Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Then all the captains of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even unto the greatest, came near,
1. Et accesserunt cuncti duces copiarum, et Joannes filius Kareah, et Jezaniah filius Ozamae, et totus populus a parvo usque ad magnum,
2. And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the LORD thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:)
2. Et dixerunt ad Jeremiam prophetam, Cadat Agedum precatio nostra coram facie tua, et ores pro nobis Jehovam Deum tuum pro omnibus reliquiis istis, quia relicti sumus exiguum e magno, sicuti oculi tui vident nos;
3. That the LORD thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.
3. Et annuntiet nobis Jehova Deus tuus viam, per quam ambulemus, et rem quam faciamus.
I have said that John, and his associates, and the whole people acted much more culpably by coming to the Prophet, than if they had not done so, and had gone directly to Egypt: for they either came dissemblingly, and thus designedly spoke what was false, or they were extremely stupid, and hypocrisy had wholly deprived them of their understanding. They came to the Prophet to ask counsel; nay, that he might be to them God’s interpreter, and that thus they might know what to do; and they promised to obey, as we shall hereafter see. However this may have been, they sought an oracle in which it was their duty to acquiesce, except they resolved openly to shake off the yoke and to show themselves to be gross and profane despisers of God. They came to the Prophet, when yet it was their fixed purpose, as we shall see, to go to Egypt.
He who asks counsel, ought first to see that he bring no prejudice, but be free and honest: but it is, however, a fault too common, that men deliberate and ask counsel, when they have already settled what to do; nay, nothing is more common than this; for those who consult do not, for the most part, wish to learn what is right, but that others should fall in with their own inclinations. He who has resolved on this or that point, pretends that he is in doubt, and held in suspense; he asks what ought to be done: if the answer be according to his wishes, he embraces what is said; but if he who is consulted, disapproves of what he has already resolved to do, he rejects the counsel given. Such was the dissimulation described by the Prophet, when the leaders of the forces and the whole people came to him.
He mentions, first, the leaders of the forces, and then John the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshiah He adds these two last; but it was to give them honor, as when the angel said,
“Go and tell his disciples and Peter.” (Mr 16:7)
He did not put aside Peter, as though he was inferior to all the rest; but for the sake of honor he mentions his name, after having spoken generally of them all. So also here, the Prophet names generally the leaders, but as John the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah were the chief men, he expressly gives their names. He adds, the whole people, from the least to the greatest This does not refer to age; but what he means is, that all, of every grade, came with one consent to Jeremiah. It was not then the conspiring of a few men, but all from the least to the greatest had resolved to go to Egypt; and yet they came, as though with an honest purpose, to the Prophet; wherefore? They wished their own perverse design to be approved by God, and thus to subject God to their own will and humor; for they did not suffer themselves to be ruled by his Spirit, but audaciously disregarded his word. The Prophet then shews that they were all implicated in the same sin.
It is added, that they said, as though they were ready to obey, Let our prayer fall before thee. This, as we have said, when addressed to God, is an evidence of humility; but it is applied here to man; and when the Hebrews make a humble request, they say, “Let my prayer fall before thee,” that is, Hear what I suppliantly and humbly ask. Pray, they said, to Jehovah thy God for us They called him the God of Jeremiah, not that they intended to exempt themselves from his authority; they did not mean that they were alienated from God; but in this way they extolled Jeremiah, and acknowledged him to be God’s true and lawful Prophet. In short, this saying refers to the prophetic office, as though they had said, that Jeremiah had hitherto confirmed his vocation, so that it was clearly evident that he had been sent from above.
We hence see why they called Jehovah the God of Jeremiah, not as though they had rejected God, and as though he was not their God in common with Jeremiah, but they allowed that the Prophet possessed a higher honor, and that his faithfulness and integrity were beyond controversy.
But this admission justly recoiled on their own head; for if Jeremiah was God’s Prophet, why did they not instantly obey him, after knowing that what he faithfully told them he had received from God? and why did they insolently and ferociously resist him and accuse him of falsehood? Their own admission then was not sincere, but a fallacious flattery, as is the case with all hypocrites, who never speak in sincerity and truth.
They afterwards added, Pray for all this remnant, for we are left, a few from many This they added to produce pity, in order that they might more easily obtain from Jeremiah what they asked; nor was that difficult; but as they felt conscious of wrong, they sought the favor of the Prophet by flatteries, Had they asked him without disguise, they knew that he was of himself disposed to seek the well being of the people; but as they were of a double mind, they set before him their miserable state, which might; have roused the Prophet still more to make intercession to God for them. And for this reason they added, as thine eyes see us And they set before him this sad spectacle, to create sympathy in the Prophet. And it then follows, And may Jehovah thy God shew us the way in which we are to walk. They now explained more clearly why they wished prayer to be made for them, even that God might answer and shew what he wished them to do.
They came then, as it has been stated, as though they were ready to obey; and then they professed humility, because they did not wish to do anything rashly, but only to follow where God called them. Had they spoken from the heart, it would have been a rare virtue thus to-have fled in perplexities to God, and to have allowed themselves to be ruled by his word; but we shall see that it was all a pre-tence. We have then here set before us the hypocrisy of that people, so that we may learn that whenever we ask what pleases God, we should bring a pure and sincere heart, so that nothing may prevent or hinder us immediately to embrace whatever God may command us. But their hypocrisy is discovered to have been still baser, when the Prophet adds,
4. Then Jeremiah the prophet said unto them, I have heard you; behold, I will pray unto the LORD your God according to your words; and it shall come to pass, that whatsoever thing the LORD shall answer you, I will declare it unto you; I will keep nothing back from you.
4. Et dixit illis Jeremias Propheta, Audivi, ecce ego orabo Jehovam Deum vestrum secundum sermones vestros, et erit quemcunque sermonem responderit Jehova vobis, annuntiabo vobis, non celabo a vobis quicquam.
In order to prepare them to obey, he testified that he would be a faithful messenger of God; for there is no doubt but that the Prophet, as we shall see, regarded them with suspicion. That he might therefore have them teachable and obedient to the answer expected from God, he said beforehand, that he would honestly and faithfully perform his office as a Prophet.
I have heard, he says; here he shews how ready he was to attend, and how he neglected nothing conducive to their well being. I have heard, he says, Behold, I will pray according to your words There is no doubt but that he thus intimated that he wished well to them; and it might have rendered them more attentive to the oracle to know that the Prophet was influenced by love. Nor is there a doubt but that the Prophet testified his love towards them, that his doctrine might afterwards have more weight with them.
By saying, Whatever your God will answer, he did not mean that the oracle would be revealed to all, for the words could not be otherwise explained than through the Prophet, who would openly make known to the whole people what he heard from God’s mouth. But he says, that the answer would be given to them, because God would give the answer which was to be communicated to all, as it is said that God spoke to Moses, and also to all the people, for the doctrine was intended for all. Moses did not receive the law, nor its interpretation, in his own private character, but in order that the people might know what was right. So Jeremiah did here; the answer he received from God he made known as belonging in common to all the people.
But in calling God their God, he did not mean to flatter them or to praise their piety, but to exhort them to surrender and devote themselves wholly to God, as though he had said, that they had to do with God, who had bound them to himself when he adopted them as his peculiar people, and then favored them with so many blessings. Since then God had made himself known to them, they could not reject his counsel with impunity, for there was no pretext of ignorance. We hence see what weight there is in this, your God; for Jeremiah reminded them that they could not with impunity trifle with God, for they were not their own, but had been chosen to be God’s people, and on this condition, to be wholly subject to his authority. Then the sum of the whole is this, that the Prophet would faithfully convey to the Jews the answer God would give them; and he said this that his doctrine might have a greater authority among them. It now follows, —
5. Then they said to Jeremiah, The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us.
5. Ipsi antem dixerunt ad Jeremiam, Erit Jehova inter nos in testem (vel, testis) fidei et veritatis (testis fidelis et verax,) nisi secundum omnem sermonem quem miserit (id est, pro quo miserit) Jehova Deus tuus ad nos, sic facturi sumus;
6. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.
6. Sive bonum, sive malum, voci Jehovae Dei nostri, pro qua nos mittimus te ad ipsum, obediemus (audiemus vocem, ad verbum, sed tantundem valet, audire vocem atque obedire voci,) ut bene sit nobis, cum obediverimus voci Dei nostri.
It hence appears that the people understood for what purpose Jeremiah, before he consulted God, assured them of his faithfulness and sincerity; for it was not without reason that they promised to be obedient to God; but as they saw that they were suspected as being not sincere by Jeremiah, and as he had promised to be a true and faithful teacher, they on the other hand declared that they would be sincere disciples, and would receive whatever God might command them. But they soon betrayed their perfidy, for when they heard that what they had resolved to do did not please God, they not only rejected the counsel of God and the Prophet, but treated him insolently, and even loaded the holy man with reproaches, as though he had told them what was false. Their hypocrisy ought at the same time to be a lesson to us, so that when God is pleased through a singular favor to shew us the way of acting rightly by faithful instructors and competent teachers, we may not be like them, but be teachable and ready to obey, and prove this not only by the mouth but also by our deeds.
The Prophet then says, that they spoke thus, Let God be a faithful and true witness between us. Being not content with a simple affirmation, they dared to interpose the name of God; and thus we see how blind is hypocrisy. For if men duly weigh what it is to profane God’s name, surely they would dread and abominate all perjury. As then they rushed on so audaciously to swear, it is evident that they were as it were stupefied; and there is no inebriety which so confuses the minds of men and all their senses as hypocrisy.
They then added, According to whatever word which Jehovah thy God shall send to us, so will we do, that is, whatever Jehovah shall command us by thee; for God is said to send to men, when he sends a messenger in his name to bring his commands. Jeremiah then was, as it were, a middle person to address the people in God’s name, as though he had been sent from heaven. They therefore said, that they would do whatever God commanded. A stronger expression follows, Whether good or evil, we will obey the voice of Jehovah our God They did not here charge God’s word with being wrong, as though it had anything unjust in it; but they used good in the sense of joyful, and evil as meaning what is sad or grievous, as though they had said, that they asked for no other thing but that God should declare what pleased him, and that they were so submissive as to refuse nothing though contrary to the flesh. Had this declaration proceeded from the heart, it would have been a testimony of true piety; for the minds of the godly ought to be so framed as to obey God without making any exception, whether he commands what is contrary to their purpose, or leads them where they do not wish to go; for they who wish to make a compact with God, that he should require nothing but what is agreeable to them, shew that they know not what it is to serve God. Hence the obedience of faith in an especial manner requires this, that man should renounce his own desires, that he should not set up his own counsels and wishes against the word of God, nor object and say, this is hard, that is not quite agreeable. Whether then it be good or evil, that is, though it may be contrary to the feelings of the flesh, we ought still to embrace what God requires and commands: this is the rule of true religion.
As the Jews spoke feignedly by assuming a character not their own, they profaned God’s name. But if we desire to prove our fidelity to God, the only way of acting is, to regard his word as binding, whether it be agreeable or otherwise, and never to murmur, as the ungodly do; for when God would have a yoke laid on them, they complain that his doctrine is too hard and burdensome. Away, then, with all those things which can render God’s word unacceptable to us, if we desire to give a sure proof of our fidelity. Hence they said, Whether it be good or evil, what God will lay down we will obey his voice.
They afterwards added, For which we send thee to him 127 Here they still further cast themselves into toils. Jeremiah did not in express words require them to make an oath; they yet did make an oath; and then in various ways still more bound themselves over to punishment, if they became perjurers. They now shew that it would be a two-fold crime, should they disobey God; how? Had the Prophet been sent to them, they might have made excuses; though vain, they might yet have something to allege; but when they of their own accord asked God, when they offered of themselves to do this, and promised to be obedient in all things, it is evident that unless afterwards they acted according to their pledged faith, they must have been more inexcusable, because they tempted God: for who induced them to come to the Prophet? We hence see that God extorted from them what doubled their crime. But the more hypocrites attempt by disguises to conceal their impiety, the faster they bind themselves, and the more they kindle God’s wrath against themselves.
They then added, That it may be well with us when we obey the voice of Jehovah By this circumstance also they aggravated their crime. For if the Prophet had promised them a prosperous issue, they might not have believed; in that case they would have indeed sinned; but their wicked-ness would have been more tolerable than when they themselves had spoken, as though they were the organs of the Holy Spirit; they said themselves, It shall be well with us; it will be our chief happiness to follow the voice of God and to obey him. As, then, they thus protested to God and the Prophet, that they might appear to be God’s faithful servants, the greater condemnation they brought on themselves; for if they believed that nothing would turn out happily, except according to God’s command, how was it that they did not submit to God? why did they despise what was afterwards said by the Prophet? But as we have already said, as they deceived themselves by dealing falsely with God and profaning his holy name, let us learn and know that we can in no other way expect a happy issue in all that we do, but by obeying the voice of God; for whatever men may attempt of themselves, it will be accursed before God. This, then, is our only sure hope, that when we attempt nothing but what is according to God’s word, there will be a good and happy issue, though many things may happen otherwise than we hope or think.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are here tossed to and fro, being uncertain and doubtful, except we are ruled by thy word, and are blind in thick darkness, — O grant, that while thou shinest on us by thy Law and by thy Gospel, we may be illuminated as to our minds by thy Holy Spirit, so that we may wholly surrender ourselves to thee, and never deviate from the right way which thou hast made known to us, but so pursue our course through life, that at length we may come to that blessed life, which has been prepared for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-Seventh
7. And it came to pass after ten days, that the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah.
7. Et fuit a fine decem dierum datus est sermo Jehovae ad Jeremiam.
8. Then called he Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces which were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest,
8. Et vocavit Joannem filium Kareah et omnes duces copiarum, qui cum eo erant, et totum populum a parvo usque ad magnum,
9. And said unto them, Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto whom ye sent me to present your supplication before him;
9. Et dixit illis, Sic dicit Jehova, Deus Israel, ad quem misistis me (ad verbum, ad quem misistis me ad ipsum,) ut prosternerem preca-tionem vestram coram facie ejus, —
10. If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you.
10. Si habitando habitaveritis in terra hac, tunc, aedificabo vos, et non diruam, et plantabo vos et non evellam; quia poenitet me mali quod intuli vobis (vel, satiatus sum malo.)
Here Jeremiah declares what answer he received from God; and he gave it in his name to the leaders of the forces and to the whole people. The answer was, that they were to continue in the land; for this would be for their good. We shall hereafter see, that they had falsely asked counsel of God, whom they had resolved not to obey, as it has been already stated. But the Prophet shews again more clearly how perversely they acted after God had commanded them to remain quiet, and especially not to proceed to Egypt.
Now he says, that at the tenth day God answered him. He might have done so immediately, but he deferred, that the prophecy might have more weight. Had the Prophet been asked any question respecting the common rule of life, as a faithful expounder of the Law, he might have explained to them what their duty was; but as he had been asked on a special subject, he could not have immediately answered them. And God, as I have said, kept them for a time in suspense; not only that the Prophet’s answer might be made without ostentation, but also that. the people might embrace as coming from God what the Prophet would say; for his doctrine could not have been doubted, for he did not instantly bring forth what had arisen in his own head, but prayerfully waited to know what pleased God, and at length announced his commands. We now then perceive the cause of delay, why God did not immediately convey to his servant the answer required.
Let us at the same time learn from this passage, that if God does not immediately extricate us from all perplexity and doubt, we ought patiently to wait, according to the direction of Paul, who, when speaking of doctrine, admonished the faithful to remain contented until what they knew not should be revealed to them. (Php 3:15.) Much more should we do so, when we ask counsel as to any particular thing. When God does not immediately make known to us what we ask, we ought, as I have already said, to wait with calm and resigned minds for the time and the season when it shall be made known to us.
Jeremiah says, that he called John and the other leaders of the forces and all the people, from the least to the greatest This is expressed that we may know that it happened, not through the fault of one or two, that this prophecy was disregarded, but that all the people were united together. The people themselves, then, could not have pretended that they were free from blame; for we see that they were all implicated. The leaders are particularly mentioned, and on the other hand the people, so that the leaders could not object and say that they were forced by a popular tumult, nor could the people throw the blame on the leaders. The Prophet then shews that they all rebelled against God, and that there was no exception.
He then says that he faithfully related to them what God had commanded, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me By this circumstance he shews that they were more bound to obey; for if God had sent his Prophet to them,’ they ought to have obeyed his voice; but when they of their own accord came to him and prayed for a favor, and wished God’s will to be made known to them, they became doubly culpable when they refused the answer given them in God’s name. And he adds, That I might prostrate, or make to fall, your prayer before God We have stated what is meant by this mode of speaking; but there is a difference to be noticed, for he had been requested sup-pliantly to ask God; and he says here that he had not only prayed, but had presented the prayer of the whole people, because he acted for the public; and then he was a middle person between God and the people. On this account he says, that he had been seat to present the prayer of the people to God, for he asked nothing for himself, but acted for them all, and asked God to answer the people.
He now adds, If remaining ye will remain in this land, I will build you up and plant you, I will not pull you down nor root you up Here the Prophet testifies that the counsel he gave them in God’s name would be for their good; and what is good or useful is deemed by men, when they theorize, as they say, to be of great value. The simple authority of God ought, indeed, to be sufficient; and had God only commanded them in one word to remain, they ought to have acquiesced. But God here accommodated himself to their infirmity, and was pleased, in a manner, to let himself down in order to promote their well being, and did not require obedience according to his authority and sovereign power, as he might have justly done. We hence see how kindly God dealt with this people, as he did not demand what he might, but gave his counsel, and testified that it would be good and useful to them.
Now when orators adduce what is useful in order to persuade, they have recourse to conjectures, they state human reasons; but the Prophet here promised in God’s name, that that if they remained it would be for their good. God’s promise, then, is brought forward here instead of conjectures and reasons. Therefore the obstinacy of the people was without excuse, when they rejected the authority of God; and then despised his counsel, and also disbelieved his promise. Then to the contempt of God was added unbelief: and we know that no greater reproach can be offered to God than when men do not believe him.
The metaphors here used occur often in Scripture. God is said to build up men when he confirms them in a settled state; and in the same sense he is said to plant them. This we have already seen, and it is especially evident from Ps 44:2, where God is said to have “planted” in the land of Canaan the people he had brought out of Egypt. He then promised that the condition of the people would be secure, and safe, and perpetual, if only they did not change their place. When he adds, I will not pull down nor pluck up, he: follows what is done commonly in Hebrew. Neither the Latins nor the Greeks speak in this manner; but negatives of this kind in Hebrew are confirmations, as though the Prophet had said, “God will so plant you that your root will remain. There will then be no danger of being plucked up when you have been planted by God’s hand; nor will he suffer you to be subverted or pulled down when he has built you up by his own hand.” What then they ought to have especially sought, God freely promised them, even to be safe and secure in the land; for this especially was what the Prophet meant.
It afterwards follows, For I repent of the evil which I have brought on you. The verb נחם, nuchem, sometimes means to repent, and often to comfort; but the former sense comports better with this passage, that God repented of the evil. If, however, we prefer this rendering, “For I have received comfort,” then the meaning would be, “I am satisfied with the punishment with which I have visited your sins;” for they to whom satisfaction is given are said to receive comfort. As then God was content with the punishment he had inflicted on the Jews, the words may be rendered thus, “For I have received satisfaction from the evil,” or, “I am satisfied with the evil,” etc. The other meaning, however, is more generally taken, that God repented of the evil. 128 But this mode of speaking is, indeed, somewhat harsh, yet it contains nothing contrary to the truth; for we know that God often transfers to himself what peculiarly belongs to man. Then repentance in God is nothing else than that having been pacified, he does not pursue men to an extremity, so as to demand the punishment which they justly deserve. Thus, then, God repented of the evil which he had brought on the people, after having sufficiently chastised their sins, according to what we read in Isaiah, when God says, that he had exacted double for their sins. (Isa 40:2.) He called the punishment he had inflicted double, not that it exceeded a just measure, but he spoke according to his paternal feeling, that he had treated his people in a harder way than he wished, as a father, who is even displeased with himself when he has been very severe towards his children.
We now, then, perceive what is meant by the reason here given, that the Jews were not to fear if they dwelt in the land, because God had sufficiently chastised them, and that he was so pacified that he would not further pursue them with severity. Jeremiah at the same time reminds us, that whatever evils happen to us, they ought to be ascribed to God’s judgment, and not to adverse fortune. We hence see that by these words the people were exhorted to repent; for as they were bidden to entertain good hope, because their safety was in God’s hand, so also the Prophet shews that as to the time past they had suffered nothing by chance, but that they had been punished because they had provoked God’s wrath. It follows, —
11. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.
11. Ne timearis a facie regis Babylonis, quem vos timetis a facie ejus (hoc est, a cujus facie vos timetis) ne timeatis ab ipso, dicit Jehova; quia vobiscum ego sum ad servandum vos, et ad eripiendum vos e manu ejus;
12. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land.
12. Et dabo vobis misericordias, et miserabitur vestri et habitare faciet in terra vestra.
The Prophet obviates the doubt which might have grieved or agitated the minds of the people. They ought, indeed, to have recumbed on God’s promise alone; but it was difficult to be without doubts in a state of things so uncertain and confused; for the king of Babylon, as it has been stated, was grievously offended when the governor of the land was slain. The king had received wrong from the people, and the heat of war since the late victory had not cooled. They then justly feared, being conscious of the evil that had been done; and then they had to do with a proud and cruel enemy. God therefore removed from them this doubt; and thus he confirmed the paternal care which he had shewn towards them by kindly freeing them from every fear, and taking away every ground of terror.
Though Nebuchadnezzar had been offended, and might avenge the wrong done to him, yet God promised to prevent this, and declared that he would not suffer him to do any evil to the Jews. “Ye fear,” he says, “Nebuchadnezzar, but cease to do so; let this fear be dismissed, for he will not hurt you.” And the reason is added, Because I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand Here he bade the Jews to entertain good hope, because, while relying on his protection they would be safe: for there is no more any reason for doubting, when God declares that he will stand on our side. For if he is ours, we may be confident, as David was, when he said,
“I will not fear what man may do to me; for thou, God,”
he says, “art with me;”
“I will not fear though hosts surrounded me oft every side.”
(Ps 23:4; Ps 27:3)
We ought then to feel wholly assured, that the help of God is above that of all creatures. Thus were the whole world to rise up against us, we might as from a secure and safe place look down with indifference on all attempts, forces, and preparations. This is then the sum of what is here said; and it is according to what Christ says,
“My Father, who has given you to me, is greater than all.”
Had there then been a grain of faith in the Jews, they would have laid hold on this promise; and then had they tenaciously held it, as though it were a plank in a shipwreck, it would have led them safe to the harbor. It ought then to be sufficient to shake off all cares, to drive away all fears, and to put to flight every diffidence, when God promises to stand on our side. I am, he says, with you to save you, and he adds, to deliver you He expresses the way and manner of saving them; for they might still have objected and said, “What will be this salvation? for Nebuchadnezzar is like a furious lion; how then can we be saved, since we cannot think otherwise than that he will be enraged against us?” To this God answers, by pointing out the manner, for he would deliver them from his hand.
He confirms the same thing in other words, I will shew mercies to you Some explain this as meaning, that God would be merciful towards them; and I allow that this is the first reason why they ought to have entertained hope; but I doubt not but that the Prophet refers here to Nebuchadnezzar, as though he had said, “I will turn the heart of the king of Babylon to mercy, so that he will deal mercifully with you.” For God is said to shew mercies, when he forgives, and when he reconciles those who have sinned to himself; but he is said also to shew mercies, when he inclines the hearts of men to mercy. For this reason Jacob says,
“God will shew you mercies before the man.”
But I abstain from other proofs on a point which ought to be well known.
The sum of what is said then is, that Nebuchadnezzar would be humane and merciful towards the Jews, because it was in God’s power to change his heart. For we know that God turns as he pleases the hearts of men; and he often changes wolves into sheep. The meaning then is, that though Nebuchadnezzar boiled with hatred towards the people, and was prepared wholly to destroy the remnant, there yet would be a remedy in God’s hand, for he could soften his hardness, pacify his wrath, and from a savage wild beast make him a father, merciful, as it were, towards his children.
Now this passage teaches us, that the hearts and purposes of men are governed by a power from above, so that enemies, even the worst, while they rage against us, are moved not only by their own feelings, but also by the hidden working of God, and according to his counsel, as he would have them thus to try our faith. For if God moderates those who boil with anger and wrath, and renders them placable to us; so also he lets loose the reins to those who rage against us, and not only so, but he also stirs them up, when his purpose is to punish us for our sins, according to the doctrine taught us everywhere in Scripture. So in Psalm 106, it is said that God turned the hearts of the heathens to hate his people. But here, on the other hand, God promises, that Nebuchadnezzar would be kind and humane, so as to spare the Jews, because he would control his heart, and shew them mercy by inclining the king to forgive the people.
This then ought to be carefully noticed; for when we see ourselves surrounded on every side by the ungodly whom Satan drives to madness, so that they seek no other thing than to tread us under their feet, especially when they have the power to destroy us, except we feel fully assured, that their hearts, feelings, and all their thoughts are in God’s hands, we must necessarily be wholly disheartened. Hence to mitigate all our fears, it avails us much to hear that men’s hearts are turned and ruled according to the will of God. It now follows, —
13. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God,
13. Quod si dixeritis vos, Non habitabimus in terra hac, non obediendo voci Jehovae Dei vestri;
14. Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell:
14. Dicendo, Non, quia (vel, sed) in terram Aegypti ibimus (nam יכ potest adversative capi,) ubi non videbimus proelium, et vocem tubae non audiemus, et ad panem non esuriemus, et habitabimus illic:
15. And now therefore hear the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there;
15. Nunc propterea audite sermonem Jehovae, residuum Jehudah, quia sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Si vos ponendo posueritis facies vestras ad ingrediendum Aegyptum (ut ingrediamini in Aegyptum,) et ingressi fueritis illic ad peregrinandum;
16. Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die.
16. Erit (accidet) ut gladius quem vos timetis ab eo (hoc est, a quo metuitis) illic apprehendat vos (vel, occurrat vobis illic, nempe) in terra Aegypti, et fames a qua extimescitis (hoc est, propter quam estis anxii, (vel, quam expaveseitis, nam גאד utrunque significat) illic apprehendet vos (vel, adhaerebit vobis, sed ad verbum, apprehendet post vos, vel, persequetur vos, nempe) in terra Aegypti, et illic moriemini.
17. So shall it be with all the men that set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there; they shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: and none of them shall remain or escape from the evil that I will bring upon them.
17. Et erunt omnes viri qui posuerint facies suas ut veniant in Aegyptum ad peregrinandum illuc morientur gladio, fame et peste, et non erit illis superstes aut evasor (id est, qui evadat) a facie mali quod ego adduco super eos.
God having promised, that the counsel he gave to the Jews would be good and safe, now, on the other hand, threatens them, that if they disobeyed, everything they would attempt would end miserably. They had not expressly asked whether it would be for their good to go into Egypt, or whether it would be pleasing to God; but God, who penetrates into all hidden purposes, anticipated them, and declared that their going would be unhappy, if they fled into Egypt. We hence see how the Prophet, or rather God himself, who spoke by his servant, tried by all means to keep them in the way of duty.
He then says, If ye say, We shall not dwell in this land, it shall be ill with you, he says: but before he denounced punishment, he shewed that they deserved to be destroyed, if they went to Egypt; for had the thing been in itself lawful, yet to attempt such a thing against the express will of God was, as we know, an impious and a diabolical presumption and rashness. God had forbidden them specifically in his Law ever to set their hearts on Egypt, (De 17:16;) and he had often confirmed the same thing by his Prophets, (Isa 30:2; Isa 31:1;) and now again he seals the former prophecies, as he expressly forbids them to go to Egypt. The Prophet then sets this crime before their eyes: “If ye flee into Egypt, what is it that compels you? even because ye will not obey God.” There is then great weight in these words, Nor obey the voice of Jehovah your God; as though he had said, that they could not think of Egypt, except they designedly, as it were, rejected the authority of God, and resisted his counsel.
He adds, Saying, No; for we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war, etc. here the Prophet discovers the very fountain of rebellion, namely, that they paid no regard to God’s favor. They were indeed exposed to many dangers in their own land, which produced fear and trembling, and its desolation also might have filled them with horror and weariness; but as God had declared that their safety would be cared for by him, how great and how base an ingratitude it was to deem as nothing that aid which he had freely promised! The Prophet then, in condemning their disobedience, shews at the same time the cause of it, even that unbelief led them away from rendering obedience to God. If, then, ye say, No, — this word was a proof of their obstinacy; but he adds, We shall go into Egypt, where we shall not see war, where we shall not hear the sound of the trumpet, as though, indeed, the promise of God were false or void. But the Prophet here discovers their hidden impiety, that they did not recumb on God’s promise. They promised then to themselves a peaceable life in Egypt. Was it in their power to effect this? and God, what could he do? he had declared that they would be safe and secure in the land of Canaan. It was to charge God with falsehood, to hope for rest in Egypt, and to imagine nothing but disturbances in the land where God bade them to remain in quietness.
We now then see why he says, We shall go into Egypt, where we shall not see war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor hunger for bread They promised to themselves an abundance of all blessings, for the land of Egypt was fruitful. But could not God afflict them with want? The Egyptians, we know, had also been sometimes visited with famine. We hence see why God so much condemned the design of the people as to their going into Egypt; for they entertained vain hopes, and at the same time charged God indirectly with falsehood.
He adds, Hear the word of Jehovah, ye remnant of Judah Jeremiah, by thus addressing them, no doubt endeavored to lead them to obedience. We indeed know that men in prosperity are in a manner inebriated, so that they are not easily induced to obey sound counsels. For whence comes it that kings and princes of the world indulge themselves so much, and allow such license to their lusts? even because the splendor of their fortune inebriates them. So also private men, when all things succeed according to their wishes, they lodge in their own dregs; hence it is that they are difficult to be ruled. The Prophet, on the other hand, shews that there is no reason for them to be proud. Ye are, he says, a small number, and God has wonderfully saved you. Hear, then, ye remnant of Judah In short, they are reminded of their humble and miserable condition, that they might be more teachable. But this also was done without any fruit, as we shall hereafter see.
This saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel Of these words we have spoken elsewhere. God is often called the God of hosts on account of his power: so by this term God sets forth his own greatness. Afterwards when he is said to be the God of Israel, we know that the benefit of adoption was thus brought to the recollection of the people; for God had them especially as his people, and bound them as it were to himself. This ought then to have been a most holy bond of faithfulness and obedience. It was not, then, by way of honor that the Prophet thus spoke, but in order to reprove the Israelites for their hardness and ingratitude towards God. If, he adds, ye set your faces to go into Egypt, and ye enter in there to sojourn, it shall be that the sword which ye fear shall meet you, etc. Here is their punishment described, and there is nothing obscure in the words. God shows that they were greatly deceived, if they thought that they would be prosperous in Egypt; for no prosperity can be hoped except through the favor and blessing of God; and God pronounced a curse on all their perverse counsels when he saw that they would not be restrained by his word. If, then, we attempt anything contrary to the prohibition of God, it must necessarily end unsuccessfully; and why? because the cause of all prosperity is the favor of God, and so his curse always renders all issues sad and unhappy: and however prosperous at first may be what we undertake against God’s will, yet the end will be wretched and miserable, according to what the Prophet teaches here.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not once only shown to us the way and the end to which we ought to proceed, but art pleased daily to stretch forth thy hand to us, and dost by thy constant exhortations invite and stimulate us to go onward, — O grant, that we may attend to thy voice, and so renounce all the corrupt desires and lusts of our flesh, that nothing may hinder us wholly to submit to thee, and so to follow whithersoever thou mayest call us, that we may at length come to that blessed rest, which thou hast prepared for us in heaven through Christ our Lord — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-Eighth
18. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; As mine anger and my fury hath been poured forth upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so shall my fury be poured forth upon you, when ye shall enter into Egypt: and ye shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach; and ye shall see this place no more.
18. Quoniam sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Sicuti fusa est iracundia mea et excandescentia mea super habitatores Jerusalem, sic fundetur excandescentia mea super vos cum veneritis in Aegyptum; et eritis in execrationem et in stuporem et in maledictum et in probrum; et non videbitis amplius locum hunc.
The Prophet confirms what he had already said, by an example of God’s vengeance, which had lately been shewn as to the Jews; for though the destruction of the city and the Temple had been often predicted to them, they yet had become torpid as to God’s threatenings. God, however, after having delayed for a long time, at length executed what he had threatened. They had titan seen that dreadful example, which ought to have filled them, and also their posterity, with fear. Then the Prophet, as he saw that they were so tardy and stupid that they thoughtlessly derided God’s threat-enings, reminded them of what they had lately seen. “Ye know,” he says, “how God’s fury had been poured forth on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, such also will be poured forth on those who will flee into Egypt.”
Now Jeremiah was able to speak with authority, as he had been the herald of that vengeance now mentioned. If any other had declared in God’s name what had happened, they might have objected and said, that they had indeed been justly punished by God, but that it did not hence follow flint what he said was true; but as the Prophet had for forty years often and constantly denounced on them what at length they had really and by experience found to have been predicted to them from above, he was able to repeat a similar judgment of God with the highest authority, as he now does.
Thus saith Jehovah, he says, as my fury was poured forth, etc. The similitude is taken either from water or from metals: hence some give this rendering, “As my fury flowed down;” but the verb used by Jeremiah means properly to pour forth. It may, however, as I have said, be applied to water, which spreads when poured out, or to metals, which being liquid spread here and there. He then means, that all who should go to Egypt would be wretched and miserable; for wheresoever they might try to withdraw themselves, the vengeance of God would yet find them though exiles, for it would spread like a deluge over all the inhabitants, so that they would in vain seek hiding-places. We now see the design of the Prophet. The meaning is, that as the Jews had by their calamity known him to have been a true and faithful servant of God in foretelling the destruction of the city and Temple, so would they find now, except they repented, that the message by which he threatened a second destruction, had come also from God. Poured forth, he says, shall be mine indignation on you when ye come into Egypt
He afterwards adds a passage from the Law, which often occurs in the Prophets, that they would be an execration, an astonishment, a curse, and a reproach The word אלה, ale, which we have rendered “execration,” means properly an oath; but as imprecation is often added, when we wish to be believed, it is also understood as an execration. He then says that they would be an execration, that is, a formula of execration, as we have elsewhere explained. Whosoever then had a wish to express a curse, they would, as the Prophet says, use this form as a common proverb, “May God curse thee as he did the Jews,” — “May I perish as the Jews perished.” In short, he intimates that the punishment would be so horrible that men would turn it to a common proverb, he adds, And an astonishment, that is, that God’s vengeance would be so dreadful, that all would be filled with amazement. He further adds, And a curse and a reproach The sum of what is said is, that God would inflict on the Jews not a common punishment, but such as would be remembered among all the heathens, in order that it might appear that their wickedness in obstinately rejecting the prophetic word was not light.
He lastly adds that they should never see their own land; for it was not the design of the Jews to dwell perpetually in Egypt; for they pretended that they remained firm and constant in their dependence on God’s promise, and boasted that they had a hope of a return, because God had fixed seventy years for their exile. As they then thus foolishly gloried, that they hoped in God for the promised favor, he says that they were shut out as to any hope of a return; for though God would restore the other captives dispersed throughout the East, yet the Egyptian guests were doomed to die in their exile. This then was to cut off from them every hope, in order that they might know that they were wholly rejected, and would have a place no more among- God’s people, however they might wish to be deemed the first. It follows, —
19. The LORD hath said concerning you, O ye remnant of Judah; Go ye not into Egypt: know certainly that I have admonished you this day.
19. Loquutus est Jehova contra vos, reliquiae Jehudah, Ne eatis in Aegyptum; sciendo sciatis quod contestatus fuerim vos hodie:
20. For ye dissembled in your hearts, when ye sent me unto the LORD your God, saying, Pray for us unto the LORD our God; and according unto all that the LORD our God shall say, so declare unto us, and we will do it.
20. Quoniam fefellistis animus vestras (aut, fallaces fuistis in animabus vestris) quando misistis me ad Jehovam Deum vestrum, dicendo, Ora pro nobis Jehovam Deum nostrum; et secundum omnia quae locutus Jehova Deus noster fuerit, sic annuntia nobis et faciemus.
21 And now I have this day declared it to you; but ye have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God, nor any thing for the which he hath sent me unto you.
21. Ego autem annuntiavi vobis hodie, et non audivistis vocem Jehovae Dei vestri, et secundum omnia propter quae misit me ad vos.
Here the Prophet explains more fully their sin; for their punishment might have appeared extreme, had not their impiety been more clearly unfolded. He then says that this punishment ought not to be regarded as too rigid, because God had not once only protested against the Jews and admonished them in a solemn manner and before witnesses; but they to the last not, only despised his counsel and warnings, but proudly rejected them. And he adds, that they dealt falsely and perfidiously with God, because they pretended that they would be obedient as soon as the will of God was known; but they shewed that in reality they had no such purpose; for their own vanity and deceit took full possession of them when the Prophet answered them in God’s name; nor had they a desire to obey God.
Let us now consider the words: Jehovah hath spoken against you, the remnant of Judah He again calls them a remnant, in order that they might remember that they had no reason any more to be proud. We know how the Jews while in prosperity disregarded the Prophets; for they were inebriated with their good fortune. But God had dissipated this pride, with which they were previously filled. The Prophet had also set before them the favor through which they had been liberated, that they might learn hereafter to submit to God and his word. For this reason then he called them a remnant, even to render them more attentive and teachable. But it was done without any benefit; for though their affairs were nearly hopeless, and they were reduced almost to nothing, yet they had not laid aside their high spirits. They were then still swollen with false confidence. But this warning, however, availed to render them more inexcusable.
If ye enter into Egypt, he says, knowing know ye, or, knowing ye shall know. The verb is in the future tense, though it may be taken as an imperative. But the future tense is the most suitable, knowing ye shall know, that is, the event itself will teach you, but too late, as the foolish are never wise till after the evil has taken place. Knowing ye shall know that I have protested against you this day. God says that he had left nothing undone to bring the Jews to a right mind; for a protest is usually made in a solemn manner, witnesses being called in, so that no one can plead that. he has gone astray through ignorance. To take away then every ground of excuse, witnesses were wont to be called. Hence God speaks according to the common practice and in a forensic sense, and says that he had protested against the Jews, lest they should by chance offend through want of knowledge. It then follows, that they knowingly perished, as though they had sought their own destruction.
He now adds another circumstance, that they had sent him under the pretense of rare piety, as though they were in every way ready to render obedience to God. But he first says that they had deceived themselves, or had been deceived. The verb תעה, toe, from which the Hithpael comes, means to err or go astray. But interpreters do not agree; for some give this explanation, that they deceived the Prophet in their hearts, that is, that they craftily retained their perverse design of going to Egypt, and at the same time professed that they were ready to obey. But as the Prophet’s name is not mentioned here, this explanation seems unnatural. I therefore prefer the other explanation, that they deceived themselves; and ב, beth, is here redundant, as in many places: Ye deceived, then, your own souls, when ye sent me, he says, to Jehovah The Prophet intimates that when they sought to act craftily they were deceived; for God is wont to discover the astute, and when they devise this or that, they only weave snares and toils for themselves; and we see that craftiness ever brings the ungodly to ruin. The Prophet, according to this sense, derides that perverse affectation of astuteness, when the ungodly seek to deceive God; and he says that they deceived themselves, as we see also daily. Then he says that they themselves had been the authors of the evil, for they had brought themselves to ruin by their astute and crafty counsel, when they sent him to Jehovah. The כי, ki, is to be taken here as an adverb of time, When ye sent me to Jehovah your God, saying, Pray for us. 129
He reproves them not only for perfidy, but also for sacrilege, because they wickedly profaned the name of God. For it. was not to be endured that they should pretend a regard for religion, and testify that they would be obedient to God, and should at the same time cherish in their hearts that perverse intention which afterwards they discovered. And hence he not only relates that he had been sent, but that he had also been solicited to intercede for them. It was then a twofold sacrilege, for they had asked what would please God, and afterwards disregarded the prophecy, — and then they offered a prayer, and when God gave them an answer by his servant., they counted it as nothing! We now perceive why Jeremiah so expressly mentioned these two things.
Pray for us to our God, and according to all which Jehovah our God shall say, relate thou to us: the people seemed to act with wonderful sincerity; they exhorted the Prophet to dissemble nothing, to add nothing and to diminish nothing’. What better can be wished than that men should lay aside all ambiguity and all evasions, and not wish God’s words to be corrupted? And this the Jews expressed in high terms, Whatever Jehovah our God shall answer, declare thou to us Here they seemed to have more zeal than Jeremiah himself; for they enjoined a law, that he should add nothing and diminish nothing, but that he should be a faithful interpreter of God’s will. They seemed then to be half-angels. They afterwards testified that they would do whatever God should command them.
He at length adds, And I have this day declared it to you Here he sets forth his own fidelity, not for the sake of boasting, but that their impiety might be reproved, who at length despised the oracle of God, which they had boasted that they would obey. Ye have not hearkened, he says, to the voice of Jehovah your God, and according to all the things on account of which he hath sent me to you. The Prophet again confirms the truth, that it was their own fault that the Jews did not follow what was right, and also what was for their good, for he had faithfully delivered to them what God had commanded. He now adds, —
22. Now therefore know certainly that ye shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, in the place whither ye desire to go and to sojourn.
22. Et nunc sciendo scitote (hic תדעו imperative sumendum est sine controversia) quod gladio et fame et peste moriemini in loco ad quem appetitis ire, ad peregrinandum illic.
The Prophet at length concludes his discourse, after having mentioned the reasons why God would deal so severely with them, even because their perfidy, impiety, ingratitude, and obstinate contempt were unsufferable. After having then shewn that they had no reason to expostulate as though God were extremely rigid, he at length declares what end awaited them, even that they should die by the sword, famine, or pestilence, that is, that there would be no hope of safety to them, because if they escaped from the sword, they should be beset with famine, and if they evaded the famine, they should be destroyed by pestilence. It is a common mode of speaking with the Prophets, as it is well known, that when they intimate that the ungodly in vain hope for impunity, they represent God as having at his command all kinds of punishment.
Ye shall then, he says, die in that place which ye seek for your sojourn, he again shews the object of the people, for they did not intend to dwell perpetually in Egypt, but only for a time, until there was liberty to return to their own country. In short, they wished to be restored, as it were, against God’s will; and yet they ceased not falsely to put forward the name of God, as hypocrites, who mock God, always do. Now follows, —
Our version is, “to whom we send thee,” and correctly too: literally it is, “whom we send thee to him,” an idiom common in Hebrew and also in Welsh, “yr hwn y danfonwn di atto.” The Vulg. is, “to whom we send thee;” and so in the Syriac. and Targum., but the Septuagint tried to imitate the Hebrew, and there is no sense given. — Ed.
The phrase often occurs, and has ever this meaning; and it is the meaning here, no doubt, though the Sept. and the Vulg. adopt the other sense. The versions often give different senses to the same phrases, which render them unsafe guides. — Ed.
All the versions and the Targum differ as to the construction of these two verses, the 19th and the 20th, and modern authors too. I offer the following rendering, —
19. The word of Jehovah to you, the remnant of Judah, is this, Enter not into Egypt; knowing, know (or, surely know,) that I make this pro-
20. test to you this day. Verily, ye do go greatly astray against your own selves; for ye sent me to Jehovah your God, etc., etc.
The first clause is according to the Vulg. The express message was, not to enter into Egypt. What they were to know and remember was the protest he made to them. Then in verse 20th, he charges them with inconsistency, that they went astray from their own professions, and afterwards he specifies what they had promised. There is, according to this view, a consistency in the whole passage. The word soul is often taken for the person: “against your own selves,” is literally “against your own souls.” The meaning of the phrase is, that they belied themselves, as it is evident from what follows. The past tense in Hebrew may often be rendered by the present, as it refers to time up to the present and including the present. The future also in Hebrew may be rendered by the present, because it refers often to what is now and continues to be. — Ed.