Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying,
1. Et audivit Saphatias fillus Matthew tam, et Guadalias filius Passhur, et Juchal filius Selemiae et Passhur filius Malchiae, sermones quos Jere-mias loquutus fuerat ad toturm popu-lum, dicendo,
2. Thus saith the LORD, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prey, and shall live.
2. Sic dicit Jehova, Qui manebit in urbe hac morietur gladio, fame et peste; qui autem egressus fuerit ad Chaldaeos, rivet et erit ei anima sua in spolium et vivet.
3. Thus saith the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.
3. Sic dicit Jehova, Ecce tradendo tradetur haec urbs in manum exer-citus regis Babylonis, et capiet eam.
4. Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt.
4. Et dixeunt principes ad regem, Moriatur nunc (vel, agedum, est hor-tantis particula נא) vir iste, quoni-am propterea (vel, hoc modo) solvit manus virorum bellicosorum, qui residui sunt in urbe hac, et manus totius populi, loquendo ad ipsos se-cundum istos sermones; quoniam hic vir non quaerit pacem (hoc est, non spectat ad pacem) populo huic (populi hujus) quin potius ad malum.
The Prophet now shews that he was again dragged from the court of the prison to the inner part, which was dark, filthy, and like a grave. The cause of this he states: it was because four of the princes had heard his words. It is probable that many of the people had come there for the purpose of hearing the Prophet, and that he, having received a message, delivered it to every one that came to him. Though then he was shut up in prison, yet the word of God could not be bound, as Paul says, who gloried in the fact, that though he was in chains, yet the truth spread far and wide. (2Ti 2:9.) Such was the case as to Jeremiah; though he was retained as a prisoner, he yet ceased not to discharge his office; and yet there is no doubt but that the purpose of the king was in this way to restrain him. The prison was, as it were, the captivity of prophetic truth. But the king and his counselors were mistaken; for Jeremiah was not less free in the court of the prison, than if he had walked through the city all the day, nay, he had many heralds.
But the four princes mentioned here watched him, even Shephatiah, Gadaliah, Jucal, and Pashur. Then the four princes he names, having insidiously watched what he said, immediately made a commotion. They had, no doubt, contrived the ruin of the Prophet before they came to the king; for the unprincipled and wicked, we know, discuss matters together when intent on mischief, and their courtly arts must be taken to the account. As, then, the four were in authority, they must, doubtless, have influenced the greatest part of the king’s council, and led astray easy men, or such as were not of themselves bent on evil. The matter was at length brought before the king; and therefore he adds, that they came to the king But he first explains the doctrine, on account of which these unprincipled men created so much ill-will to him, and endangered his life. Hence he says that the accusation was, that he had not only threatened with ruin all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but that he had also pro-raised life to all that would go out to the Chaldeans: Every one who abides in the city shall die by the sword, famine, or pestilence; but every one who goeth out to the Chaldeans shall live This was the accusation.
We have seen elsewhere that the Prophet had before said the same; it was not, then, a new thing, for he had thirty years before that time dearly pronounced the same in the Temple, and it was then written as a prophecy and fixed to the doors of the Temple. It was, therefore, nothing new to hear all this from the mouth of Jeremiah. But as I have already said, the king and his couriers thought that he was so subdued by evils that he could hardly open his mouth. In short, they thought that the holy man had, in a manner, lost his tongue since he had been in prison. This, then, was the reason why they now accused him so gravely to the king, and declared him worthy of death. He had deserved death many years before, if he had now committed a capital offense. But as I have already stated, they regarded the Prophet as having designedly despised the king’s authority, and they were indignant because he could not be subdued, when yet he was a prisoner and might see danger at hand every hour. This, then, was the reason why they regarded as a new thing what Jeremiah said, Whosoever abides in the city shall perish, etc.
As to these threatenings, we have elsewhere said, that all those who expected help from the Egyptians were willful despisers of God; for the Prophet had often exhorted them all, quietly and submissively to bear that temporary punishment which God had resolved to inflict on them. They wished in their perverseness to drive to a distance God’s judgment, and then when they saw that God was their enemy, they deemed it enough to have the Egyptians as their friends. It was then no wonder that the Prophet allotted to them the sword, and famine, and pestilence.
He then adds, Whosoever passeth over to the Chaldeans shall live The condition, however, was very hard; his soul, he says, shall be for a prey, as though he had said, “He who flees to the Chaldeans shall only save his life, but must suffer the loss of all his property,” as when a shipwreck is dreaded, there is no one who is not ready to save his life at the loss of all his goods; and, therefore, in extreme danger the merchants are wont to cast into the sea all that they have, for they prefer to escape to the harbor empty and destitute of everything, than to perish together with their riches. It was, then, a hard condition; but the Prophet shews that they could not otherwise escape; they were to give up their own country, and all other things, and could only preserve their life. For this reason he says, that their life would be for a prey to them, as when anything is snatched from the fire, or as when one is exposed to plunder, he were content to take something away by stealth, for otherwise, if he sought to take away many things, he would have to contend with many enemies. The Prophet then intimates that the Jews could not save themselves from death in any other way than by casting away all they had, and by being solicitous only to save life. He again repeats, he shall live. By this repetition he more pressingly urged them, and with more earnestness exhorted them to save their life.
Then follows a confirmation, Given up shall be this city into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon, and they shall take it The Prophet shews the reason why he exhorted the Jews to flee, because the city would at length be taken. This is substantially what he says.
Now the princes add, Die let this man, because in this manner, or therefore, that is, on account of his bad counsel, he weakens the hands of the men of war, etc. Here hand is to be taken for valor, for deeds are mainly performed by the hands. Hence to loosen or weaken the hands means the same as to render men inert, or so idle as not to move a finger. Then the princes accused Jeremiah on this account, that he terrified the men of war and thus rendered them listless. It was a specious charge; but the slander had nothing to support it; for Jeremiah could not have been condemned as a public enemy to his country, when he earnestly exhorted them to flee and gave no hope to the people, in order they might all, despairing of deliverance, willingly surrender themselves to their enemies.
A question may be raised here, whether it is lawful for a private individual to persuade subjects to violate their oath of allegiance to their king or prince. I now call Prophets private persons; for I have in view civil order. Jeremiah, indeed, sustained a public character, for he was God’s Prophet; but as to the government of the city he was a private individual, one of the people. It seems, then, that the Prophet had passed over the limits of what is right, when he persuaded the people to revolt, for that could not have been done without forfeiting allegiance to the king. To this I answer, that the Prophet was invested with a special command, and that, therefore, he did nothing presumptuously or rashly. Though, then, the people had pledged to the end their faith to the king, yet as God had now delivered the city to the Chaldeans, the obligation of the oath ceased; for when governments are changed, whatever the subjects had promised is no longer binding. As, for example, when any country has a prince, he binds the whole people to himself by an oath, so that they may all abide in their allegiance. When any one invades that country, the subjects incur the charge of perfidy if they come not forward and assist their prince, as they had promised; but when a foreign enemy takes possession of the whole land, the obligation of the oath ceases; for it is not in the power of the people to set up princes, because it belongs to God to change governments as he pleases. Since, then, this power belongs to God alone, while a prince rules, the people ought resolutely to continue obedient to him, as their legitimate prince, set over them by God. But this was not at that time the case with the Jews; for though the Chaldeans had not yet entered the city, yet God had declared that they were its masters. The people, then, were not to wait until the Chaldeans broke in into the city, burnt its houses, and killed all they met with; but it ought to have been sufficient for them that the prediction of the Prophet was the decree or sentence of God, by which they were given up to the Chaldeans.
The question as to Jeremiah and all others in similar circumstances, is now answered: for when any one sees only some danger at hand, he ought not, on that account, to persuade the people to forsake their prince; but every one who seeks to be God’s faithful servant, will risk his own life in the defense of his king. When called to his council, he will advise what is useful and right; but he will not stir up commotions and tumults: on the contrary, he would rather die a hundred times than cause the people to revolt either by his counsels or by his influence. But the case of Jeremiah, as it has been said, was peculiar; for God had made known his purpose as to the Chaldeans. Hence Jeremiah did not only prudently persuade the people to do what he deemed necessary, but he also discharged faithfully his office as a Prophet: nor did he give any other counsel than what he had been commanded to give: nay, he commanded them, by authority, to pass over to the Chaldeans, for it was according to God’s will.
The princes, however, brought this charge against him, that he weakened the hands, etc.; and added, In this manner he seeks not the good of the people, when he thus speaks, (peace here is to be taken for what is good or useful,) but he seeks evil This they slanderously added, for Jeremiah, as far as he could, consulted the public good, he wished the city to continue safe; had it been in his power, he would have put to flight all the Chaldeans; but he could not carry on war with God, under whose banner the Chaldeans fought. Jeremiah then sought the good of the people, but he could not resist God, and therefore he gave way to the divine decree: he saw no other remedy than this, that the Jews should undergo a temporary punishment, and be chastised by an exile, so that they might return afterwards into their own country. Had it been possible, as I have said, he would have kept the people from every injury; but this was not now practicable; for God had pronounced that it was all over with the kingdom and the city, until the Jews were punished by an exile of seventy years. There was then a second good or benefit, so that exile might be: more tolerable to the miserable, or captivity become milder: and this good was, to come of their own accord to King Nebuchadnezzar, and to suffer themselves to be led forth to the Chaldeans. This was the second good.
Jeremiah then, seeing that the city, the kingdom, and the Temple were not to stand, was anxious to urge with all his might what remained to be done, in order that the city might at least continue as it was, while the inhabitants migrated into another land, so that afterwards they might return to it. This was the best thing for the people, because God had determined to drive them all into exile. It was then absurd to bring against him this unjust charge, that he sought not the good of the people, but their ruin.
But as we said yesterday, all the sayings and doings of the saints have been always unjustly condemned. And if the same thing happen to us at this day, let us patiently bear it. We also see that it has been always objected to the Prophets and faithful teachers, as a crime, that they did not consult the public good, as all ungodly men at this day bring the same charge against us, especially the couriers, who take it as granted, that were anything changed, it would be the cause of all kinds of disturbances; and hence they think, that their religion could not possibly fall without ruin to the public good. Hence it comes, that the free preaching of the Gospel is disliked by them, as though it brought with it some public calamity. Therefore they call us turbulent; and they say that we go astray through ignorance: though we are not avowedly enemies to the public good, yet we do not understand how kingdoms are to be governed; and hence we rashly stir up the greatest tumults. All these reproaches we have to bear, as Jeremiah did, when, with a quiet mind, he endured the hatred which the princes unjustly produced against him, on account of his doctrine, which yet he had announced by God’s command, and which was necessary for the safety of the city and people; for the Jews could not, against God’s will, remain in their city, from which God had resolved to remove them. When, therefore, Jeremiah saw that the city could not be defended against the Chaldeans, even had he been the only counselor of the king, and not God’s Prophet, what could he have advised better or more beneficial, than to anticipate the extreme cruelty of their enemies, and at least to do all they could, that the city might not be burnt with fire, and that the slaughter of the people might not be universal, but that they might continue alive, with the loss only of their property? He could not then have brought a better counsel. But, as I have already said, nothing is deemed good or useful by the ungodly, except liberty perversely to resist God. This was the reason why they so unjustly accused God’s Prophet. It follows —
5. Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you.
5. Et dixit rex Zedechias, Ecce ipsc in manibus vestris; quia rex non potest erga vos quicquam.
Zedekiah doubtless knew that wrong was done to the holy Prophet; for though he wished him to remain as he was, yet he knew that the Prophet had not threatened the people from ill-will or a hostile mind; and he was thus conscious that he had to do with God rather than with a mortal man. However this may have been, he knew that Jeremiah was not an enemy to the public safety according to the charge brought by the princes. He might then have wished to deliver the Prophet from their hands, but he submitted to their fury; for he was divested of all regal power, and was become, as it were, a slave to his own counselors, on whom depended the government of the kingdom.
They wrongly explain this verse, who think that the king spoke honorably of his counselors, as though he had said, that such was their prudence and dignity, that nothing could be denied them. They pervert the meaning of the Prophet; for the king, on the contrary, acknowledges here, that he was reduced to such a condition, as though he were a private individual, he, in short, confessed that he was the servant of servants; “Now I see,” he says, “that I am no king, but that ye so rule, that, willing or unwilling, I am forced to yield to you, even in the best cause.” There is then no doubt but that it was the bitter complaint of the king when he said, The king can do nothing against you. 110
But Zedekiah deserved this degradation: for he ought to have been from the beginning more teachable, and to submit to God. But in the first place, as we have seen, he had despised prophetic doctrine, and hearkened not to the voice of God; and in the second place, he revolted perfidiously from the Chaldean king, and became thus guilty of ingratitude, for when his nephew was dethroned, that is, Jeconiah or Coniah, he obtained the regal power through the favor of the king of Babylon. He had therefore been ungrateful in denying tribute to him. But his impiety was the main cause of all evils. As then he had been such a rebel against God, he deserved that the princes should prove rebels to him. He then degraded himself, and deprived himself of royal authority, when he refused submission to the word of God, and also when he denied tribute to the king of Babylon. It was no wonder, then, that God made him subject to the princes and counselors, who were yet his servants.
As to these couriers, their arrogance was inexcusable in daring to condemn Jeremiah; for this was to take away from the king his own right; Die let this man, for he is worthy of death. Why was it that they were not content with accusing him, without assuming also to be his sole judges? As, then, they treated the king so disrespectfully, there is no doubt but they were despisers of God, when they deemed as nothing the royal dignity. But as to the king, he reaped, as I have said, the fruit of his own impiety, for he had not given to God his due honor in embracing the truth taught by the Prophet. It was therefore necessary, that he should be unworthily and contumeliously treated, so that he dared not to say even one word in behalf of a just and good cause. This was the reason why he said, He is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou invitest us daily to thyself with so much kindness, and givest us also time to repent, and then offerest to us the hope of mercy and salvation, if we return to thee, — O grant, that we may not pass by such benevolent warnings with deaf ears, but in due time attend to thee, and with true and sincere acknowledgment of all our sins so surrender up ourselves to thee, that we may find thee to be merciful; and that when we return to thee we may so continue in obedience to thee, that we may be capable of receiving thy constant kindness, until the full fruition of it shall be given us in thy celestial kingdom, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-Eighth
6. Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.
6. Et tulerunt Jeremiam, et demiserunt eum in puteum Malchiae filii Hammalech (in lacum, proprie,) qui erat in atrio custodiae; et (itaque) demiserunt Jeremiam funibus; et in lacu non erat aqua, sed coenum; et demersus fuit Jeremias in coeno.
HERE is narrated the extreme presumption as well as cruelty of the princes; for they cast the holy Prophet into a pit, where he sank in the mire. It was a proof of hardened impiety not to spare so excellent a servant of God; and it was also a savage cruelty, when they had no cause of being so filled with rage, except that Jeremiah had obeyed God, and faithfully performed the office committed to him.
Let us at the same time learn from this example, whenever it pleases the Lord to try our patience, to bear with resignation what we see to have been borne by the holy Prophet. If, then, we shudder at any time at the horrors of the cross, so that it may seem hard to us to bear persecution, let us remember this example of the Prophet. In a word, there is here, on the one hand, shewn to us, as in a picture, the wickedness of the world; and on the other, the wonderful constancy and also the singular meekness of God’s servant shine forth gloriously.
Jeremiah then says, that he was taken by the princes and cast into a pit, which was in the court of the prison; and in that part, where one of the counselors dwelt, even Malchiah the son of Hamelech And at the same time he describes the state of the place, that it was a miry pit, so that he sank down in the mud. He does not mean that he was covered with mud, but that he was fixed in it, as the Hebrew word intimates; and we may thus rightly render the words, “He lay fixed in the mud.” It now follows —
7. Now when Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin;
7. Audivit autem Ebedmelech Aethiops vir eunuchus (vel, unus ex numero procerum, םיסרס enim ut alibi dictum fuit, non tanturn eunuchos vocant, sed etiam proceres et consiliarios regis) ipsc autem erat in domo regis (per parenthesin hoc legendum est, audivit ergo) quod posuissent Jeremiam in lacum; rex autera sedebat in porta Benjamin:
8. Ebedmelech went forth out of the king’s house, and spake to the king, saying,
8. Et egressus est Ebedmelech e domo (vel, palatio) regis, et loquutus est ad regem, dicendo,
9. My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for there is no more bread in the city.
9. Domine, mi Rex, perverse egerunt viri isti in onmibus quae fecerunt Jeremiae Prophetae, quando eum demiserunt in foveam (vel, lacum,) uti subtus se morietur a fame (hoc est, prae fame,) quia nullus panis amplius est in urbe.
Jeremiah relates here how he was delivered from death; for he could not have lived long in the mire; partly, because he must have died through want; and partly, he must have been starved through cold and suffocated with the filth of the dungeon. But God rescued him in a wonderful manner through the aid of Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian. He was an alien, and this is expressly said, that we may know, that among the king’s counselors there was no one who resisted so great a wickedness. But there was one found, an Ethiopian, who came to the aid of God’s Prophet.
There is then implied here a comparison between an Ethiopian, an alien, and all the Jews, who professed themselves to be the holy seed of Abraham, who had been circumcised, and boasted loudly of God’s law and covenant; and yet there was not one among them, who would stretch forth his hand to the holy servant of God! It may be there were some who pitied him, but courage was wanting; so that no one dared to open his mouth, for it was a reproach to patronize the holy man. They, then, preferred the favor of the ungodly to their own duty. But there was an Ethiopian so courageous, that he dared to accuse all the king’s couriers and the other princes. There is, then, no doubt but that the Spirit by the mouth of the Ethiopian brought a perpetual disgrace on the king’s princes, who passed themselves as the children of Abraham, and boasted in high terms of God’s covenant. A similar case is represented by Christ in a parable, when he says that a Levite and a priest passed by a wounded man and disregarded him, but that help was brought to him by a Samaritan. (Lu 10:30-35.) His purpose, no doubt, was to condemn the Jews, even the Levites and the priests, for their barbarity in caring nothing for the life of a miserable man in his extremity. So also, in this place, the Ethiopian is set forth to us as an example, for he alone had the feeling of kindness and humanity, so as to bring help to the holy Prophet, and to rescue him, as it were, from immediate death and the grave: but we see all the king’s couriers either wholly torpid or influenced by the same spirit of rage and cruelty, as to be mortal enemies to the holy man, because he freely and openly declared to them the command of God.
And Jeremiah says that Ebed-melech heard, etc. We may hence conclude, that he was anxious about the safety of the holy Prophet, and that he had his friends who watched the proceedings. It is then added, that he was in the palace, but that the king was sitting in the gate of Benjamin; for kings were wont to administer justice in the gates, and to have there their tribunal; and it was there that the people held their regular assemblies. The king, then, was sitting in the gate of Benjamin But, in the meantime, his palace was a place of execution and the den of robbers. We hence see that the sloth of the king is here denoted, for he apparently performed the proper office of a king, but neglected the principal part of it, for he suffered a holy man to be east into a pit. As, then, he thus exposed the Prophet’s life to the will of the princes, it is evident that he was but an empty shadow, though he stood there as the judge of the people, and had there a sacred tribunal.
It now follows, that Ebed-melech went forth from the palace and came to the king’s tribunal, that he might there plead the cause of the Prophet. It is right to notice this circumstance as well as the former. For if Ebedmelech had met the king accidentally, he might have spoken to him in passing; but as he went forth from the palace, it is clear that he had been meditating on what he was going to do, and that he had not felt only a sudden impulse of compassion: but that when he might have rested quietly in the palace, he came of his own accord to the king to make known his complaint. And further, he did not address the king in a room or in some private corner of the palace, but he spoke to him in the gate, that is, in a public assembly. We hence see that the previous circumstance commends to us the perseverance of this man, for he was not only suddenly moved, but persevered in his holy purpose; and the second circumstance commends to us his magnanimity, for he did not shun ill-will, but openly and boldly spoke for Jeremiah before the people; and he amplified the excellency of the Prophet by bringing an accusation against the princes. He no doubt knew that he was bringing himself into danger, but he exposed his own life that he might aid the Prophet.
He then said, that the king’s counselors had done wickedly in all the things which they had done against Jeremiah the Prophet, because they had cast him into the well: and he added, There he will die under himself, or as some render it, and rightly, “in his own place.” But the expression is striking, but cannot be fully expressed in our language: for Ebedmelech meant that Jeremiah would die, though no one molested him, though no evil or harm were done to him by another. He will, then, die in his own place, that is, he will die, if left where he is; because he lay, as it has appeared, sunk in mire. And then he said, He will die through famine; for he had been cast into the pit as into a grave. And as scarcity prevailed among the whole people, Jeremiah could not have hoped for any aid; and bread, as we shall hereafter see, could not have been thrown to him. Then Ebedmelech says here first, that Jeremiah had been unworthily treated, because he was God’s Prophet; for he honors him with this title, that he might expose the impiety of the princes; and secondly, he shews how miserably he lay in the pit, because no one could supply him with food, and there was no more bread in the city. It now follows —
10. Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die.
10. Et praecepit rex ipsi Ebed-melech Aethiopi, Sume ad manum tuam hinc triginta viros, et educas Jeremiam Prophetam e fovea antequam moriatur.
We here see, what I have already said, that; the Prophet’s deliverance was wholly from above. The king, smitten with fear, had lately given over the holy Prophet to the cruelty of his princes; and had confessed that he had no longer any authority: “for it is not the king,” he said, “who now governs you.” As, then, the king had not dared resolutely to contend against his princes:, how was it, that he now ventured to extricate Jeremiah from the pit? We hence see that the king’s mind had been changed; because he was lately so stunned with fear, that he dared not to plead the cause of the holy man; but now he commands the Ethiopian to take him out from the pit It then appears that this was over-ruled by a divine power.
But let us hence learn to be courageous, when necessity requires, though there may not be a hope of a favorable issue. Ebedmelech might have thought within himself that his attempt would be in vain, however strenuously he might have pleaded for Jeremiah. He might, then, have thus relinquished that purpose which he had so boldly undertaken; for thus they who are over-wise are often led, as it were, into inertness: “What can you effect? thou art but one, and they are many; and then the thing is done. If the king himself has been forced to yield to their fury, and thou being a private individual, with what. confidence can you resist them? and further, a tumult will be raised, and thou wilt perish in it; and in the meantime they will perhaps stone with stones that unhappy man, whom thou seekest to help.” All these things might have occurred to Ebedmelech, and thus he might have desisted. But we see that he rested in confidence on God’s favor. Let us, then, remembering his example, hope beyond hope, when God requires us to do a thing, that is, when faith, the obligation of duty, demands anything from us, and which may be done, if we close our eyes to all obstacles and go on in our work; for events are in God’s hands alone, and they will be such as he pleases. In the meantime it is simply our duty to proceed in our course, though we may think that our labors will be in vain and without any fruit. Ebedmelech happily succeeded, and how? because he performed the part of a pious and upright man. Thus God will extend his hand to us; whatever difficulties may meet us, we shall overcome them all by his power and aid.
Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, Take hence thirty men with thee and extricate Jeremiah from the well Ebedmelech might even then have relinquished his undertaking; for he might not have been able with thirty men to overcome so great a power; for all the king’s counselors had united together, and no doubt they had enlisted many others. We thus see that Ebedmelech did not rely on human aid, but that being strengthened by invincible confidence he undertook this office, so that he dared to draw Jeremiah out of the pit. It hence follows —
11. So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah.
11. Et sumpsit Ebedmelech homines illos in manum suam (hoc est, sub sua potestate,) et venit in domum regis, nempe in locum sub thesauris; et sumpsit illinc veteramenta tractorum, et veteramenta (ad verbum) corruptorum, et demisit ad Jeremiam in lacum per funes.
Here Jeremiah goes on with the history of his deliverance. The courage of Ebedmelech ought ever to be noticed by us, for he went immediately to the holy Prophet. And it is said, that he took from some hidden place old tatters, De vieux haillons, as we call them. It is properly a noun substantive. But if its harshness be displeasing, we may give this rendering, “old tatters which had been dragged, and old tatters which were rotten.” Yet some render the words thus, “Worn out clothes and rotten clothes.” But the former is more properly the meaning; for סחב, sacheb, means to drag, and it may be rendered in French, Vieux haillons trainez, ou, qui avoyent traine Then we have סלחים, salechim, corrupted or marred, usez; for סלח, salech, means to salt; but it is a verb in Hophal, and in that form it means to corrupt. They were torn or rotten garments, des vieux haillons a demi pourris It is said then that Ebedmelech took these old, torn, and rotten garments, and which had been used. This ought to be carefully noticed; for it appears that Ebed-melech was afraid of the violence of the princes, not so much on his own account, but lest he should be hindered in effecting his purpose.
For if he had provided other things, he might have been apprehended; report might have been brought to the princes, who would have immediately assembled and put a stop to his efforts. There is then no doubt but that Ebedmelech, being very confident, prudently considered what might prevent him in his attempt of bringing help to the holy Prophet. Hence it was, that he stealthily took from a hidden place these worn-out and marred garments. This is one thing. Then we see the miserable state of the holy Prophet; he lay half buried in mud, and he was to be drawn out by ropes or cords, and to have these torn and worn-out garments under his arms. And we are afterwards expressly told for what purpose these clothes were sent down to him.
12. And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine arm holes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so.
12. Et dixit Ebedmelech Aethiops Jeremiae, Pone nunc veteramenta tractorum et corruptorum sub axillis manuum tuarum subtus funes: et fecit Jeremias sic.
We find the same words here as before, Put now the old tatters, dragged or torn and rotten, 111 under the pits of thy hands underneath the cords. This is an improper mode of speaking in Latin, but not in Hebrew. Then it is, “Put them under thine armpits underneath the cords.” This was to be done, lest the Prophet should receive any hurt; for he was to be drawn up by the cords, and he was fixed in the mud: and this could not have been done without lacerating his skin and injuring his armpits, for that part, we know, is tender. Then Ebedmelech ordered the Prophet to take these old tatters and to put them under the cords, so that he might be drawn up by the men with the least injury. This was the advice of Ebedmeleeh, and Jeremiah did as he was bidden.
God thus delivered his Prophet in a wonderful manner from death: but we hence see how miserable was his condition; for the Prophet could not have otherwise escaped than by using these worn-out and rotten tatters and by being drawn up by cords. There is no doubt but that he had thought of the difficulty; for he had been there now some time; and he was not so strong that he could trust to his own arms, and he knew that his hands were not strong enough to hold fast the cords. But he doubtless east all his cares on God and his providence. Though then he does but briefly tell us that he did as he was bidden, he yet has left us to consider how much confidence he had, when he immediately obeyed, and did not decline what he might have justly feared, that he was feeble and weak; nor did he know whether his hands were strong enough to hold the cords, nor how the cords were to be applied to his shoulders. He therefore did what Ebedmelech had told him, for he knew that the advice came from God. It afterwards follows —
13. So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
13. Et extraxerunt Jeremiam funibus, et extulerunt ipsum e fovea (vel, lacu;) et habitavit Jeremias in atrio custodiae.
We here see that the Prophet was rescued from death, not however that he might be set at liberty, and sent home, for that would not have been for his benefit, as he would have been taken again by the king’s counselors. Ebedmelech could not, therefore, save his life otherwise than by having him confined in another part of the prison. He could have wished, no doubt, to have him as a guest in his own house: he doubtless wished to do for him more than he did. But his prudence deserves to be commended, that he placed the Prophet again in prison; for otherwise the fury and cruelty of the princes could not have been mitigated. Then Jeremiah dwelt in the court of the prison.
He was evidently led there by Ebedmelech. If one were to object and say that this was a proof of too much timidity; to this the answer is, that Ebedmelech was not fearful on his own account, but because he saw that he had to do with wild beasts; and he saw that their rage could not otherwise be calmed than by having Jeremiah confined in the prison. Indeed, the whole city was then like a prison, as it is well known; for they were oppressed everywhere with want, and no one could hardly go out of his house. This state of things was then wisely considered by Ebedmelech, for he had not only his own business to attend to, but he also labored to preserve God’s Prophet.
When God at any time relieves our miseries, and yet does not wholly free us from them at once, let us bear them patiently, and call to mind this example of Jeremiah. God, indeed, manifested his power in delivering him, and yet it was his will that he should continue in prison: even thus he effects his work by degrees. If then the full splendor of God’s grace does not shine on us, or if our deliverance is not as yet fully granted, let us allow God to proceed by little and little; and the least alleviation ought to be sufficient for comfort, resignation, and patience. It now follows, —
14. Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah the prophet unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD: and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.
14. Et misit rex Zedechias et tulit (hoc est, accersivit) Jeremiam Prophetam ad se ad ingressum tertium, qui erat in domo Jehovae (hoc est, in ipso Templo,) et dixit rex ad Jeremiam, Ego interrogo to verbum, ne celes a me verbum (hoc est, Ego rem unam abs to quaero, ne quicquam celes.)
Here is added another narrative, — that King Zedekiah again sent for Jeremiah to come to him in the Temple, that is, in the court of the Temple; for it was not lawful for the king to enter into the Sanctuary, and the court is often called the Temple. But there were, as it is well known, many entrances. The largest gate was towards the east, but there were gates on the other sides. The court also had several parts, separated from each other. Then Zedekiah, that he might speak privately to Jeremiah, came to the third entrance of the court, and there he asked the Prophet faithfully to explain to him what he had received from God.
There is no doubt but that Zedekiah in course of time entertained a higher regard for Jeremiah as God’s faithful servant. Yet he was not, as we have said, really attentive to the teaching of the Prophet. Hence the mind of the king was in a dubious state, like those hypocrites, who, having some seed of God’s fear remaining in them, fluctuate and continually change, and have nothing solid and fixed. They dare not, indeed, to despise either God or his servants; nay, they acknowledge that they are under God’s authority, and that his word is not evanescent; and yet they make evasions as much as they can, and seek to change, as it were, the nature of God. Such was the character of Zedekiah. For he was not one of those who grossly and openly despise God, as we see at this day, the world being full of Epicureans, who regard religion as a fable. Such, then, was not Zedekiah, but he retained some fear of God; nay, he even shewed regard for the Prophet; and yet he was unwilling to submit to God, and to follow the counsels of the Prophet. He was, therefore, suspended, as it were, between two opinions. But it is probable that he entertained some hope, because he had saved the life of Jeremiah. he might, then, have thought that God was pacified, or that he would remit in some degree his severity, as hypocrites always flatter themselves. For if they do the least thing, they think that they merit some favor, I know not what, at God’s hand. Hence Zedekiah, when he had relieved the holy Prophet, and fed him during the greatest scarcity, thought that this service was acceptable to God; and it was in part acceptable; but he was mistaken in thinking this to be a kind of expiation. Hence then it was that he sent for the Prophet; he expected some favorable answer, even that God’s wrath was pacified, or at least mitigated. But we must defer the rest till to-morrow.
Grant, omnipotent God, that since the life of thy servants ought to be deemed precious by us, each of us, according to his ability may strive to do his part in this respect, and, in the meantime, so cultivate mutual love as to assist one another in time of necessity, and that we may also be so solicitous respecting thy servants, as to consecrate all our efforts, all our labors, and all our services to thee, and strive thus to please thee, so that all our doings may be directed to this end, until, having at length finished the course of our present warfare, we shall come to that rest in thy celestial kingdom, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-Ninth
15. Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me?
15. Et dixit Jeremias ad Zedechiam, Si annuntiavero tibi, an non interficiendo interficies me? et si consilium dedero tibi, non auscultabis mihi (non audies ad me, ad verbum.)
THE Prophet seems here to have acted not very discreetly; for when he ought of his own accord to have announced to the king the destruction of the city, being asked he refused to answer, or at least he took care of his life, and secured himself from danger before he littered a word. And the Prophets, we know, disregarding their own life, ought to have preferred to it the commands of God, as we find was often the case with Jeremiah, who frequently at the risk of his life proclaimed prophecies calculated to rouse the hatred of all the people, and to create the greatest danger to himself. It seems, then, that he had made no good progress, since he now fails, as it were, in this hazardous act of his vocation, and dares not to expose himself to danger.
But it ought to be observed, that the Prophets had not always an express command to speak. For had God bidden Jeremiah to declare what we shall hereafter meet with, he would not have evaded the question; for he had been so trained up for a long time, that he feared not for himself so as to turn aside from the straight course of his office. That he now, then, seems to draw back, this he did because God had not as yet commanded him to explain to the king what we shall presently see. For he would have done this without benefit: and he had often admonished the king, and had seen that his counsel was despised. No wonder, then, that he was unwilling to endanger his life without any prospect of doing good. If any one brings this objection, that it is then lawful for us to do the same; to this I answer, that we are not thoughtlessly to cast pearls before swine; but until we try every means, we ought to hope for the best, and therefore to act confidently. But Jeremiah had fully performed his duty: for the king could not have pleaded mistake or ignorance, since the Prophet had so often testified that there was no other remedy for the evil but to pass over to the Chaldeans.
As then the Prophet had so often warned the king, he might now be silent, and thus excuse himself, “Thou wilt kill me, and at the same time thou wilt not believe me, or, thou wilt not obey, if I give thee counsel.” These two clauses ought to be read together; for if Jeremiah had seen that there was a prospect of doing good, he would doubtless have offered his life a sacrifice. But as he saw that his doe-trine would be useless, and that his life was in danger, he did not think it right rashly to expose his life, when he could hope for no benefit. The Prophet then did not regard only his own danger, but was also unwilling to expose heavenly truth to scorn, for it had often been already despised. He then did not answer the king’s question, because he was convinced that he would be disobedient, as he had ever been up to that very time. It follows —
16. So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the LORD liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life.
16. Et juravit rex Zedechias Jeremiae in secreto, dicens, Vivit Jehova, qui fecit nobis animam hanc, si interfecero te, et si tradidero te in manum istorum qui quaerunt animam tuam.
The king, desirous of having a new revelation, promised safety to the Prophet by an oath. He then swore that he would not take revenge, though he might be displeased with the Prophet’s answer he might indeed have conjectured, though Jeremiah had not expressly said anything, that the answer would be unfavorable, and by no means agreeable to his wishes. For if some pleasant and joyful oracle had been given to the Prophet, he would not have made a preface respecting his own danger, and the wrath of the king, and also respecting his obstinacy. Zedekiah then could have concluded, that nothing but what was sad could be expected. For this reason he made an oath, that whatever might be the answer, he would not be so offended as to cause any harm to the Prophet.
He said, I will not kill thee, nor deliver thee into the hand of those who seek thy life, that is, who are enemies to thy life: for to seek life is the same thing as to pursue man to death. It is a way of speaking that often occurs, especially in the Psalms. (Ps 38:12; Ps. 40:14, 15.) Then he refers to the mortal enemies of Jeremiah: and he promises at the same time that he would, with undisturbed mind, receive whatever he might hear from the Prophet.
Let us notice the form of the oath, Live does Jehovah, who made for us this soul He first made an oath by the life of God, that is, by the immortal God. The word חי, chi, when applied to God, denotes a life different from what is in men or in brute animals; for men live by the will of another, that is, while God gives them life. It belongs then to God alone to live, for we do not live, nor move, nor have any being but in him, as Paul says, in Ac 17:28; and hence he teaches us in another place, that God alone is immortal. (1Ti 6:16) At the same time comprehended in this word is everything that peculiarly belongs to God; for God does not live to enjoy ease and indulge in idleness, but to govern the universe, to exercise his power throughout heaven and earth, to judge men, to render to every one his own just reward. Then life in God is not an idle life, as ungodly men imagine, but includes his infinite power, justice, wisdom, and all that peculiarly belongs to him. Whenever then we speak of the life of God, let us know that we do not live but through him, and also that he does not sit idly and carelessly in heaven, but that he governs the whole world, and is the judge of men.
According to this meaning, then, Zedekiah said, Live does Jehovah, and then he added, who made for us this soul. He expresses more clearly what I have already stated, and it is the same as though he had offered his own life before God as a pledge. He then prayed for the punishment of perjury on himself; for when he made an oath by God, the giver of life, it was the same as though he had said, “Let my life be forfeited, if I deceive thee, or turn false.” We hence see what is the end of an oath, even that God’s sacred name may be for us a pledge, that our word may be relied on. It hence follows, that God’s name, whenever we swear, cannot be taken with impunity: for we expose our life to his judgement, that he may revenge the wrong done to him; for his name, as it is sufficiently known, is profaned by perjuries. It now follows —
17. Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house:
17. Tunc dixit Jeremias ad Zedechiam, Sic dicit Jehova, Deus exercituum, Deus Israel, Si egrediendo egressus fueris ad proceres regis Babylonis, vivet anima tua, et urbs ista non consumetur (non incendetur) igni, sed vives tu et domus tua.
A question may be raised here, Whether God had again bidden his Prophet to repeat what he had so often spoken in vain? To this we cannot say anything certain, except that the probability is, that the Prophet did not open his mouth without being guided by the Holy Spirit. For though he had not received any new command, yet the Spirit of God influenced him, and ruled his tongue as well as his heart. We shall indeed presently find, that what was nigh at hand had been revealed to him; not what he had before, but it was added as a new confirmation of former doctrine. But this is only a probable conjecture; let then every one take his own view of the question.
That he might now gain credit to his answer, he prefaced it by saying, that he did not speak except from God’s mouth. He had often declared this, having testified that what he said was made known to him by God. But it is not now known whether he had been bidden to repeat the same things; though it is certain that he did not make a wrong use of God’s name, nor did he, without authority, assert that it was God’s word. The Spirit, therefore, as I have said, was his guide and ruler, though we may grant that he did not receive any divine command.
He calls God, the God of hosts, and the God of Israel. By the first title he denotes the omnipotence of God; and by the second, the covenant which he had made with the Jews. He then did set forth the immeasurable power of God, that he might make Zedekiah to fear; for hypocrites, though they are constrained to dread God’s name, yet afterwards do, in a manner, become hardened: it is therefore necessary to rouse them, as the Prophet did here. He then touched on the impiety of Zedekiah; for he not only professed himself to be one of God’s elect people, but he was also the king and head; he ruled over the heritage of the Lord. And yet he did not believe any of the prophecies. There is therefore implied a reprobation, when the Prophet says, the God of Israel
A mitigation of punishment is added, provided Zedekiah willingly put his neck under the yoke. And it was no common mercy from God, that he could yet escape extreme punishment; for he was unworthy to be regarded by God, since for some years he had not attended to what he had heard from the mouth of Jeremiah, that he was to surrender himself, his people, and the city to the Chaldeans. he had refused, nay, he had been refractory and obstinate against God. We hence see, that he was unworthy of any alleviation; and yet God was still ready to forgive him, as to his life, provided he passed over, of his own accord, to the Chal-deans. And thus he was made more inexcusable, inasmuch as when he heard that God would be propitious if he submitted to due punishment, he was still unwilling to obey, as afterwards we shall see. And thus we see that Jeremiah had not said without reason, “If I give thee counsel, thou wilt not hear nor obey me;” for the event proved this. This is one thing. Then he said, Thou shalt live; and in the first place, he said, Thy soul shall live; and then, This city shall not be burned, and thou shalt live; and he repeated the words, Thou shalt live, thou and thy house Now follows the threatening —
18. But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.
18. Si vero non egressus fucris ad proceres regis Babylonis, tradetur urbs ista in manum Chaldaeorum, et exurent eam igni, et tu non evades e manu ipsorum.
The Prophet gave to the king the hope of pardon; not that he promised impunity, but that the king might at least hope that God would be merciful to him, if he anticipated his extreme vengeance. But as hypocrites are not easily moved when God allures them by the sweetness of his promises, hence a threatening is added, “Except thou deliverest thyself up,” says the Prophet, “to the. Chaldeans, thou shalt not escape, and the city shall be taken and burnt by the Chaldeans.”
Zedekiah might have had hope in part, and thus have found the mercy which God offered to him. As he had profited nothing in this respect, it was necessary, in another way, to arouse him, by setting before him the destruction of the city, and his own death. But he was not prevailed upon either by fear or by hope, to obey the advice of the Prophet. We hence see, that though he did not avowedly despise God, he was yet neither cold nor hot, but wished to be wholly spared. Hence then it was, that he rejected the favor offered to him by the Prophet. However his excuse follows —
19. And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.
19. Et dixit rex Zedechias ad Jeremiam, Ego metuo (vel, crucior) ob Judaeos qui defecerunt ad Chaldaeos (vel, solitus sum, vel, timeo, et metuo Judaeos ipsos,) ne forte tradant me in manum ipsorum, et contumelia me afficiant (alii vertunt, illudant mihi.)
Zedekiah seems, here to have had a good reason why he should not immediately obey the Prophet. And often the best of the faithful openly set forth their anxieties, and we have seen that even the Prophet, when any apprehension of danger was entertained, sometimes mentioned it. It was not then a thing to be blamed, that Zedekiah ingenuously confessed that he was prevented by the fear of those who had revolted to the Chaldeans. For we know that subjects, having once cast off the yoke, and violated their pledged faith, conduct themselves in an insolent way; for they know that those to whom they have not performed their duty would be implacable to them. Zedekiah then was justly anxious, and his simplicity in explaining to the Prophet his fear, seemed worthy of an excuse, for he seemed to give some sign of obedience. But the event at length will shew us, that he was so bound by fear, that he refused the counsel of God and the Prophet. It often happens, as I have just said, that the faithful also fear, and thus vacillate or stand still, when God commands them anything hard and difficult, and they would willingly withdraw from the contest, but they at length obey God, and surrender their own thoughts, and submit in obedience to God. But Zedekiah so feared, 112 that he could not partake of God’s goodness promised to him.
We hence see what the faithful have in common with the reprobate, and also how they differ from one another. At first the faithful fear as well as the unbelieving; they are anxious, they vacillate, and make known their perplexities: the unbelieving at the same time indulge themselves, and become hardened in their perverse purposes; but the faithful fight with themselves, and subject their thoughts to the will of God, and thus overcome fear by faith; they also crucify the flesh, and give themselves up wholly to God. We have seen the same thing before in the Prophet. But we shall now see the obstinacy of King Zedekiah, to which we have referred. Then Zedekiah feared lest the Jews, who had revolted to the Chaldeans, should treat him with insolence. The Prophet thus answered him —
20. But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the LORD, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live.
20. Tunc dixit Jeremias, Non tradent te, audi agedum vocem Jehovae quam tibi profero (quam ego loquar ad te,) et tibi erit bene (tibi bene cedat,) et vivet anima tua:
21. But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the LORD hath shewed me:
21. Quod si tu abnueris ad egrediendum (hoc est, recusaveris egredi,) hic est sermo quem ostendit mihi Jehova;
22. And, behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be brought forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say, Thy friends have set thee on, and have prevailed against thee: thy feet are sunk in the mire, and they are turned away back.
22. Et ecce omnes mulieres, quae relictae fuerint in domo regis Jehudah egrediuntur ad proceres regis Babylonis, et ecce ipsae dicent, Suaserunt tibi (alii, deceperunt te, vel, subduxerunt) et praevaluerunt tibi viri pacis tuae; defixi sunt in luto pedes tui, conversi sunt retrorsum.
Here again Jeremiah strengthens Zedekiah, that he might not hesitate to make the trial, since God would yet give him pardon, so that at least his chastisement would be paternal and light He then promised to Zedekiah that he would be safe from all the insults about which he was anxious. They will not deliver thee, he says; as though he had said, “Leave this to God’s providence, resign thyself to God, and doubt not but that he will keep thee safe.” God, in his kindness, as I have said, allows the faithful to cast their cares into his bosom: but at the same time, if any disobey, when he confirms them, it is a sign of deliberate wickedness, and such perverseness extinguishes all the light of grace. Such was the stupidity of Zedekiah, that he did not accept of this second promise. He might indeed have confessed his fear, but he ought also to have received the remedy. The Prophet assured him that his life would be safe in God’s hand; what more could he have wished? But this was said to no purpose, because fear fully occupied his mind, so that there was no entrance for the promise. Now this ought to be carefully noticed; for there are none of us whom many cares do not disturb, and many fears do not perplex; but a place ought to be given to a remedy. God succors us when he sees us distressed by anxious thoughts; but if fear so prevails, that all the promises by which God raises us up avail nothing, it is a sign of hopeless unbelief.
It afterwards follows, Hear the voice of Jehovah, which I utter to you, that it may be well with thee, and that thy soul, may live The promise is again added, to lead Zedekiah to submit more willingly to God. For though we know that we cannot escape his power, it will yet be dreaded by us, except he favors us with the promises of grace. In this way, then, the Prophet endeavored to lead Zedekiah to render obedience to God: Hear, he says, the voice of Jehovah, that it may be well with thee He shewed that it was yet in the power of Zedekiah to provide for his own safety, if only he obeyed the word of God. And this passage teaches us, that the Prophet had not spoken thoughtlessly and in vain, but under the guidance and teaching of God’s Spirit For though it may not have been, that he had received a new command, he yet knew that it was God’s will, that he should confirm and reassert the previous oracles; for he did not falsely assume God’s name, when he bade Zedekiah to hear God’s voice which he had made known.
Now, though this discourse was especially directed to Zedekiah, we may yet conclude, that it is always for our good to embrace whatever God declares to us, though it may apparently be hard and unpleasant, as it was to Zedekiah; for it was by no means an agreeable thing to him to deliver up himself to his enemies, to be deprived of his regal power, to be drawn into exile, and from a king to become a slave; and yet nothing was better for him, in order to save his life, than to obey God. Though, then, the words of God contain what is contrary and grievous to our flesh, yet let us feel persuaded that God always speaks what is good for our salvation. It would then have been well for Zedekiah, had he obeyed the counsel of the Prophet; for he would have found in captivity that God would be propitious to him, and this would have been an invaluable comfort; and then he might have been brought back from exile, at least he would have preserved the city and the Temple: but by his obstinacy he betrayed the city to his enemies, and hence it was also that the Temple was burnt.
He then adds, If thou refuse to go forth, this is the word which God hath shewed to me Jeremiah again declares that Zedekiah resisted in vain, because he kicked, as it is said, against the goad, for he could not possibly escape from coming into the hand of his enemies; which, when done, then neither the city nor the Temple would be spared. But the Prophet repeats again, that it had been shewn to him what to speak, he then spoke not in his own name, but by God’s command; which, it may be, was not then given him: but the Prophet knew that God’s decree, of which he had been the herald, could not be abolished. He then says, that this word had been shewed to him by God, even what follows —
Behold, the women who as yet remain in the palace of the king, shall go forth to the princes of the king of Babylon, that is, having left the city they will betray thee to thine enemies; and they shall say, The men of thy peace have deceived thee, or persuaded thee, and have prevailed; thus fixed in the mire are thy feet, and they have turned backward There is here a part stated for the whole, for under one thing is included the whole calamity of the city. We indeed know that the female sex do not stand in the ranks to fight, and that when a city is taken, women are commonly spared. When, therefore, the Prophet says, Go forth shall women who are yet remaining in the king’s palace, it is the same thing as if he had said, “Even the women shall be compelled to go forth to the enemies, and give themselves up into their power; what then will become of the men, when such shall be the hard condition of the women?”
We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet: Go forth then shall women, that is, when the city is taken, the women in the palace shall be drawn forth from their hiding-places, and be constrained to appear before their enemies. And then he adds, and, behold, they shall say, etc. He used the particle הנה, ene, twice, in order to lead Zedekiah into the very scene itself; for it is necessary thus to rouse those who are torpid in their apathy. And, behold, he says, they will say Here Jeremiah declares that women would be witnesses to bear testimony to the folly of the king, and also to the wickedness and obstinacy of the princes, as though he had said, “Thou wilt not obey me to-day, and thy counsel-lors also pertinaciously resist; God has already pronounced judgment on you: ye despise, and regard it as nothing: God will at length rouse up women, who will openly proclaim thy folly, O king, and the perverseness of thy counselors, for having despised all the prophecies.”
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou daily invitest us to repentance by constant exhortations, we may seriously reflect on thy goodness, and in due time return to thee and submit to thy will, and never refuse to undergo the punishment thou layest on us; and that we may not in the meantime so provoke thy extreme vengeance, as to find thee a rigorous judge, but ever experience, even under punishment, thy paternal mercy, until we shall at length come to the fullness of that joy which is laid up in heaven for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fiftieth
We, were obliged yesterday to break off where the Prophet said to King Zedekiah that women would be his judges, and that for a heavier reproach to him, because he refused to believe the oracles of God. Though the Prophet had often exhorted him to repent, he had yet refused all his admonitions. Therefore Jeremiah here declares that he would have to bear the punishment he had deserved, even that the very women would openly speak of his folly and of the perfidy of all the princes. They shall then say, They have persuaded or seduced thee, as some read, and others, “have driven thee,” which I should prefer, were it the common meaning, for it immediately follows, and have prevailed over thee; but we may simply take it in its proper sense, because they had perfidiously persuaded the king.
He calls them the men of peace, from whom acts of kindness might have been expected. We indeed know that friends and associates were thus called by the Hebrews. Peace does not only mean unity, but what is more, even friendship, such as ought to be between a king and his counselors. Jeremiah, no doubt, sought in this case to try whether Zedekiah was yet capable of being recovered; for he foretells that women would announce this as from a judicial throne; but as I have said yesterday, and as we shall hereafter see, he spoke to the deaf.
It is then added, Fixed are thy feet in the mire This is to be taken metaphorically. He might have secured his own life, had he passed over to the enemy, and thus a willing surrender might have been, as it were, the price for his liberation; but he chose rather to live in his own nest: and the Prophet says that this torpor would be like clay, in which he would he fixed. What follows, turned are they backward, is, in my judgment, improperly applied to the princes. I read the words in connection with the former, Fixed are thy feet in the clay, turned backward; for everything happened to the king contrary to what he hoped. 113 It follows —
23. So they shall bring out all thy wives and thy children to the Chaldeans: and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, but shalt be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and thou shalt cause this city to be burned with fire.
23. Et omnes uxores tuas et filios tuos deducent ad Chaldaeos, et tu non evades e manu eorum, quia in manu regis Babylonis comprehenderis, et urbem hanc combures igni.
Jeremiah pursues the same subject; but he sets forth at large the calamity, that the king being at least frightened with horror, might submit to a right counsel; for when we hear that death is at hand, this indeed fills us with horror; and when many evils are mentioned, we must necessarily be roused; and this, no doubt, was what the Prophet looked for. Then he says that Zedekiah would come into the hands of his enemies, hut he adds other indignities, which would bring greater bitterness, They shall draw out, he says, all thy wives and thy children, etc. Had Zedekiah been right-minded, he would have preferred to die a hundred times, and thus to have died for them all, than to have been the cause of so many evils. For we know that many have boldly exposed themselves to danger in defending the chastity of their wives; and doubtless such a reproach is far harder to be endured by ingenuous minds than a hundred deaths. We hence see what was the design of the Prophet; for he saw that Zedekiah could not be sufficiently roused by merely setting his own death before him, hence he added other circumstances, calculated to affect him still more, They shall draw out, he says, thy wives and thy children
We hence learn how conjugal fidelity was then with impunity violated. It was, we know, an ancient evil, but it had now passed into general practice, so that it was, as it were, the common law: and yet what God had once established continued unchanged, even that every man should have only his own wife. As, then, polygamy had so prevailed and had become so licentious among the Jews, we see that the fear of God was in fact extinguished and all regard to purity. More liberty was indeed allowed to kings, but they were not on that account to be excused, because their life ought to have been an example to others, a mirror of uprightness and chastity. When, therefore, they married a number of wives, it became an intolerable evil. And now when mention is made of all the wives, we conclude that the king had not only three or four wives or concubines, but a large number, that he might gratify his lust. hence then we learn how great was the corruption of that age. It is also a wonder that the king was thus given to his lusts, and not brought back to some degree of moderation when necessity itself constrained him. We hence see that he must have been extremely insensible in retaining so many concubines, when his only city was hardly safe, and the whole country in the possession of enemies. But thus perverse men despise God and his scourges. For though all confess, according to the common proverb, that necessity is a mistress whom all are forced to obey, yet the greater part struggle with necessity itself, as we see was the case with Zedekiah, who refused to bend or turn, though very poor and miserable, and who suffered nothing of his royal pomp and splendor to be diminished. Hence it was that he had a large number of wives or concubines, as mentioned here.
It then follows, This city shalt thou burn with fire It is certain that the torch was not applied by Zedekiah, nor was he the agent in the burning. But the Prophet reminded him that the cause of all the evils might justly be attributed to his obstinacy; as though he had said, that the Chaldeans would indeed be the authors of the burning, as they would with their own hands set the houses on fire, and yet that the first and the chief fault would be in Zedekiah himself, because he obstinately resisted God. 114
But as to the women, this brief notice must be added: other kings, indeed, had been very dissolute; but God now applied the remedy when the court was purged from all its old filth. For with Jeconiah, we know, the royal dignity ceased; and the city was exposed to plunder; and yet some concubines remained; and these passed as by hereditary right to other kings, as they succeeded to the wives as to the kingdom. But when wickedness became incorrigible, all the concubines were taken away also. It was then a sign of final destruction. It follows —
24. Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.
24. Et dixit Zedechias ad Jeremias, Vir nesciat (hoc est, nemo sciat) de sermonibus istis, et non morieris (hoc est, ne moriaris.)
Here is seen the miserable condition of the king. Had he no faith in the answer of Jeremiah, he would not have thus feared. But he acknowledged that what he had heard from the mouth of the Prophet was true. In the meanwhile he delayed and extended time as far as he could, and chose rather to spend his life in trembling than to be immediately freed from all care and anxiety. This was by no means to act like a king; for had he any courage, he would not have waited to the last hour. We indeed know that men of courage boldly meet death, when they see no hope of honor remaining. Zedekiah had lost his authority; he held indeed the title of a king, but he was without power; for he was compelled servilely to obey his counselors; and now he feared his own shadow, and yet protracted time, as I have said, as much as he could; and on this account he requested the Prophet, that this conversation might remain as buried.
By saying, thou shalt not die, he did not threaten the Prophet, but intimated that silence would not be less a benefit to Jeremiah than to himself: “Thou wilt rouse the fury of all against thyself, if thou speakest of this interview, for no one can bear to hear anything of the ruin of the city: if then thou consultest thine own benefit, say not a word of this, and let it not come to the people nor to my counselors.” Under the color of an advice then he said to Jeremiah, “See lest thou die 115 He therefore did not speak threateningly.
25. But if the princes hear that I have talked with thee, and they come unto thee, and say unto thee, Declare unto us now what thou hast said unto the king, hide it not from us, and we will not put thee to death; also what the king said unto thee:
25. Et si audierint proceres quod loquutus fuerim tecum, et venerint ad te, et dixerint tibi, Expone (vel, narra) nunc nobis quod loquutus fueris ad regem, ne celes a nobis (hoc est, ne celes nos quicquam,) et non occidemus te, et quid locutus sit tecum rex:
26. Then thou shalt say unto them, I presented my supplication before the king, that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan’s house, to die there.
26. Et tunc, (copula enim resolvi debet in adverbium temporis, tunc) dices illis, Prostravi ego preces meas coram facie regis (hoc est, suppliciter deprecatus sum regem,) ne reduceret me in domum Jonathan, ut morerer illic.
Here again Zedekiah shews his anxiety, lest Jeremiah should be apprehended, were the princes unexpectedly to assail him; for he might in this respect have stumbled, though admonished. Then the king intimated to him what to answer, in case the counselors came to him and made inquiry respecting their intercourse. He then advised him simply to say, that he entreated him not to send him back to the filthy pit, where he almost perished. The miserable servitude of the king appears now still evident; for he feared his own counselors, lest they should revolt from him. he might easily have made a spontaneous surrender of himself, but he dared not, lest he should be killed by them in a tumult; and yet, on the other hand, he feared lest the princes should despise him, and so redeem themselves by the sacrifice of his life.
We see in what straits he was, but God rendered to him a just recompense for his obstinacy. It was indeed a miserable thing to hear that the king’ was thus oppressed on every side, but the cause of all this ought ever to be borne in mind; which was, that he had despised God and his Prophet. He then deserved to be in this state of anxiety, to fear death on every side, and not to be able to extricate himself from those cares and perplexities which tormented him.
Let us then learn to cast all our cares on God, so that our life may be safe, and that we may have calm and tranquil minds: otherwise what is written in the Law must necessarily happen to us,
“Our life will hang on a thread, so that we shall say in the morning, Who will give us to see the evening? and in the evening, How can we live to the morning?” (Deut. 28:66, 67)
Lest then the same thing happen to us as to this miserable king, let us learn to re-cumb on God, for this is the only way to obtain peace.
For though Zedekiah set before Jeremiah the danger which he might bring on himself, if he confessed what took place between them, he yet had a regard no doubt to his own safety, for his care for the Prophet was not very great. If, then, he says, the princes will hear that I have spoken to him, etc. We see here, that as kings very curiously inquire into the sayings and actions of all, so they in their turn are exposed to innumerable spies, who observe all their secret proceedings. Zedekiah, as we have already seen, left his palace, sought some secret place, and at the third entrance called to him Jeremiah. This place might be deemed in some measure secret, yet he knew that he was observed even by his own servants.
Thus kings, while they seek immoderate splendor, renounce the main good, which ought to be preferred to all other things. For it is commonly said that liberty is an invaluable gift, and it is very true: but were we to seek for liberty among mankind, we should by no means find it in courts; for all there are slaves, and slavery begins with the most elevated. Kings, then, while they thus seek from their height to look down on all mankind, are placed, as it were, in a theater, and the eyes of all turn to them, so that no liberty remains for them; and they who hang on their favor are also in constant fear. This, then, ought to be noticed by us; for there is no one who does not seek splendor; but yet we know how anxious is the life of princes. Their external appearance is indeed very flattering; but we do not see what inward torments harass them. When, therefore, it is said of Zedekiah, that he could not have a secret conference, it hence appears that kings are by no means free.
He says, “Though they promise thee impunity, trust them not.” Zedekiah feared lest the Prophet should be too credulous, and should freely relate to the counselors what he had said. But he no doubt had reflected on the fact, that the Prophet had already announced the destruction of the city. He then could have hardly hoped for the silence which he required. Hence then it was, that he so earnestly bid him to be careful; and though the counselors should promise that there would be no danger to him, he yet bade him to be silent. Say to them, he said, I humbly prayed the king not to send me back to the house of Jonathan, that I might not die there It was not indeed a falsehood, but this evasion cannot be wholly excused. The Prophet justly feared, and, as we have before seen, he was perplexed and anxious, for that prison was horrible, and it would have been better at once to die than to have been thus buried alive in the earth. But it is certain that he did not come to the king for this purpose, for he had been sent for. Though, then, the Prophet did not expressly or in so many words say what was false, yet it was a kind of falsehood; and what follows, in reference to himself, cannot be excused.
27. Then came all the princes unto Jeremiah, and asked him: and he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they left off speaking with him; for the matter was not perceived.
27. Et venerunt cuncti proceres ad Jeremiam, et interrogarunt ipsum; et annuntiavit illis (hoc est, narravit illis) secundum sermones istos, quemadmodum praeceperat rex, et siluerunt ab eo, quia sermo non fuit auditus.
Here, indeed, the Prophet confesses that he did as the king had commanded him; but he does not commend what he had done. There is no doubt but that on the one hand he placed before his eyes the timidity of the king, who, being forgetful of plain dealing, slavishly feared his own counselors; and that., on the other hand, he manifested that he was not sufficiently discreet, for when the princes came, even if he wished not to deceive them, he yet concealed the main thing, and said that he went to the king to pray for his own life, which was not true. Though then what he said was in part true, that he prayed not. to be sent back to prison, yet he could not by this evasion be wholly exempted from blame.
In short, we see that even God’s servants have sometimes spoken evasively, when oppressed with extreme fear; and thus we are reminded to seek of God magnanimity of mind and resolute firmness; for he alone can strengthen and sustain us when we are terrified by any fear of danger.
He says, that he did as the king had commanded him; but he ought rather to have hearkened to God’s word, in which simplicity is enjoined. It is also said, that the princes were silent, that is, departed in silence; for no one had been a witness to the conference, and the matter had not spread farther; for the king was silent through fear, and the Prophet also had not made known the secret interview. Hence it was that the princes departed, and thought that the matter was as represented. In short, Jeremiah intimates that they were deceived by this pretext. It follows at last, —
28. So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.
28. Et habitavit Jeremias in atrio custodiae, usque ad diem quo capta fuit Jerusalem; et accidit secundum quod capta fuit Jerusalem.
Some render the last words simply thus, “And it happened that Jerusalem was taken;” and others, “It happened accordingly that Jerusalem was taken;” but this seems unnatural. Others take the relative as a demonstrative pronoun, and of this I approve, “For it happened that according to this Jerusalem was taken.”
He first says that he dwelt in the court of the prison. It hence appears that he was not even then at liberty; for though the king wished him to be free, yet he dared not to release him. This is one thing. Then he says, that he was there until the day the city was taken We shall hereafter see that he was saved by the king’s command, and was brought out of prison. He was, then, until that day in the court of the prison, as though he had said, that he was a prisoner until the king was taken prisoner, together with his counselors, and also until the day the whole city was taken. And here we may see, as in a vivid form, the wonderful judgment of God. As long as the Jews boasted that they offered sacrifices to God, they kept Jeremiah shut up in prison, so that he was not a free man until the king was taken, the city perished, and almost all were driven into exile. I have no doubt but that he added the following by way of explanation, And it happened that according to this Jerusalem was taken; that is, he reminds readers in these words, that he had not been a false Prophet, but a true and faithful witness as to God’s judgment, for all his prophecies were verified by the event. 116 He then says that the city was taken, not by chance, but because God had so declared. He now begins to narrate historically the destruction and the burning of the city. He therefore says, —
“The king,” observes Blayney, “evidently speaks this in disgust with the princes, for endeavoring to frustrate his clemency.” — Ed.
Blayney gives a better version, “torn rags and worn-out rags.” The literal rendering is, “Rags of the torn, and rags of the rotten.” — Ed.
The verb means trouble of mind or anxiety rather than fear, “I am disturbed with regard to the Jews,” etc. The Vulgate is, “I am solicitous,” and the Targum., “I am anxious. Our version, “I am afraid of,” is the Syriac. The king seems to have been too proud to own that he had fear. The last clause in the verse may be thus rendered, “And they exult over me.” The verb means to raise up or elevate one’s self, and then the preposition ב means over, or against. The king was disturbed in his mind, being apprehensive of the taunts and insults of those already gone to the Chaldeans. — Ed
Both the Sept. and the Vulg. take “fixed” in a transitive sense, “They have fixed” or caused to sink; and the last words are made to refer to the princes. As to the Vulg. the two clauses are, “They have sunk thy feet in the mire and in a slippery place, and have departed from thee.” The Syriac. as to the last clause is the same.
The whole matter is related as seen in a vision, given to the Prophet as he says in the previous verse, —
21. This is the thing which Jehovah made me to see; and (he said) Behold the women, who have remained in the house of Judah, going forth to the princes of the king of Babylon, and behold them saying, — They have roused thee and prevailed over thee, even thy friends; sunk have they in the mire thy feet, they have run away from thee.
The scene, as seen in the vision, is presented to the king, the women going out and then speaking tauntingly to him. The princes roused or excited Zedekiah to break faith with the king of Babylon, and prevailed on him to do so. By so doing they sunk him as it were in the mire, that is, brought him to difficulties, and then ran away from him. And then in the next verse the Prophet confirms and explains the vision. — Ed.
And this city shall be burnt with fire,” is the rendering of the Sept., the Syriac., and the Targum. The Vulg. is, “and he (the king of Babylon) will burn this city with fire.” The first, no doubt, is the true version of the Hebrew, except the verb he in Hiphil, according to our version, and also that of Blayney; but what corresponds best with the passage is the former rendering. — Ed.
The words literally are, “Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.” Such is the rendering of the Sept., the Vulg., and the Targum.; the Syriac. is, “lest thou die;” which suggests the view taken by Calvin. — Ed.
These words are left out in the Sept. and the Syriac. The Vulgate, and the Targum. give this version, “And it came to pass that Jerusalem was taken;” which seems not in this connection to have any meaning. Some connect them with the following chapter, but improperly. Our version, followed by Blayney, gives the best sense, “And he was there (that is, in the court of the prison) when Jerusalem was taken:“ He was there not only to the day or time of its capture, but during that time. This was added to shew that he was not released by the Jews, but by those who took the city. — Ed.