Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-Fourth
1. The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,
1. Sermo quem loquutus est Jeremias Propheta ad Baruch filium Neriae cum scriberet sermones istos in libro ex ore Jeremiae anno quarto Joiakim filii Josiae regis Jehudah, dicendo,
2. Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch;
2. Sic dicit Jehova, Deus Israel ad to (vel, de to) Baruch,
3. Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I found no rest.
3. Dixisti, Vae nunc mihi, quia addidit Jehova moerorem super dolorem meum, laboravi (vel, defessus sum) in gemitu meo et requiem non inveni:
4. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land.
4. Sic dices ad eum, Sic dicit Jehova, Ecce quae aedificavi ego diruo, et quae plantavi evello, nempe totam terram hanc;
5. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
5. Et tu quaeres tibi magnifica? Ne quaesieris; quia ego adducam malum super universam carnem, dicit Jehova; et dabo tibi animam tuam in spolium omnibus locis quocunque tu veneris.
We have said that prophetic books were not written by their authors in the order in which they are now read. But when a Prophet had preached, and committed to writing a summary of his doctrine, he fixed it to the doors of the Temple. And there were scribes who collected the summaries, and the volumes now extant were made from these. I now repeat the same thing, because some one may wonder that the order of time was not observed by Jeremiah: for hereafter he will prophesy of heathen nations; and it is certain, that these prophecies were announced, in part, before the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, some during his reign, and some in the time of Zedekiah. But the reason I have stated ought to be borne in mind, that this book we have now in our hands was not written by Jeremiah himself, but that it contains collected summaries, afterwards formed into one volume.
Here is told us a special prophecy concerning Baruch, who, as we know, was the Prophet’s scribe, and not only his scribe or amanuensis, but also his disciple. And here Jeremiah relates, that he was gravely and severely reproved, because he shewed not a mind sufficiently firm, when the book mentioned in chapter thirty-six was to be written. Some think that there was a just reason for his grief, because Jeremiah declared that the ruin of the city and the people was nigh at hand. They then think that Baruch was anxious, nay, oppressed with sorrow when he heard that so dreadful a judgment of God was near; for there is no doubt but that he regarded his country with becoming devotion, and that he was solicitous concerning the worship of God, and for the safety of the people whom God had chosen out of all nations, and adopted. But as we shall hereafter see, he looked rather to himself, and was led to grief and sorrow on his own account; and for this he was severely reproved by the Prophet. Others bring forward an explanation by no means satisfactory, that he coveted the gift of prophecy, when he saw that Jeremiah pronounced, as from on high, words so weighty, and was the instrument of the Holy Spirit, as though he exercised a celestial judgment. They hence think that Baruch was stimulated by a vain desire for the prophetic office, and that he was reproved because he assumed more than what was right. But this fiction, as I have already said, has nothing to support it.
I do not doubt, therefore, but that he apprehended danger to himself, because the message which the Prophet had committed to him was greatly disliked. For we see in the chapter to which I have referred, that the Prophet did not go to the king, but dictated the contents of the book, and gave it to Baruch. When, therefore, he saw that he could not discharge his duty without danger, he began to complain and to murmur; and it was on this account that the Prophet, by God’s command, reproved his weakness. The meaning then is, that Baruch, as he feared for his life, was affected with too much grief, so that he wished to be freed from all trouble, and that God was offended with this extreme fear, and gave a command to his Prophet to reprove Baruch, as he deserved. Let us now come to the words.
The word which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah. We must notice, that the holy man did not spare his own disciple, whom yet he no doubt loved; for he had employed him, and Baruch had acted faithfully, not only as his scribe, but also as his fellow-helper. As then Jeremiah had proved the fidelity, care, and diligence of Baruch in many things, he wished, no doubt, to treat him with kindness; but as God would have this fault in Baruch to be corrected, the Prophet performed this duty that belonged to his office. We hence see that he forgot flesh and blood, when he had to do his work for God. The circumstance as to time is added: and hence we may infer what I have already stated, that Baruch, when in danger of his life, was anxious, and complained of his own case, as though God had laid on him a burden too heavy and hard to be borne; for the Prophet says that he received this command when Baruch wrote the words in the book, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.
We have briefly related how this happened; but it must be added, that Baruch did not fear without reason, because the king was already displeased with Jeremiah. He was not indeed altogether cruel, but he had bad counselors, who were like fans, ready to kindle up his rage; and the issue proved, that this fear was not without cause; for the king took a penknife and cut the book in pieces, and then threw it into the fire: and if Jeremiah could then have been found, no doubt all would have been over with him, as to his life. But Baruch had been warned by kind men to conceal himself together with the Prophet. We hence see that Baruch was frightened, because his message was so disagreeable, and calculated to drive the king to extremities, as it happened. At the same time, he was too much given to care for himself, for he ought to have presented his life as a sacrifice to God. For all who are called to such an office, are in duty bound to undergo all dangers with courage, so as to disregard life when necessary, or at least to commit it to the care of God; and when they see dangers nigh, they ought still to proceed in the course of their office. Though, then, Baruch wished faithfully to serve God, yet in the conflict he was overcome by temptation, so that he was more anxious for his life than animated to proceed in his course. It is to this that the time mentioned by the Prophet refers, when he says, that Baruch was reproved when he wrote the words in a book
The prophecy is afterwards more clearly expressed, Thus saith Jehovah of Baruch. The Prophet sets on him and accosts him, in order that he might fill his mind with holy fear, in order to correct that sinful fear, by which he was impeded in strenuously serving God. Thou hast said, the cause of the reproof is expressed — thou hast said, Wo is to me now! for Jehovah has added sorrow to my grief Barnch no doubt wished to withdraw from his office, as is the case with those who are too much pressed, when they find that they are unequal to their task; they seek hiding-places and become runagates. Such, then, was the feeling of Baruch when he said, Wo is to me now! It was highly honorable to be a scribe to a Prophet, for it was the same thing as though he received words from the mouth of an angel. It was then unworthy and disgraceful for the holy servant of God to complain of his own misery, when yet it was an evidence of singular favor, that God had been pleased to choose him for such an office. Here then the ingratitude of Baruch is condemned, when he exclaimed that he was miserable, while yet he ought to have deemed it a singular happiness, that God had called him to that work.
He says, Jehovah has added sorrow to my grief Here the ingratitude of Baruch breaks out still more; for he ex-postulated with God, as though he had said, that he was not kindly treated. And there is an implied reproach in this complaint; for it is the same thing as though he called in question God’s justice, and charged him with too much severity. At the same time he complains that there was no end, as though he had said, that he had already suffered too much, and that God was not acting kindly with him, because he added evils to evils, Jehovah, he says, has added sorrow to my grief. It seems that יגון, igun, is more than מכאב, mecab, for Baruch intimates that he had already suffered grief there being an occasion for it; but that now an addition of sorrow or mourning was made to so many griefs.
We hence conclude, that Baruch did not shrink immediately at the first conflict, as slothful men do; but that he vacillated in the middle of his course. And this ought to be carefully observed; for they who have once courageously performed their office, think themselves endued as with angelic fortitude. Hence it comes that they boldly disregard all dangers, because they believe themselves to be invincible. But we see that Baruch was for a time a strenuous and courageous servant of God; but when there appeared no end, he began to grow faint. Let us then learn constantly to flee to God and to seek of him a new increase of grace, so that he may sustain us by the power of his Spirit, and raise us up, when fallen, for otherwise we cannot but fall every moment, even when our career seems glorious; but let us learn, being mindful of our infirmities, to ask the Lord to hold us up and to stretch forth his hand to us every day. This is what we are to observe in the example of Baruch, when he says, that sorrow was added to his grief.
But he afterwards expresses the same thing more clearly; I have labored in my groaning, he says, and found no rest By these words also, he testifies that he had been exposed to various evils, that his troubles were not as yet alleviated, or that he was not freed from dangers, and that at length he succumbed, for no rest was given him. We hence see what I have already stated, that Baruch was not refractory immediately at starting, but that when he had already made progress, having completed a part of the race, he was overcome with trials and overwhelmed, before he reached the goal.
He afterwards adds, Thus shalt thou say to him, etc. Here the Prophet shews that he was not roused against Baruch through any private displeasure, but that he had only conveyed to him God’s message. Behold, what I have built I pull down, and what I have planted I root up. Here it is evident that the cause of the reproof was, that Baruch loved himself too much, and wished to evade dangers when God ordered him to engage in the conflict. Jeremiah sets forth what would be to the whole people. The comparison shews what I have stated, that Baruch, disregarding the public safety, was too cautious, and was thus timid and tender as to his own life. This is the reason why God mentions the whole people, as though he had said, “Dost thou wish to be deemed of more importance than the whole people? Is thy life of more value than the wellbeing of the whole community?” It was a disgrace to Baruch to prefer himself to the whole people, and even to the Temple and the worship of God. When, therefore, the severity of God was now ready to fall on the whole people, though Baruch might have endangered his life a hundred times, yet he ought not to have made so much account of his life. Then the Prophet shews here that Baruch was too delicate as to himself; and because he was blinded by the love of himself, he did not consider the public safety of the people, nor did he regard the Temple and the holy land.
These metaphors of building and planting often occur in Scripture, I shall not therefore dwell on them here. But we must observe, that though God be the creator of the whole world, yet the people of Israel were peculiarly his work, and also the land of Israel. For God had consecrated that land to himself that he might be served in it, and had adopted the people. Hence he often compares that people to a vineyard.
“O my vineyard, I have planted thee.”
(Jer. 2:21, Isa. 5:1.)
I will not multiply quotations, for in a thing so easy it would be a foolish ostentation to heap together many texts. God, then, had built his people, because they dwelt there as in their own habitations, and the land was called his rest He had also planted his people. We may remark, in short, that the building mentioned here and also the plantation, refer to those special favors which God had bestowed on that people. For though he had planted the whole world and all nations, yet the people of Israel was especially his planting, as it is said by Isaiah,
“The planting of the Lord is for glory,”
that is, this people had been planted, that God through them might manifest his own glory. (Isa 61:3)
Let us come now to what is here declared; he says, I pull down what I have built, I root up what I have planted; as though he had said, “I have hitherto adorned this people with singular endowments; for I chose them as a heritage to myself, it is a holy race, it is a priestly kingdom, I dwell in the midst of them, I have undertaken the care of defending them, I am their Father, they are to me not only as a son, but also as a first-born; and titan this land is holy, because I have set my name in it: I have therefore built and planted this people and this land; but now, he says, I am pulling down and rooting up.”
It afterwards follows, And seekest thou great things for thyself? We now see clear enough why he reproved Baruch, it was, because he was too careful as to himself, and too timid; and thus it was that he was impeded in his duty. He then says, And dost thou seek for thyself? The particle לך, lac, for thyself, is put here emphatically; for here God sets Baruch in the balance, and the whole people together, with the temple and divine worship. “Dost thou,” he says, “outweigh them? Is thy life of more value than the temple, the safety of the people, and all my gifts which so much excel?” It was then God’s purpose in this way to make Baruch ashamed of himself, because he preferred a frail life to so many things and so glorious. Dost thou, then, he says, seek great things, גדלות, gidalut, for thyself? that is, “Shall thy state be eminent while the temple is burnt with fire, while the land is laid waste, while most men perish, and the remnant are driven into exile and captivity? Art thou then alone to be deemed sacred? Art thou alone to be exempt from loss and trouble? See, is all this right?” Here then he made Baruch himself the judge.
But as Baruch might as yet flatter himself, he immediately restrains him; Seek not, he says, for we know how men from self-love seek their own indulgence. That Baruch then might not persist in his course, God puts a check on all his ambitious feelings; Seek not, he says. He afterwards adds a ground of consolation. Baruch has been thus far severely reproved, as he deserved, on account of his self-indulgence; but God now forgives him, and adds a comfort which might in part alleviate his sorrow; For behold, he says, I will bring evil on all flesh, and 1 will give thee thy life for a prey in all p1aces whither thou goest Here God frees Baruch from that distressing fear by which he had been debilitated, so as not to possess suitable firmness for his work. he then says, “Fear not, for thy life shall be safe to thee while all around thee are destroyed.” Baruch thought that he should perish while the people were safe and secure; but God declares that none of the people would be safe, and that he would be safely preserved while all the rest were perishing.
I will bring evil, he says, on all flesh He speaks indeed briefly, but Baruch must have well considered what he had received from the mouth of the Prophet, for he ought to have been fully persuaded as to the faithfulness and immutable purpose of God. God then assumes this fact, that ruin was nigh as to the whole people and other nations. He afterwards adds, Thy life will I give thee as a prey Of this kind of language we have before spoken. To give one his life for a prey was to deliver him as it were from instant death. As when all things are exposed to plunder, if one snatched this or that and escaped, he would have something saved; or as if one plucked anything from the burning, he would have it preserved; so when all things were thrown into such a confusion, that death would beset men on every side, he who could escape in safety would have his life as a prey when removed from all danger. Then God bids Baruch to be content with the benefit of being safe, while others, as I have said, were perishing. Now follows, —