Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army against Jerusalem, and they besieged it.
1. Anno nono Zedechiae regis Jehudah, mense decimo venit Nebuchadnezer rex Babylonis et totus exercitus ejus Jerosolymam, et obsiderunt eam.
2 And in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was broken up.
2. In undecimo anno Zedechiae, mense quarto, nona mensis, disrupta fuit urbs.
Jeremiah seems here indeed to undertake the office of an historian rather than that of a Prophet; but he seals his previous prophecies, and at the same time shews that he had brought forward nothing rashly or thoughtlessly. There is, then, here a proof of all his former doctrine; he brings before us the reality, and shews that whatever he had predicted was accomplished by God’s hand, and in a manner almost incredible. We now understand what this chapter contains.
he says that King Nebuchadnezzar came, though he soon departed from the siege, for, as we shall presently see, he went to Riblah, which, as some think, was the Antioch of Syria; but of this we shall speak in its proper place. When, therefore, the king came with his army, he soon departed, and his purpose was to live at leisure, and in the enjoyment of pleasures as long as the city was besieged, he was not disposed to undertake the trouble and weariness of a long warfare; but yet, in order to spread more terror, he came himself to the City and gave instructions to his army.
We must notice the time: he came in the ninth year, in the tenth month, that is about the end of the year. Zedekiah, no doubt, entertained a good hope, though reports were flying as to the coming of the Chaldean army; for the king had not so soon prepared for the war as he ought to have done. he thought that his revolt from the king of Babylon would be passed by unpunished. But the Prophet here reminds us that it was a false confidence; for though God spared him for a time and suspended his judgment, he yet at length punished the impiety of his revolt, to which was also added ingratitude, as it has been before stated. Thus much as to the ninth year and the tenth month
It then follows, In the eleventh year, in the fourth month, the city was broken up We hence see that the city was besieged for a year and half; for there was the whole of the tenth year, and then added must be two months of the ninth year and four months of the eleventh year; and thus a year and half was the whole time. Here also we must remember how much the Jews must have suffered; for were a city at this day to bear a siege for a few months, it would appear a rare instance of valor; but Jerusalem was besieged for a year and half. Let us now consider what number of people must have been there, and we have seen that the Prophet threatened them with famine. And how much scarcity there was in the city, the Prophet has not only testified elsewhere, but in the book of Lamentations he has shewed most fully. (La 4:10.) And there was not only famine, but it was followed by pestilence. We hence learn how ferocious must have been the character of the king, that he could see miserable men perishing by scores, and yet persist in his obstinacy. Nor is there a doubt but that the people were also on their part obstinate, and became at length stupefied through their sufferings; for there was hardly one, from the least to the greatest, who did not despise what the Prophet taught; and thus they were all blinded by madness and stupidity.
It ought to be noticed that they bore a siege for a year and six months, and that they were not even then persuaded to surrender themselves, until the city was broken up, that is, until the walls were beaten down by battering-rams and other warlike engines; for the city was broken when the wall, beaten by the engines, fell down. In short, the city was gained by storm; this is what is meant, and will hereafter be more fully expressed. But I cannot proceed further now.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are surrounded by so many dangers, and bring on ourselves daily, through our sins, so many miseries, — O grant, that we may at least yield to thy threatenings, and learn in due time to seek thy favor and to anticipate thy judgment, and so to humble ourselves under thy mighty hand, that we may find thee propitious to us miserable sinners, who flee to thy mercy, until, having at length been freed from all our sins, we shall appear before thy tribunal, and there receive the reward of our faith, even that blessed immortality, which thine only-begotten Son, our Lord, has procured for us by his own blood. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-First
3. And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate, even Nergalsharezer, Samgarnebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergalsharezer, Rabmag, with all the residue of the princes of the king of Babylon.
3. Et ingressi sunt omnes duces regis Babylonis, et sederunt in porta media, Neregal, Sarezer, Samegar, Nebusarzechin Rabsaris, Neregal, Sarezer, Rabmag, et residuum ducum (hoc est, et alii duces) regis Babylonis.
4. And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.
4. Et factum est cum vidisset eos Zedechias rex Jehudah, et omnes viri militares, tunc aufugerunt, et egressi sunt ex urbe noctu per viam horti regis ad portam inter duos muros, et egressus est per viam deserti.
IT is proved here that the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled; so that it became really evident that he had not spoken unadvisedly, but from the mouth of God. And thus was fulfilled also what is said as a common proverb, that fools become wise too late; for they never obey good and wise counsels while they may, but at length they are made to know by their own miseries and their teacher, experience, that what they despised is true, but without any benefit. This happened to Zedekiah, who had been often exhorted by the Prophet to surrender himself to King Nebuchadnezzar. As, then, he had obstinately refused the yoke, he was at length constrained to reap the fruit of his obstinacy.
Now Jeremiah says, that the princes of King Nebuchadnezzar, that is, those he had set over his forces, entered the city, the wall being broken down, and sat in the middle gate; for it was necessary for them to be wary, lest there should be ambushes; and even conquerors do not immediately penetrate into every part when a city is taken, but search whether all the places be free from enemies. This then was done by the leaders of the army, for they stood in the middle gate, that they might exercise authority over the city, and yet be safe from all ambushes. Jeremiah mentions some of them by name, but it is uncertain whether he adds a surname to some of them. But as this is doubtful and is of no great moment, it is enough for us that the chief of the leaders are named, in order to accredit the narrative.
he then adds, After Zedekiah saw them, etc.; not that he came to that part, but after he understood that that part of the city was occupied by the enemies; for matters then had come to an extremity. Then he fled with his men of war. And here is set before us a sad spectacle: men in no way trained up for war were left in the city, women also and children were left there, while the men of war fled, inasmuch as their condition was worse, because they had delayed the taking of the city. It was then according to what is commonly done, that they fled. We yet see that ungodly men, after having long despised heavenly truth, flee in time of danger, and are so filled with terror, that they cast themselves headlong into many perils. This is a just reward to those who are not terrified by the threatenings of God, but become so hardened, that they too late acknowledge that they ought to have feared; and being, as it were, stunned, they see not what is expedient, and cannot follow any fixed course.
The Prophet adds, that they fled in the night, and that they went out by the way of the king’s garden, and lastly, that they came to the gate which was between the two walls There is in this passage nothing superfluous; for he meant to shew us, that though the king thought that he could escape from the hands of his enemies, he was yet taken, as God had predicted. For, if after the city was taken, he had come as a suppliant, of his own accord, he might probably have obtained mercy; and this counsel, we know, was given while the state of things was not yet desperate; but he put no faith in God’s word. In the meantime he thought that he could disappoint his enemies, if he quickly fled through some secret way. Some think that there was a subterranean passage, which had a door in the middle of the garden, and had also an egress at the other end in the plain of Jericho, as we shall hereafter see. And that region was barren, and therefore solitary. Hence the king entertained confidence; but he found, at length, how certain was prophetic truth; for it is said afterwards, that the Chaldeans followed and took him. But this circumstance, as I have said, ought to be carefully observed, that the king, as the Prophet tells us, fled. through a secret way, during the darkness of the night, and escaped. It now follows —
5. But the Chaldeans’ army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he gave judgment upon him.
5. Et persecuti sunt exercitus Chaldaeorum ipsos, et apprehenderunt Zedechiam in desertis Jericho (alii vertunt, in planicie, et fuit planicies; coeterum ut dixi, inculta, et squalida et vacua etiam incolis;) et tulerunt ipsum, et adduxerunt ad Nebuchadnezer regem Babylonis Riblathah (urbem) in terra Chemath, qui locutus est cum ipso judicia.
The Chaldeans pursued the fugitive king, no doubt, through a hidden impulse from above. It is, indeed, probable that he was betrayed by his own people; and this often happens in a disturbed state of things; but however, he might have escaped, had he not been given up by the hand of God. These things are therefore narrated, that we may know that the ungodly, by their evasions, gain no other thing than really to acknowledge that God is true ill his threatenings as well as in his promises. They believe not his word, it is therefore necessary that they should be convinced by actual experience. Zedekiah then is here set before us as an example, so that we may know that as soon as God announces any calamity, we ought to tremble and to humble ourselves under his mighty hand, for he holds us on every side completely shut up, so that if hiding places and refuges be open before us, they can yet avail us nothing.
The Prophet then tells us, that he was taken in the deserts of Jericho This circumstance also is important, for he had gone forth beyond the sight of men, even into solitude; for that plain was not so fruitful as to support many inhabitants, but it was as it were a desert. It is then a wonder how the Chaldeans found him in that solitude, but they had God, as it were, as their guide. Hence then it was, that Zedekiah fell into the hands of the Chaldean army. The Prophet adds, that they brought him into Riblah, which is thought to have been Antioch. It is also called Hemath; but this name designated the country and not the city. And yet in Am 6:2, it means the city, when it is said,
“Go to Calneh, go to Hemath the great.”
But it may be, that the dignity of the city was the reason why the country was so called; and no doubt Pliny, in his fifth book, calls that part of Syria Antiochean; and as to what he says shortly before, that Antioch was that part of Syria toward Cilicia, that place seems to me to have been corrupted. I rather read thus, that it was a part of Syria, for, as I have said, he calls it Antiochean. And it was not unsuitable that the city should be called Hemath and Riblah, and that the name of the city should be given to the country. Interpreters indeed agree, that Riblah was Antioch. Jerome says, that in his day, the first station towards Chaldea still retained its ancient name, though, by changing some letters, they called it Emmaus. But he doubts not but it was Antioch, which was formerly called Epidaphne, and had also the name of Hemath. There then Zedekiah was brought to Nebuchadnezzar, who spoke judgments with him, that is, who brought him as a criminal before his tribunal, that he might pronounce sentence upon him; for to speak judgments means the same as to minister justice or to pass judgment.
Now this was very inconsistent with royal dignity, for though, as a conqueror, he was angry with his enemy, he might yet have been content with his death alone. Kings are not wont to deal in this way with kings, for they respect themselves, and are not disposed to degrade royal dignity. But Jeremiah says, that Zedekiah was by no means dealt with royally; for he was constrained to plead guilty, and was condemned by a solemn sentence. Then to speak judgments is the same as what we call in French former proces criminel. And this indignity increased the weight of his calamity and his punishment; for Zedekiah not only had to bear many reproaches, while the king of Babylon expostu-lated with him, but he was also brought to judgment, so that punishment, according to the common practice, was allotted to him. For Nebuchadnezzar had made him king, and imposed tribute on him. He therefore condemned him as guilty of perfidy and perjury. This is the degradation which the Prophet points out, when he says, that he spoke judgments with him, or acted towards him judicially; and he repeats the same expression in the last chapter. It follows —
6. Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah.
6. Et occidit rex Babylonis filios Zedechiae in Riblathah coram oculis ejus; et omnes nobiles Jehudah occidit rex Babylonis.
It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar continued in that pleasant city while Jerusalem was attacked, for he would not endure the weariness of a long siege, and he also wished to be far away from danger. It was enough for him that his generals, of whom mention is made, fought under his banner. Nebuchadnezzar then was beyond the reach of danger, and yet he filled the Jews with terror, because he did not return home, or to the principal seat of government, but remained in the neighborhood; for the Antioch of Syria was not far from Judea.
The Prophet now tells us how cruelly Nebuchadnezzar acted towards Zedekiah. It was surely a sad spectacle to see a king, who had been before in repute, who was of a noble family, who was a type of Christ, lying prostrate at the feet of a proud conqueror. But much more bitter to him than this, was to see his own sons killed before his eyes. It would have been better for him to die a hundred times than to be compelled to witness that slaughter. He was, however, compelled to do so. And then, that all hope might be cut off, all those who excelled in dignity and power were slain. For under the name princes, Jeremiah generally in-eluded the chief men; so that all who had any name among the people were killed. It was a horrible carnage! not only the king’s sons were slain, but all who were capable of restoring the city and the land to a better condition. Thus Nebuchadnezzar wished to take away every hope, by putting to death the royal family and all the nobles. It afterwards follows —
7. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon.
7. Et oculos Zedechiae excaecavit, et vinxit eum cathenis (in duali numero, duabus cathenis,) ut adduceret ipsum Babylonem.
Here was an accumulation of misery: the king had his eyes pulled out, 117 after having been a spectator of the slaughter of his own sons! He then saw heaped together the dead bodies of his own offspring and of all his nobles. After that slaughter he was made blind. His life was, no doubt, prolonged to him, that he might die, as it were, by little and little, according to what a notorious tyrant has said. And thus Nebuchadnezzar intended to kill him a hundred and a thousand times, and not at once to put him to death, for death removes man from all the miseries of the present life. That Zedekiah remained alive, was then a much harder condition.
And this has been recorded that we may know, that as he had been so long obstinate against God, the punishment inflicted on him was long protracted; for he had not sinned through levity or want of thought, or some hidden impulse, but hardened himself against every truth and all counsels. It was therefore just that he should die by little and little, and not be killed at once. This was the reason why the king of Babylon pulled out his eyes.
The Prophet says in the last place, that he was bound with chains, and that he was in this miserable condition led into Babylon This reproach was an addition to his blindness: he was bound with chains as a criminal. It would have been better for him to have been taken immediately to the gallows, or to have been put to death in any way; but it was the design of Nebuchadnezzar, that he should lead a miserable life in this degraded state, and be a public example of what perfidy deserved. It follows, —
8. And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.
8. Et domum regis et domum populi combusserunt Chaldaei igni, et muros Jerusalem diruerunt.
Here also the Prophet shews that whatever he had predicted was fulfilled, so that nothing was wanting to render faith sure and fixed. He had said, as we have seen, that if Zedekiah surrendered himself of his own accord, the houses in the city would not be burnt. Zedekiah thought this all vain, or at least he closed up his ears. He now heard, though he was blind, that God had declared nothing in vain by the mouth of Jeremiah; for his palace was burnt, and also all the other houses.
He put בית, bith, in the second clause, the singular for the plural; and so there is here an enallage, for it was not only one house of the people that was burnt, but the fire consumed all the houses. We at last come to the walls, which were beaten down; and thus the city was destroyed as Jeremiah had predicted. It follows, —
9. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained.
9. Residuum vero populi qui superstites erant in urbe, et elapsos (hoc est, defectores,) qui defecerant ad ipsum (nempe, ad Nebuchadnezer,) et residuum populi qui relicti fuerant (qui fuerant superstites, idem nomen repetitur) transtulit Nabuzardan princeps interfectorum Babylonem.
The Prophet now relates also what happened to others, even those who remained in the city, and whom Nebuchadnezzar and his army had spared: he says that they were brought to Babylon. There were those who had fled and went over to the Chaldeans before the city was taken; for we have seen that so great was the despair of many, that they revolted, and those were they whom Zedekiah chiefly feared, lest he should be, as we have seen, an object of mockery to them, had he gone to the Chaldeans and made a willing surrender. Jeremiah now says that those also were led into Chaldea. Nebuchadnezzar might have removed them on this account, because he could not confide in traitors. He had found out their inconstancy, for they had revolted from their own real and legitimate king. As then they had. thus once violated their faith, he could not but regard them with suspicion, and therefore removed them, lest they should afterwards attempt something new, and create disturbance; or, it may be, that it was done according to their request, because they feared lest, after the departure of the Chal-deans, the common people should rage against them, as they had helped the enemies, and thus had become perfidious and ungrateful towards their own country. It might then be, that they themselves had made this request, and that it was granted them: they might then live quietly in a far country, but they could not be safe in Judea. However, whatever may have been the reason, Jeremiah tells us, that they were led with the rest into Babylon and Chaldea.
he afterwards names the head or general of the army, even Nebuzaradan, whom he calls the prince of the killers, or of the cooks. The Greek translators have rendered it ἀρχιμάγειρον, the prince of the cooks, who at this day is called Grand Master in the courts of princes. But their opinion is more probable, who render the words, the prince of the killers. The verb טבח, thebech, means to slay, to kill, and to kill men as well as to slay beasts; and for this reason some have applied it to cookery. But as Nebuzaradan is mentioned here as the chief among military men, the probability is that he was the judge of all capital offenses in the army. 118 Hence Jeremiah names him when he says that they were removed who remained in the city.
But there seems to be here an unnecessary repetition, as he mentions twice, the rest of the people which remained There is, however, a difference, for in the first clause he says, in the city He then means those who had been besieged, and whom Nebuchadnezzar had pardoned so as not to put them to death. The last clause embraces more, even all the inhabitants of the land; for there were many scattered abroad, on whom Nebuchadnezzar might have vented his rage, but he removed them as slaves into Chaldea. Then our Prophet speaks here of these two parties, for he says that there were some remaining in the city, and that others were remaining, even those who were found scattered through various parts of the country, and had not been besieged by the Chaldean army. He afterwards adds, —
10. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.
10. Et ex populo pauperes, quibus nihil quicquam erat, reliquos fecit Nabuzardan, princeps interfectorum, in terra Jehudah, et dedit illis vites et agros in die isto.
He now adds, that some were left to inhabit the land, even the poor and those who had nothing He says that these were made, as it were, the lords of the land when the Chal-deans returned into their own country. We here see that poverty is often an advantage, for the nobles, as we have seen, were killed, and many also of the middle class were killed in the siege of the city, and some of them were treated a little more humanely. Still the exiles were miserable, and driven to a distant land without any hope of return. The land was now left to the poor alone; and those who possessed not’ a foot of ground before, lived now very comfortably; for they were not so large a number, but that each of them had some extent of land, as we shall hereafter see. While then these miserable men, who before lived very scantily, and perhaps begged their bread, while these remained secure in the land of Judah, the possessors of the land were torn away and driven into exile; and as Nebuzaradan had assigned to each of them vineyards and fields, it hence appears how much better it was for them to have suffered hunger for a time, to have been in an ignoble condition, and to have been trodden as it were under foot by others, than to have lived in pomp and splendor. Thus often God shews his care for us, when he suffers us not to rise high, but keeps us in an obscure and humble condition; and the issue at length proves that he thus had a regard for our salvation.
At the same time there is here set before our eyes a woeful change. The king is led bound in chains, and is also blind; and all the rest having left their own, are driven into exile; and, on the other hand, the poor alone, and needy men who had nothing, dwell at large, as it were, in their own possessions. As, then, they had their quiet habitations and large fields, and enjoyed a land so fertile and rich, there is no doubt but that Nebuzaradan meant thus to rouse the envy of the exiles; for they saw that needy and worthless men dwelt in that land from which they had been banished. Hence their indignation was increased when they saw that they were more severely and cruelly treated than those lowest of men. It follows, —
11. Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,
11. Praecepit autem Nabuchad-nezer rex Babylonis de Jeremia per manum Nabuzardan principis interfectorum, dicendo,
12. Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee.
12. Tolle ipsum et oculos tuos pone super eum, et ne facias ei quiequam mali; sed prout loquutus fuerit tecum fac cum eo.
The Prophet now sets forth the paternal care of God, which he had experienced in the preservation of his life and safety. The innocent, we know, are often killed in a tumult, and the storming of cities is turbulent, so that many things are done without any thought; nay, even the leaders are not able to moderate the excesses of the victorious. When, therefore, the Chaldeans burnt the palace, Jeremiah might have perished at the same time, being suffocated by the very smoke of the fire. We know what happened at the taking of Syracuse. Marcellus did not wish that Archimedes should perish, nay, he commanded that he should be preserved; for he wished to save that man on account of his singular industry and noble genius. However, while he was drawing circles on the ground, he was killed by a common soldier. If no one had come to Jeremiah, he might, as I have said, have been buried under the ruins of the palace, when the king’s court was burnt down. But he says that he had been wonderfully preserved, for Nebuchadnezzar had given a command respecting him, that he might not be exposed to any trouble, but that Nebuzaradan as well as the whole army should secure his safety.
It is indeed probable that the king of Babylon had heard of Jeremiah; and though he was in prison, yet the Word of God, which he boldly proclaimed, was not bound. Then the report of this might have reached the king of Babylon: and hence it was, that he was disposed to preserve him; for he had given a faithful counsel to Zedekiah. But Nebuchadnezzar no doubt regarded only his own advantage; and hence we ought to bear in mind the wonderful goodness of God in preserving, as it were, by his own hand, the life of the Prophet; so that in extremities no one touched him, but he remained free and quiet, as we shall hereafter see. But we must put off the rest until to-morrow.
Grant, omnipotent God, that since thou hast once given us so awful a proof of thy wrath in the destruction of that city, which thou didst choose, and in which thou hadst had thy holy habitation, — O grant, that we may learn so to submit to thee in true humility and obedience, that we may not provoke thy extreme displeasure, but on the contrary anticipate it by real repentance, and that being terrified by thy threatenlugs, we may so submit ourselves to thee as to obtain thy mercy, and thus to regard thee as a Father, ever propitious to all those who flee to thee through Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-Second
13. So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushasban, Rabsaris, and Nergalsharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon’s princes;
13. Et misit Nabuzardan, princeps interfectorum, et Nebusazban, Rabsaris (diximus quosdam has voces interpretari, quod sit princeps eunuchus, sed aliis magis placere esse proprium nomen, quos ego sequor) et Neregal, Sarezer, Rabmag, et alii principes Regis Babel (Babylonis:)
14. Even they sent, and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, and committed him unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home: so he dwelt among the people.
14 Miserunt (inquam) et tulerunt Jeremiam ex atrio custodiae, et dederunt eum (hoc est, commiserunt eum) Godoliae filio Achikam, filii Saphan, ut deduceret eum domum; et ita habitavit in medio populi.
Here Jeremiah completes what we began yesterday to expound, even that by the command of King Nebuchadnezzar he was delivered from prison. But we have said, that though that heathen king had regard to his own interest, yet his mind was ruled by the secret power of God, who thus designed to rescue his servant from death; for God is wont thus to work even by the ungodly, who have another thing in view. It is not always by a voluntary act that men serve God, for many execute what God has decreed when they have no intention of doing so: and he so turns and drives them here and there, that they are constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey his authority. Thus, then, it was that Nebuchadnezzar liberated Jeremiah.
And yet the Prophet fully believed that he did not owe his life to King Nebuchadnezzar, but that he had been in a wonderful manner preserved by God’s favor; and to shew this is the design of the whole narrative.
He says, that the king had sent all-the leaders of the Chaldean army to take him out of the court of the prison, and that he was then delivered to the care of Gedaliah, not that he might be watched as usual, but because the princes knew that the people had entertained hatred towards the holy Prophet, and therefore wished him to be preserved safe from all violence. This then was the reason why they committed him to the keeping of Gedaliah, who, as we shall hereafter see, was in favor with the Chaldeans and highly esteemed.
He adds in the last place, that he dwelt in the midst of the people: by which expression is set forth complete liberty, as we say in our language, aller et venir. He then says that he was in the midst of the people, because he had been before shut up in prison. It now follows —
15. Now the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
15. Ad Jeremiam vero fuit sermo Jehovae, quum adhuc esset clausus in atrio custodiae, dicendo,
16. Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee.
16. Vade et dic Ebedmelech Aethiopi (hoc est, alloquere Ebed-melech, dicendo,) Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ecce adduco sermones meos super urbem hanc in malum, et non in bonum; et erunt coram facie tua in die illo:
17. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the LORD: and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.
17. Et eripiam te in die illo, dicit Jehova, et non traderis in manum hominum, a quorum facie tu expavescis (ad verbum est, quos tu expavescis ab eorum facie;)
18. For I will surely deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee: because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the LORD.
18. Quia liberando liberabo te, in gladium non cades, et erit tibi anima tua in spolium, quia sperasti in me, dicit Jehova.
The Prophet tells us here that God was not unmindful of that Ethiopian, by whom he had been preserved, though he was an alien and from a barbarous nation. We have seen, however, that he alone undertook the cause of the Prophet, when others, being terrified by fear, did not exert themselves, or were avowedly enemies to God’s servant. Ebedmelech then alone dared to go forth in a case so hopeless, and undertook the defense of the holy man. The Prophet says now that this service was so acceptable, that it would not be without its reward. We have said that Ebedmelech had thus manifested his concern for the Prophet’s life, but not without evident danger; for he knew that the princes were united against him, and that these ungodly men had drawn to their side the greatest part of the court and also of the common people. Then Ebedmelech roused against himself both high and low; but God aided him, so that he was not overpowered by his adversaries. In his very danger he experienced the favor of God, and was protected and delivered from danger.
But now he finds that he had not ill employed his exertions; for he had not only been humane and merciful towards a mortal man, but had also done service for God; for whatever we do for God’s servants, he acknowledges as done to himself, and will have it to be laid to his account, according to what Christ says,
“He who gives a cup of cold water to one of the least of my disciples, shall not lose his reward.” (Mt 10:42)
There is then no doubt but that the Spirit of God intended by the example of Ebedmelech to rouse us to the duties of humanity, even to teach us to sue-coup the miserable, and to give them help as far as we can, and not to shun the hatred of men or any dangers, which we may thereby incur. And as we are torpid and negligent in doing good, the reward given to the Ethiopian is set before us, so that we may know, that though nothing is to be hoped from men, when we are kind and liberal, yet we shall not lose our labor, for God is rich enough, who can render to us more than can be expected from the whole world. This then is the lesson conveyed here.
But the circumstances must be noticed: the Prophet says, that he was commanded to promise deliverance to Ebedme-lech, while he was yet confined in prison. This, at the first view, seems strange; for the Prophet might have objected and said, “Thou biddest me to go forth; why, then, are not the gates of the prison opened for me? and then thou wouldst have me to be the herald of thy favor; but my present miserable condition will prevent any credit to be given to my words: for how can Ebedmelech believe that I have been sent. by thee? for I am here confined and surrounded by many deaths.” But let us hence learn not to bring down God’s word to our judgment, when anything is promised beyond our expectation, and all our conceptions. Though, indeed, God seemed, as it were, to mock his servant, when he ordered him, a prisoner, to go to Ebedmelech; and yet the Prophet received and embraced this command, and performed it, no doubt, though this is not expressly mentioned.
This is the reason why he says, that a word came to him from Jehovah, while he was in the court of the prison
The word Ethiopian is now repeated, because God intended, in the person of an alien indirectly to reprove the Jews; for no doubt they despised him, because he was not of the holy seed of Abraham. But God shews that he peculiarly regarded him, while he rejected the masked and hypocritical children of Abraham, who were only born of him according to the flesh, but had, by their impiety, renounced him, so that they were wholly unworthy of so high an honor.
And he says, Go and say, Behold, I am bringing my words on this city for evil and not for good; and they shall be before thee in that day. We conclude, from these words, that this was spoken to Ebedmelech before the city was taken by the Chaldeans, in order that he might remain quietly at home, and not flee away with the king, who, as we have seen, tried to escape. God then intended to strengthen the confidence of Ebedmelech, so that he might not fear and tremble like others, and expose himself to death, in trying to secure his safety. For this is the design of all God’s promises, even to keep us from being disturbed, to give us quietness of mind, and to cause us to look for the help promised to us. For we know that when fear lays hold on our minds, there is no settled purpose, but we are harassed by disquietude, and, as it were, tossed to and fro. It was therefore God’s design to bring aid beforehand, so that Ebedmelech might not, with others, be hurried into despair. He says, Behold, I am bringing, etc. God here confirms Ebedmelech in the truth, that he would be the author of the calamity; for had Jerusalem been taken by chance, Ebedmelech might justly have feared; but when he was taught that it was to happen through God’s just judgment he would feel sure of his safety; for it would be in the power of the same God to save one man and even many, while he was destroying the whole people. This, then, is the reason why God declared that he was bringing his words for evil and not for good; for except Ebedmelech had been convinced that the city and its inhabitants were in God’s hand and power, he could never have been led to entertain good hope; but when he knew that the city would perish through the righteous vengeance of God, he would then be fully confident as to his own safety; for God promised to preserve him in the midst of the common ruin.
He says, Thou shalt see, my words shall be before thee, as though he had said, “Thou shalt be an eye-witness of my power.” It was indeed necessary, as I have said, that Ebedmelech should see God’s hand in the destruction of the city and people; for he would ever have vacillated, and would have known no rest, had he not before his eyes the hand and the vengeance of God, This is one thing. But as to the words, I am bringing my words for evil and not for good, we have explained them elsewhere. The word evil does not mean sin here, but according to a common usage, evil is said to be whatever men regard as adverse to them; so all punishments inflicted by God are called evils, as we find in Isaiah,
“I am God, who create light and darkness, life and death,
good and evil.” (Isa 45:7)
He then adds, But I will deliver thee in that day, and thou shalt not be given up into the hand of the men whose face thou fearest Here God promises that Ebedmelech would be saved through a special privilege; and the Prophet shews that this prophecy had not been without reason announced. For though Ebedmelech had, with an intrepid mind, undertaken the cause of Jeremiah, and boldly and perseveringly fronted all reproaches, he yet was not divested of all the feelings of nature, but he had his fears, especially when he saw the cause of fear set before him. Hence the Prophet says, that he feared the face of enemies: and this might, at the same time, avail to rouse him to receive with more alacrity, the promise offered to him; for we know that the blessings of God are, in a manner, deemed of no value by us, when we do not know how necessary to us they are. The prophecies and the promises, by which God comforts us and animates us to patience, are for the most part viewed as of no worth, until God really shews to us how miserable we must be, except he thus succors us. Then the Prophet wished to remind Ebedmelech of this, when he said that he feared. Thou fearest, he says. For if Ebedmelech had no fear, he might have disregarded this prophecy as being superfluous. But being reminded of his fear and anxiety, he became more ready to receive what God promised to him.
Then he says, that he would be safe, because the Lord would deliver him in that day And, again, he confirms the same thing, For delivering I will deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword The Prophet again calls the attention of Ebedmelech to God himself; for we know how all things are in a confusion when cities are taken by storm. Except then Ebedmelech had his mind fixed on God, he could never have retained any hope of deliverance. Hence the Prophet assures him again, that God would be his deliverer. And he adds, Thy soul shall be for a prey This mode of expression has been elsewhere explained. The comparison is taken from those who deem that a great gain which is yet but small, if they get it beyond their expectation, as when a man finds a prey which he had by no means hoped for: he becomes suddenly rich, or increased in his goods; and though the gain may not be great, he yet greatly rejoices. So they who escape alive from present death, have no small reason to be joyful, because their life has been preserved. In the meantime God alludes to those who regard it enough to escape from death, though they may be deprived of all other things. As those who, in shipwreck, cast forth their mer-chandize, and their money, and all they have, deem it enough if they can reach the harbor, and they prefer to beg their bread all their life rather than to sink in the midst of the sea, so he who escapes with his life; though poverty is bitter, yet the horror of death is so great, that he deems his life a great, gain, though stripped of all that he had.
The reason follows, because he trusted in God. Another reason might have been assigned, even because he had not been wanting in his kindness to a holy man, but had extended his hand to him in his extreme misery; but as that office of humanity proceeded from faith and piety, God does here express the chief cause. As then the mercy which Ebedmelech exercised towards the Prophet was an evidence of his piety and faith, here is found the fruit in its own tree, or in its root: and certain it is, that Ebedmelech would have never been so humane towards the Prophet, had he not relied on God and his aid; for unbelief is always timid. There is then no doubt but that the vigor which appeared in Ebedmelech, when he regarded his life in bringing aid to the Prophet, made manifest that faith which is now commended: because then thou hast trusted in me, therefore delivering I will deliver thee, says God. There is now then no doubt but that Ebedmelech had some of the elements of faith and piety. If then God has allowed us to make farther progress, we may feel the more assured that he will be our deliverer; for his grace and his power will ever exceed our faith, how much so ever it may be. Now follows —
The pulling out of his eyes is derived from the Vulg.; the other versions and the Targum. express literally the Hebrew, “And he blinded the eyes of Zedekiah.” And the custom was to hold before them red-hot iron. It seems also that they practiced in the East the horrible custom of pulling out the eyes. But to blind the eyes must have been a different form of barbarity. — Ed.
The Vulg. is, “the chief of the soldiers — magister militum;” the Targum., “the prince of the slayers;” the Syriac., “the prince of the attendants, or guards.” The best rendering would be, “the chief of the executioners.” The guards, the royal attendants, were commonly the executioners. See 1Sa 22:17; Mr 6:27. — Ed.