Astrologers — who foretold events by the clouds and stars:
5. Sorcerers — who pretended to have familiar converse with some spirit.
Parkhurst considers the second, diviners, as a general term, meaning those who divined either by dreams or stars, or familiar spirits; and he renders the fourth word cloudmongers, though he considers that they prognosticated by the stars, as well as by meteors, thunder, lightning, and probably by the flight of birds; but he regards the last word as meaning those who pretended to discover hidden and future things by magical means. How completely heathenized were the Jews become! they believed all these Pagan delusions rather than the infallible oracles of God! and yet these were things expressly forbidden in their law. — Ed.
This is more suitable than our version: the verse may be rendered thus, —
10. For falsely do they prophesy to you, so as to remove you away far from your own land; for I will drive you away and ye shall perish, (that is, from the land.)
The word רקש may often be rendered adverbially. That ו may sometimes be rendered for, is evident: he threatens expulsion and ruin in case they listened to false prophesying; then, in the next verse, he promises continuance in the land to the obedient, “But the nation that brings its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serves him, I will make that to settle on its land, saith Jehovah, that it may cultivate it and abide in it.” — Ed
This is an imperative in Hebrew, and live, but in all the early versions it is in the future tense, as rendered here by Calvin. The meaning is the same. — Ed.
No doubt we may extend this promise to spiritual life, but here it means living in the land of Canaan, as opposed to the perdition or expatriation in Jer 27:10. — Ed
As in Jer 27:12, so here the verb is in the imperative mood, but in all the early versions as rendered here. — Ed.
Both the Sept. and Vulg. give the first meaning, to meet with, and not the second, to intercede with, and thus convey no sense whatever. The Syr. uses the word, pray, “let them pray the Lord,” etc. See Ge 23:8; Job 21:15. — Ed.
Or foundations, those on which the sea or pillars stood. See 1Ki 7:27-37. — Ed.
A clear instance of the affirmative sense of this particle, for the passage can admit of no other, though the versions, except the Syr., retain its causal sense. — Ed.