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 that came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Philistines, before that Pharaoh smote Gaza.
1. Qui fuit sermo Jehovae ad Jeremiam Prophetam contra Philistim antequam percuteret Pharao Azah.
Jeremiah prophesies here against the Philistines, who were enemies to the Israelites, and had contrived against them many cruel and unjust things. There is then no doubt, but that God intended to testify, by this prophecy, his love towards the Israelites, for he undertook their cause, and avenged the wrongs done to them. We hence perceive why God had predicted the ruin of the Philistines, even that the Israelites might know his paternal love towards them, as he set himself against their enemies; and thus he gave them a reason for patience, because it behooved them to wait until God fulfilled this prophecy.
And he points out the time, Before Pharaoh smote Aza, or Gaza. The ancient Gaza, as far as we can find out, was near the sea; but after it was destroyed, another was built, which is mentioned by Luke, (Ac 8:26;) it appears from heathen writers that it was a celebrated city and opulent. But they are mistaken who think that its name is derived from the Persic word “Gaza,” which means treasures; for they say, that when Cambyses led an army against Egypt, he left there his riches. But the word עזה, Oze, is a very ancient Hebrew word; and it is well known that the ע, oin, has been pronounced like our g; and this is the case as to other words, as for instance, Gomorrah, עמרה, the ע, oin, has the sound of ג, gimel; so also צער, Tsor, the Greek and Latin interpreters have rendered it, Segor. Then Gaza has not derived its name from treasures, but it is a Hebrew word, signifying fortitude or strength.
Now Jeremiah says, that he prophesied against the Philistines before Pharaoh smote that city, but he did not demolish it. But we see that the Prophet threatens nothing to it from the Egyptians, but rather from the Chaldeans. Why then does he speak here of Pharaoh?
We must refer to history, and then we shall see what the design of the Holy Spirit was. When Pharaoh came to bring assistance to the Jews under Zedekiah, as we have already seen, he was soon compelled to return to Egypt, for the Chaldeans, having raised the siege, went against the Egyptians; for if they routed them, they knew that they could soon possess themselves of the whole of Judea. Haying then left the Jews for a time, they went against the Egyptians. Pharaoh, possessing no confidence in himself, as I have said, retreated; but he plundered Gaza in his way, because it was very hostile to the Jews; and he wished to shew that he did not come altogether in vain, though this afforded no relief to the Jews. But thus in things of nought earthly kings shew off themselves. Pharaoh then at that time plundered Gaza, but he did not retain it. At this time Jeremiah predicted greater calamities. And this ought to be carefully noticed, for there would be no reason why the Prophet spake of the Philistines, except, he had respect to something farther. Let us now then come to the second verse:
2. Thus saith the LORD; Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land, and all that is therein; the city, and them that dwell therein: then the men shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl.
2. Sic dicit Jehova, ecce aquae ascendunt ab aquilone, et erunt in torrentem exundantem, et exundabunt terram et plenitudinem ejus, urbem et habitatores ejus, et clamabunt homo (hoc est, singuli homines clamabunt,) et ululabit omnis incola terrae.
The Prophet, no doubt, wished to remind the Jews that it would only be a prelude when Gaza was plundered, and that a far more grievous punishment was impending over that ungodly nation, which had done so many wrongs to God’s people. For if Gaza had suffered only that loss, the Jews might have complained of their lot, as those ungodly men who had acted so wickedly and in so many ways provoked God’s vengeance, had lightly suffered. They might then have objected and said, “What can this mean? God has indeed lightly smitten Gaza; but we would thus willingly redeem our lives: as those who wish to avoid shipwreck cast forth their goods into the sea, and whatever precious thing they may have; so we, if life only be given us, are prepared to part with all our property.” The Jews then might have thus deplored their lot. Hence the Prophet says, that something more grievous awaited that city.
“When ye see Gaza plundered,” he says, “think not that this is the last judgment of God; for, behold, waters shall rise from the north, that is, the Chaldeans shall complete the work of executing God’s vengeance; the Egyptians shall only plunder the wealth of the city, which will be endurable; but at length the Chaldeans will come to exercise boundless cruelty, and they shall be like a flood, and shall overwhelm Gaza, so as utterly to destroy it.” We now, then, see what the Prophet meant: there is implied a comparison between the plunder effected by the Egyptians and the final ruin brought on it by the Chaldeans.
The rising or ascending of waters is evidently a metaphorical expression. He adds that they would be an overflowing torrent, that is, the waters would be like an inundating river; and they will inundate the land. He speaks of the land of the Philistines, where this city was. They will inundate, he says, the land and its fullness Fullness is taken in Hebrew for opulence or wealth; trees, corn, and animals are called the fullness of the land; for when the land brings forth no corn and no fruits, when it breeds no animals, it is deemed naked and empty. As then God clothes the land with such ornaments, the land is said to be full, when it abounds in those productions with which God enriches it. he afterwards speaks of men, the city, he says; he speaks not now of the city Gaza, but of the whole country; then the singular number is to be taken here for the plural. At length he says, Cry shall men, and howl shall all the inhabitants of the land The number as to the verbs is here changed, but there is no ambiguity in the meaning. And by these words the Prophet intimates, that a most grievous punishment would be inflicted on the Philistines, so that they would not only cry for sorrow, but even howl. It follows, —
3. At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands.
3. A voce strepitus ungularum fortium ejus, a commotione currus ejus, a tumultu rotarum ejus, non respicient patres ad filios prae dissolutione manuum.
He continues the same subject; for he says, that so grievous would be the calamity, that fathers would not have a care for their children, which is a proof of extreme sorrow; for men even in adversity do not divest themselves of their natural feelings. When a father has children, he would willingly undergo ten deaths, if necessary, in order to save their life; but when men forget that they are parents, it is a proof, as I have said, of the greatest grief, as though men, having changed their nature, were become logs of wood. But the Prophet expresses the cause, not only of sorrow, but also of anxiety; From the voice, he says, of the noise of the hoofs of his valiant ones; he does not name the horses, but פרסות, peresut, refer to horses; hoofs, he says, shall make a great noise by stamping. And then such would be the commotion by the driving of chariots, and such a tumult would the revolving wheels create, that fathers, being astonished, would not. look on their children At length, he adds, through dissolution of hands By dissolution of hands he means loss of courage or fainting. For as vigor spreads from the heart through every part of the body, so also the bands are the chief instruments of all actions. When therefore the bands are relaxed and become feeble, it follows that men become as it were inanimate. The Prophet now means that the Philistines would become like the dead, so as not to move, no, not even their fingers; and why? because they would be so terrified by the stamping of horses, by the commotion of chariots, and by the rumbling of wheels, that they would lose their senses. It follows, —
4. Because of the day that cometh to spoil all the Philistines, and to cut off from Tyrus and Zidon every helper that remaineth: for the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor.
4. Propter diem qui venit ad perdendum omnes Philistinos (vel, totam terram Philistinorum, loquitur de terra et populo,) ad excidendum Tyrum et Sidonem, totas reliquias fortitudinis; quia devastat Jehova Philistinos, reliquias insuliae Caphthor.
Jeremiah shews now more clearly, and without a figure, his meaning, even that destruction would come on the Philistines when their time was completed. And he mentions Tyre and Sidon, neighboring cities, and. formerly under their own jurisdiction. But Tyre in the time of Isaiah had its own king; yet afterwards in the time of Alexander the Great the city was free, as it is well known. These, however, were cities of Palestine, and the people called then Philistines were contiguous to these cities, so that the Prophet rightly includes them as it were in the same bundle. Coming, he says, is the day to destroy all the Philistines, and also to cut off the most opulent cities, even Tyre and Sidon
Sidon was more ancient than Tyre; but the daughter devoured the mother, according to the common proverb. For Tyre in time flourished, and Sidon became almost forsaken. It, however, always retained a name and also some wealth on account of its commodious harbor. But Tyre was an island in the time of Alexander the Great; and was therefore more commodious for ships, as it had many harbors. But the Prophet connects them both together, because they formed then a part of the land of the Philistines. There is no doubt but that the destruction was especially denounced on these cities, that the Jews might know that nothing would be safe throughout the whole land, inasmuch as these cities, the defenses, as it were, of the whole country, were destined to perish.
He farther adds, on account of the day which is coming against all the helping remnants, for Jehovah will destroy, that is, he will destroy the Philistines, who are the remnants (it is indeed another word, but means the same) of the island of Oaphtor He confirms here the same thing in other words, even that God’s hand would be on these cities and the whole land, though external aids might come; and these he calls all the remnants of courage, or auxiliaries. Though they might have many friends alive, ready to bring them help, yet the Lord would demolish them all, as it follows, for Jehovah will destroy the Philistines, the remnants of the island of Caphtor
By the island of Caphtor he no doubt means Palestine; but it is doubtful for what reason the Hebrews called the Cappadocians Caphtorim. As it is hardly credible that they who inhabited this land had come from so far a country, interpreters have supposed that others, and not Cappadocians, are here called Caphtorim. Yet Moses intimates (De 2:23) that those who inhabited the land from Gaza to Jordan, were not natives, that is, were not born in those places, but that they were a wandering people; for he says, that
“The Caphtorim went forth and dwelt there
in the place of the natives.”
We may hence conclude that the Caphtorim were foreigners, who, wandering from their own country, sought an habitation elsewhere, and took possession of this land. Whether they were Cappadocians, I leave undecided; nor ought we to toil much on a subject of this kind. But as the Caphtorim had emigrated into Palestine, Jeremiah calls that region the remnants of the island of Caphtor It follows, —
5. Baldness is come upon Gaza; Ashkelon is cut off with the remnant of their valley: how long wilt thou cut thyself?
5. Venit calvitium super Gazam, destructa est Asealon, reliquiae vailis ipsorum (vel, profunditatis, potius, ut mihi videtur,) quousque laniabis te?
The Prophet returns again to what is figurative, that he might more fully illustrate his prophecy, and more powerfully move the Jews. Now by baldness he points out a sign of mourning; for they were wont even to tear their faces with their nails, and to pluck off their hair. He then says that baldness, or the loss of hair, had come upon Gaza; because the inhabitants of the valley and of the whole land, according to what was usually done in despair, would pluck off their own hair. It is added, Destroyed is Ashkelon This city, we know, had a great name in the land of the Philistines, and was nigh Gaza, as it appears from many parts of Scripture. he mentions the remnants of their valley, or depth, for the word is עמק, omek: and though it means a valley, yet the Prophet, no doubt, alludes to the situation of that part, because they were hid, as it were, in a safe place, and they thought themselves secure as those who are hid in caverns, to which an access is not easy; and then Tyre and Sidon, as well as Gaza, were cities on the sea side. As then they dwelt in these deep and hidden places, they thought, themselves far away from every danger and trouble. The Prophet derides this confidence, and says that the remnants of their valley should perish; as though he had said, that there would be no place so deep and hidden where God’s vengeance would not penetrate.
He at length addresses the whole country, How long wilt thou tear thyself? By tearing he means, no doubt, mourning or lamentation; for they would tear their faces, as it has been said, with their nails, as in the greatest grief. The meaning is, that there would be no end to their calamities, because the Palestines would mourn perpetually: for otherwise they who are even most grievously afflicted do not perpetually mourn, for time alleviates grief and sorrow. The Prophet then shews that so dreadful would be God’s vengeance, that evils would be heaped on evils, and thus renewed daily to the Palestines would be the cause of mourning. He afterwards adds, —
6. O thou sword of the LORD, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still.
6. Heus gladie Jehovae, quousque non quiesces? collige te (vel, reconde te) in vaginam tuam; quiesce et sile.
7. How can it be quiet, seeing the LORD hath given it a charge against Ashkelon, and against the sea shore? there hath he appointed it.
7. Quomodo quiesces, cum Jehova praeceperit ei (vel, de ipsa, sed malo, praeceperit ei) super Ascalon, et super littus maris, illic contestatus sit ei?
Here Jeremiah turns to address the sword of God; and it is a happy apostrophe. It is very striking and forcible, when the Prophet at one time addresses the land of the Philistines, and at another, the sword of God; and he had no other object but to confirm his prophecy, of which otherwise, the Jews might have doubted.
He then says, Ho! sword of Jehovah! Though he puts here the preposition ל, lamed, which designates the dative case; yet it is often redundant. There is, in the meantime, no doubt but that he intimates that the slaughter of which he speaks would be, as it were, by God’s sword, or by a sword hired by him. Thus he shews that the Chaldeans would do the work of God in destroying the land of the Philistines.
How long, he says, ere thou restest! Hide thyself in thy sheath, rest and be still Here the Prophet assumes the character of another, as though he wished to soothe with blandishments the sword of God, and mitigate its fury. “O sword,” he says, “spare them, leave off to rage against the Philistines.” The Prophet, it is certain, had no such feeling; but, as we have said elsewhere, it was a common thing with the Prophets to assume different characters while endeavor-ing more fully to confirm their doctrine. It is the same, then, as though he represented here the Philistines; and the Prophets speak also often in the person of those on whom they denounce the vengeance of God. It is here as though he had said, “The Philistines will humbly ask pardon of God’s sword, but it will be without advantage or profit; for when they seek to mitigate the wrath of God, the answer will be, How can it rest?” Here the Prophet, as it were, reproves himself, “I act foolishly in wishing to repress the sword of God; for how canst thou rest?” It could not be; and why? because God hath commanded it against Ashkelon He now changes the person, but without any injury to the sense. God, then, hath commanded it, therefore the whole world would intercede in vain; in vain also will the Philistines deprecate it; for it will not be in their power to mitigate God’s wrath, when it shall burn against them and against Ashkelon.
Some take it, ה, he, as meaning the land itself; but as it immediately follows, against Ashkelon and against the seashore, it is better to explain it as above.
By the sea-shore some understand Joppa; but it is probable that the Prophet includes the whole coast, and that he thus still speaks of Tyre, and Sidon, and Gaza, though he names Ashkelon, which was a little distant from the sea. When, therefor, God commanded his sword against Ashkelon and all the cities which were by the sea-shore, the execution of his judgement could not be prevented in that region. He further adds, he hath commanded it; but it is in a solemn manner, and hence I have rendered the words, he hath called it to witness, or protested it. He then intimates that God had not simply given his sword a command to commit slaughters through the whole land, but bound his sword, as it were, by solemn protest; as though he had said, that this decree could not be revoked, because Godwill not only command his sword to execute his vengeance, but will also give it a solemn command, and bind it, as it were, by an oath, never to cease from its work until the whole people, and all the cities, and the whole land, should be destroyed together.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou wouldst have to exist a monument of thine invaluable mercy towards thy chosen people, when thou didst so grievously punish the unbelieving, — O grant, that we may at this day resort to thee whenever our enemies distress us, and never doubt but that thou wilt take care of our safety, and so recumb on thy mercy, that we may patiently wait for the time of our deliverance; and that, in the meantime, we may see from on high, as in mirror, the punishment prepared for the unbelieving, so that we may not follow their example nor implicate ourselves in their vices, but separate ourselves from them, that, being devoted to thee, we may fight under the banner of thine only-begotten Son, until he shall gather us into his celestial kingdom. — Amen.