Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The word of the LORD which came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Gentiles;
1. Qui fuit sermo Jehovae (ita ad verbum) ad Jeremiam Prophetam super cunctas Gentes:
2. Against Egypt, against the army of Pharaohnecho king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon smote in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah.
2. Quantum ad Aegyptum, contra exercitum Pharaonis Necho, regis Aegypti qui erat super flumen Euphratem in Charchamis, quem percussit Nabuchadnezer, rex Babylonis, anno quarto Jehoiakim, filii Josiae, regis Jehudah.
Jeremiah begins here to prophesy against foreign nations, and continues to do so to the last chapter but one, not that he then for the first time began to announce these oracles, but as I have already said, a volume was at length formed, including his prophecies, the order of time being not everywhere observed; for we see in the 25th chapter that he threatened heathen nations with the punishments they had deserved before Jehoiakim was made king. But as I have said, the prophecies respecting heathen nations have been separated, though as to time Jeremiah had predicted what afterwards happened.
He then says that he had prophesied of the destruction of the Egyptian army which King Nebuchadnezzar overthrew in the fourth year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah had then foretold before this time what was to be. It might have been that before Pharaoh-necho prepared his army, Jeremiah predicted what would take place; but it is probable that this prophecy was announced at the time when Pharaoh-necho went forth against the Chaldeans, for he was fighting then for the Assyrians. As they were not equal to the Chaldeans they made a treaty with the Egyptians. They then had come for a subsidy to drive away the Babylonians, and thus to defend the Assyrians against their forces. But at first the expedition met with success; yet at last what had been predicted by the Prophet was fulfilled.
It is not known whether or not the design was to alleviate the sorrow of the people by this prophecy; and yet I am disposed to receive what the greater part of interpreters have held, that as at that time the people were in the greatest trouble, this prophecy was given in order that the faithful might know that God had not ceased to care for his people. But we must especially attend to the truth of history, for when Pharaoh-necho was induced, as it has been said, by the Assyrians, to lead his army to the Euphrates, the pious king Josiah met him, and he was then a confederate with the Babylonians, because there had been a friendly intercourse between the Chaldeans and the Jews since the reign of Hezekiah. As then Josiah wished to render service to a king who was his friend, he opposed the army of Pharaoh; but he was conquered and slain. Now the expedition of Pharaoh was fortunate and successful for a time, but when he began to boast of victory he was suddenly cast down; for King Nebuchadnezzar not only checked his audacity, but having routed his army, compelled him to return into Egypt, and occupied the whole country from the Euphrates to Palusium. That country had not yet been exposed to those continual changes which afterwards happened, that is, when those robbers who had succeeded Alexander the Great boasted that they were the kings of kings, and when every one strove to draw all things to himself. For hence it happened that now Egyptian kings, and then Asiatic kings, often shook that land as far as they could. This had not yet happened when Jeremiah prophesied, nor had Alexander been yet born, but it yet appears that these regions were even then subject to changes, so that there was nothing fixed or permanent connected with them. We must then bear in mind that the events of wars were dubious, so that, one while, the Egyptians forcibly seized a portion of Asia, and at another time the Assyrians diminished their power, and again the Chaldeans. Pharaoh-necho was then so repulsed that he never dared again to come forth, as sacred history testifies in 2Ki 24:7.
Let us now come to the Prophecy of Jeremiah. He says that he prophesied against the army of Pharaoh-necho, when it was at Euphrates, that is when he fought there and thought that he would be a conqueror, as he had far and wide desolated a hostile land, and brought under his authority many cities. When therefore he had met with great successes, Jeremiah was then bidden to prophesy against his army, so that the Jews might know that the death of pious Josiah would not go unpunished, because God had purposed to destroy that great army by which Josiah had been killed, and so to break down and lay prostrate the power of Egypt, that King Pharaoh would hereafter remain as shut up in prison as it afterwards happened. The rest to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast been pleased to call us to the spiritual warfare, we may never be wearied; and that, as our weakness is so great that we are unequal to our conflicts, grant, that being supported by the power of thy Spirit, we may persevere in the course of thy holy calling, and never be broken down by anything that may happen to us, but learn so to break through all dangers as to commit our life into thy hands, and be in the meantime prepared to live or to die, until thou gatherest us into that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-Fifth
3. Order ye the buckler and shield, and draw near to battle.
3. Preparate scutum et clypeum et accedite ad praelium.
4. Harness the horses; and get up, ye horsemen, and stand forth with your helmets; furbish the spears, and put on the brigandines.
4. Ligate equos et ascendite equi-tes, et state (statute vos) in galeis vestris, abstergite lanceas, induite loricas.
5. Wherefore have I seen them dismayed and turned away back? and their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back: for fear was round about, saith the LORD.
5. Quare vidi ipsos fractos, aver-sos retrorsum? et fortes eorum per-cutientur (percussi sunt) et fuga fugerunt, et non respexerunt; terror undique, dicit Jehova.
Jeremiah uses now a form of speaking very common in the Prophets though remote from common use. For the Prophets, when they denounce God’s judgments and punishments on the ungodly, do not speak in a simple language, as though they were giving a narrative, but they employed figurative expressions, as though they wished to introduce men into the very scene itself. And that their doctrine might more effectually penetrate into the hearts of men, they bring forward various persons; they at one time introduce God as speaking, and at another they pronounce this or that according to the sentiments of others; and again, they declare the commands of God.
Jeremiah begins here by summoning the Egyptians, as though he were the herald of Pharaoh, and thus borrows the name of another person. He says, Prepare The verb ערך, orec, properly means to set in order, but here it signifies to prepare; Prepare, then, the buckler and the shield The word צנה, tsane, was a shield of a larger form, and מגן, megen, seems to have been a buckler carried by horsemen of light armor. And come near to battle: He then adds, Bind or he the horses The manner of fighting is not the same now as it was formerly; they fought in chariots, as heathen authors abundantly shew. He therefore says, he the horses, that is, join them together that they may draw the chariots. Go up, ye horsemen, stand in your helmets, clean your lances, and put on your coats of mail. The meaning is, that Egyptians would come well prepared with all kinds of arms that they might be formidable to their enemies. And hence the vengeance appeared more clearly, because they had been well furnished, so that they might seem to have gained the victory before they engaged with their enemies. This is the reason why the Prophet enumerates their complete armor, having omitted no material part; he mentions the lances, the helmets, the coats of mail, the chariots, the horses, and the shield, so that victory, according to the judgment of men, was already theirs. This is the first thing.
But we must observe the design of the Holy Spirit; it was his purpose to remove the veil from the eyes of the faithful, which for the most part prevents us to see as clearly as we ought the power of God; for when we fix our attention on warlike preparations, we do not think that anything is left for God to do; for they who are well prepared seem to be beyond the hazard of losing the day. That the Jews then might know that it would be nothing for God to punish the Egyptians, he records this preparation. And there is a kind of concession when he says, They shall indeed be furnished with a helmet, a coat of mail, a shield, a sword, and a lance; but all this would avail nothing as to the issue. Then from this prophetic word let us learn, that God makes no account of all those things which men prepare when they wish to effect anything. For smoke is everything that dazzles our eyes; so forces and arms have no importance before God; for by a single blast he can dissipate all such clouds. And this truth is very useful; for we look on external things, and when anything specious presents itself to us, we are immediately taken up with it, and rob God of all power; for we transfer his glory to these masks which appear before us. We now then understand why the Prophet speaks here of bucklers, and shields, and lances, and chariots, and helmets, and coats of mail.
For it immediately follows, Why, or how, have I seen them broken? Here the Prophet, on the other hand, disregards all the things which he before enumerated in such high terms, for he spoke, as it were, according to the common judgment of men. And, as I have said, he undertook the person of a herald, as though Pharaoh himself had commanded the Egyptians immediately to take up arms. This then was apparently very formidable. But the Prophet now speaks as though standing on an eminence, and says, How or what is this? for מדוע, meduo, is a particle of wonder, How! He then passes over from the common opinion of the flesh to the prophetic Spirit, as though he had said, “Were any one to judge of the Egyptians by their external splen-dour, he would say that they would be victorious over their enemies; but were any one to ascend higher and to form a judgment, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit, he would see that all this is frail and evanescent.”
But the question, How? is to be taken as emphatical; for it could have been hardly believed that an army so well equipped could have become a prey to the Babylonians, and that it was hastening to its own ruin. As then this seemed incredible to any one attending to the subject, the Prophet asks, How have I seen them? He however says that he saw them, even because God had set him, as we have said, as it were on a watch-tower. This, however, may be applied to the body as well as to the mind. I saw them turned backward:, when yet they were rushing forward, as he says afterwards, like a flood. Their valiant men, he says, have been smitten, and by flight they have fled. He means, in short, that there would not be so much courage in the Egyptians as to withstand the onset of their enemies, because they would be broken down by the hidden power of God. He also adds, that their flight would be accompanied with so much dread, that they would not dare to look behind, so that their danger would increase their haste.
He at length adds in God’s name, Terror on every side, says Jehovah Here he changes the person the third time, for he declares as from God’s mouth that there would be terror on every side; and thus it is an answer to the question, How, or why? even because God, he says, executes his judgment on them. Whenever, therefore, we see that nothing is wanting to our enemies for victory even over the Church of God, let what the Prophet says here be remembered by us, that there is no reason why we should despond, though we may be filled with wonder and amazement; for God will so work as to break down, without the hand of man, those who shake the whole world with terror. It afterwards follows, —
6. Let not the swift flee away, nor the mighty man escape; they shall stumble, and fall toward the north by the river Euphrates.
6. Ne effugiat volex, et ne servetur fortis; in Aquilone (in Septentrione) super ripam fluvii Euphratis impingent (vel, impegerunt, est proeteriti temporis,) et ceciderunt (כשל significat etiam corruere, ideo vertunt alii, corruerunt, sed videtur esse species gradationis.)
He then says first that they would gain power, but he speaks presently of their fall, unless it be thought that the same thing is repeated: and the beginning of the verse may be read affirmatively, “The swift shall not flee,” etc. But as the particle אל, al, is often used in a prohibitory sense, the verse may be evidently explained as spoken by God, and thus it may be read in connection with the previous verse, Let not the swift flee, nor the brave escape For God here declares authoritatively, that celerity and courage would be of no avail to the Egyptians, because the swiftest would be taken by their enemies, and the bravest would fall. 133
He says, In the land of the north, on the bank of the river We know that Babylon and Assyria and Chaldea and those countries, were northward with respect to Judea. Whenever then the Prophets speak of the Babylonians, they call them Northlanders; but Egypt was to the south, as it is clear from many parts of Scripture. But as the Prophet here speaks of the Egyptians, he rightly makes Chaldea to be northward. Then he says, On the bank of the river Euphrates they shall stumble, or fall. The meaning is, that the event of war is in the power of God, so that he would tear in pieces and lay prostrate or scatter the Egyptians, however well equipped they might be, and trust in their own strength.
We must also observe, that whatever subsidies men pro-cum for themselves in order to protect their safety, they are nothing when God is opposed to them. The Prophet indeed mentions only two things; but he means that though men may excel in many things and possess many endowments, they must yet perish, when that is God’s will: flight cannot save the swift, nor strength the valiant. It follows —
7. Who is this that cometh up as a flood, whose waters are moved as the rivers?
7. Quis iste tanquam lacus ascendet (vel, ascendit, ad verbum) tanquam fluvii sese agitant (aut, moventur) aquae ejus?
8. Egypt riseth up like a flood, and his waters are moved like the rivers; and he saith, I will go up, and will cover the earth; I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof.
8. Aegyptus tanquam lacus ascendit (ascendet, ad verbum, sed significat continuum actum,) et tanquam fluvii sese movent aquae: dixit enim, Ascendam et operiam terram; perdam urbem et qui habitant in ea.
The Prophet again meets those doubts which might have possessed the minds of the godly, so as to prevent them to receive this prophecy in faith and with due reverence: for we have said, that when our thoughts are occupied with external things, the power of God is disregarded. When, therefore, we speak of some impregnable kingdom, it does not come into our minds, that all strongholds are of no account with God. It was therefore necessary highly to extol the power of God, when the Prophets spoke of his judgments: otherwise the flesh, as we have stated, would have said, “They who are well fortified must be free from evils, and as it were beyond the reach of weapons, and hence there is nothing for them to fear.” And it is with this false imagination that the proud deceive themselves, for they set up their forces, their auxiliaries, and all the things which they deem, according to the judgment of the flesh, as sufficient to protect their safety. Titus it happens, that they heedlessly disregard all threatenings, even because they think that the subsidies which they have are so many fortresses against all attacks.
It is for this purpose that the Prophet now says, Who is this that as a lake rises, or swells, as rivers are moved, or, whose waters are agitated? But he speaks according to the common judgment of men, for the very sight could not but fill men with fear; and so the Jews could never have thought that possible which the Prophet here asserts. He then, as it were, introduces them all as anxiously inquiring according to their own judgment, Who is this? as though Pharaoh was not a mortal, but something above human. For the drift of the question is this, that Pharaoh was as it were exempted from the common condition of men, because his power increased like a river rising or swelling; and its waters, he says, make a noise
Then he adds, Egypt is like rivers and like a lake: it made a noise with its forces, as though a river were rolling along its waters. But all this would be nothing, as he afterwards tells us he adds, he hath said, I will ascend, I will cover the land, I will destroy the city, etc. He puts city in the singular instead of the plural number; 134 I will destroy cities, he says, and all who dwell in them. He in short sets forth Pharaoh here as one who triumphed before he fought, because he could cover the land with the multitude of his footmen and horsemen. It now follows, —
9. Come up, ye horses; and rage, ye chariots; and let the mighty men come forth; the Ethiopians and the Libyans, that handle the shield; and the Lydians, that handle and bend the bow.
9. Ascendite equi (quidam vertunt, insanite, sed dura esset metaphora, ideo simpliciter accipio,) jactate vos currus (ponit in singulari numero, cum tamen verbum sit pluralis numeri,) egredientur fortes, nempe Aethiopes et Lybes, qui tenent clypeum, et Lydi, qui tenent et tendunt arcum.
He goes on with the same subject, and enumerates whatever might discredit his prophecy. For when the faithful saw that the Egyptians went on that expedition not only with immense forces, but had also, as foreign aids, the Ethiopians and the Libyans, and even transmarine soldiers from Lydia, — when they saw hired soldiers from all parts joined to the Egyptians, it was hardly credible that such an army could be put to flight. Then the Prophet says here, that though Pharaoh hired the Ethiopians, the Libyans, and the Lydians, yet with all these forces he would perish.
He again speaks in the name of Pharaoh, Ascend, ye horses; toss, ye chariots, and let the valiant come forth This coming forth may refer to the lands whence they came. He mentions first the Ethiopians, who were near the Egyptians, though separated from them. Then he adds the people of Libya, who were Africans, or who were in the middle between Egypt and Africa. Then he says, that they laid hold on the shield. He points out their principal armor, not that they were without a helmet and sword and other arms, but they mainly trusted in their shields. As we know that the Macedonians wore the pelta, and were remarkable for that piece of armor, so the Prophet says that the Ethiopians and Libyans were furnished with bucklers or shields. He mentions also the Lydians, who were from another part, even from the opposite shore of the sea; for we know that the Lydians were in Asia Minor, while the Egyptians were in the middle between Africa and Judea. The Mediterranean Sea was therefore between them. It hence appears, that auxiliaries from a distance, and with great expense, were procured by Pharaoh when he undertook this war. And it is also probable that other nations were hired; but the Prophet mentions only the Ethiopians, Libyans, and Lydians: and he says, that those named last laid hold on the bow, because they were the best archers. It now follows, —
10. For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord GOD of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.
10. Verum (copula enim hic adversative exponi debet, atqui) dies ille Domino Jehovae exercituum, dies ultionis ad ulciscendum de adversariis suis; et vorabit gladius et saturabitur et inebriabitur sanguine ipsorum; quia victima Domino Jehovae exercituum in terra aquilonis ad fluvium Euphratem.
The Prophet having described the terrible forces of Pharaoh, in which he so trusted, that he dared to boast of a certain victory, now says that the event would be very different: But this day, he says, will be the day of Jehovah’s vengeance; as though he had said, that Pharaoh would look only on his chariots and horsemen, his hired soldiers, their arms and warlike preparations, and that he would not at the same time look to God, who is not without reason called the God of hosts. Though the Scripture in many places ascribes this title to God, yet here it has a special application. For the Prophet derides the folly of Pharaoh, because he thought the issue of the war was in his own hand, as though the over-ruling of all things was not in God’s hand. He then says, that victory depended on God only; and farther, he announces what was to be: This day, he says, will be the day of God’s vengeance.
By these words he intimates that God was incensed with the Egyptians, and the cause we referred to yesterday, even because Pharaoh-necho had in passing through slain the pious King Josiah. He then deserved that God should lay prostrate his arrogance, and also chastise his cruelty and check his tyranny. But when he calls the Egyptians God’s adversaries, this was said for the consolation of the chosen people, to shew that God would undertake their cause. For whence was it that he was an enemy to the Egyptians? even because he would not suffer the pious king to be killed with impunity. We now then understand what these words mean, that this day would be a day of vengeance to the God of hosts; as though he had said, that God would preside over and regulate that war, so that all the forces of Pharaoh would avail him nothing.
he afterwards expresses more clearly, for confirmation, what he had said: The sword, he says, shall devour, and shall be satiated and made drunk with their blood But at the end of the verse he says, that this would be the righteous judgment of God. For God so extols his own power, that he yet would have himself acknowledged to be just whenever he inflicts punishment on the ungodly; for as his severity often appears extreme, hence the Prophets, when they speak of acts of vengeance which God executes, at the same time adds some testimony as to his judgment being righteous, as in this place, when it is said, that the God of hosts had a sacrifice
By sacrifice the Prophet means, that the slaughter would be free from every stain; for it is the same thing as though he had said, “God will be glorified in that slaughter, when all the Egyptians shall be destroyed.” For why do we offer sacrifices to God except that his glory may be proclaimed, that he is just as well as merciful, and almighty, and the fountain of all wisdom and uprightness? We hence see the purpose for which the word sacrifice is used, even that none should dare to blame that slaughter, as though God were too rigid and exceeded the limits of justice in shedding that blood. He then says that all the slaughters would be as so many sacrifices, in which God’s justice as well as his power would shine forth, he again points out the place, the land of the north, nigh Euphrates, in order that more credit and certainty might be given to the prophecy. It now follows, —
11. Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.
11. Ascende in Guilead, et sume resinam virgo filia Aegypti; frustra multiplicas medicamina; sanitas nulla tibi.
The Prophet adds here nothing new, but confirms by another metaphor what he had said before. He then says, that the slaughter would be like a fatal plague, as though God would take away from the Egyptians every hope. We indeed know that the kingdom of Egypt did not then perish; for the nation itself remained. But the kingdom was so depressed, that, as it was stated yesterday, they kept themselves as shut up within their own borders, and did not afterwards bring out their forces. And yet it is well known how great was the pride and audacity of that nation; but they saw that they were wholly broken down and weakened. Hence the Prophet says, not without reason, that that would be an incurable wound, by which God would so smite Egypt, that it would no more recover its ancient strength; for after that time the kingdom of Egypt never flourished; and after a few years, as we shall see in another prophecy, it was brought under the power of Babylon.
he now turns his discourse to Egypt: he says, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt, a mode of speaking common in the Prophets. They call Babylon, The daughter of Babylon; they call Judea, The daughter of Judah. But this may be applied to the people or to the kingdom. And he calls Egypt virgin on account of its delicacies, as though he had said, that the Egyptians were tender and delicate, because they had during a long peace gathered strength and all kinds of wealth. As then they were so inebriated with their pleasures, Egypt by way of mockery is called a virgin.
Ascend, he says, into Gilead, and take rosin, or, as some render it, “balm.” Jerome, in another place, rendered it “honey,” but without reason; and it is probable that the word means rosin rather than balm. It may be also concluded from other places that the best rosin was found on Mount Gilead, as we have also stated in the eighth chapter of this book (Jer 8:22). The rosin was a juice flowing from trees, especially from the terebinth; and hence the best rosin is the terebinthine, which we call terebenthine. There is at the same time a rosin from firs and other trees. But as I have already said, Mount Gilead was fruitful in rosin, and is celebrated not only for the abundance of its rosin but also for its excellency; and its medicinal qualities are found better and more efficacious in some places than in others.
According, then, to the common mode of speaking, he says, O daughter of Egypt, ascend into Gilead, and take to thee rosin; but it will be, he says, in vain; that is, “Wert thou earnestly to seek a remedy for thy evils, thou couldst never find it; for thy stroke is incurable.” Not that the kingdom of Egypt perished or was wholly overthrown, but that its strength would be lost, so that the Chaldean king would take possession of all that part of Asia which the Egyptians had occupied, even as far as Pelusium, to the very borders of the Nile. He at length adds, —
12. The nations have heard of thy shame, and thy cry hath filled the land: for the mighty man hath stumbled against the mighty, and they are fallen both together.
12. Audierunt gentes opprobrium tuum, et clamore tuo repleta est terra; quia fortis contra fortem impegit, et simul ceciderunt ambo.
He concludes this prophecy by saying that the report of this slaughter would be everywhere known among all nations. Had the Egyptians sustained only a small loss, the thing might have been unknown, as when a small engagement takes place the report does not spread far and wide; but when by one battle a nation is so conquered that a remarkable change follows, the event then is proclaimed everywhere. The Prophet then intimates by these words, that the stroke of Egypt would not be common, as also he said before, because the report would fly through all nations.
Heard then have all nations of thy reproach, even that the Egyptians had, to their great disgrace, been conquered by the Chaldeans, and that they had not only been put to flight, but that the greatest part of them had been slain, so that the kingdom of Egypt had been nearly lost; that at least they had been reduced to such straits, that they lost their chief eries and a very wide country, even throughout Asia to the river Euphrates.
He says that the land was filled with their cry: by voice or cry he means lamentations. Then he adds, Because the valiant hath stumbled against the valiant This may be thus explained, “The valiant hath contended with the valiant;” but. that the Chaldean proved stronger than the Egyptian: but I prefer to apply this to the Egyptians; and this may be inferred from the end of the verse, where he says, that both fell. So the Prophet means that the multitude, in which the Egyptians gloried, would be a hindrance to them, as usually is the case, when the army is too crowded, for the larger and the more numerous the army is, the greater is the disorder and confusion. When an army is small, they can by degrees recede, or stand still, until they take flight in safety: but in a great multitude there is also great trepidation, and hence a great disorder and confusion. This then is what the Prophet points out, when he says, The valiant stumbled against the valiant, and they both fell together; that is, that while they were fighting, they would clash with one another, and produce such disorder, as to occasion the fall of both.
Grant, Almighty God, that since we see that the most opulent kingdoms have not escaped thy hand, we may learn to recumb only on thine aid, and to submit ourselves to thee, with due hu-milky, so that we may be protected by thy hand, and that this only true confidence may sustain us in all perils, that thou hast undertaken the care of our salvation; and that we may, in the meantime, fight under thy banner with sincerity and uprightness of life, until we shall at length enjoy the fruit of our victory, in the celestial kingdom, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-Sixth
13 The word that the LORD spake to Jeremiah the prophet, how Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon should come and smite the land of Egypt.
13. Sermo quem locutus est Jehova ad Jeremiam Prophetam ad veniendum (vel, de veniendo,) de adventu Nabuchadnezer regis Babylonis ad percutiendam terram Aegypti.
The former prophecy was respecting the slaughter of the Egyptian army, when Pharaoh came to assist the Assyrians, with whom he was then confederate. But this prophecy extends farther; for Jeremiah declares that the Egyptians themselves would have their turn; for we know even from other Prophets, that punishment had been denounced on them, (and Ezekiel pursues this subject through many chapters,) because they had, by their allurements, deceived the people of God. And God punished them not only for the evils by which they had themselves provoked his wrath, but because they had corrupted the Jews and confirmed them more and more in their obstinacy.
We now then perceive the design of the Prophet: the meaning is, that God, after having executed his judgment on the Israelites and the Jews, would become also the judge of the Egyptians and of other nations. We must further observe, that this prophecy was announced before the city was taken. At the time, then, that the Egyptians were secure, and that the Jews, relying on their aid, thought themselves safe from the violence of Nebuchadnezzar, it was then that this prophecy was delivered. But we see again, that the order of time is not observed as to these prophecies; for he had spoken of the slaughter of the army, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. And it is probable, though the time is not pointed out here, that the destruction of Egypt had then been predicted; for before Jeremiah began to discharge his prophetic office, Isaiah had spoken against Egypt. Ezekiel, also, when an exile in Chaldea, at the same time confirmed the prophecies of Jeremiah, and said many more things against Egypt. We must however remark, that Jeremiah had not once only prophesied of the ruin of Egypt; for after he was forcibly led there, he confirmed, as we have before seen, what he had said previously.
Jeremiah then had predicted what we read here many years before the taking of the city. But as the Jews disregarded what he had said before, he again confirmed it, when he was in Egypt, though it was not without great danger to his life, for he spared neither the king nor the nation.
He then says, that the word came to him respecting the coming of Nebuchadnezzar to smite the land of Egypt Hitherto he has spoken of the punishment which God inflicted on the Egyptians, beyond their own kingdom, on the bank of the Euphrates; but, now he records the punishment of Egypt itself, when Nebuchadnezzar not only went to meet the Egyptians, to drive them from his own borders, but when he made an irruption into their kingdom, and plundered many cities, and so afflicted the whole kingdom, that the Egyptian king afterwards reigned only, as it were, by his permission. It follows, —
14. Declare ye in Egypt, and publish in Migdol, and publish in Noph and in Tahpanhes: say ye, Stand fast, and prepare thee; for the sword shall devour round about thee.
14. Annuntiate in Aegypto, et promulgate in Migdol, promulgate in Noph et in Taphnees, dicite, Sta, et para te; quia voravit (vel, consumpsit) gladius circuitus tuos.
He pursues the same mode of speaking as we observed yesterday; and the reason was explained, even because, as men are very inattentive to God’s judgments, the message of Jeremiah would have been ineffectual, had he spoken plainly, and in an ordinary way. It was therefore necessary to adopt an elevated style, and to speak, as he does, in a manner striking and forcible. Public speakers affect fine speaking, but only to catch applause, or to fill men with empty fear or joy: but the Prophets had in view another thing, even to teach, to exhort, to reprove, to threaten, in a way calculated to be effectual.
He says, Declare ye in Egypt, as though he pronounced a sentence from a tribunal, being endowed with divine authority. He then bids this message to be brought to the Egyptians. He afterwards mentions some cities, Migdol, Noph, and Tahpanhes. Some think Noph to be Alexandria; but it was probably Memphis, and this appears evident from other parts of Scripture. But they are mistaken who think that the same was Migdol, for the Prophet here refers to them as different places. Of Tahpanhes we have spoken elsewhere. Now these were celebrated cities and known to the Jews, as they were not far from them.
We know that Memphis was a renowned city; but this was much more known to the Israelites, for it was not far from their passage from Egypt, as we may learn from the second book of Moses and other parts of Scripture. Then we have seen that the Jews dwelt in Tahpanhes when they became fugitives from their own land, and were received there as guests.
It is then the same as though the Prophet had said, that God was now armed against the Egyptians; but as he was not a teacher set over them, he speaks of them as of foreign nations, Declare, he says, in Egypt, that is, let the Egyptians know this. Say, Stand, and prepare thyself, for the sword has devoured thy borders, and everything around thee. By these words the Prophet intimates, that though the Egyptians, being warned in due time, should exercise vigilance, yet their care would be useless, for they could not prevent God from executing what he had determined, he speaks, however, of what was incredible, for the Egyptians thought themselves far from every danger: hence the Prophet says, that how much so ever they might prepare themselves, yet it would all be in vain. He then derides their security, because they thought themselves beyond the reach of danger. It follows —
15. Why are thy valiant men swept away? they stood not, because the LORD did drive them.
15. Quomodo dispersus est fortis tuns (ad verbum, fortes tui, est mutatio numeri,) non stabit (vel, non stetit,) quia Jehova impulit eum (iterum mutatur munerus, designat enim fortes tuos.)
By these words the Prophet expresses more clearly what I have just referred to, that the Egyptians would not be able to resist, though they might have gathered auxiliaries on every side, because God would carry on war against them. In astonishment he asks, “How has it happened, or, how is it, that thy valiant men have been thus scattered?” The verb, indeed, means to sweep, but here it means to scatter. He immediately answers, Because God has driven them, they could not stand The reason for such a question we explained yesterday, even because the unbelieving regarded as a fable whatever they heard from the Prophets; and as long as things went on prosperously, they slept, in a manner, over their good fortune, and became inebriated with it, so that they feared nothing, and did not think themselves exposed to any adversities. As then ungodly men proudly disregarded God, the Prophets, appealing to common sense, asked them, How comes this? For Jeremiah spoke of things as yet hidden, and which had not fallen under the observation of men. We hence see why this wonder was expressed, How have thy valiant fallen? Then he says, Because Jehovah has driven them, they could not stand
Here, again, we must bear in mind, what we briefly referred to yesterday, that ungodly men deceive themselves by a false confidence, when they set up in opposition to God’s power their earthly helps and subsidies, and think that they are well secured when they possess many forces and strongholds, and when they can procure auxiliaries for themselves from every quarter. Let us know that nothing is more fatal than to confide in earthly helps, when God declares that he is our adversary. Hence the Prophet says, that they did not stand, because Jehovah drove them; as though he had said, that Egyptians would have to do not only with the king of Babylon, but with God himself, whom they had provoked. It follows, —
16. He made many to fall, yea, one fell upon another: and they said, Arise, and let us go again to our own people, and to the land of our nativity, from the oppressing sword.
16. Multiplicavit, impingent, etiam cecidit quisque in socium suum; et dixerunt, surge et revertamur ad populum nostrum, et ad terram nativitatis nostrae a facie gladii populantis.
Brevity of expression renders this sentence obscure or ambiguous. The verb הרבה, erebe, is put without a nominative case; but it is to be applied to God. God, then, has multiplied. And then there is a change of number, for the singular is to be taken as a plural when he says, he falls, כושל, cushil: the meaning is, that many would stumble, because God would drive them, as it was said in the last verse. Hence comes what immediately follows, Even fall shall every one on his friend, that is, before the enemy smote them; by crowding together they would of themselves dash one against another, so that each would fall by the pushing of his associate.
He afterwards adds, And they shall say, Rise Here he speaks not of natives. Some think that the reference is to foreigners, who had come into Egypt on account of the fruitfulness of the land; for a dwelling in Egypt, which we know was very fertile and full of all abundance, was especially advantageous to them. As, then, Egypt had in it many strangers and sojourners, some interpreters think that the Prophet here speaks of them, as though he had said, “They who came into Egypt, to live well there through the affluence of all good things, shall find nothing better for them than to flee away:” They shall then say, Rise; that is, every one will exhort one another, and say, Let us go into the land of our nativity, that is, “Let us be satisfied with our own native soil; for the very richness of Egypt will prove fatal to us if we remain in it.” But I rather think that the Prophet refers to the hired soldiers. We saw yesterday that when Pharaoh carried on war on the banks of Euphrates, he had with him Ethiopians, and Lydians, and many from Libya, and we shall see again presently that there were hired soldiers in Egypt when Nebuchadnezzar conquered it. It was then very suitable for the Prophet to mention these foreign soldiers whom Pharaoh had hired; for at the beginning of the verse he said, Every one shall stumble on his neighbor, and then it follows, And they shall say, Let us return to our own people and to the land of our nativity When he says, Every one shall stumble on his neighbor, he means, no doubt, those valiant men, called to defend Egypt; of the same also he speaks when he says, Rise, let us return to the land of our nativity.
He says, From the face of the devastating sword. The word היונה, eiune, is derived by some from יין, iin, wine; and they give this explanation, “from the inebriated sword.” Jerome renders the word “Dove,” but without reason. He then calls the sword wasting or destroying, which had already been inebriated with much blood, and which had done many slaughters. By the sword, he means that of the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar. Some render the words, “saddening sword,” but this rendering appears to me unmeaning. They then say, “As we have been already broken down, and see our enemies committing slaughters with impunity, and kill all who meet them, nothing is better for us than to return to our own land.” It follows, —
17. They did cry there, Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed.
17. Clamarunt illic, Pharao rex Aegypti perturbationis, praeteriit tempus statutum (vel, condictum.)
This verse ought to be joined with the preceding, for he refers to the cries of the soldiers who had been deceived by their own hopes: they at length cried, Pharaoh is to us a king of confusion. The Prophet predicts what was to be; but he speaks, according to what was usually done, in the past time; for the Prophets announce unknown things as before their eyes, in order to gain credit to their prophecies. He then says, that there would be a cry among the soldiers, Pharaoh the king of Egypt is a king of confusion; for the word שאון, shaun, is to be read in the genitive case; as though the Prophet had said that the soldiers would really find that Pharaoh would not turn out according to his boasting. The name of Egypt first filled him and the whole nation with arrogance; and further, it was dreaded by the neighbouring nations. When, therefore, they came to Pharaoh, they thought that they were coming to some sort of a god. The Prophet derided that foolish confidence unreasonably entertained, and says, “They shall cry there, O Pharaoh, magnificent king, thou art now a king of tumult,” or confusion.
What follows is not well explained, as I think, by interpreters; for they all, with one consent, think that Pharaoh is derided, because he delayed time, after having before said that he would go against Nebuchadnezzar; as earthly kings, when they think themselves sufficiently prepared, do not wait until the enemy is at hand, or finds them at home, but go to meet him at a distance. Others think that the time for war had been proclaimed, as it was usual formerly for both sides to proclaim a certain day on which they were to come to a conflict. But from the last verse we may gather that the Prophet meant another thing, he then derides, if I am not mistaken, the folly of Pharaoh for another reason, even because he thought that those threatenings were vain and empty, which had been dispersed by the Jews; for the Egyptians were not ignorant of what had been predicted by the Prophets. Isaiah had long before cried out against the Jews, because they made treaties with the Egyptians, and fled there for aid. There is no doubt but the courtiers, in order to gain favor, said to them, “Behold, our Prophets hinder us as much as they can, and we must take care lest they turn aside the people: while then there is time, let us make the treaty, which will be useful to you as well as to us.” As, then, the destruction of Egypt had been predicted many years before, and as the Egyptians remained in safety after Judea was overthrown and laid waste, it is probable that they became more hardened, thinking that the time had elapsed. And this view, as I have said, is confirmed by the context. For it follows, —
18. As I live, saith the King, whose name is The LORD of hosts, Surely as Tabor is among the mountains, and as Carmel by the sea, so shall he come.
18. Vivo ego, dicit rex (cui nomen est rex) Jehova exercituum, quoniam sicut Thabor in montibus, et sicut Carmelus in mari, veniet.
Why did the Prophet say this, except that the Egyptians thought they had escaped, because the time had been delayed? As, then, the length of time had deceived them, thinking, as they did, that God had told what was false, or that he had forgotten what he had predicted by his Prophets, he says, I live, saith Jehovah, that is, by my life; for God here swears by his life, that what he now declares would come. This seems to be the true meaning. Igor did the Prophet speak thus only for the sake of the Egyptians, but also for the sake of the Jews; for we know that it was usual and common with them proudly to assert that what the Prophets had spoken from God’s mouth was all vain: hence that proverbial saying,
“To-morrow we shall die, let us eat and drink.”
They also called the prophecies burdens, by way of reproach and contempt. As the ungodly promised themselves impunity through God’s forbearance, it was necessary to testify to them what we here read, even that whatever God had threatened would come to pass, though he delayed it for a time. For he suspends his punishment, but his vengeance at length breaks out, when the unbelieving think that all things will turn out prosperously; yea, when they say,
“Peace and security, then sudden destruction overtakes them.”
By the word מועד, muod, then, the Prophets mean a fixed time, not that they had pointed out a certain day, but that they had spoken of the destruction of Egypt, as though God had already gone forth as the judge.
As, then, they said that the time had passed by, God here swears by his life; and hence he says, whose name is King, Jehovah of hosts God here sets forth his own greatness in opposition to the power of Pharaoh and of all other kings; for prosperity commonly brings pride with it, and those who excel in dignity and power become self-willed and insolent. Hence to repress this haughty insolence, he says, that the name of King, the God of hosts, belongs not properly to any but to himself alone.
It shall come, he says, as Tabor is in the mountains, and Carmel in the sea Their exposition is not suitable who say, “As wild beasts fleeing from hunters, pass over from neighboring mountains to Mount Tabor, and as trees cut on Carmel are carried to the sea.” This is an extremely forced explanation, and cannot be adapted to the present passage. For what is the design of the Prophet? even to shew that what he had just declared would be immutable, and so fixed that it could not be reversed, that though the whole world attempted to frustrate what God had decreed, yet nothing could be done. Then he says, As Tabor is in the mountains, that is, As Mount Tabor is surrounded by other mountains, and has there its deep roots, so that it cannot be torn up; and as Carmel is in the sea Now this Carmel was not understood by the Jews to have been that mount where Nabal dwelt, but a mountain not far from Ptolemais, and it was girded and washed by the sea: hence he says, As Carmel is a mountain in the sea. Tabor as well as Carmel remain fixed, and cannot be transferred to another place; so he says, shall this prophecy come to pass; it is valid and shall be accomplished; as though he had said, “This immutable decree cannot be refixed, as Carmel cannot be moved, nor Tabor, so as to be transplanted elsewhere.” It now follows, —
19. O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt, furnish thyself to go into captivity: for Noph shall be waste and desolate without an inhabitant.
19. Vasa migrationis fac (vel, para) tibi habitatrix Aegypti; quia Noph (id est, Memphis,) in solitudinem erit, et vastabitur, ut non sit habitator.
The Prophet exults over the Egyptians, in order that he might more and more confirm his doctrine; for we have said, and experience teaches the same, that the unbelieving are but little moved when God summons them to his tribunal, and gives evidence of his vengeance; for they remain stupid, except their torpor is by force shaken from them. This is the reason why the Prophet sharply assails the wicked, even that they might awake from their drowsiness.
Hence he says, Take to thee the furniture of transmigration, that is, prepare for thyself garments and other things for the purpose of removing. The Egyptians, having a fruitful land, remained quietly in their own country, and led, as it were, a sedentary life. Now the Prophet intimates that they were to move elsewhere; and he bids them to prepare for a long journey, or a long peregrination: Make to thee, then, furniture for transmigration; for Memphis shall be reduced to solitude, and laid waste without an inhabitant
He mentions Memphis again, which, as we have said, was a very celebrated city and a royal residence. He says that it would be laid waste, and yet we know that the Pyramids there were reckoned among the wonders of the world. The city was populous, and had many advantages. The Prophet dooms it to desolation. If, then, such solitude awaited the most celebrated city, what was to become of the smaller towns? what was to become of the villages? We now, then, see what was the purpose of the Prophet, even to shew, that when Nebuchadnezzar made an irruption into Egypt, all things would be under his power, so that he would, at his pleasure, seize on, plunder, and lay waste the whole land. It now follows, —
20. Egypt is like a very fair heifer, but destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north.
20. Vitula formosa Aegyptus, afflictio ab aquilone venit, venit.
Jeremiah intimates here, that though Egypt indulged in pleasures, it could not yet escape the vengeance of God. We reminded you yesterday why the Prophets mentioned the wealth, the riches, and the power of the ungodly, even because they are blinded by all the good things in which they abound; for they fear nothing, nor feel any anxiety, but through a false notion they exempt themselves from every evil. As, then, the unbelieving are thus presumptuous and proud, the Prophets, on the other hand, warn them and say, that however they may exult in their own strength and defenses, they would yet, when it pleased God to make them prey, become the most miserable of all.
The Prophet, then, in short, takes away the false conceit of the Jews, as well as of the Egyptians; as though he had said, “The Egyptians trust in their prosperity, even as though they were like a heifer frisking in the fields; but calamity,” he says,.” is coming, is coming from the north.” He repeats the same word, in order to remove every doubt: coming, then, is distress, it is coming from the north, that is, from the Babylonians, who were situated northward to Judea, as we stated yesterday.
21. Also her hired men are in the midst of her like fatted bullocks; for they also are turned back, and are fled away together: they did not stand, because the day of their calamity was come upon them, and the time of their visitation.
21. Etiam mercenarii ejus in medio ejus tanquam vituli saginati, quia etiam ipsi vertent terga, fugient simul, non steterunt, quia dies calamitatis (vel, miseriae) venit super eos, tempus visitationis ipsorum.
Here the Prophet represents the mercenaries of Egypt, as we have already said, as being foreign soldiers, who had been hired here and there, and from far countries, such as Lydia was. It may yet have been, that there were not many at that time who had come from beyond the sea to the Egyptians; but they had the Ethiopians, for Ezekiel says that many came from Cush, that is, Ethiopia; and then they had some from Libya and the neighboring countries. Then Jeremiah includes them under one name, and says that they were mercenaries. Now, they who hire themselves seem to be more warlike than others; for they who defend their own country do this from necessity; but those who of themselves seek war, and depart from their own borders for the purpose of engaging in war, seem to be men fit for any bold undertaking.
But the Prophet says, also, גם, gam, also mercenaries; that is, not only the Egyptians were accustomed to a delicate and indulgent life, but also the Ethiopians and others who had been hired, They are also in the midst of it as fatted bullocks, that is, they fill themselves with the abundance of Egypt; and hence it was that they became a prey to their enemies; for we know that nothing is more injurious to soldiers than to live delicately and luxuriously. Of all ancient generals, the most celebrated is Hannibal; but how did it happen, that having an invincible army, by which he had terrified all Italy, he afterwards fell? because Campania, with its luxuries, enervated him, for he lived there not like a soldier, but had tables richly furnished for himself and for his army. Hence it was, that they were no more what they had been. So also the Prophet says, “Egypt will ruin its hired soldiers; for she will satiate them with luxuries.” What did at length happen to them? he compares them to bullocks of the stall, מרבק, merebec; some read bullocks of the pasture, but not correctly; for רבק, rebec, is properly to fatten. He then calls them the bullocks of the stall, which are fed that they may become fat and be soon slaughtered. He therefore says, They also shall turn their backs; and then he says, They shall not stand, because the time of calamity is come I cannot finish this subject now.
Grant, Almighty God, that when thou indulgest us, we may not abuse thy patience, nor become wanton in prosperity, but learn so to subdue ourselves of our own accord, that we may obey thee through the whole course of our life, and mortify our flesh, lest we be elated by pride and false confidence, but so live in thy fear as to reverence thee when we regard thee as the righteous Judge of the world, and recumb at the same time on thee, when we acknowledge thee as our Father, as thou hast been pleased to adopt us in thine only-begotten Son our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-Seventh
22. The voice thereof shall go like a serpent; for they shall march with an army, and come against her with axes, as hewers of wood.
22. Vox ejus tanquam serpentis incedet, quia in potentia incedent; et cum securibus venient contra eam, sicuti caesores lignorum.
To study elegance was not so much the object of the Prophet, as to confirm what he had taught. The figures, then, which he now uses, were not intended as ornaments of speech, but rather for the purpose of giving force and power to what he had said; for, as it has been said, prophecies had no credit with stupid men, unless stimulants were added to them.
He says now, that the voice of Egypt would go forth like that of a serpent: some read, “as though it were a serpent;” but I prefer to render it in the genitive case, and it is more suitable; for the Prophet means that the complaints of Egypt would not be obstreperous; as serpents, in creeping, send forth their hisses, so he intimates that the Egyptians, being overthrown, would be so broken down, as not to dare to utter open complaints, as those who freely cry out, but such as would remain alive would be so smitten with fear as only to mutter, as it has been said of serpents, who hiss as they creep. We now understand the real meaning of the Prophet: he says that the Egyptians would be so east down as not to dare openly to complain of their miseries, for they would only mutter, not otherwise than serpents who, on the ground, indistinctly hiss: its voice, then, shall advance, or go forth, like that of a serpent; and thus he points out their uneasiness, for they would seek hiding-places, and flee here and there, and never dare to remain in the same place. It is, indeed, a proof of the most miserable trepidation, when he who succumbs under his evils finds no place to set his foot on, but is forced, like serpents, to wander here and there. Jerome’s rendering is, “as that of brass,” as though it was written, נחשת, nuchashet; but I have already shewn what the Prophet meant.
He adds, For they shall come with an army, or with power. The word חיל, chil, means both. He now speaks of the Chaldeans. He said that the Egyptians would tremble, and be so broken down, as not to dare to utter their groans openly. Now follows the reason, because the Chaldeans would come with power, or with an army; they would come not only as soldiers to fight, but also as hewers of wood with their axes He intimates that the issue of the war would by no means be doubtful, but that the Chaldeans would come into Egypt as hired men come to cut down trees. Soldiers are, indeed, armed with swords and lances; for they have to do with enemies, nor can they overcome without danger, at least they cannot conquer without striving; but the Prophet says that the Chaldeans would be so filled with confidence, that they would not regard the Egyptians as enemies, for they would come, as it were, to cut down trees which offer no resistance: They shall come, then, as hewers of wood There is here an implied contrast between swords, lances, and axes, as there is between soldiers and hewers of wood. It follows, —
23. They shall cut down her forest, saith the LORD, though it cannot be searched; because they are more than the grasshoppers, and are innumerable.
23. Exciderunt sylvam ejus, dicit Jehova, quia non investigabitur, quia multiplicati sunt prae locusta (phsquam locustrae) et non illis numerus.
He goes on here with the same subject. He indeed uses the past tense, but we know that this was commonly done by the Prophets. He compares the people of Egypt to a forest, as he had said that individual men would be like trees: They have then cut down, that is, they shall cut down its forest, saith Jehovah For the sake of confirmation he ascribes the words to God; as though he had said, that he predicted nothing but what God had determined to do. His object then was to remove every doubt; because the Jews might on the one hand have refused to believe this prophecy on considering the power of Egypt; and the Egyptians on the other might have disregarded these threatenings, confiding in their own strength. Hence the Prophet introduces God as the speaker, as though he had said, “This decree cannot be revoked, because God hath spoken.”
And he says, that they had multiplied more than locusts, so there could be no number I have omitted one previous sentence, It shall not be searched. As the particle כי, ki, is read twice, some think that both clauses refer to the Chal-deans. Others read, “It shall not be numbered;” but the verb חקר, chekor, properly means to inquire, to investigate; and the sentence may be thus suitably rendered, “That the forest may not be investigated.” Yet another meaning has been more approved, that the Chaldeans shall not be numbered. If this view be received, there is a Change of number, for it immediately follows, “They shall multiply,” רבו, rebu; and then, there shall not be a number to them, להם, laem. But what I stated in the first place, as it appears to me, does not ill suit the passage, that is, that there would be no investigation of the forest of Egypt, that is, of the people; for when a forest is cut down, it appears a naked plain, nor can the place of any tree be pointed out. As to the general meaning, there is not much difference. The Prophet, in short, means, that the slaughter, of which he prophecies, would be so great, that Egypt would be reduced to a waste, because the Chaldeans would come with a numerous army: and he sets up this number in opposition to the Egyptian forces, that they might know that their enemies would be far superior to them. It follows —
24. The daughter of Egypt shall be confounded; she shall be delivered into the hand of the people of the north.
24. Pudefacta est filia Aegypti, tradita in manum populi Aquilonis.
He says that Egypt would be ashamed, because it would be brought into the greatest disgrace, for their enemies would treat them reproachfully. By the people of the north he means the Chaldeans, as in many other places; for Babylon was northward of Egypt. he intimates, in short, that the Chaldeans would be proud conquerors, so that they would in a reproachful manner oppress the Egyptians, after having conquered them. It is no wonder that the same thing is often repeated by the Prophet, because the thing was incredible at that time, as we have before said. As then it was difficult to make the Jews believe, that the Chaldeans would become victorious over that nation and land, Jeremiah confirms at large the same thing, for he resolutely struggled with the obstinate unbelief of the people. Let us proceed, —
25. The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saith, Behold, I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods, and their kings; even Pharaoh, and all them that trust in him:
25. Dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ecce ego visito super multitudinem quae ab Alexandria, et super Pharaonem, et super Aegyptum, et super deos ejus, et super reges ejus, et super Pharaonem, et super eos, qui confidunt in ipso.
The Prophet speaks again in God’s name, and sets God’s glory in opposition to the perverseness of his own nation; for, as it has been said, he effected but little when he threatened the Egyptians. For the Jews, believing that land to be impregnable, were secure; because they thought that the Egyptians would come to their aid, and so they believed that they were fortified against any hostile power. As then the Jews were inebriated with this false confidence, the Prophet was constrained, not only with many words to enlarge on this subject, but also to introduce God as the judge.
He then does not speak here in his own words, but says, Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, hath spoken, Behold I, etc. It was a form of speaking much more forcible than if the Prophet had repeated in his own name what God had committed to him; and yet the Jews were not moved: but still this mode of speaking was calculated to break down their obduracy. he then says, Behold, I will visit the multitude, etc. The word אמון, amun, is to be taken here for המון, emun; א, aleph, is put for ה, he; though some render it “king,” but improperly: I will visit the multitude which is from Alexandria We know that this was a celebrated city of Egypt, though it had not yet this name; for Alexander was not born, who called it by his own name; but it had its old name נא, na, and it was so called by the Hebrews. In after time it was called Alexandria, its name having been changed.
But there is here a statement of a part for the whole, for the Prophet included the whole of Egypt; what is general is comprehended under what is particular; for God spared not the other cities of Egypt; and it appears from the context that the prophecy extended to all parts of that land, not one angle, even the least, being excepted. But as Alexandria might have remained safe, while the other cities were destroyed, it is here especially mentioned, as though he had said, that nothing would be safe in Egypt. Behold, he says, I will visit the multitude, etc. It was a very populous city, as we gather from heathen writers; and hence it was that it was full of pride, for they thought it sufficiently safe when they had as it were a proportionate army. But the Prophet derides this vain glory, and says that the vast number of people in Alexandria would avail nothing to prevent the Chaldeans to take possession of it.
I will visit, he says, the whole people, and then Pharaoh and Egypt We now clearly see that the city named was the chief city, and that its multitude was expressly mentioned, that the Egyptians might know, that they could not escape destruction, because they had war with God, and not with men; for as long as they looked on the Chaldeans alone, they remained secure. But the Prophet awakens them from their lethargy, and says, that they were not to look on what the Chaldeans of themselves could do, for they would carry on war under the banner of God, and under his guidance would, without any difficulty, penetrate through the whole of Egypt. Hence he says, I will visit Pharaoh and Egypt
He adds, and her gods. We know that that land was very much given to superstitions, that the Egyptians had imbibed gross and shameful errors, though otherwise remarkable for their wisdom and knowledge. But God had smitten them with madness, so that they were become almost like brute beasts. Besides, as they thought that they had perfect safety in their idols, the Prophet shakes off this confidence, and declares that God would not only be the judge of men but also of the idols. For we know that men strengthen themselves against God’s threatenings either by superstition or by confidence in their own strength: as long as they depend on the world, they gather from all quarters some grounds of hope; and hence it is, that they think that they will be safe though in opposition to God’s will. The Prophet beats down this folly when he says, Behold, I will visit the multitude of Alexandria, and adds, I will visit the gods of Egypt. As the unbelieving, when they find earthly aids not sufficient for them, flee to God, but not in the right way, for they become vain in their foolish thoughts; hence is the reason why the Prophet threatens the idols of Egypt.
He adds, her kings. There was indeed but one king in Egypt, why then does he mention kings? This may be explained of successors; but I prefer taking “kings” here as meaning the satraps and princes, for we know that the kingdom was very opulent, that it had many equal to kings. I therefore think that the Prophet adorned the princes and satraps of Egypt with this high title; and he confirms this opinion by what immediately follows, even — Pharaoh and those who trust in him He repeats the name of Pharaoh, and when he says that he would visit those who trust in him, I doubt not but that the Prophet points out those whom he had before designated “kings.” We now then perceive the real meaning, that though Pharaoh had many defenses, being strengthened by a great multitude of men, and had also mighty satraps, yet all this would prove fading and evanescent, when he would have to carry on war with God: and God declares here that he would be the general of the whole war guiding and directing the Chaldeans. It now follows, —
26. And I will deliver them into the hand of those that seek their lives, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of his servants: and afterward it shall be inhabited, as in the days of old, saith the LORD.
26. Et dabo illos in manum quaerentium animam ipsorum, et in manum Nabuchadnezer regis Babylonis, et in manum servorum ejus, et postea habitabitur sicut diebus antiquis, dicit Jehova.
Jeremiah pursues the same subject, and continues to speak in God’s name, that he might more powerfully impress minds otherwise tardy; I will give them, he says, into the hand of enemies, and those deadly enemies; for we have said elsewhere that to “seek life” is not to spare it. Expressed here then is the cruelty of the Chaldean army, as though he had said that they would be deadly enemies to the Egyptians. And he explains himself more fully, and says, Into the hand of the king of Babylon, and into the hand of his servants, so that not only Nebuchadnezzar was to be victorious over Egypt, but also his servants, which was still more degrading.
A promise is at length added, not to shew favor to that heathen nation, but that God might shew that he would be so far merciful towards the Egyptians as not wholly to destroy them. It shall be inhabited, he says, as in ancient days. Ezekiel says that the kingdom would be small and humble or abject. (Ezek. 29:14, 15.) But our Prophet seems to promise to Egypt the same prosperity as it had before its overthrow. We have already said that restoration was promised to the Egyptians, not because God was pacified towards them, but because his purpose was that his mercy should be made evident in the judgments he executed even on foreign nations; and further, it served to confirm prophecy, when to Egypt, after having been destroyed, was granted that restoration of which Jeremiah had prophesied. The truth, then, of what the Prophet had said became more evident through the two changes, than if he had only said, “God shall destroy Egypt.” We now, then, perceive why the Prophet spoke of the future condition of Egypt. It follows, —
27. But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid.
27. Et tu ne timeas, serve mi Jacob, et ne expavescas (vel, frangaris animo, חתת significat conteri et frangi, sed magis refertur ad animum metaphorice, ne ergo frangaris animo,) Israel; quia ecce ego servo te a longinquo, et semen tuum e terra captivitatis ipsorum; et revertetur Jacob et quiescet et securus erit, et nemo exterrebit (nemo qui exterreat, ad verbum.)
The Prophet now directs his discourse to the Israelites; for we have already said that he was not appointed a teacher to heathen nations. Whatever, then, he spoke of heathen nations had a reference to the benefit of his people; and for this purpose, as we have said, the Prophets extended their prophecies respecting God’s judgments to all nations; for otherwise the Israelites would have been disheartened, as though their condition was worse than that of others: “What can this mean? God has chosen us as his peculiar people; in the meantime we alone are miserable: God pours forth on us his whole rigor, and yet he spares the unbelieving. It would have been better for us to have been rejected wholly by him, for the covenant which he has made with us only renders us more miserable than others.” Thus the miserable Israelites might have rushed headlong into despair, had nothing been done in time to relieve them. And then the Prophets, or rather the Spirit of God who spoke by them, regarded another thing; for if nothing had been predicted they would have passed by, with closed eyes, those judgments which God executed on all their neighbors, for all that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had predicted was fulfilled. Had they been silent respecting the ruin of Egypt, of the Philistines and the Moabites, the people, owing to their torpor, would not have considered God’s judgments, but would have thought them to have all happened by chance. The Prophets then represented as in a mirror the power of God, that the Israelites might know that it extended to the whole world and to every nation.
This is the reason why Jeremiah now turns his discourse to the chosen people, and says, Fear not, my servant Jacob He still speaks in God’s name. Now God calls Jacob his servant, not on the ground of obedience, but because he had chosen him. Then by this word God sets forth the favor of adoption, and not the obedience of the people, for we know how refractory and disobedient they were; we know that they were continually shaking off the yoke, that they insulted as it were God himself; very far were they from quietly submitting to his authority as it became servants. Here, then, the obedience of the Israelites is not commended, but that election is set forth by which God had set them apart from other nations. How then was Jacob God’s servant? not because he deserved that honor by his own merits, but because God had been pleased gratuitously to choose him for himself. So also David says,
“I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid,”
He means that he was as it were a hereditary servant, who had been already dedicated to God before he was conceived in his mother’s womb. But as this mode of speaking often occurs, I pass it by with only a few words.
Fear not, O Jacob, he says, and be not broken in mind, O Israel There are indeed two names used, but God thus addresses his people often; and why? because I wall save thee We now then see why God called Jacob his servant, even because the salvation of the elect people depended on this peculiar privilege, that God had chosen them for himself; I will save thee, he says, from far The ten tribes, as it is well known, had already been driven far, and a part of Judah had been led into exile. Distance took away the hope of a return. Hence God here declares that a long distance would be no hindrance to him to restore his people when it seemed good to him; Behold, I will save thee He then obviates this objection; “What! why then does God thus suffer us to be driven to foreign lands? why have we not staid in our own land?” God, he says, will not be less able to save thee in the remotest places, than if thou hadst remained in thy native country, and in thine own habitation. And he adds, and thy seed, from the land of their captivity
We hence learn, that though the Prophet spoke of the temporal restoration of the people, he yet had a regard to higher and greater things, even that the captives should recumb on God’s mercy, and believe that he would be propitious to them even when dead. This passage then shews that the hope of God’s children is not confined to this life, but extends farther, in order that they may know that God will be propitious to them after death, and that they may sustain themselves with the assurance of his favor, for otherwise this promise that God would restore their children after their death would have been absurd. “But why is he implacable to us? why does he not restore us sooner?” The Jews might have raised this objection; but the Prophet reminds them, that though they were not to be restored immediately to their country, yet the covenant of God would remain valid, and its stability would appear after seventy years.
We now perceive why the Prophet said, Jacob shall return and rest, and shall be secure I wonder that some have rendered the last words, “and shall be happy,” for שאנן, shanun, means to be secure, or to rest; and then the Prophet explains himself, nor will there be any to terrify We indeed know that it is the main part of happiness when no fear disturbs us, when our minds are in a composed and quiet state. Further, by these words he intimates the continuance of God’s favor, as though he had said that his favor would not only be evident in restoring the people from exile, but in restoring the miserable in such a way as to grant them full and continued happiness. It follows, —
28. Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
28. Tu ne timeas, serve mi Jacob, dicit Jehova, quia ego tecum, quia faciam consumptionem in cunctis gentibus ad quas te expulero illuc (est supervacuum שמה;) et tecum non faciam consumptionem; et castigabo te in judicio, et excidendo non excidam te (alii vertunt, non faciam te innocentem, sed male, ut postea dicemus.)
He repeats the same thing, and no wonder, for under circumstances so hopeless it was not easy to raise up and sustain the minds of the people, so that they might patiently wait for the time of their redemption. He had to raise them to light as it were from the lowest depths, for captivity was little short of death, according to what Ezekiel says, (Eze 37) who shews that the common saying among them was,
“Can God raise the dead from their graves?”
Whenever the Prophets promised that God would become their Redeemer, they said, “Oh, will God raise us up again? It is all a fable.” For this reason God commanded dead and dry bones to rise and to assume their own skin and flesh, at least this was shewn to the Prophet in a vision.
We now then understand why the Prophet repeated twice what was in itself sufficiently clear, Fear not, my servant Jacob, even because they could not apprehend God’s mercy, except they looked off from their great difficulties, and further, because it was not enough for them once to embrace this promise, without recumbing on it constantly. Hence the Prophet, in order to encourage them firmly to hope, and at the same time to render them persevering, and to confirm them, says twice, Fear not, my servant Jacob He then adds, I am with thee And this promise, as it has been said, depends on gratuitous adoption, because God had chosen that people for himself, that they might be a priestly kingdom.
He afterwards adds, For I will make a consummation among all the nations, etc. By this comparison he softens and alleviates all sorrow: for however bitter the condition of the people might be, yet when they considered that fled would deal milder with them than with other mortals, it was a cause of ample consolation. The Prophet, then, seeing that the Jews, while their minds were embittered, could not accept God’s favor, shews here, that however severely God might chastise them, he yet would be more merciful to them than to other nations: how so? because, he says, I will make a consummation among other nations, that is, they shall be destroyed without any remedy; as though he had said, that the wound he would inflict on other nations would be deadly, but that he would not make a consummation as to his chosen people.
This seems not to agree with what he had said before, that Egypt should be again inhabited as in days of old. How can the restoration of Egypt be consistent with the words of the Prophet here? To this I answer, that when God mitigates his rigor towards the unbelieving, he is not yet propitious to them, nor is the indulgence shewn to them a proof of his paternal favor, as I have before observed. Though then there were Egyptians who remained alive after the ruin of their kingdom, yet God made a consummation in Egypt, for there his vengeance continued after that, time. Now, when we come to the chosen people, God says in many places, I will not make a consummation There seems to be here again some contrariety, when any one attends only to the words; for God is said to have made a consummation as to his elect people: but this was the case, when he destroyed the whole body of the people; and that consummation was external; there ever remained at the same time some hidden root.
In short, when God says, that he makes a consummation as to heathen nations, it ought to be understood, that God curses them from the root. As when a tree stands, when its root is dead; so also heathen nations, as it were, stand, but in the meantime they are consumed, for God has doomed them to eternal ruin. But consummation is said to be as to God’s children, when nothing appears on the surface, but perhaps a dry trunk; yet a living root remains, which will again grow up, and from it branches will arise. We hence see how God makes a consummation as to all the unbelieving, and yet does not make a consummation as to his chosen people.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast testified that thou wilt be a Father to us, and hast given us a pledge of thy adoption, thine only-begotten Son, — O grant, that we, trusting in thy promise, may never doubt, even when thou severely chastisest us, but that thou wilt at length be merciful to us, and that we may thus never cease to flee to thy mercy, and thus submit to thee, and suffer ourselves to be corrected; and may, in the meantime, this hope sustain us, and alleviate all our sorrows, that in all our miseries we shall yet ever glorify thy name, through the same, thy Son our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-Eighth
WE explained yesterday what is meant by not making a consummation. The meaning is, that sometimes God’s vengeance is such towards his Church, that it seems to be consumed, while yet some hidden hope remains, for God raises his own as it were from death. We said, that in this sense is to be understood what Jeremiah now promises to the chosen people: for God makes a distinction between the Israelites and strangers; for on account of the covenant he had made with them, he would spare them, so that some hope remained, though the Church itself seemed for a time to be lost.
And he explains himself in other words, I will chastise thee, he says, in judgment; for to chastise in judgment is to exercise moderation, so that rigor may not issue in destruction. In the tenth chapter, Jeremiah says the same, “Chastise me, O Jehovah, but in judgment, and not in thine anger.” The Prophet, then, in the person of the faithful submitted himself to the scourges of God, because it was useful for them to be corrected, for had the Lord spared them, they would have abused his indulgence, and have become thus putrid in their vices. Hence the Prophet offered himself to be chastised by God, but deprecated his anger, which he set in opposition to judgment. The word judgment, in Hebrew, is taken in various senses; but in that passage, as I explained there, it means due measure, or moderation. When God punishes the unbelieving, he cannot be charged with extreme severity, for he is ever just and regards a due measure. But, as I have already said, judgment means not only rectitude, but also the paternal love of God, when he moderates punishment, so as to render it medicinal and salutary to his elect. Hence he promises to punish his Church moderately, not only because he is just, but also because he mercifully spares his own, and regards what they can bear, and what is useful for them.
Now this passage ought to be especially noticed, from which we may derive great consolation; for we are here taught that punishments inflicted on us are temporary, and that God prescribes limits to them, such as he knows to be best for us: for whence comes despair which overwhelms the unbelieving, except that being sunk in the deep, they know not that God will be merciful to them, but apprehend nothing but his wrath? Hence then it comes that they have no comfort in their evils and sorrows. Whenever, then, excessive anxiety lays hold on us, or our evils drive us into despair, let us learn to flee to this consolation, even that the punishments by which we are chastised are only for a time.
He afterwards adds, And cutting off I will not cut thee off There are some who give another rendering, “I will not make thee innocent:“ and in this sense the verb נקה, nuke, is sometimes to be taken; but it is not suitable to the context here, unless the copulative be rendered as an adversative, “Though I shall not make thee innocent, I shall yet chastise thee with paternal moderation.” As this, however, seems forced, I doubt not but that the Prophet means, that chastisement would be moderated, because God would not wholly cut off his chosen people, according to the exposition I gave on the thirtieth chapter of this book; and thus the Prophet confirms what I have already said, that God spares his children, because he purifies them by afflictions, as gold is melted and purified by fire, so that punishment does not issue in their destruction. Now follows the forty-seventh chapter:
It is more consistent with the passage to render the verbs in the future tense, —
Not flee shall the swift,
Nor escape shall the strong;
In the north, by the side of the river Euphrates,
Have they stumbled and fallen.
The city here is put in opposition to the land, — And it (Egypt) said, I will ascend, I will cover the land; I will destroy (every) city, and the dwellers in it.