Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 19: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Lecture One Hundred and Ninth
1. Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon;
1. Hi sunt sermones libri (vel, epistolae) quem misit Jeremias propheta Jerusalem ad reliquias seniorum captivitatis, et ad sacerdotes et ad prophetas, et ad universum populum, quem captivum abduxerat Nebuchadnezer e Jerusalem in Babylonem;
Here the Prophet begins a new discourse, even that he not only cried out constantly at Jerusalem, that the Jews who still remained there should repent, but that he also mitigated the grief of the exiles, and exhorted them to entertain the hope of returning, provided they patiently endured the chastisement allotted to them. The design of the Prophet was at the same time twofold; for he not only intended to mitigate by comfort the sorrow of the exiles, but designed also to break down the obstinacy of his own nation, so that they who still remained at Jerusalem and in Judea might know that nothing would be better for them than to join themselves to their other brethren. The Jews, as it has already appeared, and as we shall hereafter in many places see, had set their minds on an unreasonable deliverance; God had fixed on seventy years, but they wished immediately to break through and extricate themselves from the yoke laid on them. Hence Jeremiah, in writing to the captives and exiles, intended to accommodate what he said to the Jews who still remained at Jerusalem, and who thought their case very fortunate, because they were not driven away with their king and the rest of the multitude. But at the same time his object was to benefit also the miserable exiles, who might have been overwhelmed with despair, had not their grief been in some measure mitigated. The Prophet, as we shall see, bids them to look forward to the end of their captivity, and in the meantime exhorts them to patience, and desires them to be quiet and peaceable, and not to raise tumults, until the hand of God was put forth for their deliverance.
he says that he wrote a book 201 to the remaining elders; 202 for many of that age had died; as nature requires, the old who approach near the goal of life, die first, he then says that he wrote to them who still remained alive. We hence conclude that his prophecy was designed for them all; and yet he afterwards says, “Take wives and propagate;” but this, as we shall see, is to be confined to those who were at that time in a fit age for marriage. He did not however wish to exclude the aged from the comfort of which God designed them to be partakers, and that by knowing that there would be a happy end to their captivity, provided they retained resignation of mind and patiently bore the punishment of God justly due to them for having so often and in such various ways provoked him. Then he adds, the priests, and the prophets, and then the whole people. 203
But we must notice that he not only exhorts the people to patience, but also the priests and the prophets. And though, as we shall hereafter see, there were among them impostors, who falsely boasted that they were prophets, 204 it is yet probable that they are also included here who were endued with God’s Spirit, either because the spirit was languid in them, or because God did not always grant to them the knowledge of everything. It might then be that the prophets, to whom God had not made known this, or whose minds were oppressed with evils, were to be taught.
As to the priests, we hence conclude that they had from the beginning neglected their office, for they would have been God’s prophets, had they faithfully performed their sacerdotal office; and it was, as it were, an extraordinary thing when God chose other prophets, and not without reproach to the priests; for they must have become degenerated and idle or deceptive, when they gloried in the name alone, when they were destitute of the truth. This then was the reason why they were to be taught in common with the people. It now follows, —
2. (After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;)
2. Postquam egressus fuerat Jechaniah rex et domina (id est, regina, mater ejus,) et proceres, principes Jehudah et Jerusalem, et artifex et sculptor ex Jerusalem;
He mentions the time when the book was sent, even after the calamity which had happened, when King Jeconiah and his mother were driven into exile, and Zedekiah, his successor, was made governor in his place, as we shall presently see. It was then during these beginnings of a change that Jeremiah wrote. All things were then in such a ferment, that some feared more than what was necessary, and others entertained vain hopes, as the case usually is in a disordered state of things. It was then after this fresh calamity that Jeremiah wrote, as his words most especially shew. He might indeed, as in other instances, have mentioned the year; but as he plainly declares that this happened after the departure of Jeconiah, his purpose is sufficiently evident, even that he wished in due time to give some relief to their sorrow, who might have succumbed under it, had not God in a manner stretched forth his hand to them. For we know that fresh grief is difficult to be borne; and hence it is that it is called a bitter grief; for it was a grievous novelty, when they were violently and suddenly dragged out of their quiet nests. It was then Jeremiah’s object at that time to give them some comfort; he also saw that those who were left in Judea were greatly disturbed and continually agitating new schemes; for Zedekiah’s kingdom was not as yet established, and they despised him and were ever looking for their own king. As, then, things were thus in disorder at home, and as the miserable exiles especially, were at first very grievously afflicted, Jeremiah set before them a seasonable remedy. This then is the reason why he points out the time.
The mother of Jeconiah, we know, was led away with him into captivity; and she is called, הריבגה, egebire; 205 for though she was not properly the queen, she yet ruled in connection with her son. Some render םיסירס, sarisim, eunuchs; 206 but I prefer the word “chiefs;” and hence is added the word ירש, shari, princes, that is, the courtiers, who governed the people, not only in Jerusalem, but through the whole of Judea. He also adds the artificers and sculptors, 207 for Nebuchadnezzar had chosen the best of them; he had deprived the city of its nobles, that there might be none of authority among the Jews to venture on any new attempt; and then he had taken away those who were useful and ingenious, so that he left them no sculptors nor artificers. It now follows, —
3. By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) saying,
3. Per manum Eleasah filii Saphan et Gamariae filii Helchiae, quos miserat Zedechias rex Jehudah ad Nebhadnezer regem Babylonis Babylonem, dicendo,
4. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
4. Sic dicit Jehovah exercituum, Deus Israel, universae captivitati quam captivam adduxi e Jerusalem Babylonem,
5. Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
5. AEdificate domos, et inhabitate; plantate hortos, et comedite fructus eorum;
6. Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
6. Accipite uxores et generate filios et filias; et accipite filiis vestris uxores, et filias vestras date nuptum viris, ut generent filios et filias; et crescite (aut, multiplicamini) illic, et ne minuamini.
This is the substance of the message, which the Prophet, no doubt, explained to them at large; but here he touches but briefly on what he wrote to the captives, even that they were patiently to endure their exile until the time of their deliverance, which was not to be such as many imagined, but such as God had fixed. Well known indeed at that time was Jeremiah’s prophecy, not only in Judea, but also to the captives, that their exile could not be completed in a shorter time than seventy years.
It is said that he sent his letter by the hand of the king’s ambassadors. It is probable that this was done by the permission of Zedekiah; for there is no doubt but that in sending his ambassadors he intended to obtain favor with King Nebuchadnezzar, by whose nod he had come to the throne; for he was not of such dignity as to be made king, though of the royal seed, had not Nebuchadnezzar thought that it would be more advantageous to himself. For had he appointed any other governor over the Jews, a sedition might have been easily raised; he therefore intended in a measure to pacify them, for he knew that they were a very refractory people. However, Zedekiah ruled only by permission, not through his own power, nor on account of his wealth, but through the good pleasure of a conqueror. He then sent his ambassadors to promise all kinds of homage, and to know what was to be done in future. As, then, he did not wish the return of Jeconiah, he permitted his ambassadors to carry the letter of Jeremiah, not indeed that he wished to obey God. It was not, then, owing to any sincere regard for religion, but because he thought that it would be advantageous to him, that the Jews should remain in Chaldea till the death of Jeconiah; for he thus hoped that his kingdom would be confirmed, for Jeconiah was, as it were, his rival. Nor is there a doubt, but that Nebuchadnezzar wished to hold Zedekiah bound by this fetter; for he could any day restore Jeconiah, who was his captive, to his former state.
Now, then, we understand why Zedekiah did not prohibit Jeremiah’s letter to be carried to the captives: he thought that it would serve to tranquilize his kingdom. But the holy Prophet had another thing in view; for his anxious object was, not to gain the favor of the king, but to shew, as God had commanded him, how long the captivity would be. Zedekiah indeed might have wished that a permission should be given to the exiles to return; for those who remained in Judea were only the dregs and offscourings of society; it was not an honorable state of things: and it may be that he had also this in view, in sending ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar, that Jerusalem might not remain desolate, but that a portion at least of the exiles might return, and that there might also be some to cultivate the land which had been nearly stripped of its inhabitants. But Jeremiah declared what he knew was by no means acceptable to the king, that a return was in vain expected before the termination of seventy years. We hence see that he spoke nothing to gain the favor of the king; and yet the king did not regard with displeasure, that the letter was sent to allay all commotions, and to restrain all the violence of those who would have been otherwise too prone to make some new attempts. This accounts for the circumstance, that the letter was sent by the hand of Elasah and Gemariah
He adds, at the same time, that they were sent by Zedekiah to Babylon, that is, to gain the favor of King Nebuchadnezzar, or, at least, to secure his friendship. I now come to the message itself:
God commanded the captives to build houses in Chaldea, to plant vineyards, and also to marry wives, and to beget children, as though they were at home. It was not, indeed, God’s purpose that they should set their hearts on Chaldea, on the contrary, they were ever to think of their return: but until the end of the seventy years, it was God’s will that they should continue quiet, and not attempt this or that, but carry on the business of life as though they were in their own country. As to their hope, then, it was God’s will that their minds should be in a state of suspense until the time of deliverance.
At the first view these two things seemed inconsistent, — that the Jews were to live seventy years as though they were the natives of the place, and that their habitations were not to be changed, — and yet that they were ever to look forward to a return. But these two things can well agree together: it was a proof of obedience when they acknowledged that they were chastised by God’s hand, and thus became willingly submissive to the end of the seventy years. But their hope, as I have just observed, was to remain in suspense, in order that they might not be agitated with discontent, nor be led away by some violent feeling, but that they might so pass their time as to bear their exile in such a way as to please God; for there was a sure hope of return, provided they looked forward, according to God’s will, to the end of the seventy years. It is then this subject on which Jeremiah now speaks, when he says, Build houses, and dwell in them; plant vineyards, and eat of their fruit For this whole discourse is to be referred to the time of exile, he having beforehand spoken of their return; and this we shall see in its proper place.
But the Jews could not have hoped for anything good, except they were so resigned as to bear their correction, and thus really proved that they did not reject the punishment laid on them.
We now see that Jeremiah did not encourage the Jews to indulge in pleasures, nor persuade them to settle for ever in Chaldea. It was, indeed, a fertile and pleasant land; but he did not encourage them to live there in pleasure, to indulge themselves and to forget their own country; by no means: but he confined what he said to the time of the captivity, to the end of the seventy years. During that time, then, he wished them to enjoy the land of Chaldea, and all its advantages, as though they were not exiles but natives of the place. For what purpose? not that they might give themselves up to sloth, but that they might not, by raising commotions, offend God, and in a manner close up against themselves the door of his grace, for the time which he had fixed was to be expected. For when we are driven headlong by a vehement desire, we in a manner repel the favor of God; we do not then suffer him to act as it becomes him: and when we take away from him his own rights and will, it is the same as though we were unwilling to receive his grace. This would have been the case, had they not quietly and resignedly endured their calamity in Chaldea to the end of the time which had been fixed by God.
We now perceive that the Prophet’s message referred only to the time of exile; and we also perceive what was the design of it, even to render them obedient to God, that they might thus shew by their patience that they were really penitent, and that they also expected a return in no other way than through God’s favor alone.
In bidding them to take wives for their sons, and to give their daughters in marriage, he speaks according to the usual order of nature; for it would be altogether unreasonable for young men and young women to seek partners for themselves, according to their own humor and fancy. God then speaks here according to the common order of things, when he bids young men not to be otherwise joined in marriage than by the consent of parents, and that young women are not to marry but those to whom they are given.
He then adds, Be ye multiplied there and not diminished; as though he had said, that the time of exile would be so long, that except they propagated, they would soon come to nothing: and God expressed this, because it was not his will that Abraham’s seed should fail. It was indeed a kind of death, when he had driven them so far, as though he had deprived them of the inheritance which he had promised to be perpetual: he, however, administers comfort here by commanding them to propagate their kind: for they could not have been encouraged to do so, except they had their eyes directed to the hope of a return. He then afforded them some taste of his mercy when he bade them not to be diminished in Chaldea. He then adds, —
7. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
7. Et quaerite pacem urbis ad quam transtuli vos illuc (sed abundat), et orate pro ea Jehovam, quia in pace ejus erit vobis pax.
Jeremiah goes still farther, even that the Jews had been led to Babylon, on the condition of rendering willing obedience to the authority of King Nebuchadnezzar, and of testifying this by their prayers. He not only bids them patiently to endure the punishment laid on them, but also to be faithful subjects of their conqueror; he not only forbids them to be seditious, but he would have them to obey from the heart, so that God might be a witness of their willing subjection and obedience.
He says, Seek the peace of the city; this may be understood of prayers; for שרד, daresh, often means to pray: but it may suitably be taken here, as I think, in reference to the conduct of the people, as though he had said, that the Jews were to do what they could, to exert themselves to the utmost, so that no harm might happen to the Chaldean monarchy; for they are afterwards directed to pray It may indeed be, that the same thing is repeated in other words; but if any one weighs the subject more fully, he will, I think, assent to what I have stated, that in the first clause the Prophet bids them to be faithful to King Nebuchadnezzar and to his monarchy. Seek, then, the peace of the city: 208 by peace, as it is well known, is to be understood prosperity.
But he was not satisfied with external efforts, but he would have them to pray to God, that all things might turn out prosperously and happily to the Babylonian king, even to the end of their exile; for we must bear in mind that the Prophet had ever that time in view. We hence learn that he exhorted the exiles to bear the yoke of the king of Babylon, during the time allotted to the captivity, for to attempt anything rashly was to fight against God, and that he thus far commanded them quietly to bear that tyrannical government.
He repeats again what he had said, (though I had passed it by,) that they had been carried away captives: for he had spoken of it, “all the captivity which,” he says, “I made to migrate,” or removed, or led captive, “from Jerusalem.” Now, again, he repeats the same thing, that he had carried them away captives, יתילגה ושא, asher egeliti; 209 and he said this, that they might not regard only the avarice, or the ambition, or the pride of King Nebuchadnezzar, but that they might raise up their eyes to heaven, and acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as the scourge of God, and their exile as a chastisement for their sins. God thus testified that he was the author of their exile, that the Jews might not think that they had to do with a mortal man, but on the contrary, understand that they were kicking against the goad, if they murmured and complained, because they lived under the tyranny of a foreign king. That they might not then be agitated with vain thoughts, God comes forth and says, that the exile was imposed on them by his just judgment, in order that they might know that they would gain nothing by their perverseness, and that they might not be disturbed by an anxious disquietude, nor dare to attempt anything new, for this would be to resist God, and as it were to carry on war with heaven. I will finish here.
Grant, Almighty God, that we may be more and more habituated to render obedience to thee, and that whenever thou chastisest us with thy scourges, we may examine our own consciences, and humbly and suppliantly deprecate thy wrath, and never doubt but thou wilt be propitious to us, after having chastised us with thy paternal hand; and may we thus recumb on thy fatherly kindness, that we may ever look forward with quiet minds, until the end appears, which thou hast promised to us, and that when the warfare of this present life shall be finished, we may reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Tenth
In the last Lecture we did not finish the seventh verse, in which the Prophet says that the Jews, as long as God would have them to be exiles, were to be so fixed in Babylon, that they ought to have deemed their union such, as though they were of the same body. For by saying that their peace would be in the peace of Babylon, he intimates that they could not be considered as a separate people until the time of seventy years was completed. He therefore commanded them to pray for the prosperity of Babylon.
At the first view this may seem hard; for we know how cruelly that miserable people had been treated by the Chaldeans. Then to pray for the most savage enemies, might have appeared unreasonable and by no means suitable. But the Prophet mitigates the hardness of the work by saying, that it would be profitable to them to pray for the happy condition of Babylon, inasmuch as they were the associates of their fortune. We know how much the prospect of what is profitable avails to persuade us, as we think not of undertaking anything except what we deem will be successful. For this reason then the Prophet teaches the Jews that they ought not to refuse what was required from them, when God bade them to pray for Babylon, because the prosperity of that kingdom would be for their benefit, he intimates also, as I have already hinted, that they were so connected with
Babylon, that they could not expect to be exempt from all trouble and annoyance, if any adversity happened to Babylon, for they were of the same body. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
But we may hence deduce a very useful doctrine, — that we ought not only to obey the kings under whose authority we live, but that we ought also to pray for their prosperity, so that God may be a witness of our voluntary subjection. For if it was the duty of the Jews to pray for the wellbeing of the Chaldeans for this reason, because they were for a certain time under their authority, there is no excuse for us, when we live under any legitimate prince, and that not only for a few days, unless we testify our voluntary submission before God; and he who prays to God for the happy state of the country in which he lives, will not surely neglect his other duties. 210 The principal thing indeed is to testify before God what our feeling is; and then other things must be added, such as promptitude to perform all duties of obedience and everything of the like kind. It now follows, —
8. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed.
8. Quoniam sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ne decipiant vos prophetae vestri, qui sunt in medio vestri, et divini vestri; et ne attendatis ad somnia vestra, quae vos somniatis.
As the minds of almost all were taken up, as we have seen, with that vain and false confidence which they had imbibed from false prophecies, that they should return after two years, the Prophet gives this answer, and reminds them to beware of such impostures. And thus we see that it is not sufficient for one simply to teach what is right, except he also restores from error those who have been already deceived or are in danger of being deceived. For to assert the truth is only one-half of the office of teaching, because Satan ever leads his ministers to corrupt the pure doctrine with falsehoods. It is not then enough to proclaim the truth itself, except all the fallacies of the devil be also dissipated, of which there is at this day a manifest instance under the Papacy; for as the minds of almost all are there inebriated with many corrupt inventions, were any one only to shew that this or that is right, he would certainly never in this way eradicate errors from the hearts of men. And hence Paul bids bishops not only to be furnished with doctrine in order to shew the right way to the teachable, but also to be so armed as to be able to resist adversaries and to close their mouths. (Titus 1:9.)
Inasmuch then as from the beginning of the world Satan has never ceased to try and attempt, as far as he could, to corrupt the truth of God, or to immerse it in darkness, it has hence been always necessary for God’s servants to be prepared to do these two things — faithfully to teach the meek and humble, — and boldly to oppose the enemies of truth and break down their insolence. This is the rule which the Prophet now follows; he had exhorted the Jews to bear patiently the tyranny to which they were subject, because it was God’s yoke; but as on the other hand the false prophets boasted that there would be a return in two years, it was necessary for him to oppose them; on this point then he now speaks.
And that what he was going to say might have more weight, he speaks again in God’s name, Let not your prophets who are in the midst of you deceive you For while Jeremiah had many adversaries at Jerusalem, the devil was also deceiving the miserable exiles in Chaldea. He then warns them not to believe these impostors; and though by way of concession he calls them prophets who were wholly unworthy of so honorable a name, he yet by way of reproach gives them afterwards the name of diviners Then the first name refers to that outward profession in which they gloried, when they boasted that they were sent by God and brought his commands. He then conceded to them the name of prophets, but improperly, or as they say, catachristically; as the case is at this day; for we do not always fight about names, but we call those priests, bishops or prelates, who are so brutal that they ought not to be classed among men. In like manner, as it has already often appeared, the prophets spoke freely, and never hesitated to call those prophets who had already gained some estimation among the people. But that they might not be proud of such fallacious boasting, he afterwards designated them by another name; he called them diviners, and then dreamers; and afterwards he adds, Attend not to your dreams He addresses here the whole people; and there were a few who, under the color and pretense of having a prophetic spirit, announced prophecies.
But Jeremiah did not without reason transfer to the whole people what belonged to a few; for we know that the devil’s ministers are cherished not only through the foolish credulity of men, but also through a depraved appetite. For the world is never deceived but willingly, and men, as though they were given up to their own destruction, seek for themselves falsehoods in every direction, and though unwilling to be deceived, they yet for the most part seek to be deceived. Were any one to ask, does the world wish to be deceived? all would cry out, from the least to the greatest, that they shun and fear nothing so much; and yet whence is it that as soon as Satan gives any sign, he attracts vast multitudes, except that we are by nature prone to what is false and vain? Then there is another evil, that we prefer darkness to light. Jeremiah then did no wrong to the people by telling them to beware of the dreams which, they dreamt.
Some indeed take םימלחמ, mechelmim, in a transitive sense, as it is in Hiphil, and ought to have been written here םימילחמ, mechelimim; but it may be taken in the neuter gender. 211
However this may be, the meaning of the Prophet is not ambiguous; for he imputes this to all the Jews, that they were deceived by vain dreams, and that the fault could not be confined to a few impostors, for it was an evil common to them all. And the pronoun םתא, atere, is emphatical, ye, he says, dream; for he sets these false dreams in opposition to prophecies. We know that God formerly revealed his will either by visions or by dreams. There were then dreams, which were divine, of which God was the author. But he shews here that the people devised all these impostures for themselves, so that it availed them nothing to pretend that they were prophets, the interpreters of God, and that they announced what they had received by dreams; for what makes the difference is, whether one dreams from his own brain, or whether God reveals to him in a dream what ought to be deemed oracular. We now then understand the design of the Prophet. It follows, —
9. For they prophesy falsely to you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.
9. Quoniam fallaciter (vel, in mendacio) ipsi prophetant vobis in nomine meo; non misi eos, dicit Jehova.
He confirms what he had said by this reason, that they ran without being called, according to what we found in Jer 23:21. He then repudiates these false prophets, for they spoke not from the mouth of God. But the difference was rendered very obscure and indistinct, when they pompously alleged the name of God and professed that they brought forward nothing but what they had learnt from him; yet as we have elsewhere said, no one can be deceived except willingly and knowingly; for God never leaves his faithful people destitute of the spirit of discernment, provided they offer themselves cordially and sincerely to be taught by his true and legitimate servants. And then the Jews ought to have examined all the doctrines and all the prophecies by the rule of the Law. But if the Law was difficult to be understood, they ought, as I have said, to have sought of God the spirit of wisdom and discernment.
Jeremiah then did not without reason reject whatever the false prophets boasted of, for the purpose of gaining the approbation and applause of the people; for they were not sent nor approved by God. So also at this day, every one who wishes to distinguish with certainty between various doctrines, by which the world is agitated, nay, shaken, can without difficulty attain his object, provided he offers himself as a scholar to Christ, and connects the Law and the Prophets with the Gospel, and makes use of this rule to prove all doctrines; and provided in the meantime he trusts not to his own acumen, but submits himself to God and seeks of him the spirit of judgment and discrimination. It ought also to be observed, that in the same way the false prophets can be abundantly exposed when we thus shew that they are not sent by God; and we further convince them of vanity, when we prove their doctrine to be inconsistent with the Law and the Gospel.
However this may be, this principle ought to be held, that none ought to be attended to, but those who can shew that they bring messages from God and are furnished with his word. We have said elsewhere, that in order that any one may be accounted as sent by God, it is necessary, first, that he should be rightly called, and secondly, that he should faithfully execute his office; for whosoever thrusts in himself without the command of God, though he may speak what is true and holy, he yet deserves not the name of a Prophet or teacher; and then vocation itself will not be sufficient, except there be faithfulness and integrity. But what Jeremiah mainly insists on here is, that those who promised the people a return in a short time did not speak from the mouth of God: They prophesy falsely, he says, in my name; how? Because I have not sent them. It follows —
10. For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
10. Quia sic dicit Jehova, secundum mensuram (nam תאלמ accipitur metaphorice pro mensura; sed adhuc aspera esset loquutio, ideo simplicius vertendum est, quia ubi impleti fuerint) in Babylone septuaginta anni, visitabo vos, et suscitabo super vos sermonem meum bonum, ut reducam vos ad locum hunc.
In order to expose the dreams by which the false prophets had inebriated the people, he again repeats what he had said, that the end of their exile could not be expected until the end of seventy years. And this way of teaching ought to be particularly observed, for the truth of God will ever avail to dissipate all the mists in which Satan never ceases to envelop the pure truth. As then we have before seen, that when the people are imbued with any error, it ought to be boldly resisted; so now we see with what weapons all God’s servants ought to fight, in order to expose all those fallacies by which pure doctrine is assailed, even by setting in opposition to them the word of God: for this is the way which Jeremiah points out to us by his own example. He had spoken of the false prophets, he warned the people not to believe them; but as the minds of many were still vacillating, he confirms what he had said that they were not sent by God, because God never varies in his purpose, and never changes, and is never inconsistent with himself: “Now he has prefixed seventy years for your exile; whoever, then, tries to impugn that truth, is a professed and an open enemy to God.” We now perceive the object of the Prophet; When seventy years then shall be fulfilled, etc 212
The Prophet here puts a restraint on the Jews, that they might not hasten before the time; and then he gives them the hope of a return, provided they quietly rested until the end fixed on by God. There are then two things in this verse, — that the people would ill consult their own good, if they hastened and promised to themselves a return before the end of seventy years, — and that when that time was completed, the hope of a return would be certain, for God had so promised.
He adds, And I will raise up my good word towards you By good word he means what might bring joy to the Jews. Though God’s word is fatal to the unbelieving, yet it never changes its nature; it ever remains good. And hence Paul says that the Gospel is a fatal odor to many, but that it is, nevertheless, a sweet odor before God, (2Co 2:16;) for it ought to be imputed to the fault of those who perish, that they receive not the doctrine of the Gospel to their own salvation. The word of God is then always good: but this commendation is to be referred to experience, that is, when God really shews that he is propitious to us. And a shorter definition cannot be given, than that the good word denotes the promises, by which God testifies his paternal favor. But we have seen elsewhere that threatenings are called an evil word: why so? This character cannot, indeed, as it has been just said, be suitably applied to God’s word; yet God’s word which threatens destruction is called evil, as it is said,
“I am he who create good and evil,” (Isa 45:7)
but it is so according to our apprehension of its effects. And all this reasoning seems nearly superfluous, when we understand that God by the word of evil strikes the unbelieving with fear, but that the Prophet now means no other thing than to bear testimony to God’s favor to the Jews: and hence he says, that they would find by experience, that God had not in vain promised what he had before mentioned.
But he is said to rouse up 213 his good word, that is, when it produced its effects before their eyes; for when God only speaks, and the thing itself does not yet appear, his word seems in a manner to he dormant and to be useless. And for seventy years the Jews could perceive no other thing than that God was displeased with them, and thus they were continually in fear; for the promise continued as it were dormant, as its effects were not as yet visible. God then is said to rouse up his word, when he proves that he has not promised anything in vain. The meaning is, that the prophecy which Jeremiah had related would not be fruitless; but if the people did not soon know this, yet God, when the time came, would really prove that he deceives not his people, nor allures them when he promises anything, by vain hopes.
And the Prophet explains himself, for he says that God would restore them to their own country: for this was the good word, the promise of deliverance, as the word, according to what the people felt, was evil, and bitter, and bad, when God had threatened that he would cast away the reprobate. But it is an accidental thing, as I have said, that men find God’s word to be evil for them or adverse to them; for it proceeds from their own fault, and not from the nature of the word. It follows —
11. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
11. Quia ego cognosco cogitationes meas, quas ego cogito super vos, dicit Jehova, cogitationes pacis, et non in malum; ut dem vobis finem et expectationem.
He confirms the same thing, and employs many words, because it was difficult to raise up minds wholly broken down. For the world labors under two extreme evils, — they sink in despair, or are too much exalted by foolish pride: nay, there is no moderation except when ruled by God’s Spirit we recumb on his word; for when they devise vain hopes for themselves, they are immediately rapt up above the clouds, fly here and there, and in short think that they can climb into heaven; this is the excess of vain and foolish confidence: but when they are dejected, then they fall down wholly frightened, nay, being astonished and lifeless they lose every feeling, receive no comfort, and cannot taste of anything which God promises. And both these evils prevailed evidently among the Jews. We have seen how much the Prophet labored to lay prostrate their pride and arrogance; for they laughed at all threatenings, and remained ever secure; though God, as it were, with an armed hand and a drawn sword menaced them with certain destruction, yet nothing moved them. And when they were driven into exile, they were extremely credulous when the false prophets promised them a quick return; while, in the meantime, God, by his servants, shewed to them that he would be gracious to them, and after seventy years would become their deliverer; but they were deaf to all these things, nay, they rejected with disdain all these promises, and said,
“What! will God, forsooth, raise up the dead!”
This, then, is the reason why the Prophet now speaks so largely of their future redemption: it was difficult to persuade the Jews; for as they thought that they would soon return to their own country, they could not endure delay, nor exercise the patience which God commanded. They were at the same time, as we have said, quite confident, inasmuch as the false prophets filled their minds with vain hopes.
He therefore says, I know the thoughts which I think towards you Some think that God claims here, as what peculiarly belongs to him, the foreknowledge of future things; but this is foreign to the Prophet’s meaning. There is here, on the contrary, an implied contrast between the certain counsel of God, and the vain imaginations in which the Jews indulged themselves. The same thing is meant when Isaiah says,
“As far as the heavens are from the earth, so far are my thoughts from your thoughts,” (Isa 55:9)
for they were wont absurdly to measure God by their own ideas. When anything was promised, they reasoned about its validity, and looked on all surrounding circumstances; and thus they consulted only their own brains. Hence God reproved them, and shewed how preposterously they acted, and said, that his thoughts were as remote from their thoughts as heaven is from the earth. So also in this place, though the two parts are not here expressed; the Prophet’s object was no other than to shew, that the Jews ought to have surrendered themselves to God, and not to seek to be so acute as to understand how this or that would be done, but to feel convinced that what God had decreed could not be changed.
It must yet be remarked, that he speaks not here of his hidden and incomprehensible counsel. What then are the thoughts of which Jeremiah now speaks? They were those respecting the people’s deliverance, after the time was completed, for God had promised that he would then be propitious to his Church. We hence see that the question here is not about the hidden counsels of God, but that the reference is simply to the word which was well known to the Jews, even to the prophecy of Jeremiah, by which he had predicted that the Jews would be exiles for seventy years, and would at last find that their punishment would be only a small chastisement, as it would only be for a time: I know then my thoughts But still he indirectly condemns the Jews, because they entertained no hope of deliverance except from what came within the reach of their senses. He then teaches us that true wisdom is to obey God, and to surrender ourselves to him; and that when we understand not his counsel, we ought resignedly to wait until the due time shall come.
He says that they were thoughts of peace, 214 that is, of benevolence. Peace, as it has been often said, is taken for felicity, as in Jer 29:7,
“For the peace of Babylon shall be your peace;”
that is, if Babylon be prosperous, you shall be partakers of the same happiness. So now, in this place, God declares that his thoughts were those of peace, for he designed really to shew by the effect his paternal kindness towards his people.
He afterwards adds, that 1 may give you the end and the expectation By תירחא, achrit, which means in Hebrew the last thing, we are to understand here the end, as though he had said, that it was to be deemed as final ruin, when people had been driven away to a foreign land. For it was no small trial when the Jews were deprived of that land which was the rest and habitation of God; it was the same as though they had been cut off from every hope: it was then a sort of repudiation, and repudiation was a kind of death. But here God declares that he would put an end to their exile, as it was to be only for a time. It is hence to be inferred, that the people did not perish when they were led into exile, but that they were only chastised by God’s hand.
He adds expectation, which Jerome has rendered “patience,” but in a very forced manner. There is, indeed, no doubt but that by this second word the Prophet more fully and clearly expressed what he meant by the first word, תירחא, achrit, even the end that was wished or desired, I will then give you the end, even that ye may enjoy the promises, as ye wish and expect, and ought to hope for, since God has made them. 215 Here I will make an end.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast been pleased kindly to shew to us thy paternal love, and givest us daily a testimony of it in thy Gospel, — O grant, that we may not go astray, following our vagrant and erring thoughts, but acquiesce in thy simple truth; and though we must be exercised in this world by many conflicts, as our life is to be as it were a continual warfare, may we yet never doubt but that there is prepared for us a sure rest in heaven through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Eleventh
12. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
12. Et invocabitis me et ibitis; et orabitis me, et exaudiam vos.
Jeremiah pursues the same subject, even that the Jews, after having undergone the punishment allotted to them by God, would at length return to their own country and find God merciful, and hence learn that their chastisement in exile would prove useful to them. He had indeed in the last verse explained this with sufficient clearness, but he now expresses the manner; and that would be by calling on God. he uses two words, Ye shall call on me, he says, and pray. The verb put between these two םתכלה, elcatem, is regarded almost by all as referring to a right course of life, as though the Prophet had said, that those who before wandered after their own lusts would now walk in the way of God, that is, in his Law; but this seems to me to be too forced an explanation. I doubt not then, but that the Prophet here indirectly reproves the indifference of the people in not immediately acknowledging that they were chastised by God’s hand, that they ought in due time to repent. To go then or to walk is the same thing, in my judgment, as though he had said, “After having suffered the exile, not of one year, but of seventy years, ye shall then begin to be wise.”
It was not only sloth but stupidity, that they were not subdued by God’s scourges so as to call on him; but as they were of a disposition so rude and refractory the Prophet here briefly reminds them that many years had been necessary to subdue them, as twenty or thirty years were not sufficient. We now then understand the design of the word קלה, elek, to walk. 216 The meaning then is, that after having profited under the scourges of God, they would become humble so as to deprecate his wrath.
But there is added a promise, that God would hear them. It may however appear, that God promised conversion even in the first clause; and, no doubt, prayer is the fruit of repentance, for it proceeds from faith; and repentance is the gift of God. And further, we cannot call on God rightly and sincerely except by the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit; for he it is who not only dictates our words, but also creates groanings in our hearts. And thus Augustin, writing against the Pelagians, understands the passage, and proves that it is not in the power of man either to convert himself or to pray; “for God,” he says, “would in vain promise what is in the power of man to do; and this is the promise, ye shall pray; it then follows, that we do not pray through the impulse of our own flesh, but when the Holy Spirit directs our hearts, and in a manner prays in us.” I do not, however, know whether the Prophet intended to speak in so refined a manner. From other passages of Scripture it is easy to prove, that we cannot pray to God, except he anticipates us by his own Spirit. But as to this passage, I prefer to take a simpler meaning, that God would hear, when they began to pray; but yet he shews that it would not be after a short space of time, because they were almost untameable, and would not repent until after many years. It follows, —
13. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
13. Et quaeretis me, et invenietis, quia quaeretis in toto corde vestro.
He confirms in other words the same thing; and yet the repetition, as we said yesterday, is not useless; for as the Jews perversely despised all threatenings, so it was difficult for them to receive any taste of God’s goodness from his promises. This then is the reason why the Prophet employs many words on this subject. By the word seek, he means prayers and supplications, as mentioned in the last verse. And Christ also, exhorting his disciples to pray, says, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.” There is no doubt but that he speaks there of prayer; he yet adopted various modes of speaking, derived from the common habits of men. But to seek, when we feel the need of God’s grace, is nothing else than to pray. Hence the Prophet says, ye shall seek me and ye shall find me And though he addresses here the Israelites, yet this doctrine ought to be extended to the whole Church; for God testifies that he will be propitious to all who flee to him.
But as hypocrites are abundantly noisy, and seem to surpass the very saints in the ardor of their zeal, when the external profession is only regarded, the Prophet adds, Because 217 ye shall seek me with your whole heart There is no doubt but that the Jews groaned a thousand times every year when oppressed by the Chaldeans; for they had to bear all kind of reproaches, and then they had nothing safe or secure. They were therefore under the necessity, except they were harder than iron, to offer some prayers. But God shews that the seasonable time would not come, until their prayers proceeded from a right feeling; this he means by the whole heart. It is indeed certain that men never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart ever so much engaged in prayer as it ought to be; but the Prophet sets the whole heart in opposition to a double heart. Perfection, then, is not what is to be understood here, which can never be found in men, but integrity or sincerity.
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet’s words, — that the Jews, when they began in earnest to flee to God, would find him propitious, provided only they did this in sincerity of heart and not in dissimulation; and also that this would not take place soon, for their hardness and obstinacy were greater than that they could be brought to repent in a short time. Therefore God reminds them that there was need of many evils, so that they might at length turn and divest themselves of that perverseness to which they had wholly surrendered themselves.
Now the whole of this, as I have already observed, ought to be applied to the benefit of the Church; for this promise is to be extended to all the godly, — that when they call on God in their miseries, he will hear them. And Jeremiah seems to have taken this sentence from Isaiah,
“As soon as thou callest on me, I will hear thee; before thou speakest, I will stretch forth my hand.” (Isa 58:9)
And this circumstance also ought to be noticed, that the Prophet addressed the Jews who were miserably oppressed. Let us then know that this sentence is rightly addressed to those in distress, who seem to have God against them and displeased with them; and this is the seasonable time which is mentioned by David in Ps 32:6.
This passage also teaches us, that it is no wonder that the Lord doubles his scourges and does not immediately pardon us, because we are not so ready to bend as to return to him on the first day. He is therefore constrained by our perverseness to chastise us for a longer time; and yet this promise is still to be held valid, that if we even late repent, God will be still propitious to us, only that the reprobate are not under this pretext to indulge in their vices; for we see that profane men trifle with God, and wickedly abuse his paternal indulgence. Let the sinner then beware lest he should lay up for himself a store of vengeance, if he waits till the end of life. But there is still a hope set before those who have been long torpid in their sins, that if they at length come, though late, they shall still come in time, for God will hear them. But the exception ought to be carefully observed, that God will not be intreated, except he is sought with the whole heart, that is, in sincerity. So there is no reason for us to wonder that his ears are often closed to our prayers, because we only pretend to seek him, and that we are endued with no sincerity appears from our life. It now follows, —
14. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
14. Et inveniar a vobis, dicit Jehova, et reducam captivitatem vestram, et colligam (vel, congregabo) vox ex omnibus gentibus et ex omnibus locis quo expulero vos illue, dicit Jehova; et redire faciam vos ad locum e quo expuli vos illinc (abundat).
The Prophet now applies what he seemed to have spoken generally. He then shews the effect of God’s favor, after having been reconciled to his people, even that he would restore their captivity, and gather them from all places. This was particularly said to the Jews; but the two former verses contain, as I have said, a general doctrine. He had before said, Ye shall find me; but he says now, I shall be found by you, or, I will shew myself to you. There is an implied contrast between the hiding and the manifestation, for God had in a manner hid himself during the time of exile; but he suddenly made his face to shine forth, and thus manifested himself as a Father, after having apparently forgotten his people. Suitably then does the Prophet speak here; for though the Lord ever looks on us, we on the other hand do not see him, nay, we think that he is far from us. But he then only appears to us, when we perceive that he cares for our salvation.
By saying, from all nations and from all places, he evidently obviated a doubt which otherwise might have crept into the minds of many, “How can it ever be that God will gather us after we have been thus dispersed?” For no certain region had been allotted to them, in which they might dwell together so as to form one body; but they had been scattered as by a violent whirlwind like chaff or stubble; and God had so driven them away that there was no hope of being again gathered. As then it was incredible, that a people so dispersed could be collected together, the Prophet says, “from all nations and from all places.” The same thing is declared in the Psalm,
“He will gather the dispersions of Israel.” (Ps 147:2)
For when the Jews looked on their dreadful dispersion, they could entertain no hope. We see then how the Prophet encouraged them still to hope, and bade them to struggle against this trial. The sentence seems to have been taken from Moses, for he says,
“Though you be scattered through the extreme parts of the world, yet God will gather you.” (De 30:1-3)
We see that Moses there expressly reproves the unbelief of the people, if they despaired of God’s mercy and salvation, because they were torn and scattered. he therefore shews that God’s power was abundantly sufficient to collect them again, though they were scattered to the four quarters of the world. We now perceive the object of the Prophet. 218
And hence we may gather a useful doctrine, — that God in a wonderful manner gathers his Church when scattered, so as to form it into one body, however he may for a time obliterate its name and even its very appearance. And of this he has given us some proof in our time. For who could have thought that what we now see with our eyes, would ever take place? that God would in a secret manner gather his elect, when there was everywhere a dreadful desolation, and no corner found in the world where two or three faithful men could dwell together. We hence see that this prophecy has not been fulfilled only at one time, but that the grace of God is here set forth, which he has often manifested, and still manifests in gathering his Church. It follows, —
15. Because ye have said, The LORD hath raised us up prophets in Babylon;
15. Quoniam dixistis, Excitabit nobis Jehova prophetas in Babylone;
16. Know that thus saith the LORD of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity;
16. Ideo sic dicit Jehova regi sedenti super solium Davidis et toti populo sedenti in hac urbe (hoc est, habitanti, nam בשוי hic diversis modis accipitur,) fratribus vestris, qui non egressi sunt vobiscum in exilium;
17. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
17. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Ecce ego mitto in eos gladium, famem, pestem; et ponam eos tanquam ficus sordidas (aut, foetidas,) quae non comeduntur prae malitia (id est, prae amaritudine.)
Many interpreters connect the first of these verses with the preceding ones, and they seem not to think so without reason; for the reason given is not unsuitable, if we refer to what the Prophet had said, even that the Jews were by no means to hope for a return until the end of seventy years. But the meaning I adopt is more probable; the particle יכ, ki, is repeated; the first is causal, and the second an illative; 219 and consistently with the usage of Scripture the learned and the experienced think that this is the real meaning of the Prophet. He then says, that the captives were very foolish who hoped for a quick end to their exile, because they had false prophets who gave them such a promise; ye have then said, that prophets have been given you, in Chaldea, and that God had there pitied you, because there are those who prophesy of a return in a short time. As then ye are so foolishly credulous, Thus saith Jehovah to your brethren, he then turns his discourse to the exiles, and exhorts them not to suffer themselves to be led astray. But here he indirectly reproves them, because they could not bear a condition which was even better than that of the residue, as though he had said, “What means this your unreasonableness! that when all your ways are closed up against you, and the power of your conqueror is so great that ye cannot move a finger without his nod, ye should yet think that you shall be set free in two years! and surely if you were before foolishly secure and confident, your calamities ought now to make you humble. But your brethren, who seem yet to enjoy liberty because they dwell at Jerusalem, (for those alone were then remaining,) even these your brethren suffer far more grievously than ye do.”
We now perceive for what purpose the Prophet, after having addressed the captives, turned his discourse to King Zedekiah and to the Jews, who as yet remained at home or in their own country; it was, that the captives might hence know how great was their madness to promise to themselves a return, after having been driven to remote lands, when final ruin was nigh both the king and the people, who as yet remained at Jerusalem; Thus then saith Jehovah to the king who sits on the throne of David, and to all the people who sit in this city, etc
To sit, as I have already said, is to be taken here in two different senses; the king is said to sit on his throne while he retains his dignity; but the people are said to sit while they rest and dwell quietly in any place. It is not without reason that the word king is here expressly mentioned, for the exiles were ever wont to connect it with the hope of their return; “The Temple still remains, God is there worshipped, and the kingdom still exists; these things being secure, it cannot be all over with our nation.” The safety of the people depended on the kingdom and the priesthood. When therefore, on the one hand, they fixed their eyes on royalty, and on the other hand, on the priesthood and sacrifices, they felt persuaded that it could not be otherwise but that God would soon restore them; for God had promised that the kingdom of David would be perpetual, as long as the sun and moon would shine in heaven. Except then this splendor or glory had been extinguished, the Israelites could not have been humiliated, especially as those who had been led into exile were of the tribe of Judah. We now understand why the word king was expressly mentioned. Though, then, a king still sat on the throne of David, he yet declares that his condition and that of his people was harder than that of the captive multitude.
He says, I will pursue them with the sword, and famine, and pestilence The surrender of Jeconiah, as we have elsewhere seen, was voluntary; he was therefore more kindly received by the king of Babylon. At length the city was attacked, and as the siege was long, there was more rage felt against the king and the whole people, for the Chaldeans had been wearied by their obstinacy. Hence it was, that they dealt more severely with them. But nothing happened except through the just vengeance of God; for though they exasperated the Chaldeans, there is no doubt but that God blinded their minds so that they procured for themselves a heavier judgment. It was, then, a punishment inflicted on them by God; and hence rightly does Jeremiah testify that God was the author of those calamities, for the Chaldeans, as we have seen elsewhere, were only ministers and executioners of God’s vengeance; Jehovah of hosts then says, Behold, I will pursue you, etc.
He then adds, And I will make them like worthless figs He calls the figs here םירעש, sherim, worthless; but in the twenty-fourth chapter he called them bad; still the meaning is the same. There is no doubt but that he refers to the prophecy which we there explained. For the Prophet saw two baskets of figs, in one of which were sweet figs, and in the other bitter. God asked, “What seest thou?” he said, “Good figs, very good, and bad figs, very bad.” God afterwards added, “The good and sweet figs are the captives; for I will at length shew mercy to them, and liberty to return shall be given them. They shall then be good figs, though now a different opinion is formed; for they who still lived at Jerusalem, think themselves more happy than the exiles; but the bad and bitter figs,” he says, “are this people who pride themselves, because they have not been led into captivity; for I will consume them with the pestilence, and the famine, and the sword.” This was the Prophet’s language in that passage. He now again declares that King Zedekiah and all the people would be like bitter and putrid figs, which, being so bad, are not fit to be eaten. He then adds, —
18. And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them:
18. Et persequar (ad verbum est, post eos: persequar eos) gladio, fame et peste; et ponam eos in commotionem (vel, concussionem) cunctis regnis terrae, in execrationem, et in stuporem, et in sibilum, et in probrum inter cunctas gentes ad quas expulero eos (vel, quo expulero eos illuc:)
19. Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD.
19. Propterea quod non audierunt sermones meos, inquit Jehovah, quos misi ad eos peer servos meos Prophetas, mane surgendo et mittendo; et non audistis, inquit Jehova.
He goes on with the same subject, — that he would not cease to consume them with pestilence, famine, and the sword, until he wholly destroyed them, according to what we find in the twenty-fourth chapter. He repeats what is in that chapter; but the words are taken from the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, and from the twenty-ninth. The prophets, we know, drew the substance of their doctrine from the fountain of the Law, and, strictly speaking, brought forward nothing new, but accommodated the doctrine of Moses to the circumstances of the time in which each lived.
Hence we find among the curses of the Law these words, I will set them for a commotion, or a concussion. The word may be explained in two ways, — either that the nations would tremble at such a sad spectacle, — or that they would shake their head. The second view is to be preferred, according to what I have stated elsewhere, I will then set them for a commotion, that is, every one who shall see their miseries, will shake his head in contempt, as though he had said, “All will assent to the just vengeance of God, and ye shall be objects of reproach among all the heathens; for all will acknowledge that ye suffer most justly for your sins.”
He adds, for a curse The word הלא, ale, is properly an oath, but is taken in many places for a curse, which is introduced or understood when we swear. But as men often expose themselves to punishment for perjury, the word means, frequently, a curse; and what is to be understood, as it has been explained elsewhere, is a pattern or formula of a curse; and we have seen in what sense the Prophet said this, that is, that every one who wished to curse himself or others, or to imprecate, as they say, some dire things, would take the Jews for an example, “May God curse thee as he did the Jews;” or, “May he draw forth his severity to thy ruin, as he did to the Jews.” He then says that they would be for a curse, that is, that they would be so miserable that they would be taken as an example in imprecations.
He afterwards adds, for an astonishment, as he had spoken of the shaking of the head, so now he mentions astonishment, which is something more grievous, that is, when such a spectacle presents itself as makes all men to stand astonished, as not knowing what it means. Hissing is mentioned; as it is said elsewhere that they would be a proverb, לשמ, meshel, and also a taunt, so Jeremiah says in this place, that they would be a hissing, as he has spoken of the shaking of the head.
And lastly he adds, that they would be a reproach even to all nations, for all would deem them worthy of their calamities, however grievous they were, when a comparison would be made between their iniquities and God’s vengeance. The reason follows, because they hearkened not to God But I cannot now finish.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast given so remarkable a proof both of thy wrath and of thy paternal kindness in thy dealings with thine ancient people, — O grant, that we may not by our obstinacy provoke thine extreme wrath, but in time anticipate thy judgment, so that we may find thee reconcilable, and never doubt but that thou wilt be merciful to us when we sincerely turn to thee; and as we are so prone to all evil, yea, and rush headlong into it, and as our wickedness and hardness are so great, grant to us, we pray thee, the spirit of meekness, that we may in all things submit ourselves to thee, and thus render ourselves thy children, that we may also find thee to be our Father in thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Twelfth
The Prophet, after having denounced God’s judgment on those who remained in their own country as well as on the exiles, subjoins this reason, because they hearkened not to the word of the Lord; and this was a most grievous sin. Though ignorance is no excuse before God, for those who are without the Law must perish; yet the servant who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. And the more abundant God’s grace is in calling us to the right way of salvation, the more base is our ingratitude when we close our ears and disregard the concern and care which he manifests for our salvation. Let us then know that nothing is less tolerable than the rejection of the prophetic word.
And we must notice what follows, which I sent them by my servants the prophets The Jews might have otherwise objected and said, that they did not intend to be rebellious against God, but that there were many contentions among the prophets. Lest, then, they should seek an evasion by a pretense of this kind, he says that the word, brought by his ministers and witnesses the prophets, was worthy of no less reverence than if angels came down from heaven to them. And this passage serves to shew the use of external doctrine, which fanatical men despise, thinking the hidden word sufficient, that is, whatever they may dream. But God thus proves the obedience of our faith, while he rules us by the hand and labor of men. Whosoever then rejects the faithful teachers of the word, shews that he is a despiser of God himself. The meaning is, that God defines his word, not as an oracle of any kind, but as the doctrine which has been deposited with faithful teachers.
He afterwards adds, rising up early and sending The metaphor is taken from men who are sedulous and diligent. We indeed know that God never awakes and never changes place; but he could not otherwise express his paternal care toward his people, as though he had said, that he was sedulously engaged in admonishing them. And thus the more inexcusable was rendered the sloth of the people; for God hastened as it were to rise up early, as they who spare no labor, but willingly deprive themselves of some portion of their sleep, that they may complete their work or their journey. As God then manifested so much diligence in securing the wellbeing of men, the more shameful is the sloth of men, when they become deaf, or are not moved, but remain in their indifference. It now follows, —
20. Hear ye therefore the word of the LORD, all ye of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon:
20. Et vos audite sermonem Jehovae cuncta captivitas, quam misi Jerosolyma Babylonem;
21. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, of Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, which prophesy a lie unto you in my name; Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall slay them before your eyes;
21. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, ad Achab filium Colaniah, et ad Zedechiam filium Maassiae, prophetantes vobis in nomine meo mendacium, Ecce ego ponam eos (vel, tradam) in manum Nebuehadnezer regis Babylonis; et percutiet eos coram oculis vestris:
Jeremiah announces a special prophecy, but in confirmation of his former doctrine. His object is still the same, to prevent the captives, as they had begun, to listen to flatteries, and to make them feel assured that they were to bear their exile till the end of seventy years. But he speaks here of three impostors; he connects two of them together, and mentions the third by himself. He directs his discourse especially to all the captives, for he deigned not to address those who professed to be God’s enemies, and sold themselves as slaves to the devil for the purpose of deceiving. It was therefore useless to spend labor on them. But he addressed the whole people, and at the same time foretold what would happen to these two false prophets, even Ahab and Zedekiah. He calls one the son of Kolaiah, and the other the son of Maaseiah; for Ahab was a name then in frequent use, and Zedekiah was a name which, on account of the memory of a pious and godly king, was in high esteem among the good. To prevent then any mistake, he mentioned their fathers.
The import of the prophecy is, that a judgment would soon overtake them, as they would be killed by King Nebuchadnezzar. They were in exile, but such madness had possessed them, that they hesitated not to provoke the wrath of that tyrant whom they knew to be cruel and bloody. Then Jeremiah declares, that as they thus deceived the people, they would soon be punished, as Nebuchadnezzar would slay them. There is yet no doubt but that Nebuchadnezzar had regard to his own private advantage; for before they were brought before him, he wished to allay every cause of tumult. As they ceased not to encourage the hope of a speedy return, without some check, it could not be otherwise but that frequent disturbances would arise. Therefore Nebuchadnezzar, as it is usual with earthly kings, consulted his own benefit. But he was in the meantime the servant of God; for those two impostors who had promised a return to the people, were to be exposed to contempt. Their death then disclosed their vanity, for it thereby appeared that they were not sent by God. It is indeed true that God’s faithful servants are often cruelly treated, nay, even slain by the ungodly. But the case was different as to these two. For they were not proved guilty of falsehood, because they happened to have unhappily prophesied, but because they raised up a standard as it were, and said, that the people would soon return to their own country; and hence it was that they were slain. We then see that what would take place was not without reason foretold by Jeremiah; for from their death it might have been concluded, that whatever they had promised respecting the return of the people, were mere fallacies; and they were slain even before the time which they had predicted. We now perceive the meaning. We shall now notice the words.
He says, Hear ye, the, whole captivity, the word of Jehovah He would have the Jews to be attentive, for if a thousand impostors had been killed, yet their faith in falsehood would never have been destroyed, had not Jeremiah prophesied before the time what would take place. He then sits here as a judge; for though Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be killed, yet it appears evident that it was ordained by God, and indeed for this end, that the people might learn to repent. We hence see that Jeremiah was their judge; and Nebuchadnezzar afterwards executed what God by the mouth of his servant had pronounced as a judgment. This is the reason why he addressed his words to the whole people.
He yet at the same time adds, that they had been sent by God, whom I have sent, etc. and he said this, in order that they might not imagine that they went there by chance or by adverse fortune, and that they might acknowledge that when they were deprived of their own country, it was a just punishment for their sins.
By saying, I will give (or deliver) them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the Prophet still more clearly expresses what I have just said, that they would be thus slain by the order of the king, because God had determined what was to be done to them. And he assigns the cause of their death or mentions its author, that the Jews might not fix their eyes on the king of Babylon. What had Nebuchadnezzar in view? to preserve a peaceable kingdom; he saw the danger of a tumult if he pardoned these two men, who had disturbed the people. Lest, then, the Jews should look only on the design of the king, God here sets before them another and a higher reason, even because they prophesied falsely in his name. A clearer explanation follows, —
22. And of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah which are in Babylon, saying, The LORD make thee like Zedekiah, and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire;
22 Et sumetur ab ipsis maledictio apud omnem captivatem Jehjudah, quae ist in Babylone, dicendo, Statuat to Jehova ut Zedechiam et sicut Achab, quos combussit rex Babylonis igni (vel, ustalavit, vel, frixit etiam, ut alii vertunt; הלק non tantum significat comburere, sed ustulare, vel paulatim urere, quod idem est, sed Hieronymus vertit fuisse frictos;)
Here we are to notice the circumstances; for if Jeremiah had only spoken of their death, the Jews might still have been doubtful whether he had delivered a prophecy; but when now is added what kind of punishment was inflicted on them, Jeremiah points out as by the finger what was as yet unknown, and even incredible. It might indeed have happened to the captives that the king should order them to be slain, but it could not have occurred to any man to suppose what Jeremiah declares, that they would be roasted 220 in the fire We hence see that God here obviates the evasions of perverse minds, so that there would be no room for evading, when he specifies the very kind of death which they were to undergo.
But he says first, Taken from them shall be a curse, that is, the form of cursing. Mentioned yesterday was הלא, ale, an oath; he puts down now הללק, kolle; and ללק, koll, is to curse. The meaning then is, that they would become an exemplar of a curse to all the captives, who would say, May God make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab whom the king of Babylon roasted The cause of their death is again repeated; and the Prophet did not without reason dwell on this, that he might turn away the eyes of the people from the immediate cause, which was commonly known, that is, that Nebuchadnezzar would not endure any tumults to be raised in his dominions; that they might therefore acknowledge God to be the author of this punishment, he says, —
23. Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have commited adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD.
23. Propterea quod fecerunt (vel, patrarunt) flagitium in Israel, et scortati sunt cum uxoribus sociorum suorum, et locuti sunt sermonem in nomine meo mendaciter; quod (vel, quem sermonem) non mandaveram ipsis; ego autem sum cognitor et testis, dicit Jehova.
We perceive why the Prophet mentions the cause of their death; it was, that the Jews might regard the event, not according to their own thoughts, but that they might feel assured that God took vengeance on the impiety of those who had falsely pretended his name. For we know that we always look here and there, and that when we find an immediate cause, we neglect and esteem as nothing the judgments of God. In order then to correct this evil, Jeremiah again repeats that Zedekiah and Ahab were not punished by the king of Babylon, but by God himself, because they committed villany in Israel. Some render, הלבנ, nubele, enormity or abomination; but I am disposed to render it villany, or turpitude, or filthiness. 221 They, then, committed a filthy thing He afterwards specifies two kinds, that they committed adultery with the wives of their friends, and that they falsely prophesied in the name of God
By the first clause we see how great was the stupidity of the people, for they did not consider what was the life of those who pretended to be witnesses for God, as though they were angels come down from heaven. Their wickedness might indeed have been concealed; but there is no doubt but that the Jews were extremely stupid, for they had willingly seized on the vain promises, which afforded them gratification. As, then, they were anxious to return, and wished to be restored to their own country as it were against the will of God, and sought to break through all obstacles by the force of their own obstinacy; it was a just punishment, that they were so blinded as not to see what was yet sufficiently manifest, even that these vaunting prophets were adulterers, and that the filthiness of their life was so great, that it was certain that they had nothing divine or heavenly in them.
Then there is another kind of evil added, that they prophesied falsely in God’s name. This was an atrocious crime; for as his truth is precious to God, so it is a sacrilege that he cannot bear, when his truth is turned into falsehood. But as the minds of them all were so corrupted, that no one would open his eyes, God testifies, that though their adulteries might be unknown to the people, that though their vanity in their false prophecies might not be perceived, yet it was enough that he knew and was a witness
Now this passage is worthy of special notice; for hypocrites, until they find that they are proved guilty before men, fear nothing, nay, they haughtily exalt themselves, even when things are justly laid to their charge. Since, then, the hardness and dishonesty of hypocrites are so great, it is necessary to summon them before God’s tribunal, that they may know that they may a hundred times be acquitted by the world, and yet that this derogates nothing from God’s judgment. It now follows —
24. Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying,
24. Et ad Semaiah Nehelamitem dices, dicendo, (sic dices,)
25. Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying,
25. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, dicendo, Propterea quod tu misisti in nomine meo literas ad totum populum, qui est Jerosolymae, et ad Zephaniam filium Maassiae, et ad cunctos sacerdotes, dicendo,
26. The LORD hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.
26. Jehova posuit to (vel, constituit to) sacerdotem pro Jehoiada sacerdote, ut sitis praefecti domus Jehovae super omnem virum insanum (vel, arreptitium) et prophetantem, ut ponas ipsum in carcem (alii vertunt, in cippum) et in compedes (vel, manicas, quod aliis magis placet.)
27. Now therefore why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you?
27. Et tu quare non increpuisti Jeremiam Anathotitem, qui prophetat vobis?
Here Jeremiah prophesies respecting a third person, who had written a letter to the priests and to the whole people against himself, and had expostulated with the chief priest and with others, because Jeremiah had, with impunity, long exhorted the people to bear their long exile. This is the import of the passage; but as to his punishment we shall see what it was at the end of the chapter. I did not wish to give the whole, because I cannot finish this prophecy today. I have therefore taken the former part only, even that Shemaiah had not only encouraged the people, as others did, to hope for a return, and to raise a commotion, but had also scattered his poison at Jerusalem, and had endeavored to load Jeremiah with ill-will, that he might be slain as a false prophet, and an enemy to the public good, as well as to the Law and the Temple.
Thou shalt then say to or of Shemaiah, for לא, al, may be taken in either sense. 222 His crime is now related, we shall hereafter see what his punishment was. His crime was, that he wrote in God’s name Had he only been a fanner of cruelty, he would have deserved no pardon; but his crime was doubled, for he dared to pretend the authority of God, and to boast that he was as it were his scribe, as though he had said that his letter had been dictated by the Holy Spirit, that he had not spoken his own thoughts, or presumptuously, but that God could not endure the liberty given to Jeremiah; for though he continually preached of long exile, yet the chief-priest suffered him, and no one of the whole priestly order opposed him; and at the same time he blames the people for their indulgence. That he did all this in God’s name was far more grievous than if he had written as a private individual. And it is said that he had written to the whole people, even in order that they might all in a body unite against Jeremiah. For, had he written only to the priests, they might have objected that they were not at liberty to act so violently against Jeremiah, as sedition might be raised. We hence see the craft of this base man; though he despised the people, yet that all of them, even the least, might help the priests to do this act of cruelty, and that there might be the union of all, he included the whole people in his letter.
He afterwards mentioned the priest and all the priests The word priest, in the singular number, meant the high-priest: then the priests were not only those descended from Aaron, but all the Levites. There was the high-priest, and then the descendants of Aaron were the chief, and, as it were, the colleagues of the high priest; but the Levites were an inferior order, though here by the priests he means also the Levites.
Here follows the subject of the letter, Jehovah hath made thee a priest, etc. Here the impostor Shemaiah accuses the high-priest of ingratitude, because he had been chosen in the place of another. For it is probable that Jehoiada was still living, but that he had been led away into Chaldea with the other exiles. As then so high a dignity had, beyond hope, and before the time, come to the high-priest, the false prophet reproves him, because he did not rightly acknowledge this favor of God, as though he had said, that he was rendering an unworthy reward to God, who had raised him to that high station: God, he said, hath made thee a priest in the place of Jehoiada the priest Thus the ministers of Satan transform themselves into angels of light; and yet they cannot so dexterously imitate God’s servants, but that their deceit makes itself presently known; for craftiness is very different from a right and prudent counsel. God endues his servants with counsel and wisdom; but Satan, with craft and guile. Though, then, at the first view, some artifice appears in this letter of the false prophet, yet we may gather from its contents, that he falsely pretended the name of God, that he falsely alleged that the chief priest was chosen in the place of Jehoiada. That ye should be, he says: at first he addresses the high-priest, but now he includes also others, that ye should be the keepers, or the rulers of the house of God 223 For though the chief power was in the high-priest, yet as he could not alone undertake everything, it was necessary for him to have others connected with him. This is the reason why Shemaiah not only says that the high-priest was a ruler in the Temple of God, but after having placed him in the highest honor, mentions also others.
He says against every man that is mad; so עגשמ, meshego, is rendered by Jerome, and I think not unsuitably; for the word means properly one that is insane: but this was applied to false teachers, because they boasted that they were under a divine impulse, when they spoke their own thoughts. This appears evident from the ninth chapter of Hosea, where it is said that the people would at length acknowledge that the prophets, who had flattered them, were insane, and that the men of the Spirit were mad. The Prophet conceded to them both names, that they were prophets and men of the Spirit, that is, spiritual; but he proved that they had only the names and not the reality: for prophets were called spiritual men, because God inspired them with his Spirit; but the ungodly, when they wished to revile the true prophets, called them mad. So did they speak who were with Jehu, when a prophet came to anoint him, “What means this mad fellow?” this word עגשמ, meshego, is what they used; and they called him in contempt mad, who had yet spoken by the secret impulse of the Spirit. (2Ki 9:11.) So, in like manner, do the ungodly rave in contempt of God against everything found in Scripture. 224
But as it has been already stated, it was necessary to distinguish between the true servants of God and those only in name; for many boasted that they were called by God, and yet were impostors. God then called these mad and insane; but what did the ungodly do? they transferred the reproach to the lawful servants of God. So, in this place, Shemaiah says, that Jeremiah was mad, who falsely pretended the name of God, and prophesied falsely.
He adds, That thou shouldest put him in prison, or cast him into prison or the stocks, as some render the word. Then he says, in manacles, that is, thou shouldest bind him, until his impiety be known, so that thou mayest detain him in prison. 225 It is, indeed, probable that the chief priests had assumed this power during the disordered state of things. This proceeding no doubt resulted from a good principle; for God ever designed that his Church should be well governed: he therefore commanded in his Law, that when any dispute or question arose, the chief priest was to be the judge, (Deut. 17:8, 9;) but when mention is here made of prison and of manacles, it: was an act, no doubt, beyond the Law. It is therefore probable that it was added to the Law of God when the state of things was in disorder and confusion among the Jews. And whence was the origin of the evil? from the ignorance and sloth of the priests. They ought to have been the messengers of the God of hosts, the interpreters of the Law, the truth ought to have been sought from their mouth; but they were dumb dogs, nay, they had so degenerated, that nothing priestly was found in them; they had forgotten the Law, there was no religion in them. As then they had neglected their office, it was necessary to choose other prophets: and as we have said elsewhere, it was as it were accidental that God raised up prophets from the common people. There was, indeed, a necessity of having prophets always in the ancient Church; but God would have taken them from the Levites, except that he designed to expose them to reproach before the whole people, when he made prophets even of herdsmen, as in the case of Amos.
As then the priests suffered the prophetic office to be transferred to the common people, a new way was devised, that it might, not be any loss to them, as under the Papacy; for we know that bishops are for no other reason made rulers in the Church, but that there might be pastors and teachers. For of what use could these asses be, whom we know to be for the most part destitute of any learning? What could these men do, who are profane, and given up to their own pleasures and enjoyments? In short, what could gamesters and panders do? for such are almost all the Papal bishops. It was therefore necessary to give up their office to brawling monks, “You shall teach, for we resign to you the pulpits.” But, at the same time, they retained the power of judgment in their own hands: when any controversy arose, neither the noisy brawlers nor the dumb beasts could of themselves decide anything; for ignorance prevented the latter, and power was wanting to the former. How, then, did the bishops formerly condemn heretics? and how do they condemn them still? Why, thus: When one was a Carmelite, they called in the Franciscans; and when one was an Augustinian, the Dominicans were summoned. For, as I have said, these mute animals had no knowledge nor wisdom. And yet a certain dignity was maintained by the bishops or their vicars, when they pronounced sentence in condemning heretics. And such was probably the case among the ancient people; for those who pretended to be prophets were summoned, and that by the authority of the high-priest, under the pretext of law, but not without some corruption added to it; for God had not given fetters and manacles to the priests, that they might thus restrain those who might create disturbance and corrupt the pure truth. But what remains I shall defer to the next Lecture.
Grant, Almighty God, that since we are prone to what is false, and wholly devoted to vanity, we may be governed by thy Spirit, and desire no other thing than to be obedient to thee; and as we offer ourselves to thee, as thy disciples, grant that having the light of thy word shining before us, we may follow the way which thou shewest to us, and thus persevere in a right course, until we shall at length come to that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Thirteenth
We saw in the last Lecture the substance of the letter which Shemaiah had written to the chief priest. He reproved him for his neglect, because he did not silence Jeremiah according to the right and duty of his office. This had a plausible appearance; but it was a false principle which he assumed, — that Jeremiah falsely pretended God’s name, and was not sent, and had no command to prophesy; 226 this was false. Justly then does the Prophet now oppose him, and pronounce the punishment which he deserved. It then follows, —
28. For therefore he sent unto us in Babylon, saying, This captivity is long: build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
28. Nempe quia misit (vel, quia ideo, ad verbum, quia ob id, vel, propterea) ad nos in Babylonem, dicendo, Longum est (tempus exilii,) aedificate domos et habitate, plantate hortos et comedite fractum eorum.
29. And Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet.
29. Legerat autem Zephania epistolam hanc in auribus Jeremiae prophetae.
The crime ascribed to Jeremiah was, — that he rendered the captives indifferent, so that they cast off every hope of deliverance, and disregarded their own country. But the design of Jeremiah was far different; it was, that the people might not by too much haste anticipate the promises of God, and that he might also extend their hope to the end, prefixed. As there are two causal particles here found, ןכ-לע יכ, ki ol-ken, some give this rendering, “For for this cause,” that is, because he claimed the name of a Prophet. The simpler meaning however is, that he gives a reason why Shemaiah blamed the neglect of the priest, even because he (Jeremiah) had habituated the captives to bear their exiles. But he reproached the holy man, as though he had made them indifferent through long delay. Jeremiah had indeed said that the time would be long; but this particular phrase, It is long, means a different thing, as though Jeremiah wished to bury in oblivion the hope of a return, because it would have been foolish to languish so long.
It follows, And Zephaniah had read, etc The past perfect tense is more suitable here, for the verse ought to be put in a parenthesis. The Prophet obviates a doubt which might have been entertained. He then shews how the prophecy was made known to him; he was one of the hearers when the letter was read. And it is probable that the priest called Jeremiah on purpose, that he might be proved guilty by his own accuser. However this may have been, he wished to expose the holy man to the hatred of the people, or rather to their fury. The constancy of Jeremiah was worthy of greater praise, while he boldly reproved the arrogance of them all, who had nothing else in view but to suppress God’s truth by force and tyranny.
30. Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,
30. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad Jeremiam, dicendo,
31. Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus saith the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite; Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he caused you to trust in a lie:
31. Mitte ad totam captivitatem, dicendo, Sic dicit Jehova de Semaiah Nehelamita, Propterea quod prophetavit vobis Semaiah, cum ego non miserim ipsum, et confidere vos fecit super mendacio;
32. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed: he shall not have a man to dwell among this people; neither shall he behold the good that I will do for my people, saith the LORD; because he hath taught rebellion against the LORD.
32. Ideo sic dicit Jehova, Ecce ego visitans (id est, visitabo) super Semaiah Nehelamitam, et super semen ejus, non erit illi vir, qui habitet in medio populi hujus, et non videbit bonum quod ego faciam populo meo, dicit Jehova, quia aversionem (vel, defectionem) loquutus est contra Jehovam.
Jeremiah distinctly declares that this impostor would not escape unpunished, because he had dared falsely to pretend the name of God, and avowedly opposed Jeremiah. Here, then, the Prophet makes no long discourse, but on the contrary simply declares by the power of the Spirit what would take place. He speaks in God’s name, for he had been sent as a herald to proclaim this judgment. This, then, is the reason why he is so brief; for there was to be no dispute, though the impostor on the other hand was carrying himself very high, and hesitated not to overthrow the revealed truth of God, which had been confirmed by many witnesses.
The sum of what is stated is, that Shemaiah would not see the favor of God, and that none of his seed would remain alive. It was a curse under the Law, as it is well known, that one should have no seed left. (De 28:18.) Jeremiah then denounces on Shemaiah this punishment, that no one of his seed would remain alive, but that he would die childless; and then he excludes him from the enjoyment of the benefit which the Lord had determined to bestow on his people. He wished to return after two years to his own country; Jeremiah commanded the people patiently to endure their exile to the end of seventy years, which was the time of their deliverance. As, then, Shemaiah despised the lawful time, he was deprived of the favor of seeing that event.
Added then is the reason; first, because he had abused the name of God; he prophesied and I had not sent him, said the Lord; the second reason was, that he deceived the people with a vain hope; falsehood of itself is worthy of a heavy punishment; but when it was pernicious to God’s people, it became still more heinous, and therefore worthy of a twofold punishment.
Now we see that Jeremiah esteemed as nothing that he was condemned by Shemaiah; for he retained his own dignity; though the impostor attempted to subvert his authority, yet the Prophet speaks as though he was wholly unstained and not hurt nor affected by any calumny. The same magnanimity of mind is what all faithful teachers ought to possess, so as to look down, as from on high, on all deceivers, and their chatterings, and curses, and to go on in their course, however insolently the despisers of God may rise up against them, and tear and overwhelm them with reproaches. Let then all those who seek to serve God and his Church follow this example of the Prophet, so that they may not be discouraged in their minds when they find that they have to contend with dishonest men.
But Jeremiah is bidden to write to all the captives, for Shemaiah was not worthy of being reproved; but God had a regard for the public safety of the exiles, and reminded them of what would take place. It is indeed probable that this prophecy was without any fruit, until it was known by the event itself that Jeremiah had not without reason thus prophesied. Until, then, Shemaiah died, and died without any to succeed him, the people disregarded what had been predicted; but at length they were constrained to acknowledge that Jeremiah had not spoken his own thought, but had been furnished with a message from God; for God really fulfilled what he had predicted by the mouth of his Prophet.
The two reasons follow, why God resolved to punish Shemaiah: the first is, that he had seized on the prophetic office without a call; and hence we conclude, according to what has already appeared, that this office which had been instituted by God, was perverted, when any one intruded into it without a commission. Let us then know that no one ought to be deemed a legitimate teacher, except he can really shew that he has been called from above. I have in several places stated that two things belonged to a call; the inward call was the chief thing when the state of the Church was in disorder, that is, when the priests neglected the duty of teaching, and wholly departed from what their office required. When, therefore, the Church became disordered, God applied an extraordinary remedy by raising up prophets. But when the Church is rightly and regularly formed, no one can boast that he is a pastor or a minister, except he is also called by the suffrages of men. But as I have spoken on this subject more at large on the twenty-third chapter, I only slightly refer to it now.
As to the present passage in which God condemns Shemaiah for having thrust in himself without being called, what is meant is, that he brought forward his own dreams, having been furnished with no commission; for the prophetic office was then special. Then Shemaiah is here rejected as an impostor, because he had only brought forward prophecies suggested by his own brains, which yet he falsely pretended to have been from God; and it was a most atrocious crime, as it was a sacrilege to abuse, as Shemaiah did, the name of God. But the atrocity of his sin the Prophet still further sets forth, by saying that his prophecies were pernicious and fatal to the people. We hence conclude how solicitous God was for the safety of his people, in thus avenging the falsehoods which were calculated to lead them to ruin; and Jeremiah shews that Shemaiah’s teaching was ruinous, because he inebriated the people with false confidence; he made you, he says, to trust in falsehood; for he promised them a quick return, when it was God’s will, that the Jews should patiently bear their exile till the end of the seventy years.
But we may deduce from this passage a useful doctrine, — that nothing is more pestiferous in a Church than for men to be led away by a false confidence or trust. For it is the foundation of all true religion to depend on the mouth or word of God; and it is also the foundation of our salvation. As, then, the salvation of men as well as true religion is founded on faith and the obedience of faith; so also when we are drawn away to some false trust, the whole of true religion falls to the ground, and at the same time every hope of salvation vanishes. This ought to be carefully observed, so that we may learn to embrace that doctrine which teaches us to trust in no other than in the only true God, and reject all those inventions which may lead us away from him, even in the least degree, so that we may not look around us nor be carried here and there.
For this reason, as I have said, the Prophet declares that Shemaiah would die childless, and be precluded from enjoying the favor which God had resolved and even promised to bestow on his people. And all this, as I have reminded you, was said for the sake of the people; for this prophecy did no good to Shemaiah nor to his posterity; but his punishment ought to have benefited the miserable exiles so as to lead them to repentance, however late it may have been. This is the import of the passage.
So it is rendered by the Sept., Vulg., and Targ.; but “epistle,” or letter, by the Syr. The word properly means a narrative; but as that is included in a book or in a letter, it is often used for both. It is rendered “book” in our version in Ex 24:7; and “letter” in 2Sa 11:14. — Ed.
Rather, “old men;” literally it is, “to the remainder of the aged of the transmigration.” Age, and not authority, seems to be intended, though Grotins thinks they were the members of the Sanhedrim. The word commonly rendered “captivity,” and when a verb, “to lead captive,” means properly to be removed, to migrate, and transitively, to remove, to carry away, to transfer, to translate. The idea of captivity is not included in it, though sometimes implied. — Ed.
Here in the original ends the preceding Lecture; but as this chapter has no connection with the foregoing, the prayer which occurs here has been removed to the end of the last chapter. — Ed.
The Targ. has “scribes;” the Sept. and Syr., “false prophets;” and the Vulg., “prophets.” They were probably teachers, and not those higher prophets who were favored with visions, and sent forth by God to deliver special messages. — Ed.
Rendered “governess” or lady — “domina,” by the Vulg.; but “queen” by the Sept., the Syr., and the Targ. It was a title most commonly given to the queen-mother. — Ed.
The Versions have “eunuchs,” but the Targ., “princes.” The word means an officer or an attendant on a sovereign. It is rendered “officer” in Ge 37:36; and “chamberlain” in Es 2:3. That such officers were often eunuchs there can be no doubt, but the word does not designate such a thing. — Ed.
See note on Chapter 24:1
To, “seek the peace of the city” was, no doubt, to promote it by their efforts, to be careful in preserving it. To “seek the land,” in De 11:12, was to care for it; “not to seek the day,” in Job 3:4, was not to regard it. Hence, to “seek the peace of the city,” was to care for, or regard it, so as to do everything to promote it. It is said of Mordecai that he was “seeking the wealth (rather, the good) of his people.” (Es 10:3) His whole conduct was a proof of this. To “seek one’s hurt,” as in Ps 38:12, was not to pray for it, but to use all means to effect it. Therefore the first sense given by Calvin is the right one. — Ed.
It is literally, “whom I have removed,” or transplanted; “moved from home,” is the Sept.; “transferred,” the Vulg.; “made to migrate,” the Targ. — Ed.
To pray for the peace of a city or country, and for the health or eternal salvation of rulers, is very different from wishing success to their ambitious, rapacious, or sanguinary undertakings; though this distinction is not generally attended to.” — Scott.
All the ancient versions, and the Targ. too, render this clause, “Your dreams which ye dream.” To dream a dream is a common phraseology in Hebrew. There is no instance of the noun here for dreams, in which it means dreamers, as Blayney renders it; the marginal reading in our version in Jer 27:9, is no doubt correct, as the word is in every other passage rendered “dreams;” and the word is in another form when it means “dreamers,” see Ps 126:1. The last word is not found but here in the Hiphil form; but this form has not invariably a causative meaning, nor does it seem to have it here. Then the clause would be, “neither attend to your dreams which you are dreaming.” — Ed.
The words literally are, “When at the mouth (or extremity) of fillings (or, of fulfilments) in Babylon shall be seventy years,” etc., that is, when seventy years shall be completed, the whole number or measure being filled up. Blayney’s version is, “Surely when seventy years have been completed at Babylon.” But יכ here is not rendered “surely,” but “when,” by the Targ. and the ancient versions. — Ed
The Vulg. is the same, “suscitabo — I will awaken,” etc.; and so the Sept. and the Targ.; but the Syr. is, “I will ratify,” or confirm. The primary meaning of םק is to rise, and in Hiphil, as here, to cause to rise, that is, to rouse, to awaken; its secondary meaning is, to stand, and in Hiphil, to cause to stand, that is, to ratify or confirm. The first idea is the most striking: the word of promise was as it were lying down and dormant for seventy years, and now it was to be roused up: “I will rouse up for you the very word of mine, the good.” This is the literal rendering, except we take the secondary meaning of the verb, which is also very suitable, “I will ratify for you,” etc. — Ed
The word for “thoughts” might often be rendered “purposes,” as it is sometimes in our version. The thoughts of God are his purposes. So here: “For I — I know the very purposes which I am purposing respecting you, saith Jehovah, — purposes of peace and not for evil, to restore you to this place.” God, in saying, “to this place,” represented himself as dwelling at Jerusalem, in the temple, where he had promised his presence.
In mentioning purposes and not purpose, the intention probably was to shew its firmness and certainty. The Hebrews sometimes used the plural number in order to enhance the meaning, as “wisdoms” for perfect wisdom, in Pr 9:1. Then the meaning of the word would be, “the very sure purpose;” and in a version, the meaning, and not the word literally, ought to be given. — Ed.
These two words are omitted in the Sept.; “the end and patience,” is the Vulg.; “the end and hope,” the Targ.; “the hope,” only, the Syr. It is better to retain the words apart than to unite them, as many have done: “the end” was that of their troubles and exile, and “the expectation” was that of a return to their own country, — two things completely distinct though cotemporaneous: “To give you the end (of your exile) and the expectation (of a return,)” that is, the fulfillment of it. It is a metonymy, expectation is put for its object, or the thing expected. — Ed.
The two first verbs are wanting in the Sept. and the Targ., and the second in the Syr. The Vulg. is according to our version, which is literally the Hebrew: and there are no various readings. It is difficult to understand the meaning here of the second verb, go, or proceed. Some give this meaning, “And ye shall call upon me and shall go to your country; and ye shall pray to me, and I will hearken to you.” But the sense most suitable appears to be the following, — “And ye shall call on me, and ye shall go on and intercede with me, and I will hearken to you.” The verb ךלה is used in the sense of advancing or of going on in a course that is begun. See Ge 26:13; Ex 19:19. To “intercede for themselves and others, was more than to call upon God. From calling they would go on to intercede, earnestly to plead for themselves and others, and then the promise is that God would hear them. — Ed
The יכ here is rendered “when” in our version, and in the ancient versions, except the Sept., where it is; ὅτι, “for,” or because. The most usual meaning of the particle is “because;” and it may be so rendered here; for sincerity may be justly assigned as a reason why prayers are heard, without the implication of any merit. Indeed, in the very nature of things, prayer without sincerity cannot possibly be accepted.
In our version the meaning of the two verbs is reversed; the first ought rather to be rendered as meaning “to search for,” and the latter to “seek.” With the first is connected “finding,” and this implies searching, and the verb שקב means sometimes to search for what is lost. The verse should be, — “And ye shall search for me and ye shall find me, because ye shall seek me with all your heart.” To seek God means to seek his favor. They would search for him whom they had, as it were, lost, and they would find him because they would seek his favor with all sincerity; it would not be for a mercenary purpose, but for the sake of enjoying God’s favor. — Ed
The order found in this deserves notice; restoration is mentioned first, and then the means necessary for the purpose, the gathering of the people from all places; “I will restore your captivity,” or captives, “and I will gather,” etc. The concluding sentence is, “where I have removed you from there;” where, and from there, instead of whence. — Ed.
Gataker approves of this and says, evidently referring to Calvin, “So an interpreter of prime note rendereth it.” That יכ is sometimes an iliative is generally admitted; and here the connection cannot otherwise be seen. There is a large gap after the 15th verse (Jer 29:15) in the Sept., the verses 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 (Jer 29:16-20), are omitted, but not in the other versions nor in the Targ.; and Blayney has thereby been led to put the 15th verse out of its place and set it between the 20th and the 21st, but without sufficient reason. The connection, as shewn by Calvin, is suitable as the verse now is, and by removing it, the drift of what follows is not so clearly seen.
Another thing advanced by Blayney, though countenanced by Houbigant and Horsley, two rival innovators, is not to be admitted, — that the letter terminates at the end of the 20th verse (Jer 29:20), and not at the end of the 23d (Jer 29:23), and that what follows forms another letter. It is evident that what is contained in the 24th (Jer 29:24) and in the following verses to the end, was written in consequence of an answer from Babylon to this letter. Compare verse 5th (Jer 29:5) with the 28th (Jer 29:28). — Ed.
“Fried” is the word used by the Sept., the Vulg., the Syr., and the Targ. The Hebrew word is found as a verb in no other passage, but as a participle applied to parched corn, Le 2:14; Joshua 11. — Ed
“Iniquity” is the Sept.; “folly,” the Vulg.; “crime” or offense, the Syr.; and “disgrace,” the Targ. Vileness, or abomination, is its meaning. It is applied to the sin of prostitution, Ge 34:7, — of stealing, Jos 7:15, — of murder, Jud 20:6, — of sodomy, Jud 19:24, — of incest, 2Sa 13:12, — and of base ingratitude, 1Sa 25:25. The most suitable term for all these places is abomination, and not “folly,” as in our version. It means what is hateful, vile, contemptible, or abominable. It refers here to what was abominably filthy — adultery; and to what was abominably wicked and presumptuous — speaking lies in God’s name. — Ed
He is called the “Nehelamite.” Some render the word “a dreamer:” but, as Blayney observes, “the termination speaks it to be a patronymic.” It refers probably to the place of his birth. — Ed.
The Hebrew is, “that there might be overseers in the house of Jehovah for every one,” etc. He was a priest under the high-priest for this purpose. Zephaniah was second in authority, as it appears from Jer 52:24. He was probably the ruler or governor of the Temple, as Pashur was, Jer 20:1. Hence the paraphrase of the Targum as to this clause, “That thou mightest be made the chief of the priests in the house of the sanctuary of the Lord for every one,” etc. Blayney thinks it probable that Zephaniah succeeded a priest called Jehoiada, in that office, who had been either deposed for bad conduct or carried away into exile. Gataker and Grotins think that the reference is to Jehoiada the priest, the zealous reformer in the reign of Jehoash, 2Ki 11:1-12:21; and that Shemaiah’s object was to rouse Zephaniah to shew similar zeal for the house of God. If so, here is an instance, not uncommon, in which a good example of zeal was perverted for the purpose of encouraging zeal in exercising tyranny and suppressing the truth.
It is somewhat singular that all the ancient versions, as well as the Targum, give “overseers,” or officers, in the singular number; the Vulg. is, “That thou mightest be a commander... over every one;” the Sept., “That thou mightest be an umpire;” the Syr., “That thou mightest be a censor.” But there are no MSS. in favor of such a reading. — Ed.
The word ענשמ is rendered “frantic” by the Sept., — “mad,” by the Vulg., — “raving in lies,” by the Syr., — and “foolish,” by the Targ. As applied to prophets it means one in an ecstasy, or in raptures, whether true or false, — an enthusiast, but taken mostly in a bad sense.
The next word is in Hithpael, “self-prophesying,” or prophesying of himself, not made a prophet by God; imperfectly rendered, “prophesying,” by the Sept., Vulg., and Syr. It may be rendered “pretending to be a prophet.” — Ed.
The last word is found only here, and is rendered “dungeon” by the Sept., and “prison” by the Vulg., Syr., and Targ. The Samaritan version, says: Parkhurst, uses it as a verb in Ex 14:3, in the sense of confining, shutting up. The noun, therefore, may well designate a prison. — Ed.
The verb for prophesying is in Hithpael as before; he still represents Jeremiah as one who made himself a Prophet, — “Who of himself prophesies to you;” and not as Blayney renders the clause, “Who giveth himself out as a Prophet among you.” What he meant is, that what Jeremiah prophesied came from himself, the very thing which God ascribed to the false prophets; thus wicked men impute to the good the very sin of which they themselves are guilty. — Ed.