Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 21: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
1. Quomodo obscuratum est aurum! Mutatum est aurum bonum! Effusi sunt (vel, projecti) lapides sanctuarii in capite omnium platearum.
Here Jeremiah, following the order of the alphabet the fourth time, 206 deplores the ruin of the city, and the destruction of the priesthood and of the kingdom. For they are mistaken who think that the death of Josiah is here lamented; for there are here many things, which we shall see as we proceed, which do not suit that event. There is no doubt but that this mournful song refers to the destruction of the Temple and city; but when Josiah was killed, the enemy had not come to the city, and the stones of the Temple were not then east forth into the streets and the public roads. There are also other things which we shall see, which did not then happen. It follows then that here is described the terrible vengeance of God, which we have had already to consider.
He begins by expressing his astonishment, How obscured is the gold! and the precious gold! for כתם, catam, is properly the best gold, though the word good,הטוב ethub, is added to it. We may hence conclude that it generally denotes gold only. He mentions, then, gold twice, but they are two different words in Hebrew, זהב, zaeb, and כתם catam. 207 Now he speaks figuratively in the former part of the verse; but there is no doubt but that by the gold, and the finest gold, as it is rendered, he means the splendor of the Temple; for God had designed the Temple to be built, as it is well known, in a very magnificent manner. Hence he calls what was ornamental in the Temple gold.
He then speaks without a figure, and says, that the stones were thrown here and there in all directions. Some, indeed, think that these words refer to the sacred vessels, of which there was a large quantity, we know, in the Temple. But this opinion is not probable, for the Prophet does not complain that the gold was taken away, but that it was obscured, and changed. It is then, no doubt, a metaphorical expression. But he afterwards explains himself when he says that the stones of the sanctuary were cast forth here and there along all the streets. It was indeed a sad spectacle; for God had consecrated that temple to himself, that he might dwell in it. When therefore the stones of the sanctuary were thus disgracefully scattered, it must have grievously wounded the minds of all the godly; for they saw that God’s name was thus exposed to reproaches. Nor is there a doubt but that the Chaldeans vomited forth many reproaches against God when they thus scattered the stones of the temple. It hence appears, that the Prophet did not without reason exclaim, How has this happened! for such a sight must have justly astonished all the godly, seeing as they did the degradation of the temple connected with a reproach to God himself. It follows, —
2. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
2. Filii Sion pretiosi (alii vertunt, inclytos) comparatiauro (alii vertunt, amicti auro, quod mihi magis placet,) quomodo reputati sunt in lagenas testaceas (testae, ad verbum) opus manuum figuli?
The Prophet comes now to the people, though he does not include the whole people, but brings forward those who were renowned, and excelled in honor and dignity. He then says, that they were become like earthen vessels and the work of the potter’s hands, which is very fitly added. Then by the sons of Sion, whom he calls precious or glorious, he means the chief men and the king’s counselors and those who were most eminent. And he seems to allude to that prophecy which we before explained’ for he had said that the people were like earthen vessels; and he went into the house of the potter, that he might see what was made there. When the potter made a vessel which did not please him, he remodeled it, and then it assumed another form; then God declared that the people were in his hand and at his will, as the clay was in the hand of the potter. (Jer. 18:2, Jer. 19:11.) When he now says, that the chief men were stripped of all dignity, and reduced to another form, so as to become like earthen vessels, he no doubt sets forth by this change the judgment of God, which the Jews had for a time disregarded.
And we must bear in mind the Prophet’s object: he described the ruin of the Temple and city, that he might remind the people of the punishment which had at length been inflicted; for we know that the people had not only been deaf, but had also scoffed at and derided all prophecies and threatenings. As, then, they had not believed the doctrine of Jeremiah, he now shews that what he had predicted was really fulfilled, and that the people were finding to their cost that God did not trifle with them when he had so often threatened what at length happened. And hence we may conclude, that there was then a superfluous splendor in garments, for we read that they had been clad or clothed in gold; surely it was a display too sumptuous. There is, however, no wonder, for we know that Orientals are far too much given to such trumperies.
Now, if the other reading, that the sons of Sion had been before compared to gold, 208 be more approved, the passage must be extended to all their dignity and to all those gifts by which they had been favored and had become illustrious. I have already reminded you, that the work of the potter’s hands is here to be taken for the vessels or the earthen flagons; but it was the Prophet’s object to enlarge on that reproach, which ]lad been before incredible. It follows —
3. Even the sea-monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
3. Etiam serpentes educunt mammam, lactant catulos suos; filia populi mei ad crudelem tanquam ululm (vel, struthiones) in deserto.
This verse is harshly explained by many, for they think that the daughter of the people is called cruel, because she acted towards her children as serpents do to their young ones. But this meaning is not suitable, for the word בת, beth, is well known to be feminine. He says that the daughter of the people had come to a savage or cruel one, the latter word is masculine. Then the Prophet seems to mean that the whelps (such is the word) of serpents are more kindly dealt with than the Jews. Serpents are void of all humanity, yet they nourish their brood and give them the breast,. Hence the Prophet by this comparison amplifies the miseries of the people, that their condition was worse than that of serpents, for the tender brood are nourished by their mothers; but the people were without any help, so that they in vain implored the protection of their mother and of others. ‘We now see the real meaning of the Prophet.
The particle גם, gam, is emphatical; for had he spoken of animals, such as are careful to nourish their young, it would not have been so wonderful; but so great seems to be the savageness and barbarity of serpents, that they might be expected to east away their brood. Now he says that even serpents draw out the breast The Jews say that the breasts of serpents are covered with scales, as though they were hidden; but this is one of their figments. It is a common phrase, taken from t common practice; for a woman draws out the breast when she gives suck to her infant; so serpents are said to draw out the breast when they give suck to their whelps; for גורים, gurim, are the whelps of lions or of bears; but in this place the word is applied to serpents. The daughter, then, of my people has come to the cruel one, for the people had to do with nothing but cruelty, there being no one to bring them help or to succor them in their miseries. He, then, does not accuse the people of cruelty, that they did not nourish their children, but on the contrary he means that they were given up to cruel enemies. 209
As the ostriches, or the owls, he says, in the wilderness. If we understand the ostrich to be intended, we know that bird to be very stupid; for as soon as she lays an egg, she forgets and leaves it. The comparison, then, would be suitable, were the daughter of the people said to be cruel, because she neglected her children; but the Prophet, as I think, means, on the contrary, that the Jews were so destitute of every help, as though they were banished into solitary places beyond the sight of men; for birds in solitude in vain seek the help of others. As, then, the ostrich Or the owl has in the desert no one to bring it help, and is without its own mother, so the Prophet intimates that there was no one to stretch forth a hand to the distressed people to relieve their extreme miseries. It follows, —
4. The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
4. Adhaesit lingua lactantis ad palatum ejus in siti; parvuli petierunt panem, dividens nemo illis (hoc est, nemo est qui illis dividat, id est, porrigat.)
He says that sucking children were so thirsty, that the tongue was as it were fixed to the palate; and it was a dreadful thing; for mothers would willingly pour forth their own blood to feed their infants. When, therefore, the tongue of a child clave to his mouth, it seemed to be in a manner beyond nature. Among other calamities, then, the Prophet names this, that infants pined away with thirst, and also that children sought bread in vain. He speaks not in the latter instance of sucklings, but. of children three or four years old. Then he says that they sought or asked for bread, but that there was no one to give. 210
He describes here the famine of the city, of which he had predicted, when he declared that it would be better with the slain than with the people remaining alive, for a harder conflict with famine and want would await the living. But this was not believed. Now, then, the Prophet upbraids the Jews with their former perverseness. He afterwards adds, —
5. They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
5. Qui comedebant ad delicias (hoc est, in deliciis, ad verbum, למעדנים,) perierunt in plateis; qui educati fuerant in coccino (ad coccinum,) amplexi sunt stercora.
Here he goes on farther, and says, that they had perished with famine who had been accustomed to the most delicate food. He had said generally that infants found nothing in their mothers’ breasts, but pined away with thirst, and also that children died through want of bread. But he now amplifies this calamity by saying, that this not only happened to the children of the common people, but also to those who had been brought up delicately, and had been clothed in scarlet and purple.
Then he says that they perished in the streets, and also that they embraced the dunghills, because they had no place to lie down, or because they sought food, as famished men do, on dunghills. 211 It seems to be a hyperbolical expression; but if we consider what the Prophet has already narrated and will again repeat, it ought not to appear incredible, that those who had been accustomed to delicacies embraced dunghills; for mothers cooked their own children and devoured them as beef or mutton. There is no doubt but that the siege, of which we have before read, drove the people to acts too degrading to be spoken of, especially when they had become blinded through so great a pertinacity, and had altogether hardened themselves in their madness against God. It follows, —
6. For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.
6. Et major fuit poena filiae populi mei poena Sodomae (ad verbum est, iniquitas filiae populi mei peccato vel scelere Sodomae; sed statim, dicam cur de poena exponam potius quam de ipso scelere,) quae eversa fuit tanquam momento; non manserunt in ea plagae (alii vertunt, et non castrametatae sunt manus; sed postea etiam dicam cur mihi magis placeat illa versio.)
The Prophet says first,, that the punishment of his people was heavier than that of Sodom. If any one prefers the other version, I will not contend, for it is not unsuitable; and hence also a most useful doctrine may be drawn, that we are to judge of the grievousness of our sins by the greatness of our punishment for God never exceeds what is just when he takes vengeance on the sins of men. Then his severity shews how grievously men have sinned. Thus, Jeremiah may have reasoned from the effect to the cause, and declared that the people had been more wicked than the Sodomitites. Nor is this unreasonable; for if the Jews had not fallen into that great wickedness of which the Sodomites were guilty, yet the Prophets everywhere charged them as men who not only equaled but also surpassed the Sodomites, especially Ezekiel, (Ezek. 16:46, 47.) Isaiah also called them the people of Gomorrha, and the king’s counselors and judges, the princes of Sodom, (Isa. 1:9, 10.) This mode of speaking is then common in the Prophets, and the meaning is not unsuitable.
But as he dwells only on the grievousness of their punishment, the other explanation seems more simple; for I regard not what is plausible, but accept the true meaning. Let us then repeat the Prophet’s words: greater is the punishment of my people, etc. The word עון, oun, means punishment as well as iniquity; this is certain, beyond dispute. Now חטאת, chethat, means also both sin and punishment. It is hence applied to expiations; the sacrifice for sin is called חטאת, chethat. As to the words, then, they designate punishment as well as sin, the cause of it. But the reason which follows leads me to consider punishment as intended, for he says that Sodom was overthrown as in a moment. Here, doubtless, we see that the sins of the Jews are not compared to the sins of the Sodomites, but their destruction only: God had overthrown Sodom, as afterwards he overthrew Jerusalem; but the ruin of Sodom was milder, for it perished in a moment — for when God had dreadfully thundered, the Sodomites and their neighboring citizens were immediately destroyed; and we know that the shorter the punishment, the more tolerable it is. As the Prophet here compares the momentary destruction of Sodom with the prolonged ruin of the city and slaughter of the people, we see that what is spoken of is not sin, but on the contrary God’s judgment.
There is yet no doubt but that the Prophet summoned the Jews to God’s tribunal, that they might know that they deserved such a vengeance, and that they might perceive that they were worse than the Sodomites. For it was not the Prophet’s object to expostulate with God, or to charge him with having been too rigid in destroying the city of Jerusalem. As, then, the Prophet does not charge God either with injustice or with cruelty, it is certain that punishment is what is here set forth, in order that the people might know what they deserved. 212
But the words declare nothing more than that God’s vengeance had been severer towards the Jews than towards the Sodomites. How so? it is evident from this reason, because Sodom was consumed as in a moment; and then it is added, and strokes remained not on her. The word יד, id, as it is well known, means hand, a place, but sometimes, metaphorically, a stroke. Interpreters vary here, but I shall not recite the opinions of all, nor is it needful. Those who seem to come nearest to the words of the Prophet, render them thus, “and hands (or forces) have not encamped against her.” But this is a forced and far-fetched meaning. It would run better, “have not remained.” The verb חול chul, means sometimes to encamp and sometimes to remain, to settle. Then the most appropriate meaning would be, that strokes settled not on the Sodomites, while the Jews pined away in their manifold evils. 213 For they did not immediately perish like the Sodomitites; but when God saw them so obstinate in their wickedness, he destroyed some by famine, some by pestilence, and some by the sword; and then the city was not immediately demolished altogether, as it often happens when enemies make a slaughter and kill men, women, and children; but this people were not so destroyed. Many of them were driven into exile, and some of the common people were left to inhabit the ruined cities, for there was dreadful desolation. The king himself, as it has before appeared, was removed to Babylon, but his eyes had previously been pulled out, and his children slain in his presence.
We hence see that the destruction of the city was like a slow consumption: and that thus strokes remained there as it were fixed, which did not happen to Sodom; for Sodom suddenly perished when God thundered against it; but the hand of God did not depart from the Jews, and the strokes or smitings, as I have said, were fixed on them and continued. It follows, —
7. Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
7. Candidiores Nazaraei ejus nive, (vel, puriores,) candidiores laete, rubicundi fuerunt corpore suo (neque enim hoc potest accipi de ossibus) supra lapillos preciosos, sapphirus excisio ipsorum:
8. Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
8. Obtenebrata est prae caligine forma ipsorum, non agniti in plateis; adhaesit cutis eorum ossi ipsorum, (hoc est, ossibus;) exaruit, fuit tanquam lignum.
Here the Prophet speaks of Nazarites, by whom we know the worship of God was honored; for they, who were not content with the common observance of the Law, consecrated themselves to God, that by their example they might stimulate others. It was then a singular zeal in a few to consecrate themselves, so as to become Nazarites, or separated. What this custom was may be known from the sixth chapter of Numbers. For God, who has always repudiated all fictitious forms of worship, prescribed to the Nazarites what he approved in every particular. Hence Moses carefully men-honed all those things which were to be observed by the Nazarites.
As to the present passage, it is enough to say, that the Nazarites were peculiarly devoted to God’s service during the time of their separation, for it was only a temporary service.
Then the Prophet brings them forward, that it might hence be evident how sad was the change, which he never could have made the Jews to believe. He says that the Nazarites were purer than snow, and whiter that milk, and also ruddier than precious stones, so that they might be corn-pared to sapphire; for, by saying sapphire was their cutting, he means that they were like sapphires well polished. Now we know that the Nazarites abstained from wine and strong drink: hence abstinence might have lessened somewhat of their ruddiness. For he who is accustomed to drink wine, if he abstains for a time, is apt to grow pale; lie will then lose almost all his color, at least he will not be so ruddy; nor will there appear in his face and in his members so much rigor as when he took his ordinary support. Jeremiah, in short, teaches us flint the blessing of God was conspicuous in the Nazarites, for he wonderfully supported them while they were for a time abstinence.
Now, on the contrary, he says that the Nazarites were become withered, that their skin clave to their bones, that, in short, they were so deformed that they could not be known, not only in obscure corners, but even in the open street, hi the middle of the market-place. We hence learn that as the favor of God had before appeared as to the Nazarites, so now also his vengeance might be certainly known, because they had fallen off from their vigor, and were reduced to a degrading deformity. 214
The Prophet at the same time shews that worship according to the law had in a manner deteriorated on account of the vices of the people; and this is the design of the whole, as I reminded you at the beginning. For there is no doubt but that he wished to rouse the Jews, that they might at length raise up their eyes to God; for they had long grown torpid in their vices, and had been even inflated with diabolical pride; hence was their inveterate obstinacy. As long as the Temple stood, they thought that they satisfied God by the sacrifices they offered. When the Prophet now tells them that the stones of the Temple were thrown down, it hence follows that the Temple was profaned’ whence this profanation? from the wickedness of the people. The Chaldeans, indeed, thought that they brought a great reproach on God when they demolished the Temple; but, as long pollution had preceded, our Prophet now represents to the Jews their sins as in a mirror or a living form; for they had polluted the Temple before the Chaldeans. So also he shews that the worship according to the law was no longer pleasing to God, for they had mocked him with empty specters; for it was only a vain display when there was no integrity within. The Prophet then shews to them what, he could before by no means have persuaded them to believe, that God was in no way pleased with the external worship of the Jews, while they were audaciously violating the whole law. It afterwards follows, —
9. They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
9. Meliores fuerunt occisi gladio quam occisi fame; fluxerunt transrossi a fructibus agri.
The beginning of the verse is without any difficulty; for the Prophet says that it happened better to those who immediately perished by the sword than to others who had to struggle with famine, according to what he had lately said, that the punishment of Sodom was more tolerable, because it was suddenly executed. Sudden death is the easiest And the Prophet, when complaining that the ungodly prospered, so that the faithful sometimes envied them, says that they die as it were in a moment, and are taken away from the world; but he says that the faithful are held, as it were, captive by the snares of death, and protract life in perpetual languor. For this reason the Prophet now says that the punishment of death would have been light to the Jews. And yet we know that. a violent death is regarded by us with horror. For he who dies on his bed is said to yield to his fate, as he seems to pay what he owes to nature; but, he who is slain by the sword is violently snatched away, and, as it were, contrary to nature. Violent death, then, is always horrible. But the comparison used by the Prophet amplifies the atrocity of their punishment, because it would have been more desirable to have been killed at once than to remain alive to struggle with famine.
And he expresses himself more clearly by saying that they pined away, having been pierced through by the fruits of the earth There is here some obscurity, but by the fruits of the earth, we are no doubt to understand all kinds of food. Some consider that “defect,” or failure, is to be understood. But the Prophet speaks much more emphatically, even that all the productions of the earth took vengeance on this wicked people, by refusing the usual supply. The earth is the servant of God’s bounty and kindness; for it is the same as though he with his hand extended food to us, when the earth opens its bowels; so also the productions of the earth are evidences of God’s paternal love towards us. Now, when the fruits of the earth withdraw themselves from us, they are as it were the weapons to execute God’s vengeance. So, then, the Prophet means that the Jews had been pierced through by the fruits of the earth, and thus had pined away; as though he had said, that they had not been pierced by the sword, but had been wounded by famine, for the productions of the earth became, as it were, swords, while yet they sustain, as we have said, the life of men. 215
Grant. Almighty God, that as thou shewest by thy Prophet that, after having long borne with thine ancient people, thy wrath at length did so far burn as to render final judgment above all others remarkable, — O grant that we may not at this day, by our obstinacy or by our sloth, provoke thy wrath, but be attentive to thy threatenings, yea, and obey thy paternal invitations, and so willingly devote ourselves to thy service, that as thou hast hitherto favored us with thy blessings, so thou mayest perpetuate them, until we shall at length enjoy the fullness of all good things in thy celestial kingdom, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
10. The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
10. Manus mulierum misericordium coxerunt foetus suos, fuerunt in alimenta ipis in contritione filiae populi mei.
Here Jeremiah refers to that disgraceful and abominable deed mentioned yesterday; for it was not only a barbarity, but a beastly savageness, when mothers boiled their own children. That it was done is evident from other writers; but the Prophet is to us a sufficient witness, who had seen it with his own eyes. He then says that the mothers were merciful, that no one might think that they were divested of every natural feeling; but he meant thus to set forth the blindness which proceeds from God’s dreadful vengeance. He does not, then, praise the mothers for their clemency, as though they felt as they ought to have done for their offspring; but. he intimates that though they would have been otherwise humane, they were yet seized with unusual madness, so that they boiled their own children, even their own bowels. We now, then, perceive the meaning of the word merciful, as applied to the mothers by the Prophet. It is not then to be deemed as a praise to them, as though they had a maternal love for their children; but his object was to set forth that monstrous act, which would not have sufficiently touched their minds, had he not testified that the mothers of whom he speaks were not so brutal as not to have gladly given food to their children; but that they were supernaturally blinded by furious madness. It follows —
11. The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
11. Complevit (vel, perfecit) Jehova iracundiam suam, effudit excandescentiam irae suae et accendit ignem in Sion, qui voravit fundamenta ejus.
He at length concludes that nothing was wanting to complete the extreme vengeance of God; for had the Jews been chastised in an ordinary way, they would have still extenuated their sins, as we know that they were not easily led to repentance. Hence the Prophet, to shew that their offenses had not been slight, but that they had been extremely wicked before God, says that the whole of God’s wrath had been executed: Jehovah has completed his wrath The expression is indeed harsh to Latin ears; but the meaning is, that he had executed his extreme judgment.
He afterwards adds, He has poured forth the indignation of his wrath. God is indeed content with moderate punishment, provided men be awakened from their torpor; but when he pours forth his wrath, there is no hope of repentance. It is then a sign of final despair when God’s vengeance overflows like a deluge. But when Jeremiah thus speaks, he does not contend with God, but rather reminds the Jews of what they deserved, as it was stated yesterday. There is, then, no doubt but that he argues, from the grievousness of their punishment, that there was no reason for the Jews to flatter themselves any longer, since God had dealt so severely with them.
He then, in other words, points out the same thing, that God had kindled a fire which devoured or consumed the very foundations. Fire is wont rather to take hold on the roofs of houses, or, when it creeps farther, it does not proceed beyond the surface. It is a very rare thing for it to penetrate into the foundations. Let us at the same time know that the Prophet speaks metaphorically of the destruction of the city, for it was such as left nothing remaining. For when some ruins remain, there is some intimation of a future restoration at least the minds of beholders are inclined to hope that what has fallen is to be restored; but when the buildings are not only pulled down, but also demolished from their foundations, then the destruction seems to be without any hope of restoration. And this is what the Prophet means when he says, that the fire had consumed, not only what was above ground, but the very foundations of Jerusalem. It follows, —
12. The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
12. Non crediderunt (vel, non credidissent) reges terrae, neque omnes incolae orbis, quod ingressus esset adversarius et inimicus in portas Jerusalem.
He confirms the same thing; for when a thing incredible happens, either we are extremely stupid, or we must be moved and affected. The Prophet, then, now says that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem had been incredible, because God had defended it by his power; it was also so fortified that no one believed that it could be taken, and the grandeur of the city was known everywhere.
He then says that Jerusalem had been taken and overthrown, which no one of the heathens, neither their kings nor their people, had thought possible. It then follows that the city had been destroyed by God’s hand rather than by the power of enemies. Nebuchadnezzar had indeed brought a strong army, but the city was so well fortified that they thought that all attempts would be in vain. That the city, then, was taken and demolished, could not have been ascribed to human forces, but to a power hidden from the eyes of men. It then follows that it was God’s work, and indeed singular. We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet in saying that it was not believed by kings nor people that enemies could storm Jerusalem. And in continuation he adds, —
13. For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
13. Propter peccatum prophetarum ejus, iniquitatem sacerdotum ejus, qui fuderunt in medio ejus sanguinem justorum.
The Prophet, as in a matter fully proved, rebukes the Jews, that he might, as it was necessary, bring down their pride. Had he at first condemned the wickedness of the prophets and the priests, no credit would have been given to his word. But after he had set before them what we have observed, and especially after he had shewn that the ruin of the city was a kind of prodigy, what he now adds must have been certainly inferred, even that the Jews had in so many ways and with such pertinacity provoked God, that it became necessary that they should be wholly destroyed, as it happened.
But he points out here the sins by which God’s wrath hart been kindled against. the people. He then says that the fountain or the origin was ill the prophets and priests. Now, we have elsewhere explained that the fault was not removed from the people when the prophets and the priests were thus condemned. Indeed, the common people readily exonerate themselves when they can plead ignorance, or say that they have been deceived by their teachers and leaders. But when Jeremiah imputes the chief part of the evils to the prophets and priests, he does not, as I have said, devolve on them the fault of the people, but intimates that their physicians had been as it were impostors. For when the people corrupted themselves, the prophets were sent for this end, to apply a remedy to their evils, and so also were the priests; for we know that it was a duty enjoined on them to retain the people in true religion and in the worship of God. In short, Jeremiah shows that the people had been ruined, because corruption had begun with the prophets and the priests; or, which is the same thing, that die sins of the people had proved fatal, because their heads or chiefs were diseased; because, he says, of the sin of the prophets, and the iniquity of the priests, etc.
He mentions one kind of sins, that they shed the blood of the righteous in the midst of Jerusalem They had no doubt led the people astray in other things, for they flattered their vices, and gave loose reins to licentiousness; but the Prophet here fixed on one particular sin, the most grievous; for they had not only, by their errors and false doctrines and flatteries, led away the people from the fear of God, but had also obstinately defended their impiety, and by force and cruelty repressed their faithful teachers, and put to death the witnesses of God; for by the righteous or just he no doubt means the prophets. For what Jerome and others say, that blood had been shed because false teachers draw souls to perdition, is frivolous and wholly foreign to what Jeremiah had in view; for the word righteous cannot be applied to those miserable men who were ensnared to their own ruin. Then Jeremiah, after having denounced the sin of the prophets and the iniquity of the priests, mentions the savage cruelty, which was as it were the summit of all their riches. Though, then, they had in various ways provoked God, yet this was their extreme wickedness, that they exercised so great a cruelty against God’s servants, that they constrained as it were the Holy Spirit to be silent. For when the despisers of God went so far as to give themselves up to shed innocent blood, it was a proof of a diabolical obstinacy. We now, then, understand what the Prophet had here in view.
Now this passage teaches us, that Satan has from the beginning polluted the sanctuary of God by means even of sacred names: for the prophetic office was honorable — so also was the sacerdotal. God had established among his people the priesthood, which was as it were a living image of Christ: there was then nothing more excellent than the priesthood under the Law, if we regard the institution of God. It was also a singular blessing that God promised that his people should never be without prophets. As, then, prophets and priests were two eyes as it were in the Church, the devil turned them to every kind of profanation. This example then reminds us how much we ought to watch, lest empty titles deceive us, which are nothing but masks or specters. When we hear the name of Church and of pastors, we ought reverently to regard the office as well as the order which has proceeded from God, provided we are not content with naked titles, but examine whether the reality also corresponds. Thus we see that the whole world has for many ages degenerated from true religion; under what pretext? even this, — that those who led astray miserable souls, boasted that they were the vicars of Christ, the successors of the apostles, so that they still arrogantly boast of these titles, and are inflated with them. But we see what happened in the time of Jeremiah.
We have had before similar passages; but this ought to be carefully noticed, for it says, that prophets and priests had destroyed the very Church of God. It was, indeed, a very grievous trial, and therefore a powerful instrument, as it were, for subverting the faith of the simple, when they saw that the very prophets and priests were the cause of ruin; but it behooved the faithful constantly to persevere in their obedience to the law. And we ought at the same time to remember what I have said, that the Prophet enhances the wickedness of the people, because the priests and the prophets themselves had been infected with impiety and contempt of God, and not only so, but they had exercised tyrannical cruelty towards the servants of God. It follows, —
14. They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
14. Errarunt caeci (subaudienda est nota similitudinis, sicut) in plateis, polluti sunt in sanguine, quia non potuerunt quin contingerent vestes ipsorum (ita lego, nec sine ratione, quia alioe versiones nullo modo conveniunt, ut nun videbimus.)
They who simply read, that the blind had wandered, deduce this meaning, that the blind were polluted in the streets, even because there was filth everywhere. They, indeed, come near to the meaning of the Prophet, but they do not clearly explain what he intended. I regard it therefore beyond dispute, that the people are here compared to the blind, but it does not yet appear for what purpose. But my opinion is this, that the whole city was so full of defilement’s, that they could not avoid uncleanness; for a blind man would touch a carcass, he would touch an unclean beast, he would touch a man infected with some disease; how so? because he could not see to distinguish between a dead and a living man, between the clean and unclean. Our Prophet now compares the people to the blind, and why? because wherever they went, uncleanness met them, so that their eyes were in a manner dazzled by thick darkness. For when pestilence does not spread everywhere, we can avoid an unclean place; but when there is no corner where there is not a dead corpse or some sickness, we must pass on anyhow, having no choice to make, — and why? because uncleanness surrounds us everywhere. So, then, the Prophet says that the citizens of Jerusalem were everywhere polluted, as though they were blind.
Now follows the reason, which has not been understood by interpreters, They were polluted, he says, with blood, because they could not but touch their garments. They all give this version, “They could not touch their garments,” and as there is much obscurity and almost absurdity in this rendering, they say that the meaning is that they were to avoid to touch their garments, because the law forbade them to touch the unclean. But the Prophet meant another thing. The words are literally thus, “They could not, they will touch their garments, that is, they will inevitably touch their garments. But the particle which I have mentioned is to be understood, and the passage will read thus, They could not but touch their garments; and we know that the language will bear this. And as this is consistent with the subject which the Prophet handles, every one, judging rightly, will readily receive what I have stated. The meaning then is, that they wandered as the blind, and were polluted in all the streets of the city, because they could not escape uncleanness, which met them everywhere; that is, because the city, as I have said, was full of so many pollutions, that they could not turn either here or there and avoid uncleanness. 216
As to the words, polluted with blood, they refer to the ceremonial law. There were indeed various kinds of pollutions, but this was the chief. He accommodates his expressions to his own age, and follows what was prescribed by the law. He, however, alludes to the sins designated by blood. We, in short, see that the whole of Jerusalem was so polluted with defilements, that no one could go forth without falling on some uncleanness. A confirmation follows, which also interpreters have not understood, —
15. They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there
15. Discedite, pollutus, clamavit illis; discedite, discedite, ne accedatis: quia evolarunt (aut, festinarunt,) etiam errarunt, dixerant in gentibus, Non adjicient ad Labitandum
The Prophet confirms the former verse, as I have said, even that no part of the city was free from filth, because they cried everywhere, “Depart, depart — unclean!” That what is said may be more evident to us, we must notice that the Prophet alludes (which also has not been perceived) to Le 13:45. For it is said there of the lepers, whose disease was incurable, that they were to go with rent garments, with a bare head, with covered lips, and cry, “Unclean, unclean, טמא טמא יקרא thema, thema, ikora. God, then, would have the leprous to be driven from the assembly; and hence came into use the exclamation, Unclean, unclean, טמא טמא, thema, thema. But here the Prophet says, “Depart, depart — unclean סורו סורו טמא, suru suru thema; which is substantially the same as commanded in the law. Now the Prophet speaks metaphorically when he says, that the city was infected with uncleanness, as though lepers were everywhere. We hence see how all these things agree together, “They cried, Depart ye — unclean; depart ye, depart;” that is, no one can move a foot from his house, or go forth in public, but some uncleanness will appear to him, so that it might be rightly exclaimed, Unclean, depart ye, depart The Prophet, after having thus spoken, Depart ye, come not nigh says, they have fled. It is a striking allusion to the exile of the people, as though he had said, that they were driven afar off by their defilements. As then they were removed to a distant land, he says that this happened through their own fault; how so? because they could no longer endure these defilement’s of their sins; they had so contaminated the holy city, that it was foetid through their filth. As, then, the city Jerusalem was so polluted, the citizens, he says, at length fled away: and thus exile proceeded from themselves, that is, the cause of exile was their filth, because they contaminated the city. They have fled, he says, and have also wandered; that is, so great was their haste, that they kept not the right way, but turned here and there, as they usually do who hasten with trembling. For when any one travels, and his mind composed, he attends to the road that he may not go astray; but he who trembles, or is filled with fear, forgets the way, and wanders from the right course. So, then, our Prophet now says, that the Jews fled and also wandered; for he uses the particle גם, gam, also; they also wandered, he says, even through that trepidation by which they were smitten.
They have said among the nations, They shall not return to dwell; that is, they are scattered and driven among various nations without hope of returning.
We now see what the Prophet meant to show, even that the Jews had no reason to complain of their exile, because they had so infected the holy city with their vices, that they were hence driven by their own filth; this is one thing: and, then, that so great was the mass of their evils, that they were seized with fear; and thus they did not keep on the right way, but turned into devious paths and met darkness; and, in the last place, he adds, as a continuation of what he had said, that there was no hope of a return.
16. The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
16. Facies Jehovae divisit (vel, dissipavit) eos; non adjiciet ad respiciendum eos; faciem sacerdotum non reveriti sunt (vel honore persequuti,) et senum non fuerunt miserti.
He explains himself by saying, that they had been scattered from the face of Jehovah. He had said, that they had fled into foreign lands, and that they believed their exile to be perpetual; he now assigns the reason that God had thus banished them. But he had promised by Moses, that though they were dispersed through the four quarters of the world, he would yet be propitious to them, so as to gather them when dispersed, as it is said in the Psalms, “He will gather the dispersed of Israel.” (De 30:4; Ps 147:2.) And we know that the time of exile had been prefixed; for the Prophet had often testified that God would at length become a deliverer to his people, so as to stretch forth again his hand, and draw them forth from Chaldea as he did from Egypt: how then does he say, that they had been scattered from the face of Jehovah, and then, that they had been so rejected, that he would not favor them hereafter with his paternal countenance? the obvious answer is this, that the Prophet here regards only the extremely dispersed state of the people. For though the promise of God as to their return was certain and clear, yet, when any one cast his eyes on the state of things at that time, he could have hoped no such thing; for the desolation, the ground of despair, was immense: no name had remained for the people, the priesthood had been extinguished, the royal dignity had been degraded, the city also and the Temple had been completely overthrown. As, then, there was nothing remaining as to the nation and the place, and also as to God’s worship, how could they do otherwise than despond?
Then the Prophet, viewing the desolation, says, that nothing else could be concluded, but that the Jews would be perpetually exiles, and that all the ways were closed up, to prevent them to return to their country, and also that the eyes of God were shut, so as never to look on them. We now, then, perceive what he means by saying, that they were scattered from the face of Jehovah, so that he should no longer look on them. And this mode of speaking is often found in Scripture; for, on the one hand, it; sets before us the wrath of God, which brings death; and then on the other, it sustains us, or when we are fallen it raises us up, by setting before us the favor of God even in death itself.
The Prophet, then, considers now no other thing than the dreadful calamity which was sufficient to sink the minds of all into the lowest abyss of despair.
He then adds, that they respected not the face of the priests, and shewed no pity to the elders. Some think that the reason is given why God had so severely punished the people, even because they had despised the aged and the priests; but this is a forced view. I, then, have no doubt but that the Prophet here intimates, that the Jews had been treated reproachfully, so that there had been no account made of the aged, and no respect shewn to the priests. It is, indeed, true, that Daniel was held in great repute; but he speaks here of the priests who had impiously despised all sound doctrine; and he speaks of the aged who were in authority when the kingdom was yet standing. He then says that they had been, as it were, trodden under feet. He hence concludes, that, all hope of restoration was taken away from the Jews, if they only considered their extreme calamity. He afterwards adds, —
17. As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us
17. Adhue nobis (hoc est quum adhue staremus; sic intrepretor; quidam exponunt, nobis expectantibus, sed male, meo judicio; quum ergo adhuc staremus,) defecerunt oculi nostri ad auxilium nostrum vanum; in expectatione nostra expectavimus (vel, in speculatione nostra respeximus) ad gentem quae non servaret.
Here the Prophet charges the people with another crime, that neglecting God, and even despising his favor, they had always attached themselves to vain and false hopes. And this was a sacrilege not to be endured, because they thus robbed God of his rights: and what does he demand more than that we should depend on him, and that our minds should acquiesce in him alone? When, therefore, salvation is expected from others rather than from God alone, he is, in a manner, reduced to nothing. The Prophet, then, accuses the Jews of this great, sacrilege, that they never betook themselves to God, nor had any hope in him, but on the contrary wandered here and there for help.
As yet for us, he says, that, is, while we were yet standing. 217 And this circumstance deserves to be noticed; for after the Jews had been overthrown, they at length began to know how they had been previously deceived, when they placed confidence in the Egyptians. Prosperity inebriates men, so that they take delight ill their own vanities: and while we seem to ourselves to stand, or while we remain alive, God is disregarded, and we seek help here and there, and think our safety beyond all danger. The Prophet then says, that the Jews had been inebriated with false confidence, so that they disregarded God, and in the meantime fled to the Egyptians. When, he says, we were standing, our eyes failed, etc. We have before seen what this phrase means: the eyes are said to fail, when with unwearied perseverance we pursue a hope to the last, as it is said in the Psalms,
“Our eyes have failed for the living God,” (Ps 69:3;)
that is, We have persevered, and though many trials may have wearied us, yet we have been constant in our hope in God. So now the Prophet says, that the eyes of the people had failed; but he adds, for a vain help, or a help of vanity, by which term he designates the Egyptians: and there is an implied contrast between empty and fallacious help and the help of God, which the people rejected when they preferred the Egyptians. Our eyes, he says, failed, that is, we were unwearied in hoping vainly, for we always thought that the Egyptians would be a sufficient, defense to us. This is one thing.
He afterwards adds, In our looking out, we looked out to a nation which could not save us. He. repeats the same thing in other words. Some consider a relative to be understood, “In our expectation with which we have expected,” etc.; but it seems not necessary. I, then, so connect the words of the Prophet, that the meaning is, that the Jews always turned their eyes to Egypt, as long as they stood as a state and kingdom and thus they willfully deceived themselves, because they took delight in their own vanity. The other clause which follows has the same meaning, In our expectation we expected a nation, etc.; and this clause is added as an explanation; for the Prophet explains how their eyes failed for a vain hope, or for a vain help, even because the people did not look to God, but only to the Egyptians.
Now the words, to look out and looking out, are not unsuitable, for they refer to those vain imaginations to which the unbelieving give heed; for God called them, but turning away from him they transferred their hope to the Egyptians. It was, then, their own looking out or speculation, when, through a foolish conceit, they imagined that safety would be secured to them by the Egyptians.
He says that they were a nation which could not save; and there is no doubt but that the Prophet here puts them in mind of the many warnings which had not been received by the Jews, for God had tried to call them back from that ruinous confidence, but without any success; for we know how much the Prophets labored in this respect, but they were never believed until at length experience proved how vain was the help of Egypt, as God had testified by his servants.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are beset on every side with so many allurements, and as Satan ceases not to draw us here and there by vain flatteries, — O grant that we may recumb on thee alone, even on thy power, and, in short, on thy word, nor doubt but thou wilt be our deliverer, whatever may happen, and that we may always so seek thee in our straits, and so acquiesce in the faithfulness of thy promises, that we may calmly sustain all the assaults of afflictions, until thou at length gatherest us into that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. — Amen.
18. They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
18. Venati sunt gressus nostros ne ambularemus in compitis nostris; appropinquavit finis noster, impleti sunt dies nostri, certe venit finis noster
Many apply this verse to the Egyptians, that they insidiously enticed the Jews to flee to them in their difficulties. It is indeed, true, that the Jews had been deceived by their false promises; and, as a harlot draws to herself young men by wicked arts, so also the Jews had been captivated by the enticements of the Egyptians. But the meaning of the Prophet seems to be different, even this, — that the Chaldeans followed the Jews as hunters, so that they observed their footsteps; and I connect together the two verses, for it immediately follows, —
19. Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
19. Velociores fucrunt persequutores nostri aquilis coelorum; super montes insequuti sunt nos, in deserto insidiati sunt nobis
Here, then, the Prophet means, that the Jews were so straitened, that there was no escape for them, because their steps were observed by their enemies, and also because the Chaldeans had recourse to the greatest celerity, that they might take them.
He then, says, first, that their enemies were like hunters, for the Jews could not go even through the streets of their own city. We know that they were reduced to the greatest straits; but how hard the siege was is better expressed by this similitude, even that they dared not walk through the city; for there is an implied comparison, as though he had said, “We had no liberty in the very city, much less were we allowed to go out and ramble through the open fields.” he, in the second place, adds what corresponds with the first clause, Approach did our end, fulfilled were our days; surely come did our end 218 He concludes, that no hope remained since their enemies were thus oppressing them. He, then, infers that the end was at hand, by which he means final ruin or destruction; and he adds, that the days were fulfilled, where, he seems to compare the state of Jerusalem with the life of man; for he is said to have fulfilled his day who leaves the world — for a certain time for cur sojourn has been prefixed. God, when it pleases him, calls us to himself. Hence, our time is then fulfilled, as our course is said to be finished; for, as the life of man is compared in Scripture to a race, so death is like the goal. So now, speaking of the city, the Prophet says that its time was fulfilled, for it was not God’s will that it should remain any longer. In the third place, he says, that the end had come. He said before, that it was nigh, but he says now, that it had come. he, in short, shows that God, having long spared the Jews, when he saw that they made no end of sinning, at length had recourse to rigor, for they had shamefully abused his forbearance; for he had long suspended his judgment, and had often tried whether they were healable. The Prophet, then, reproves now their obstinacy, when he says that their end had come, and that their time was fulfilled.
He afterwards, for the same purpose, adds, that swifter than eagles had been their persecutors or pursuers. The Prophet, no doubt;, continues the same subject. As, then, he had made the Chaldeans to be like hunters, so he says now, that in flying they exceeded the eagles. It is, indeed. a hyperbolical expression, but the Prophet could not otherwise express the incredible celerity with which the Chaldeans hastened in pursuing the Jews. Nor is there a doubt but that he indirectly derided the security of the foolish people; for we know, that whenever the prophets threatened them, this false opinion ever prevailed, that the Chaldeans would not come, because they were far away, the journey was long and difficult, time were many hinderances. The Prophet, then, now taunts them for this confidence, by which they had been deceived, when he says, that swifter titan the eagles of the heavens were their enemies.
He mentions the ways they adopted, Through the mountains they pursued, and laid in wait in the desert. He means that every way of escape was closed up. For when enemies come, many hide themselves on mountains and thus escape; and others, betaking themselves to the desert, find there some hiding-places. But the Prophet says that such was the velocity of the Chaldeans, that the Jews in vain looked to the mountains or to deserts, for snares were everywhere prepared, and they were present everywhere to pursue them. Thus he confirms what he had said, that the time was fulfilled, for the Lord kept them shut up on every side.
Now, though the Prophet speaks here of the ruin of the city, yet we may gather a useful doctrine: When the hand of God is against us, we in vain look around in all directions, for there will be no safety for us on mountains, nor will solitude protect us in the desert. As, then, we see that the Jews were closed up by God’s hand, so when we contend with him, we in vain turn our eyes here and there; for, however we may for a time entertain good hopes, yet God will surely at last disappoint us. It follows, —
20. The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
20. Spritus narium nostrarum Christus Jehovae captus est laqueis ipsorum; de quo diximus, In umbra ejus vivemus inter gentes.
This verse, as I have said elsewhere, has been ignorantly applied to Josiah, who fell in battle long before the fall of the city. The royal dignity continued after his death; he was himself buried in the grave of his fathers; and though the enemy was victorious, yet he did not conic to the city. It is then absurd to apply to that king what is here properly said of Zedekiah, the last king; for though he was wholly unlike Josiah, yet he was one of David’s posterity, and a type of Christ.
As it was, then, God’s will that the posterity of David should represent Christ, Zedekiah is here rightly called the Christ of Jehovah, by which term Scripture designates all kings, and even Saul; and though his kingdom was temporary, and soon decayed, yet he is called “the Anointed of Jehovah;” and doubtless the anointing, which he received by the hand of Samuel, was not altogether in vain. But David is properly called the Anointed of Jehovah, together with his posterity. Hence he often used these words, “Look on thy Christ.” (Ps 84:10.) And when Hannah in her song spoke of the Christ of Jehovah, she had no doubt a regard to this idea. (1Sa 2:10.) And, at length, our Lord was called the Christ of the Lord, for so Simeon called him. (Lu 2:26.)
Now, then, we perceive that this passage cannot be understood except of king Zedekiah. It ought at the same time to be added, that he is called the Christ of Jehovah, because his crown was not as yet cast down, but he still bore that diadem by which he had been adorned by God. As, then, the throne of David still remained, Zedekiah, however unworthy he was of that honor, was yet the Christ of Jehovah, as Manasseh was, and others who were wholly degenerated.
The Prophet, however, seems to ascribe to Zedekiah far more than he deserved, when he calls the life of the people. But this difficulty may be easily removed; the man himself is not regarded according to his merits, but as he was called by God, and endued with that high and singular honor; for we know that what is here said extended to all the posterity of David, —
“I have made him the first-begotten among all the kings
of the earth.” (Ps 89:27.)
For though the kings of the earth obtained not their authority, except as they were established by God’s decree, yet the king from David’s posterity was first-begotten among them all. In short, it was a sacerdotal, and even a sacred kingdom, because God had peculiarly dedicated that throne to himself. This peculiarity ought then to be borne in mind, that we may not look on the individual in himself.
Then the passage runs consistently, when he says, that the Messiah, or the anointed of Jehovah, had been taken it snares; for we know that he was taken; and this is consistent with history. He had fled by a hidden way into the desert, and he thought that lie had escaped from the hands of his enemies; but he was soon seized, and brought to king Nebuchadnezzar. As, then, he had unexpectedly fallen into the hands of his enemies, rightly does the Prophet say metaphorically, that he was taken in their snares.
He calls him the spirit of the nostrils of the people, because the people without their king was like a mutilated and an imperfect body. For God made David king, and also his posterity, for this end, that the life of the people might in a manner reside in him. As far, then, as David was the head of the people, and so constituted by God, he was even their life. The same was the case with all his posterity, as long as the succession continued; for the favor of God was not extinguished until all liberty vanished, when the city was destroyed, and even the name of the people was as it were abolished. 219
But we must observe what we have before said, that these high terms in which the posterity of David were spoken of, properly belong to Christ only; for David was not the life of the people, except as he was the type of Christ, and represented his person. Then what is said was not really found in the posterity of David, but only typically. Hence the truth, the reality, is to be sought in no other but in Christ And we hence learn that the Church is dead, and is like a maimed body, when separated from its head. If, then, we desire to live before God, we must come to Christ, who is really the spirit or the breath of our nostrils; for as man that is dead does no longer breathe, so also we are said to be dead when separated from Christ. On the other hand, as long as there is between him and us a sacred union, though our life is hid, and we die, yet we live in him, and though we are dead to the world, yet our life is in heaven, as also Paul and Peter call us thither. (Col. 3:3, 4; 2Pe 3:16.) In short, Jeremiah means that the favor of God was as it were extinguished when the king was taken away, because the happiness of the people depended on the king, and the royal dignity was as it were a sure pledge of the grace and favor of God; hence the blessing of God ceased, when the king was taken away from the Jews.
It follows at length, Of whom we have said, Under thy shadow we shall live among the nations. The Prophet shews that the Jews in vain hoped for anything any more as to their restoration; for the origin of all blessing was from the king. God had bereaved them of their king; it then follows that they were in a hopeless state. But the Prophet that he might more clearly express this, says, that the people thought that they would be safe, provided the kingdom remained, — We shall live, they said, even among the nations under the shadow of our king; that is, “Though we may be driven to foreign nations, yet the king will be able to gather us, and his shadow will extend far and wide to keep us safe.” So the Jews believed, but falsely, because by their defection they had cast away the yoke of Christ and of God, as it is said in Ps 2:3. As then they had shaken off the heavenly yoke, they in vain trusted in the shadow of an earthly king, and were wholly unworthy of the guardianship and protection of God. 220 It afterwards follows, —
21. Rejoice, and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.
21. Guade et laetare, filia Edom quae habitas in terra Uts (עף, ad verbum;) etiam super te transibit calix, inebriaberis et nudaberis.
The Prophet in this verse intimates that the Jews were exposed to the reproaches and taunts of all their enemies, but he immediately moderates their sorrow, by adding a consolation; and it was a sorrow that in itself must have been very bitter; for we know that nothing’ is harder to bear, in a state of misery, than the petulant insults of enemies; these wound us more than all other evils which we may suffer. The Prophet then intimates, that the Jews had been so reduced, that all the ungodly and malevolent were able, with impunity, to exult over them, and to taunt them with their troubles. This is done in the former clause but its it was a prophecy, or rather a denunciation, extremely bitter, he mitigates the atrocity of the evil, when he says that their enemies would have soon in their turn to undergo punishment.
Some explain the whole verse as spoken ironically, as though the Prophet had said tauntingly, — “Go now, ye Idumeans, and rejoice; but your joy shall be evanescent.” 221 But I rather think that he refers to the very summit of extreme misery, because the Jews had been thus exposed to the taunts of their enemies; but he afterwards adds some alleviation, because all their enemies would at length be punished. There is, in Mic 7:8, a similar mode of speaking, though there is no mention made there of Edom; for there the Prophet speaks generally to all those who envied the people, and were their adversaries: he compares the people, according’ to what was usual, to a woman; and we know that in that sex there is much more jealousy than in men; and then, when there is a grudge, they fiercely urge their pleas, that they may have an occasion to speak evil of others. Therefore the Church, after having acknowledged that she had been deservedly chastised, adds, “Rejoice not over me, mine enemy.” But I have already fully explained the Prophet’s meaning, — that the Church calls all her enemies an enemy, or an inimical woman, as though there had been some quarrel or jealousy between women. Hence she says,
“Though I have fallen, yet rejoice thou not, my enemy; though I lie in darkness, yet the Lord will be my light — though then my enemy has rejoiced, yet my eyes shall see when she shall be trodden down.” (Mic. 7:8, 10.)
The Prophet no doubt meant there to mitigate the sorrow of the godly, who saw that they were insolently taunted by all their neighbors. He then shews the necessity of a patient endurance for a time; for God would at length stretch out his hand, and render to enemies the reward of their barbarity.
But why in this place mention is made of Edom, rather than of other nations, is not evident. The Jews were, indeed, surrounded on every side with enemies, for they had as many enemies as neighbors. But the Idumeans, above others, had manifested hostility to the chosen people. And the indignity was the greater, because they had descended from the same father, for Isaac was their common father; and they derived their origin from two brothers, Esau and Jacob. As, then, the Idumeans were related to the Jews, their cruelty was less tolerable; for they thus forgot their own race, and raged against their brethren and relatives. Hence it is said in Ps 137:7,
“Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, who said, in the day of Jerusalem, Down with it, down with it, to the very foundation.”
The Prophet, then, after having imprecated God’s vengeance on all the ungodly, mentioned especially the Idumeans; and why? because they indulged their cruelty above all others; for they were standard-bearers, as it were, to enemies, and were like falls, by which the fire was more kindled; for this address was no doubt made to the Chaldeans,
“Make bare, make bare; spare not;
let not a stone remain on a stone.” (Ps 137:7.)
As, then, the Idumeans had behaved most cruelly towards their own relatives, the Prophet complains of them, and asks God to render to them what they deserved.
So now in this place our Prophet says, Be glad and rejoice, thou daughter of Edom, who dwellest in the land of Uz By this clause, as I have already said, Jeremiah intimates that the Jews were exposed to the taunts of their enemies, because the Idumeans could now insult them with security. But he immediately adds, also: here he begins a new subject, and this is intimated by the particle גם gam, To thee also shall pass the cup He employs a common metaphor; for adversity is denoted in Scripture by the word cup; for God, according to his will, gives to drink to each as much as he pleases. As when a master of a family distributes drink to his children and servants; so also God, in a manner, extends his cup to every one whom he chastises; nor does he allow any one either to reject the cup offered, or to throw away the wine, but he constrains him to drink and to exhaust to the very dregs as much as he gives to each to drink. Hence it is for this reason that the Prophet says now that the cup would pass over to the Idumeans; for we know that, shortly after, they were subdued by the Chaldeans, with whom they had before been united. But when they had by their perfidy fallen off from their treaty, they were in their turn punished. As, then, the agreement they had made with the Chaldeans did not continue, the Prophet says, that to them also the cup would pass over.
He adds, Thou shalt be inebriated and made naked God is wont thus to distinguish between his own children and aliens or the reprobate; for he indeed gives a bitter potion to his own children to drink, but it is as much as they are able to drink; but he altogether chokes others, because lie constrains them, as it has been already said, to drink to the very dregs. So, then, the Prophet now compares the extreme miseries which the Idumeans suffered to drunkenness; and to the same purpose are the words which follow, Thou shalt be made naked For he thus intimates, that they would be so confounded with the atrocity of their evils, as to have no care for decency, and to be dead to all shame: as a drunken man, who is overpowered by wine, disregards himself, and falls and exposes himself as Noah did; so also the Prophet says, that so great would be the calamities of Edom, that the people, exposed to every reproach, would afford occasion to all around them for taunts. As when a sot lies down in the mire, casts away his garments, and makes an exposure of himself, it is a spectacle both sad and shameful; so the Prophet says, that the Idumeans would be like the drunken, because they would lie down in their reproach. It follows, —
22. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
22. Completa est iniquitas tua, filia Sion; non adjiciet ad te in exilium trahendam; visitavit iniquitatem filiae Edom, et discooperuit super peccatum tuum (hoc est, nudavit peccatum tuum.)
This verse, in my judgment, is incorrectly explained; and the Jews have toiled much, for there seems to be a kind of inconsistency, since it is certain that they were afterwards scattered into exile, not only once, but several times. Hence they interpret this place of the second dispersion by Titus, under the authority of his father Vespasian. They then say that the iniquity of the people was then completed, for after that exile no change has followed. Otherwise they do not think that this prediction of the Prophet accords with the reality or the event; for, as I have said, they have been driven into all lands. They had been, indeed, before fugitives, as Moses had declared concerning them. For we know that Jews dwelt in Greece and in Macedonia; we know that many of the cities of Italy were full of this people, until by the edict of Claudius Caesar they were expelled from Italy; for he thought that Italy was infected by them, and he drove them afar off, as though they were contagious. But the Jews lay hold on these refinements to no purpose for the Prophet simply meant to say, that such would be, the punishment of the people, that it would not be necessary then to repeat it.
When, therefore, he says that their iniquity, or the punishment of their iniquity, was completed, he intimates that God had dealt so severely with them, that there was nothing short of extreme rigor: and this mode of speaking occurs elsewhere. To the same purpose is what immediately follows: The enemy, or God, which is the same, will no more add to draw thee into exile, — why? for what need was there of a second exile when the whole land had been reduced to solitude? since also the poor who had been left in the land had at length gone into Egypt, whence they were brought again into Chaldea; but they were, at the time, fugitives from the Holy Land. Then the Prophet means, that God’s judgment was, in all its parts, completed, that nothing short of extreme calamity had happened to the Jews.
It afterwards follows in the second clause, He will visit, which is, indeed, in the past tense, he hath visited, but he speaks of what was future. According to the usual manner of the prophets, in order to confirm the prediction, he speaks of the event as already past, He has visited the iniquity of the daughter of Edom; so that thy wickedness has been uncovered. The meaning will be clearer if we add the particles of comparison, “As thy punishment, daughter of Sion, has been completed; so thine iniquity, daughter of Edom, shall be visited;” or if we render the words thus, by way of concession, “The punishment of thine iniquity, daughter of Sion, has indeed been completed; but thy sin, daughter of Edom, shall be uncovered.” 222
We, in short, see that the reason is explained why the Prophet, in the last verse, alleviated, with comfort, the sorrow of the people, that though the Jews were very miserable, it would yet be nothing better with Edom, when the time of visitation came. And in saying that the punishment of iniquity was completed, he refers not to their sin, but says that they had been thus chastised, as it seemed good to God to execute all his rigor towards them; and nearly the same manner of speaking is found in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. Then the Prophet does not deny but that the Jews might at a future time become exiles; but he says that their transmigration now was complete, so that it was not necessary that Nebuchadnezzar should again denude the land of its inhabitants: this had been done, as it were, by a sudden whirlwind; for by one sweep they had been snatched away. The land, indeed, was before made desolate, but when Nebuchadnezzar took possession of the city, he only left behind the dregs of the people. And he did this on purpose that he might have there some people as tributaries. Then that transmigration was complete.
But the Prophet means not here, that God would not afterwards banish and scatter the Jews as they deserved. There is then no inconsistency, that the Jews afterwards became fugitives and wanderers through the whole world, and that yet the enemy would not again draw them into captivity, for he speaks here only of the Chaldeans: and this was said, because Jeremiah wished to compare the Jews with the Idumeans, and to shew, that though the Idumeans insolently exulted over them, yet their own calamity was nigh, which would wholly overwhelm them, as the case had previously been with the Jews. There is no time now to begin with the prayer of Jeremiah: I must therefore defer it till the next Lecture.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest that at this day the mouths not only of our enemies, but of thine also, are open to speak evil, — O grant, that no occasion may be given them, especially as their slanders are cast on thy holy name; but restrain thou their insolence, and so spare us, that though we deserve to be chastised, thou mayest yet have regard for thine own glory, and thus gather us under Christ our head, and restore thy scattered Church, until we shall at length be all gathered into that celestial kingdom, which thine only-begotten Son our Lord has procured for us by his own blood. — Amen.
Here, as in the two first chapters, the verses only begin alphabetically, but instead of having three or six lines, they have only two or four. — Ed.
This chapter, like the two first chapters, begins with the word איכה, “How this!” and the verbs are in the future tense, used for the present. —
How is this! tarnished is gold,
Changed is fine gold, the best:
Cast forth are the sacred stones
At the head of every street.
The value, and not the appearance, is evidently meant: the “sons of Sion” were “precious,” as here expressly stated. In this respect they had been of the same estimate with gold; but now they were as worthless as potter’s vessels: they were so esteemed and treated, —
The sons of Sion were precious,
Of worth equal to pure gold;
How is this! they have been deemed as earthen vessels,
The work of the hands of the potter.
The reference here is to the conduct of mothers, called here “the daughter of my people,” as it appears evident from the following verse, —
Even dragons have drawn out the breast,
They have suckled their young ones:
The daughter of my people has been for cruelty
Like the ostriches in the desert.
It is said that the ostrich lays her eggs and forsakes them. See Job 39:15. The verb, to be, is understood, as the case often is, but it must ever be in the same tense as the verb or verbs connected with the sentence. — Ed.
The verbs here are in the past tense, and not in the present, as in our version, —
Cleave did the tongue of the suckling
To his palate through thirst;
Children asked bread,
A breaker, none was to them.
The dunghills were collections of cow-dung and other things heaped together for fuel instead of wood. They had been brought up “on scarlet,” i.e., on scarlet couches, they were now glad to lie down anywhere, even on dunghills, and hence they are said to have embraced them, as though they had a love for them, —
They who had fed on delicacies
Perished in the streets;
They who had been brought up on scarlet
Embraced the dunghills.
The early versions and the Targ. render the words “iniquity,” and “sin;” but modern critics agree with Calvin. Penalty and punishment might be suitably adopted. — Ed.
The clause might be rendered, —
And not wearied against (or, over) her were hands.
This is substantially the Sept. and the Syr. Grotius says that the meaning is, that Sodom was destroyed not by human means, that is, not by a siege, as Jerusalem had been. — Ed.
As to these two verses there is much disagreement in the early versions and the Targ.; that of the Sept. comes nearest to the original. They may be thus rendered, —
7. Clearer were her Nazarites than snow,
They were whiter than milk;
Ruddier were they in body than rubies,
Sapphire was their polish (or smoothness:)
8. Darker than the dusk became their appearance,
They were not known in the streets:
Cleave did their skin to their bones,
Dried up, it became like a stick.
“Rubies,” rendered “pearls,” by Bochart; “load stones,” or magnets, by Parkhurst; “red corals,” by Gesenius. They were no doubt precious stones of reddish appearance. The “sapphire” is mentioned for its smoothness, as it appears from the contrast at the end of the eighth verse, where it is said that their skin had become like a dried “stick,” whose rind is shriveled. “Dusk” is rendered “soot” by the Sept., and “coals” by the Vulg. and the Syr. שחור is the dusk, or the dawn: but the river Nile is also thus called on account of its muddy and dusky waters. See Jer 2:18. This being the case, may it not be so taken here.; The character of the passage favors this, “snow,” “milk,” etc. Then the line would be, —
Darker than Sihor (or, the Nile) became their appearance.
Houbigant and Blayney have given the following version of this clause, which has been approved by Horsley, —
For those (the former) departed, having been cut off
Before the fruits of the field.
That is, they bad been cut off before the fruits of the field failed, which occasioned the famine. This rendering is more satisfactory than our version or that of Calvin. — Ed.
This clause has been variously explained. The whole passage from La 4:12-16 inclusive, ought to be considered. The taking of Jerusalem is said to have been incredible, even to heathens. Then the Prophet, in La 4:13, tells the cause — “the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests;” and in La 4:14-16, he describes their shame and their punishment at the siege, when the people found out by experience that they had be deceived by them, —
13. For the sins of her prophets,
For the iniquities of her priests,
Who had shed in the midst of her
The blood of the righteous, —
14. They wandered frantic in the streets,
They were (or, had been) polluted with blood:
Inasmuch as they could not
But touch their garments,
15. “Depart ye, uncleanness,” they cried to them,
“Depart, depart, touch not:”
When they fled, yea, became fugitives,
They said among the heathens,
“They shall no more dwell there”;
16. The face of Jehovah, their portion,
Shall no more look on them;
The face of their priests they regard not,
To their elders they shew no favor.”
The last five lines contain what the heathens said, when they observed that the prophets and the priests were pronounced unclean by the people, and were ordered to depart. They had shed blood, and were thus polluted, or in their frenzy they touched the slain and became thus polluted. Their retribution was just, and rendered to them by their own people, whom they had led astray: for instead of attending to the true prophets, they killed them, and flattered the people with falsehoods, and encouraged them in their idolatry and vices; and thus brought on the ruin of a city deemed impregnable. — Ed.
The true reading is no doubt עדינו; and Blayney thinks that there is a ו wanting before the next verb, as it is in other in other instances; 1 Kings 1:14, 22; Job 1:16, 17, 18. It is supplied in the Sept., Syr., and Vulg.
Yet we were, and fail did our eyes
As to our assistance;
In vain by looking out did we look out
To a nation that could not save.
The Syr. connect “in vain,” more properly, with the third line. — Ed.
He describes throughout what had taken place. Our version is not right in giving the verbs in the present tense. “For” is better than “surely” before “come.”
They hunted our footsteps,
That we could not walk in our streets:
Near was our end; fulfilled were our days,
For come had our end.
Then he describes what happened when the city was taken. — Ed.
A kingdom cannot exist without a king. Hence the king may be said to be the breath or the life of the body politic. — Ed.
The last clause ought to be thus rendered, —
Under whose shadow, we said,
We shall live among the nations.
The Syr. in some measure imitates the original, but neither the Sept. nor the Vulg. The אשר is not governed by “we said.” It can be rendered literally in Welsh. — Ed
This is the sense that is commonly taken: Gataker, Lowth, Scott, and Blayney, regard the expression as ironical. — Ed.
The word “iniquity” is used in this verse in two senses. This we discover by the two verbs which are used. To complete “iniquity” can here mean no other thing than to complete the punishment due to it; and that punishment was exile, as the following words shew. But to “visit” iniquity clearly means to punish it. —
Completed has been thine iniquity, daughter of Sion;
He will not again remove thee:
He has visited thine iniquity, daughter of Edom;
Having been removed for thy sins,
or, — He has removed thee for thy sins.
Though all the early versions and the Targ. agree in rendering the last verb in the sense of discovering or uncovering, yet the other meaning, which it often has, and even in the second line of this verse, is more suitable to this place. Removal or migration had been the punishment of the Jews: the same was to be the punishment of Edom. In this sense is the word rendered by Blayney and Henderson. The past time in the latter clause is evidently used for the future, according to the usual manner of the Prophets, “He will visit,” etc., “he will remove, etc. — Ed.