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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 13

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

I have said that there is here a new prophecy; for the Prophet is said to buy for himself a girdle or a belt, or, according to some, a truss or breeches; and as mention is made of linen, this opinion may be probable; but אזור, asur, means not only the breeches which they then wore, but also a girdle or belt, according to what Isaiah says, when, speaking figuratively of Christ’s kingdom, that faithfulness would be the girdle of his loins. (Isaiah 11:5) It, may here, however, be taken for breeches as well as for a girdle. (70)

As to the matter in hand, it makes no great difference. The Prophet then is bidden to buy for himself a linen girdle or a linen breeches, and he is also bidden to go to Euphrates, and to hide the girdle in a hole. He is again bidden to go the second time to Euphrates, and to draw the girdle from the hole, and he found it marred. The application follows; for God declares that he would thus deal with the Jews; though he had had them as a belt, he would yet cast them away. As he had adorned them, so he designed them to be an ornament to him; for the glory of God shines forth in his ChurJeremiah The Jews then, as Isaiah says, were a crown of glory and a royal diadem in God’s hand. (Isaiah 62:3) Hence he compares them here most fitly to a belt or a girdle. Though then their condition was honorable, yet God threatens that he would cast them away; so that, being hidden, they might contract rottenness in a cavern of the Euphrates, that is, in Assyria and Chaldea. This is the meaning of the prophecy.

But no doubt a vision is here narrated, and not a real transaction, as some think, who regard Jeremiah as having gone there; but what can be imagined more absurd? He was, we know, continually engaged in his office of a teacher among his own people. Had he undertaken so long a journey, and that twice, it would have taken him some months. Hence contentious must he be, who urges the words of the Prophet, and holds that he must have gone to the Euphrates and hidden there his girdle. We know that this form of speaking is common and often used by the prophets: they narrate visions as facts.

We must also observe, that God might have spoken plainly and without any similitude; but as they were not only ignorant, but also stupid, it was found necessary to reprove their torpidity by an external symbol. This was the reason why God confirmed the doctrine of his Prophet by an external representation. Had God said, “Ye have been to me hitherto as a belt, ye were my ornament and my glory, not indeed through your merit or worthiness, but because I have united you to myself, that ye might be a holy people and a priestly kingdom; but now I am constrained to cast you away; and as a person throws from him and casts a girdle into some hole, so that after a long time he finds it rotten, so it will be with you, after having been hidden a long time beyond Euphrates; ye shall there contract rottenness, which will mar you altogether, so that your appearance will be very different, when a remnant of you shall come from thence:” This indeed might have been sufficient; but in that state of security and dullness in which we know the Jews were, such a simple statement would not have so effectually penetrated into their hearts, as when this symbol was presented to them. The Prophet, therefore, says, that he was girded with a belt, that the belt was hid in a hole near Euphrates, and that there it became marred; and then he adds, so shall it be done to you. This statement, as I have said, more sharply touched the Jews, so that they saw that the judgment of God was at hand.

With regard to the similitude of girdle or breeches, we know how proudly the Jews gloried in the thought that God was bound to them; and he would have really been so, had they been in return faithful to him: but as they had become so disobedient and ungrateful, how could God be bound to them? He had indeed chosen them to be a people to himself, but this condition was added, that they were to be as a chaste wife, as he had become, according to what we have seen, a husband to them. But they had prostituted themselves and had become shamefully polluted with idols. As then they had perfidiously departed from their marriage engagement, was not God freed from his obligations? according to what is said by Isaiah,

“There is no need to give you a bill of divorcement, for your mother is an adulteress.” (Isaiah 1:1)

The Prophet then, in this place, meant in a few words to shake off from the Jews those vain boastings in which they indulged, when they said that they were God’s people and the holy seed of Abraham. “True,” he says, “and I will concede more to you, that you were to God even as a belt, by which men usually adorn themselves; but God adopted you, that you might serve him chastely and faithfully; but now, as ye have made void his covenant, he will cast away this belt, which is a disgrace to him and not an ornament, and will throw it into a cavern where it will rot.” Such is the view we are to take of this belt, as we shall hereafter see more clearly.

(70) It is rendered “περίζωμα — a girdle,” by the Septuagint; — “lumbare — a garment for the loins,” by the Vulgate; — “sudarium — a napkin,” by the Syriac; — “cingulum — a girdle,” by the Targum and Arabic. The Hebrew word never means anything but a girdle or belt, as the verb signifies to surround, to bind.

Calvin makes no remark on the command, not to put it in water before he wore it. Various has been the explanation. The view the Rabbins give is inconsistent with the passage, — that it was to be left dirty after wearing, that it might rot the sooner; for the Prophet is bidden, when commanded to wear it, not to wash it. Grotius and others think that he was to wear it as made, in its rough state, in order to shew the rude condition of the Jews when God adopted them. Venema is of the opinion that in order to shew that is was newly made, and had not been worn by another, nor polluted. Gataker says that the purpose was to shew that nothing was to be done by the Prophet to cause the girdle to rot, as wet might have done so, in order to prove that the rottenness proceeded only from the Jews themselves. Lowth regards it as intended to teach the Jews their corrupt state by nature, so that it was through favor or grace only that God adopted them; and he refers to Ezekiel 16:4. The last, which is nearly the same with the view of Grotius, seems the most suitable. — Ed.

Verse 7

The Prophet, by saying that he went to the Euphrates, confirms what he had narrated: he did not indeed mean that he actually went there, but his object was to give the Jews a vivid representation. It is then what Rhetorians call a scene presented to the view; though the place is not changed, yet the thing is set before the eyes by a lively description. (71) Thus the Prophet, as the Jews were deaf, exhibited to their view what they would not hear. This is the reason why he says that he went. For the same purpose is what follows, that at the end of many days God had bidden him to take out the girdle Here also is signified the length of the exile. As to the hole in a rock, what is meant is disgrace; for without honor and esteem the Jews lived in banishment, in the same manner as though they were cast into a cavern. Hence by the hole is signified their ignoble and base condition, that they were like persons removed from the sight of all men and from the common light of day. By the end of many days, is meant, as I have said, the length of their exile, for in a short time they would not have become putrified, and except indeed this had been distinctly expressed, they would have never been convinced of the grievousness of the calamity which was nigh them. Hence he says that the days would be many, so that they might contract putridity while hidden in the hole.

(71) Many agree with Calvin that this was a vision and not an actual transaction, such as Gataker, Lowth, Blayney, Adara Clarke, &c. Henry hesitates, but Scott seems to be strongly in favor of a real transaction. Bochart and Venema hold also the latter opinion, only they think that פרת here does not mean “Euphrates,” but Ephrata, that is, Bethlehem, in Judea; but this cannot be maintained. Lowth refers to an instance where a vision is related as a fact, without any mention being made that it was a vision, that is, Genesis 15:5: God brought Abraham forth and shewed to him the stars; and yet it appears from Jeremiah 13:12 that the sun was not set. Blayney remarks, that “the same supposition of a vision must be admitted in other cases, particularly Jeremiah 25:15.” Gataker refers to similar instances in Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:24. It was most probably a vision; and the Prophet related to the people what God had in a supernatural way exhibited to him. — Ed.

Verse 9

As to the application of the Prophecy, the Prophet then distinctly describes it; but he sets forth with sufficient clearness the main point, when he says, Thus will I mar the stateliness ( altitudinem , the altitude or height) of Judah and the great stateliness of Jerusalem Other interpreters unanimously render the word, pride; but as גאון gaun, may be taken in two senses, it means here, I have no doubt, excellency, and this will appear more fully from what follows. (72) The word then signifies here that dignity with which God had favored the seed of Abraham, when he intended them to be an ornament to himself. So it is said in Exodus 15:7,

“In thy greatness thou wilt destroy the nations.”

And in Isaiah he says,

“I will make thee the excellency of ages.” (Isaiah 60:15)

There no doubt it is to be taken in a good sense. And these things harmonize together, — that God had prepared the Jews for himself as a belt, and then that he cast them from him into a cavern, where they would be for a time without any light and without any glory.

The import of this clause then is, “Though the dignity of Judah and Jerusalem has been great, (for the people whom God had adopted were renowned according to what is said in Psalms 73:0) though then the stateliness of Judah and Jerusalem has been great, yet I will mar it.” We see how the Prophet takes from the Jews that false confidence by which they deceived themselves. They might indeed have gloried in God, had they acted truly and from the heart: but when they arrogated all things to themselves, and deprived God of his authority, whose subjects they were, how great was their vanity and folly, and how ridiculous always to profess his sacred name, and to say, We are God’s people? for he was no God to them, as they esteemed him as nothing; nay, they disdainfully and reproachfully rejected his yoke. We hence see that the word גאון gaun, is to be taken here in a good sense. The Prophet at the same time reproachfully taunts them, that they abused the name of God and falsely pretended to be his people and heritage. The rest we cannot finish; we shall go on with the subject to-morrow.

(72) It is strangely rendered “reproach — ὕζριν,” by the Septuagint, but “pride” by the Vulgate, — “the haughty ones,” by the Syriac, — “insolence” by the Arabic, and “strength” by the Targum. Blayney agrees with Calvin and renders it “excellency,” and Horsley, “glory.” — Ed.

Verse 10

The Prophet said, according to what we observed yesterday, that the people would be like the belt which he had hidden in a hole and found putrified: but now the cause is expressed why God had resolved to treat them with so much severity. He then says that he would be an avenger, because the Jews had refused to obey his voice, and preferred their own inventions in walking after the hardness, or the wickedness of their own heart We hence see that the cause of this calamity was, that the people had rejected the teaching of the prophets. This indeed was far more grievous than if they had fallen away through mistake or ignorance, as we often see that men go miserably astray when the teaching of the truth is taken away. But when God shews the way, and prescribes what is right, when by his servants he exhorts his people, it is an inexcusable hardness if men repudiate such a kindness. But as this subject has been elsewhere largely treated, I shall only touch on it now briefly.

We see then that God threatens his people with extreme calamity, because they would not. bear to be taught by his prophets. Then he adds, that they had walked after the wickedness of their own heart, and had walked after foreign gods He in the first place complains that they had been so refractory as to prefer to obey their own impious inclinations than to be ruled by good and salutary counsels. But it was necessary to specify their crime; for had the Prophet only spoken of their hardness, they might have had their objections ready at hand; but when he said that they had walked after foreign gods, there was no longer any room for evasion. The word to walk has a reference to a way. This metaphor has indeed a relation to something else; for men are not wont to take a course without going somewhere, we must therefore have some end in view when we walk along any way. Now, there is to be understood here a contrast, that the people despised the way pointed out to them by God, and that they had preferred to follow their own errors. God was ready to guide the Jews; by his own law; but they chose rather, as I have said, to abandon themselves to their own errors, as it were designedly.

He says, that they had walked after alien gods, that they might serve them, and prostrate themselves before them; for such is the meaning of the last verb. The Prophet no doubt repeats the same thing, for to serve is not only to obey, but also to worship. And hence is refuted that folly of the Papists, who imagine that worship (duliam) is not inconsistent with true religion; for they say that service (latriam) is due only to God, but that worship may be given to angels, to statues, or to dead men, as though God, forsooth! in condemning superstitions, did not use the word עבד obed, to serve. It hence follows that it is extremely ridiculous to devise two sorts of worship, one peculiar to God, and another common to angels as well as to men and dead idols. We now understand the import of this verse: the Prophet draws this conclusion, that the Jews would become like a useless or a putrefied belt. It afterwards follows —

Verse 11

He confirms what we noticed yesterday, — that the Jews entertained a foolish confidence, and promised themselves perpetual happiness, because God had chosen them as his people. This indeed would have been a perpetual glory to them, had they not violated their pledged faith; but their defection rendered void God’s covenant as far as they were concerned: for though God never suffered his faithfulness to fail, however false and perfidious they were, yet the adoption from which they had departed availed them nothing. But as they thought it an unalienable defense, the Prophet again repeats that they had been indeed adorned with singular gifts, but that, as they had not remained faithful, they would be deprived of them.

He indeed says, by way of concession, As a belt cleaves to the loins of man, so also have I joined to myself the house of Israel; for given to them is what they claimed. But at the same time, he reminds them that they only swelled with wind; for the less tolerable was their impiety, because they were so ungrateful to God. What, indeed, could have been more base or less excusable, than when those whom God had favored with so much honor rejected his bounty? Jeremiah then concedes to them what they proudly boasted of; but he retorts it on their own heads, and shews how they deserved a heavier judgment, as they had despised so many of God’s blessings.

We said yesterday that. the people is elsewhere compared to a crown and a diadem, as though God had declared that nothing was more precious to him than the children of Abraham. But the same thing is now expressed in other words, — that he had prepared them for himself as a girdle, that they might be his people This was indeed a great dignity; but what follows exceeds it, — that they might be to me a name, that is, that I might be celebrated by them; for it was his will to be called the God of Israel. What likeness there is between God and men! And yet, as though descending from his celestial glory, he united to himself the seed of Abraham, that he might also bind them to himself. The election of God was therefore like a bond of mutual union, so that he might not be separated from his people. Hence he says that they had been thus joined to him, that they might be for a name, and also for a praise and glory (74) Though these words are nearly of the same meaning, yet no doubt they are put together for the sake of amplification. God, therefore, intended to exaggerate more fully the sin of the people, by saying that he had done so much for them, in order that he might be celebrated by them, and that his praise and his glory might dwell among them.

He at last adds, They have not heard Had God only commanded what he might have justly required, not to obey his authority would have been an inexcusable wickedness in the people; but as he had so freely offered himself and all other things to them, what a base and detestable ingratitude it was in them to reject blessings so many and so valuable? We hence see that the mouths of the Jews are here completely closed, so that they could not expostulate with God, and complain that he was too rigid, for they had in an extreme degree provoked his wrath, having not only rejected his yoke, but also refused his offered favors. It follows —

(74) “Name” means here renown; “praise,” celebrity or commendation; and “glory,” ornament, decoration, or beauty. The three words are found together, though not in exactly the same order, in Deuteronomy 26:19. There the order is, praise, name, and honor, which is rendered here “glory.” See Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 61:11; Isaiah 63:12. — Ed.

Verse 12

The Prophet denounces here by another similitude the vengeance of God, for he says that all would be filled with drunkenness: but he is bidden at first simply to set before them the metaphor, Every bottle, or flagon, he says, shall be filled with wine The word רבל, ubel, means a bladder; but the word bottle is more suitable here. (75) Bladders were wont in those countries to be filled with water and with wine, as the custom is still in the east; as we see at this day that oil is put in bladders and thus carried, so bladders are commonly used there to carry water and wine; but as it is added, I will dash them against one another, it is better to use the word bottles, or flagons.

This general statement might have appeared to be of no weight; for what instruction does this contain, “Every bottle shall be filled with wine?” It is like what one might say, — that a tankard is made to carry wine, and that bowls are made for drinking: this is well known, even to children. And then it might have been said that this was unworthy of a prophet. “Eh! what dost thou say? Thou sayest that bottles are the receptacles of wine, even as a hat is made to cover the head, or clothes to keep off the cold; but thou seemest to mock us with childish trifles.” We also find that the Prophet’s address was thus objected to, for they contemptuously and proudly answered, “What! do we not know that bottles are prepared for the purpose of preserving wine? But what dost thou mean? Thou boastest of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: how strange is this? Thou art, like an angel come down from heaven; thou pretendest the name of God, and professest to have the authority of a prophet; now, what does this mean, that bottles are filled with wine?” But it was God’s particular object thus to rouse the people, who were asleep in their delusions, and who were also by no means attentive to spiritual instruction. It was then his purpose to shew, by the most trifling, and as it were by frivolous things, that they were not possessed of so much clear-sightedness as to perceive even that which was most evident. They indeed, all knew that bottles were made for wine; but they did not understand that they were the bottles, or were like bottles. We have indeed said that they were inflated with so much arrogance that they seemed like hard rocks; and hence was their contempt of all threatenings, because they did not consider what they were. The Prophet then says that they were like bottles; though God had indeed chosen them for an excellent use, yet, forgetful of their frailty, they had marred their own excellency, so that they were no longer of any use, except that God would inebriate them with giddiness and also with calamities.

We hence see why God had commanded a general truth to be here announced which was received with indifference and contempt; it was, that an opportunity might be given to the Prophet to touch to the quick those stupid men to whom their own state was wholly unknown. It had been said that they were like mountains, because they had as their foundation the free election of God; but as they had in them no firmness and no constancy of faith, but had decayed, their glory had as it were melted away; and though they still retained an outward appearance, yet they were like brittle vessels; and so their fragility is here better expressed by the Prophet than if, in a plain sentence, he had said, “As a bottle is filled with wine, so will the Lord fill you with drunkenness.” Had he thus spoken, there would not have been so much force in the prediction; but when they answered with disdain, “This is known even to children,” they were then told what more sensibly touched them, — that they were like bottles. (76)

(75) It is not true that the word ever means a bladder, though so rendered by the Septuagint and the Targum. The Vulgate has “laguncula — a little flagon,” and Syriacdolium, — a tub.” It means a jug or jar. Blayney has “vessel.” — Ed.

(76) With regard to this comparison, Gataker says, “A type taken from what they much loved, liked, and looked after; for they loved and looked after the flagons of wine, Hosea 3:1; and those prophets best pleased them who prophesied of wine and strong drink, Micah 2:11. God therefore sendeth his prophet to them with a prophecy of wine, but of other wine than they expected.”

Verse 14

It may now be asked, What was this drunkenness which the Prophet announces? It may be understood in two ways, — either that God would give them up to a reprobate mind, — or that he would make them drunk with evils and calamities; for when God deprives men of a right mind, it is to prepare them for extreme vengeance. But the Prophet seems to have something further in view — that this people would be given up to the most grievous evils, which would wholly fill them with amazement. Yet it appears from the context that the former evil is intended here; for he says, I will dash them one against another, every one against his brother, even the fathers and sons together; and thus they were all to be broken as it were in pieces. God then not only points out the calamity which was nigh the Jews, but also the manner of it; that is, that every one would draw his own brethren to ruin, as though they inflicted wounds on one another. But God says first generally, I will fill all the inhabitants of the land with drunkenness, and then he explains the effect, such as I have stated.

But he afterwards speaks of the whole people, including the kings, priests, and prophets, so that he excepts no order of men, however honorable; and this express mention of different orders was altogether necessary, for kings thought that they ought not to have been blended with the common people. The priests also regarded themselves as sacred, and a similar pride possessed the false prophets. But Jeremiah includes them all, without exception, in the same bundle, as though he had said, — “The majesty of kings shall not deliver them from God’s judgment, nor shall the priests be safe on account of their dignity, nor shall it avail the false prophets to boast of that noble and illustrious office which they discharge.” This prediction was no doubt regarded as very unjust; for we know with what high commendations God had spoken of the kingdom of David. As to the priesthood, we also know that it was a type of the priesthood of Christ, and also that the whole tribe of Levi was counted sacred to God. It could not therefore be but that Jeremiah must have greatly exasperated the minds of all by thus threatening kings as well as priests.

But we hence gather, — that there is nothing so high and so illustrious on earth, which ought not to be made to submit, when the power and glory of God, and the authority of celestial truth, are to be vindicated. Whatever then is precious and excellent in the world must come to nothing, if it derogates even in the least degree from the glory of God or from the authority of his truth: and yet kings and priests dared to oppose the word of God. No wonder then, that the Prophet should thrust them down from their elevations and compare them to bottles: he thus treads under foot that frail glory by which they sought to obscure God himself. And as the name of David was, as it were, sacred among that people, in order to shake off this vain confidence, the Prophet says, — “Though kings sit on the throne of David and be his successors and posterity, yet God will not spare them.” (77) And hence also it appears how foolishly the Papal clergy at this day bring forward against us their privileges and their dignity. Doubtless, whatever these unprincipled men may claim for themselves, they cannot yet make themselves equal to the Levitical priests: and yet we see that it availed them nothing, that God had set them apart for himself, because they had abused their power. There is, therefore, no reason for the Pope and his clergy, the very filth of the world, to be at this day so proud. We now perceive the design of the words, when mention is made of kings, priests, and prophets.

It must, however, be observed, that, he does not speak here of faithful prophets, but of those who wore the mask, while yet they brought nothing but chaff instead of wheat, as we shall hereafter see. He then uses the word prophets in an improper sense, for he applies it to false teachers, as we do at this day, when we speak of those savages who boast that they are bishops and prelates and governors: we indeed concede to them these titles, but it does not follow that they justly deserve to be counted bishops, though they are so called. In the same way then does Jeremiah speak here of those who were called prophets, who yet were wholly unworthy of the office.

He then speaks of the collision to which we have referred, — I will cause them to tear or break one another in pieces. Some render the word “scatter;” but scattering does by no means comport with the words, every one, against his brother, etc. (78) We hence see that the meaning is much more suitable when we render the words, I will dash them, every one against his brother, and then, even the fathers and the sons together; so that they might tear one another by a mutual conflict. And hence, as I have said, Jeremiah not only foretells the destruction of the people, but also points out the manner of it; for they would become so void of common prudence, that they would willfully destroy one another, as though they were given up to mutual slaughter. They gloried, we know, in their number, but the Prophet shews that this would be no protection to them, but, on the contrary, the cause of their ruin; for the Lord would so blind them, that they would fight with one another, and thus perish without any foreign enemy.

He then adds, I will not spare, I will not spare, (79) I will not have mercy He repeats three times that he would not be propitious to them. It would have been sufficient to declare this once, were they so teachable and attentive as really to consider the threatenings announced to them; but being so torpid as they were, it was necessary to repeat the same thing often; not as though there was anything ambiguous or obscure in the message itself, but because hardly any vehemence was sufficient to rouse hearts so obstinate. We hence see why the Prophet repeated the same thing so often. He, however, does not employ words uselessly: whenever God repeats the promises of his favor, he does not utter words heedlessly and without reason; but since he sees that there is in us so much dulness, that one promise is not sufficient, he confirms it by repetitions; so also when he sees that men, owing to their stupidity, cannot be moved nor terrified by his threatenings, he repeats them, that they may have more weight. He in short declares, that it was all over with that people, so that he does not now call the wicked and the rebellious to repentance, but speaks to them as to men past remedy. This is the meaning.

And he adds, Until I shall consume them (80) This refers to the whole body of the people. God, in the meantime, still preserved, in a wonderful manner and by hidden means, a remnant, as it has appeared elsewhere: but yet God took that vengeance, which is here denounced on the people as a body; for it was as it were a general death, when they were all driven into exile and everywhere scattered. Now as the Lord in so great a ruin never forgot his covenant, but some seed still remained safe and secure; so what is said here, I will not have mercy until I shall consume them, is not inconsistent with the promise of mercy elsewhere given, when he declares that he is long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. (Numbers 14:18; Psalms 103:8) Though God then destroyed his people in so dreadful a manner, yet he did not divest himself of his own nature, nor cast away his mercy; but he executed his judgments on the reprobate in a way so wonderful, that he yet lost nothing of his eternal mercy and remained still faithful as to his election. It follows —

(77) The clause, literally rendered, would convey this meaning, —

And the kings who sit for David on his throne.

“For David,” that is, as his representatives. “In David’s stead,” is the rendering of Gataker and Blayney. The word “even” before “the kings” in our version, is improper; for what follows is not a specification of what is gone before, as “the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” at the end of the verse, is in contrast with “all the inhabitants of this land,” that is, the people of the country — Ed.

(78) The word seems to mean shattering or breaking in pieces, and in a secondary sense, scattering, as the effect. The early versions give the latter meaning, scattering, but, as Calvin says, inconsistently with the rest of the clause. The Targum gives in effect the first sense, “I will cause them to rush, each on his brother.” The word “dash” is the most suitable, or dash to pieces, —

And I will dash them to pieces, each against his brother,
Both the fathers and the sons together, saith Jehovah.

The allusion is to the bottles: they would be broken like brittle vessels, when thrown one against another. — Ed.

(79) The verbs are different, and so Calvin renders them in the text; but not here. There is no unanimity in the versions as to these verbs and the one which follows. The first means to be tender so as to relent; the second, to spare so as not to inflict punishment, to connive; and the third, to feel pity or compassion. They may be rendered thus, —

I will not relent, nor will I spare;
Nor will I pity, so as not to destroy them.

The two lines announce the same thing, only the last is stronger and more specific. Pitying or commiserating is stronger than relenting, and not destroying describes the act, while sparing is a general term. — Ed.

(80) The sentence literally is, “From consuming,” or destroying, “them.” The preposition מ , mem, here has the force of a negative. It is a sort of an elliptic phrase, which, though understood in the original, yet requires a supplement in a translation, — “I will not pity, so as to abstain from consuming them.” But a literal rendering in Welsh would be understood, —

(lang. cy) Ae ni resynav rhag eu difetha.

The preposition (lang. cy) rhag ,” which ordinarily means from, signifies here from not, which is exactly the Hebrew. — Ed.

Verse 15

The Prophet shews here more fully what we have stated, — that so refractory was the temper of those with whom he had to do, that it was necessary to use various means to subdue them. And it was not in vain that he added this exhortation, which manifests indignation; nor was it without displeasure that he required a hearing, Hear ye, and give ear; be not lifted up, for the Lord is he who speaks Then we may hence gather, either that Jeremiah was derided, or that his words were disregarded by the Jews; for this is intimated by the words, For Jehovah has spoken; (81) for were they of themselves persuaded, that he announced what God had commanded him, these words would have been used to no purpose. But we shall elsewhere see, that he was deemed an impostor, and that he was assailed by many reproofs and curses.

He therefore defends here his calling from their calumnies and reproaches, when he says, that God had spoken; for by these words he affirms that he brought nothing of his own, but spoke as it were from the mouth of God, or, which is the same thing, that he was the instrument of the Holy Spirit; and he said this, in order that they might know that they in vain contended with him, as the contest was between them and God. And on this account he says, Hear ye, and give ear; for he saw that they were deaf and torpid, and had need of many stimulants. He at the same time points out the cause and the source of evil by saying, Be ye not lifted up (82) The cause then of their contumacy was pride, for they dared to quarrel with God. So also the main principle of obedience is humility, that is, when men acknowledge that they are nothing and ascribe to God what is due to him.

(81) This may be rendered more consistently with the context, “For Jehovah speaks,” or is speaking: for the reference evidently is to what was now addressed to them. — Ed.

(82) So all the versions and the Targum. Gataker renders it, “Be ye not haughty,” which is no doubt the meaning. The verb means to be high, lofty, or elevated, and so to be elevated as to be haughty, proud. See Isaiah 3:16. Men, creatures of the dust, too high and elevated to hear what God said to them! This is the case still. What a monstrous thing! — Ed.

Verse 16

Jeremiah pursues the subject, which we began to explain yesterday, for he saw that the Jews were but little moved by what he taught them. He bid them. to regard what he said as coming from God, and told them that they could by no means succeed by their pride. For the same purpose he now adds, Give glory to Jehovah your God To give glory to God is elsewhere taken for confessing the truth in his name; for when Joshua abjured Achan, he used these words, “Give glory to God, my son;” that is, As I have set God before you as a judge, beware lest you should think that if you lie you can escape his judgment. (Joshua 7:19) But here, to give glory to God, is the same as to ascribe to him what properly belongs to him, or to acknowledge his power so as to be submissive to his word: for if we deny faith to the prophets; we rob God of his glory, as we thus disown his power, and, as far as we can, diminish his glory. How indeed can we ascribe glory to God except by acknowledging him to be the fountain of all wisdom, justice, and power, and especially by trembling at his sacred word? Whosoever then does not fear and reverence God, whosoever does not believe his word, he robs him of his glory. We hence see that all the unbelieving, though they may testify the contrary by their mouths, are yet in reality enemies to God’s glory and deprive him of it.

This subject ought to be carefully noticed; for all ought to dread such a sacrilege as this, and yet there is no one who takes sufficient heed in this respect. We then see what instruction this expression conveys; it is as though he had said, that the Jews had hitherto acted contemptuously towards God, for they trembled not before him, as they had no faith in his word: and that it was now time for him to set God before them as their Judge, and also for them to know that they ought to have believed whatever God declared to them by his servants.

He says, Before he introduces darkness Others render it by a single word, “Before it grows dark,” but as the verb is in Hiphil, it ought to be taken in a causative sense. Some consider the word sun to be understood, but without reason; for the sun is not said to send darkness by its setting. But the Prophet removes all ambiguity by the words which immediately follow in the second clause, And turn light to the shadow of death, and turn it to thick darkness In these words the Prophet no doubt refers to God, so that the word God, used at the beginning of the verse, is to be understood here. (83)

Before God, he then says, sends darkness, and before your feet stumble on the mountains of obscurity The word נשף, neshiph, means the evening and the twilight; it means also the obscure light before the rising of the sun; but it is often taken for the whole night. We can render the words, “the mountains of density.” But the word, no doubt, means here obscurity. Some think that mountains are to be here taken metaphorically for Egypt; for the Jews were wont to flee there in their troubles. But there are safer recesses on mountains than on the plains; yet I know not whether this sense will be very suitable here. On the contrary, I prefer to regard the words as preceded by כ,caph, a particle of likeness, which is often understood, and the meaning would be thus suitable, “Before your feet stumble as on obscure mountains:” for there is more light on level grounds than on mountains, for darkness often fills narrow passes: the sun cannot penetrate there; and also the evening does not come on so soon on plains as in the recesses of mountains; for the Prophet refers not to the summits but to the narrow valleys, which receive not the oblique rays of the sun but for a few hours. But what if we give this rendering? “Before your feet stumble at the mountains of darkness;” for אל,al, has the meaning of at, (84) as though the Prophet had said, that the darkness would be so thick that they could not discern mountains opposite them. As in the twilight or in darkness a traveler stumbles at the smallest stones, so also, when the darkness is very thick, even mountains are not perceived. It thus often happens that a person stumbles at mountains, and finds by his feet and his hands a stumblingblock before he perceives it by his eyes. As to myself, I wholly think that this is the right explanation, Before then your feet stumble at the dark mountains

He afterwards adds, When ye hope for light, he turns it to the shadow of death The word צלמות,tsalmut, as I have said elsewhere, is thought by grammarians to be composed of צל tsal, “shadow,” and of מות mut, which means “death,” and they render it “fatal darkness.” Then what he says is, “Before God turns light to darkness, turns it to thick darkness, give to him his glory.” And. hence we perceive more clearly what I have already referred to, that the verb יחשיך,icheshik, “will cause darkness,” ought to be applied to God.

But the sum of the whole is this, that they could anticipate God’s judgment by admitting him in time as their Judge, and also by receiving his word with more reverence than they had previously done. At the same time he declares that their hope was vain if they promised themselves light. But we must know that light is here to be taken metaphorically, as in many other places, and darkness also, its opposite, is to be so taken. Darkness means adversities, and light, peace and prosperity. The Prophet then says that the Jews deceived themselves, if they thought that their happiness would be perpetual, if they despised God and his prophets; and why? because it would have been the same as to disarm or to deprive him of his power, as though he was not the Judge of the world. He in short shews, that there was nigh at hand a most dreadful vengeance, except the Jews in time anticipated it and submitted themselves to God. It now follows —

(83) All the versions and the Targum render the first verb intransitively, “Before it grows dark:” but Montanus, Pagninus, Piscator and Junius and Tremellius, give it a transitive meaning, as Calvin does, and no doubt correctly, for it is in Hiphil, “Before he causes or brings darkness;” or it may be rendered, “Before he makes it dark.” Blayney follows the early versions, but Gataker, Lowth, and Venema, the latter versions; and the conclusion of the verse confirms, as Calvin says, this meaning. — Ed.

(84) This is a mistake, the preposition is על which means on, upon, etc.

Our version of this sentence is in accordance with the early versions: it is indeed literally the Septuagint and the Vulgate. Yet it is not the original. The verb is in Hithpael, and means to strike or smite together, or against one another. The literal rendering is the following, —

Before your feet smite one against the other,
On the mountains of gloominess (i.e. gloomy mountains.)

It is true the word for “gloominess” means sometimes the twilight; but here it seems to signify a state somewhat dark or obscure. To wander and to stumble on gloomy mountains betokens the miserable condition of fugitives: and this is what is meant here. See Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 7:16. Then what follows might be thus rendered, —

When ye shall look anxiously for light,
Then will he make it the shadow of death,
He will turn it to thick darkness.

When two vaus occur in a sentence, they may often be rendered when and then. The change proposed as to the last verb is not at all necessary. Literally it is, “He will set it (to be) for thick darkness.” — Ed.

Verse 17

The Prophet had indirectly threatened them; but yet there was some hope of pardon, provided the Jews anticipated God’s judgment in time and humbled themselves before him. He now declares more clearly that a most certain destruction was nigh at hand, If ye will not hear, he says, weep will my soul in secret But much weight is in what the Prophet intimates, that he would cease to address them, as though he had said, “I have not hitherto left off to exhort you, for God has so commanded me; but there will be no remedy, if ye as usual harden yourselves against what I teach you. There remains then nothing now for me, except to hide myself in some secret place and there to mourn; for my prophetic office among you is at an end, as ye are unworthy of such a favor from God.”

He does not state simply, If ye will not hear, but he adds a pronoun, this, If ye will not hear this, or it: for the Jews might have raised an objection and said, that they were not disobedient to God, and had prophets among them, as it appeared yesterday; for there were those who deceived them by their flatteries. The Prophet then does not speak indistinctly, for that would have had no effect; but he expressly declares that they were to hear what he had said in the last verse: “Except then,” he says, “ye give glory to God, I will leave you or bid you farewell, and will hide myself in some corner, and there bewail your miseries.” When the Prophet said that nothing remained for him but weeping, he intimated that it was all over with them, and that their salvation was hopeless. The sum of the whole is, that they were not to be always favored with that which they were now despising, that is, to be warned by God’s servants; for if they continued to despise all the prophets, God would withdraw such a favor from them.

The Prophet at the same time shows with what feelings he exercised his prophetic office; for though he knew that he was to perform, the part of an herald, and boldly to denounce on the Jews the calamity which we have observed; he yet ever felt so much pity in his soul, that he bewailed that perverseness which would prove their ruin. The Prophet then connected the two feelings together, so that with a bold and intrepid spirit he denounced vengeance on the Jews, and at the same time he felt commiseration and sympathy.

He then mentions the cause, For taken captive is the flock of Jehovah Jeremiah might have had indeed a regard also for his own blood. When, therefore, he saw the nation from which he himself sprung miserably perishing, he could not but mourn for their ruin: but he had an especial regard to the favor of God, as was the case also with Paul, (Romans 9:2) for though he refers to his descent from the Israelites, and assigns this as a reason why he wished to be an anathema from Christ on their account, there were yet other reasons why he spoke highly of them; for he afterwards adds, that the covenant was theirs, that they derived their origin from the fathers, that from them Christ came according to the flesh, who is God, blessed for ever. Paul then so honored and valued the benefits with which the Jews were adorned, that he wished as it were to die for their salvation, and even wished to be an anathema from Christ. There is not the least doubt but Jeremiah for a similar reason adds now, that he would seek retirement or some hidden place where he might bewail the destruction of his people, for it was the flock of Jehovah (85) We hence see that it was God’s covenant that made him to shed tears, for he saw that in a manner it failed through the fault of the people. It follows —

(85) The whole verse may be thus rendered, —

But if ye will not hear, weep in secret places Will my soul, on account of your haughtiness; Yea, bewailing it will bewail, And pour down will mine eye the tear, When taken captive is the flock of Jehovah.

The word for “haughtiness,” גוה, is rendered “insolence” by the Septuagint and Arabic; “pride” by the Vulgate, and “affliction” by the Syriac. The word is commonly derived from גאה, to swell, to be high, to be elated. It is found in this sense in two other places, Job 33:17, and Daniel 4:37; and in a good sense, elevation, in Job 22:29. It seems to be a contraction, in full גאוה. See Psalms 36:12; Proverbs 29:23. This being the meaning of the word, the view of Calvin cannot be admitted. There is an evident reference to what is said in Jeremiah 13:15, “Be ye not lifted up,” or, “be ye not haughty.” The cause of his weeping was their haughtiness in not hearing God speaking to them.- Ed.

Verse 18

The Prophet is here bidden to address his discourse directly to King Jehoiakim and his mother; for the term lady is not to be taken for the queen, the wife of Jehoiakim, but for his mother, who was then his associate in the kingdom, and possessed great authority. (86) And there is no doubt but that God thus intended to rouse more fully the community in general; that is, by shewing that he would not spare, no, not the king nor the queen. But we may hence also learn what has already been observed, that the truth announced by the prophets is superior to all the greatness of the world. For it was said before to Jeremiah, “Reprove mountains and rebuke hills;” (87) and still farther,

“Behold, I have set thee over kingdoms and nations, to pull down and to pluck up,” etc., (Jeremiah 1:10)

This ought to be carefully noticed; for kings and those who are eminent in the world, think that they are not only, by a singular privilege, exempt from all laws, but also free from every obligation to observe modesty and to avoid shame. Hence it is, that they from their elevation despise God and his prophets. Here God shews, that he supplied the prophets with his word for this end, — that they might close their eyes to all the splendor of the world, and shew no respect of persons, but pull down every height, and bring to order everything that is elevated in this world. Paul also teaches us, that ministers of the gospel are endued with this power;

“Given to us,” he says, “is power against every height that exalteth itself against Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 10:5)

And hence we must observe, that all who are chosen to the office of teaching, cannot faithfully discharge their duty except they boldly, and with intrepid spirit, dare to reprove both kings and queens; for the word of God is not to be restricted to the common people or men in humble life, but it subjects to itself all, from the least to the greatest. This prophecy was no doubt very bitter to the king as well as to the common people; but it behooved Jeremiah to discharge faithfully his office; and this was also necessary, for the king Jehoiakim and his mother thought that they could not possibly be dethroned.

He therefore bids them to descend and to lie down; that is, he bids them to forget their ancient greatness. He does not simply exhort them to repent, but shews, that as they had been so refractory in their pride, the punishment of disgrace was nigh at hand, for the Lord would with a strong hand lay them prostrate. It is not then an exhortation that the Prophet gives; but he only foretells what they little thought of, — that they in vain flattered themselves, for the Lord would in a short time expose them to reproach by casting them down.

And this is evident from what is added, For descend shall the crown of your honor; that is, it shall be taken away from your highnesses, or from your eminencies, or from your heads; for the word ראשה, rashe, means sometimes the head. (88) But some think that it means here eminencies, and that “the magnificent crown” is put here in apposition.

I have omitted, if I mistake not, to notice one thing; that is, the pride mentioned by the Prophet; except ye hear, weep will my soul in secret on account of pride Interpreters render it “your pride;” that is, the pride with which the Jews were filled; but I am inclined to take a different view, that the Prophet speaks here of the pride or the great power of those enemies whom the Jews then did not in any degree fear. “Since then,” says the Prophet, “ye are so secure, I will retire and weep by myself, and my soul by mourning shall mourn, yea, my eye shall flow down with tears, on account of the pride of the enemies, who are now so much despised by you;” Let us now proceed —

(86) So Gataker and Lowth; and they refer to 2 Kings 24:12, and to Jeremiah 22:26. From this circumstance it is gathered that this prophecy was delivered in the short reign of that king, which lasted only three months.

The word “queen,” in our version, is rendered “mistress or lady — domina,” by Calvin, but “potentates” by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic; “governess — dominatrix,” by the Vulgate; and “queen” by the Targum. The word means governess; it is rendered “mistress” in Genesis 16:4; “lady” in Isaiah 47:5; and “queen” in 2 Kings 10:13. — Ed.

(87) There is an oversight here; the passage referred to is in Micah 6:1; nor is it a right view of it. See vol. 3 on the Minor Prophets, p. 328. — Ed.

(88) All the early versions render the words, “Fallen from your head has the crown of your glory.” Our version is that of Montanus. If מ be a formative, then the word, in every instance in which it occurs, means bolsters or pillows, things for the head to rest on. The word for head has commonly a masculine termination in the plural number; but here it is feminine. The most literal rendering is the following: —

For bring down from your heads will he the crown of your glory.

The latter words mean “your glorious crown,” the expression being an Hebraism.

Our common version, as Blayney observes, violates grammar; for the gender of the verb ירד, (which, the same author thinks, ought to be יורד, future in Hiphil) is masculine, while the noun made its nominative is feminine. — Ed

Verse 19

By the cities of the south, almost all understand the cities of the tribe of Judah, whose portion was towards the south; and by the cities being shut up, they consider that what is meant is, that they would be forsaken; for they say, that cities are open when they are frequented. But I am con- strained here also to take another view. I take the cities of the south to have been those of Egypt; for we know that the Jews looked there for a refuge, whenever they were attacked by the Assyrians or the Chaldeans. Since then they thought that Egypt would be to them a sort of an asylum, the Prophet declares that all these cities would be closed against them, and that there would be no one to open them; as though he had said, “The Lord will drive you out, and will prevent you to take refuge there.”

He would doubtless have spoken more clearly had he meant the cities of Judah; and besides, as he was at Jerusalem, this way of speaking must have been ambiguous, and even improper; and we shall find him presently speaking of the Assyrians as being in the north. He now then warns them, that Egypt would be closed against them, though they at the same time expected that they would be safe there, and that an easily-borne exile was in their power. As then they foolishly trusted that they would be received by the Egyptians, the Prophet says, that the gates would be closed, and that there would be no one to open them. It then follows, carried away wholly has been Judah, carried away completely; (89) that is, “Ye shall all be led away into Assyria and Babylon;” which is the north country, according to what afterwards follows, —

(89) The ancient versions render these last words of the verse in the same way with our version and that of Calvin; but the Hebrew, as Blayney remarks, is not rightly rendered, though he unnecessarily makes כלה a verb, and according to his construction it ought to be כלתה; and he does not satisfactorily account for the last word, שלומים. The literal version I regard to be the following: —

The transmigration of Judah has been entire, — The transmigration of retributions.

The past time, as in the beginning of the verse, is to be used, though it is used for the future. The word שלומים, is never found in an adverbial sense; and indeed it is found only once elsewhere as here, in the plural number, Isaiah 34:8; but thrice in this sense in the singular number, Deuteronomy 32:35; Hosea 9:7; Micah 7:3. The Targum favors this rendering, as it retains the idea of retribution. — Ed.

Verse 20

We here see that Egypt and Chaldea are set in opposition, the one to the other; as though the Prophet had said, “Whenever anything is said to you about the Chaldeans, ye turn your eyes to Egypt, as though that would be a quiet residence for you; but God will prevent you from having any escape there. Now see, see your enemies who are coming from another quarter, even from Chaldea. Lift up then your eyes.” As they were so very intent on their present ease, he bids them to lift up their eyes, that they might see farther than they were wont to do.

He then says, Where is the flock which had been given to thee? and the sheep of thy glory? It is through pity that the Prophet thus speaks; for he saw by the Spirit the whole land deserted, and in wonder he asks, “What does this mean, that the flock is scattered which had been given to thee?” He addresses the people under the character of a woman, as he does often in other places. (90) In short, he confirms what he had said before, — that he would go to some secret place, if the people were not influenced by his doctrine, and that he would there by himself deplore their calamity; but he employs other words, and at the same time intimates, that he alone had eyes to see, as others were blind, for God had even taken from them understanding and discernment. The Prophet then shews here that he saw the dreadful desolation that was soon to come; and therefore as one astonished he asks, Where is the flock with which God had enriched the land? and further he asks, Where are the sheep which possessed a magnificent honor or beauty? It follows —

(90) May not the queen regent, or governess, mentioned with the king in Jeremiah 13:18, be here meant? Sovereigns are called shepherds, and hence “flock” and “sheep” are here mentioned. — Ed.

Verse 21

As the Prophet observed that the Jews were in no way moved, he addressed them still further, and set before them what seemed then incredible, even the calamity, from which they thought they were able easily to defend themselves by means of their auxiliaries.

He then adds, What wilt thou then say? For the false teachers made a clamor, and whenever Jeremiah began to speak, they violently assailed him, and the common people also wantonly barked at him. As then they thus petulantly resisted God and his truths, the Prophet intimates that the time would come when they should become mute through shame: What wilt thou say then? he says, “Ye are now very talkative, and God cannot obtain a hearing from you; but he will check your wantonness, when the enemy shall distress you.” It is the same as though he had said, “It will not be the time then for your loquacity, for the Lord will constrain you to be silent.”

Some refer to God what follows, When, he shall visit you; but it ought on the contrary to be applied to the Chaldeans; for he immediately adds, But thou hast accustomed them, etc. There is indeed a change or an anomaly of number, but this is common in the prophets. When he uses the singular, the head of the army is referred to, but afterwards the whole forces are included. What then wilt thou say, when the enemy shall visit thee? He then adds, But then, etc.; that is, “If thou seekest to cast blame on others, when the Assyrians and the Chaldeans shall overwhelm thee, thou wilt attempt it in vain? for thou hast opened a passage for them, and hast accustomed them to be thy leaders over thy head.” For the Assyrians had a long time before been sent for by the Israelites; and the Jews also had formed confederacies with the Chaldeans against the Assyrians, before these monarchies were united. As then they had called them in as auxiliaries, they had accustomed them to rule, and, as it were, had set them over themselves. The case was similar to that of the Turks at this day, were they to pass over to these parts and exercise their authority; for it might be asked the French kings and their counsellors, “Whose fault it is that the Turks come to us so easily? It is because ye have prepared for them the way by sea, because ye have bribed them, and your ports have been opened to them; and yet they have wilfully exercised the greatest cruelty towards your subjects. All these things have proceeded from yourselves; ye are therefore the authors of all these evils.” So also now the Prophet upbraids the Jews, because they had accustomed the Chaldeans to be their leaders; and as they had set them over their own heads, he says to them, that it was no wonder that they were now so troublesome and grievous to them. (91)

He afterwards says, Shall not sorrows lay hold on thee as on a woman in travail? By this comparison he intimates, that the Jews gained nothing by their vain hopes; for when they should say, peace and security, destruction, such as they by no means expected, would suddenly come upon them. This similitude we know often occurs, and it is a very apt one; for a woman with child may be very cheerful and quietly enjoying herself, and yet a sudden pain may seize her. So also it will be with the wicked; they cannot now bear to hear anything sad or alarming, and they drive from them every fear as far as possible; but the more they harden themselves, the heavier is God’s vengeance which follows them, and which will overtake them suddenly and unexpectedly. As then it was incredible to the Jews, that the Chaldeans would soon come to lay waste their land, he says to them, “Surely sorrows will take hold on you, though you look not for them. Though a woman with child thinks not of her coming pain, yet it comes suddenly and cannot be driven away; so you will gain nothing by heedlessly promising to yourselves continual peace and quietness.” I cannot finish what follows today if I go on farther; I shall therefore put it off to the next Lecture.

(91) The best rendering of this clause is as follows: —

For thou hast taught them to be over the leaders in chief.

It is the feminine gender that is still used; and the queen or governess may be addressed as the representative of the ruling power in the land. — Ed.

Verse 22

The Prophet again declares that God’s judgment would be just, which he had previously foretold; for hypocrites, we know, do not cease to quarrel with God, except they are often proved guilty; and it is always their object, where they cannot wholly excuse themselves, to extenuate in some measure their fault. The Prophet therefore here removes every pretense for evasion, and declares that they were wholly worthy of such a reward.

But his manner of speaking ought to be noticed, If thou wilt say in thine heart, etc. Hypocrites do not only claim for themselves righteousness before the world, but they also deceive themselves, and the devil so dementates them with a false persuasion, that they seek to be counted just before God. This then is what the Prophet sets forth when he says, If thou wilt say in thine heart, Why have these evils happened to me? (92) that is, if thou seekest by secret murmuring to contend with God, the answer is ready,Because of the multitude of thine iniquity, discovered are thy skirts, and thy heels are denuded.” The multitude of iniquity he calls that perverse wickedness which prevailed among the Jews; for they had not ceased for a long time to provoke the wrath of God. Had they only once sinned, or had been guilty of one kind of sin, there would have been some hope of pardon, at least God would not have executed a punishment so severe; but as there had been an uninterrupted course of sinning, the Prophet shews that it would not be right to spare them any longer.

As to the simile, it is a form of speaking often used by the prophets, that is, to denude the soles of the feet, and to discover the skirts. We know that; men clothe themselves, not only to preserve them from cold. but that they also cover the body for the sake of modesty: there is therefore a twofold use of garments, the one occasioned by necessity, and the other by decency. As then clothes are partly made for this end — to cover what could not be decently shewn or left bare without shame, the prophets use this mode of speaking when they have in view to shew that one is exposed to public reproaJeremiah (93) It afterwards follows —

(92) The verb is here in the singular, and is followed by a nominative in the plural; the very same anomaly exists in Welsh. The line would be literally the same in that language, —

(lang. cy) Pam y digwyddodd i mi y pethau hyn ?

But if “these things” preceded the verb, it would be in the plural. — Ed.

(93) The three last lines are as follows: —

For the number of thine iniquity Discovered have been thy skirts, Violently stripped off have been thy heels.

“Skirts” here stand for the parts covered by them, and “heels” for the sandals which were worn. Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate mention the parts, and not skirts — “the hinder parts,” “the uncomely parts,” but they retain the word “heels.” The metonomy exists, no doubt, as to both. The Syriac has “skirts” and “ankles.” The Targum gives the meaning, “confusion” and “ignominy.” The past time is used for the future. — Ed.

Verse 23

God declares in this verse, that the people were so hardened in their wickedness, that there was no hope of their repentance. This is the sum of what is said. But it was a very bitter reproof for the Prophet to say that his own nation were past hope — that they had so entirely given themselves up to their vices that they were no longer healable.

But he uses a comparison,Can the Ethiopian, (94) he says, change his skin? Blackness is inherent in the skin of the Ethiopians, as it is well known. Were they then to wash themselves a hundred times daily, they could not put off their blackness. The same also must be said of leopards or panthers, and we know that these animals are besprinkled with spots. Such then is the spotted character of the leopard or panther, (95) that whatever might be done to him he would still retain his color. We now then see what the Prophet means — that the Jews were so corrupted by long habit that they could not repent, for the devil had so enslaved them that they were not in their right mind; they no longer had any discernment, and could not discriminate between good and evil.

Learned men in our age do not wisely refer to this passage, when they seek to prove that there is no free-will in man; for it is not simply the nature of man that is spoken of here, but the habit that is contracted by long practice. Aristotle, a strong advocate of free will, confesses that it is not in man’s power to do right, when he is so immersed in his own vices as to have lost a free choice, (7. Lib. Ethicon) and this also is what experience proves. We hence see that this passage is improperly adduced to prove a sentiment which is yet true, and fully confirmed by many passages of Scripture.

Jeremiah, then, does not here refer to man’s nature as he is when he comes from the womb; but he condemns the Jews for contracting such a habit by long practice. As, then, they had hardened themselves in doing evil, he says that they could not repent, that wickedness had become inherent, or firmly fixed in their hearts, like the blackness which is inherent in the skin of the Ethiopians, or the spots which belong to the leopards or panthers.

We may at the same time gather from this passage a useful doctrine — that men become so corrupt, by sinful habits and sinful indulgence, that the devil takes away from them every desire and care for acting rightly, so that, in a word, they become wholly irreclaimable, as we see to be the case with regard to bodily diseases; for a chronic disease, in most instances, so corrupts what is sound and healthy in the body, that it becomes by degrees incurable. When, therefore, the body is thus infected for a long time, there is no hope of a cure Life may indeed be prolonged, but not without continual languor. Now, as to spiritual diseases it is also true, that when putridity has pervaded the inward parts, it is impossible for any one to repent. And yet it must be observed, that we do not speak here of the power of God, but only shew, that all those who harden themselves in their vices, as far as their power is concerned, are incurable, and past all remedy. Yet God can deliver, even from the lowest depths, such as have a hundred times past all recovery. But here, as I have already said, the Prophet does not refer to God’s power, but only condemns his own nation, that they might not complain that God treated them with too much severity.

The meaning then is, that they ought not to have thought it strange that God left them no hope; for they became past recovery, through their own perverseness, as they could not adopt another course of life after having so long accustomed themselves to everything that was evil: Wilt thou also, he says, be able to do good? that is, wilt thou apply thy mind to what is just, who hast been accustomed to evil, or who hast hitherto learnt nothing but to do evil? (96) We now perceive the design of the Prophet — that they unreasonably sought pardon of God, who had contracted such hardness by a long course of sinning that they were become incurable. It afterwards follows —

(94) The word in Hebrew is “Cushite;” and many learned men contend that the “Ethiopian” is not meant, though all the early versions so render it except the Syriac, which has “Indian.” Blayney agrees with Bochart and others in thinking that the Cushites were the inhabitants of Arabia, on the borders of the Red Sea, and he refers in proof of this to 2 Chronicles 21:16. The skin is not said here to be black, but it was no doubt of a particular color, different from that of the Jews. — Ed.

(95) ”Panther,” πάρδαλιςpardus, is the rendering of the Septuagint and the other versions. The word rendered “spots,” found only here, is translated “varieties” by the Septuagint and Vulgate, but “spots” by the Syriac and Targum.Ed.

(96) Neither this sentence nor the preceding is put interrogatively in the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Vulgate, but in this way, — “If the Ethiopian,” etc.; “Even so can ye,” etc. The Arabic and the Targum have both sentences in an interrogative form, and more consistently with the Hebrew. Blayney renders the first part interrogatively, as in our version, but not the second, and he gives a meaning to the second part which the original will not bear, and which is not countenanced by any of the versions. The most literal version is as follows, —

Can the Cushite change his skin, Or the panther his spots? — Also ye, can ye do good, Who have learned evil?

The future tense in Hebrew ought often to be rendered potentially, and sometimes subjunctively. — Ed.

Verse 24

This is an inference which Jeremiah draws from the last verse. As long as there is any hope of repentance, there is also room for mercy; God often declares that he is long-suffering. Then the most wicked might object and say, that God is too rigid, because he waits not until they return to a sound mind. Now the Prophet had said that it was all over with the people: here therefore he meets the objection, and shews that extreme calamity was justly brought on them by God, because the Jews had obstinately hardened themselves in their vices and wickedness.

After having shewn, therefore, that corruption was inherent in them, as blackness in the skin of an Ethiopian, and as spots in panthers, he now comes to this conclusion — I will scatter them as stubble which passes away by the wind of the desert This scattering denotes their exile; as though he had said, “I will banish them, that they may know that they are deprived of the inheritance in which they place their safety and their happiness.” For the Jews gloried in this only — that they were God’s people, because the Temple was built among them, and because they dwelt in the land promised to them. They then thought that God was in a manner tied to them, while they possessed that inheritance. Hence Jeremiah declares, that they would become like stubble carried away by the wind.

He mentions the wind of the desert, that is, the wind of the south, which was the most violent in that country. The south wind, as we know, was also pestilential; the air also was more disturbed by the south wind than by any other, for it raised storms and tempests. Therefore the Scripture, in setting forth any turbulent movement, often adopts this similitude. Some think that Jeremiah alludes to the Egyptians; but I see no reason to seek out any refined explanation, when this mode of speaking is commonly adopted. Then by this similitude of south wind God intimates the great power of his vengeance; as though he had said, “Even if the Jews think that they have a firm standing in the promised land, they are wholly deceived, for God will with irresistible force expel them.” And he compares them to stubble, while yet they boasted that they were like trees planted in that land; and we have before seen that they had been planted as it were by the hand of God; but they wanted the living root of piety, they were therefore to be driven far away like stubble. (97)

Let us then learn from this passage not to abuse the patience of God: for though he may suspend for a time the punishment we deserve, yet when he sees that we go on in our wickedness, he will come to extreme measures, and will deal with us without mercy as those who are past remedy. It follows —

(97) Our version begins with “therefore,” giving this meaning to ו, vau, but Gataker considers this verse as connected with the 22d, and regards the 23d as parenthetic; and then he renders the vau “and.” The literal rendering of the latter part is, “Passing to the wind of the desert,” that is, the stubble which is exposed to that violent wind. The meaning may be thus given, —

And I will scatter them like the stubble That is subject to the wind of the desert.

To pass over to a thing is to become within its range, or to its possession. The sense would be given by the following version, —

That is carried away by the wind of the desert.

The meaning is not what the Septuagint give, “carried by the wind to the desert;” nor what the Vulgate presents, “carried by the wind in the desert;” but what is meant is, “the wind of the desert,” or, as Calvin says, the south wind. When the stubble was exposed to that, it is carried away with the greatest violence: such would be the scattering of the Jews. — Ed.

Verse 25

The Prophet no doubt wished to strip the Jews of their vain confidence, through which they acted arrogantly and presumptuously towards God, while yet they professed his name and claimed his favor. They said that they had obtained that land by an hereditary right, because it had been promised to their father Abraham. This indeed was true. They also said, that the land was God’s rest; and they derived this from the prophets. They said farther that God was their heritage; and this also was true. But since they had wickedly profaned God’s name, he takes from them these false boastings, and says, This is thy lot But still they said, When God divided the nations, his lot fell on Israel, for so says Moses. (Deuteronomy 32:8) As then they were wont to say, that God afterwards deceived them, the Prophet here on the other hand reminds them, that they foolishly confided in that lot, because God had rejected them, and did not acknowledge them now as his children, as they were become degenerate and perfidious. This, he says, is thy lot (98)

We see that there is to be understood here a contrast: God was the lot of the people, and they were also the lot of God, according to the passages to which we have referred. They were the heritage of God, and they boasted that God was their heritage; the land was a symbol and a pledge of this heritage. The Prophet now says: “This lot shall be to thee the portion of thy measures from me.” He alludes to an ancient custom; for they were wont to divide fields and meadows by lines, as they afterwards used poles; and we call such measures in the present day perches ( perticas .)

We now then understand what the Prophet means; for he intimates that the Jews vainly and presumptuously and foolishly boasted, that God was their heritage; for he owned them not now as his children: and he also declares that another lot was prepared for them, far different from that of heritage, — that God would banish them from the promised land, which they had polluted by their vices. Thus we see that we ought not presumptuously and falsely to pretend or profess the name of God; for though he has been pleased to choose us as his people, it is yet required of us to be faithful to him; and if we forsake him, the same reward for our impiety will no doubt await us as Jeremiah threatens here to his own nation. Let us then so use the favor of God and of Christ, and all the blessings which are offered to us by the gospel, that we may not have to fear that vengeance which happened to the Jews.

He adds the reason, Because thou hast forgotten me and trusted in falsehood (99) By falsehood the Prophet means not only the superstitions in which the Jews involved themselves, but also the false counsels which they adopted, when at one time they had recourse to the Egyptians, at another to some other ungodly nations, in order to get aids in opposition to the will of God. For wherever there was any danger, they thought they had a remedy at hand by having the favor and help of the Egyptians, or of the Assyrians, or of the Chaldeans. In the word falsehood, then, the Prophet includes those perverse designs which they formed, when they sought to defend themselves against God, who would have protected them by his power, had it not been necessary to punish them for their sins. What Jeremiah then condemned in the people was, that they placed their trust in falsehood, that is, that they souglint here and there vain helps, and at the same time disregarded God; nay, they thought themselves safer when God was displeased with them: and hence he says, Thou hast forgotten me For the Jews could not have sought deliverance from the Egyptians or from other heathen nations, or from their idols, without having first rejected God; for if this truth had been really fixed in their minds, — that God cared for their safety, they would no doubt have been satisfied with his protection. Their ingratitude was therefore very manifest in thus adopting vain and impious hopes; for they thus dishonored God, and distrusted his power, as though he was not sufficient to preserve them. It now follows—

(98) It may be thus rendered, —

This thy lot is the share of thy measures From me, saith Jehovah.

The “lot” was the scattering threatened in the previous verse. “The share of thy measures,” is a Hebrew idiom for “a measured share,” or “a measured portion,” as rendered by Blayney. Some say that “measures” are mentioned, because the length and breadth were included. — Ed.

(99) It is better to render אשר here “because” or for, according to all the versions and the Targum, than “who,” as by Blayney.Ed.

Verse 26

He continues the same subject, — that God did not deal with his people with so much severity without the most just cause; for it could not be expected that he should treat them with more gentleness, since they rejected him and had recourse to vain confidences. I also, he says; for the particle גם,gam, denotes something mutual, as though he had said, “I also will have my turn; for I have it in my power to avenge myself: I will retaliate,” he seems to say, “this thine ingratitude; for as thou hast despised me, so will I expose thee to reproach and shame.” For God was shamefully despised by the Jews, when they substituted the Egyptians and their idols in his place: they could not have done him more dishonor than by transferring his glory to the ungodly and to their own figments. We hence see that there is an emphasis in the particle also, I will also make bare, or discover, thy skirts on thy face; that is, I will cast thy skirts on thy face. (100)

This mode of speaking often occurs in the Prophets; and as I have elsewhere explained, it means the uncovering of the uncomely parts: it is as though a vile woman was condemned to bear the disgrace of being stripped of her garments and exposed to the public, that all might abhor a spectacle so base and disgraceful. God, as we have before seen, assumed the character of a husband to his people: as then he had been so shamefully despised, he now says, that he had in readiness the punishment of casting the skirts of his people over their faces, that their reproach or baseness might appear by exposing their uncomely parts. It then follows —

(100) This is no doubt the meaning. See Nahum 3:5. The verb means to strip off, so as to make bare. The threatening is, to strip off the skirts and throw them over the face; and this is the rendering of the Syriac. Probably the most literal rendering would be the following, —

And I also will strip (or roll) up thy skirts over thy face.

The versions all differ, but the Septuagint convey this idea. Blayney’s uncovering “thy skirts before thee,” imparts no meaning. — Ed.

Verse 27

Here the Prophet explains at large what I have before stated, — that the people were justly punished by God, though very grievously, because they had provoked God, not at one time only, but for a long time, and had obstinately persisted in their evil courses. Moreover, as their sins were various, the Prophet does not mention them all here; for we have seen elsewhere, that they were not only given to superstitions, but also to whoredoms, drunkenness, plunders, and outrages; but here he only speaks of their superstitions, — that having rejected God, they followed their own idols. For by adulteries he no doubt means idolatries; and he does not speak here of whoredom, which yet prevailed greatly among the people; but he only condemns them for having fallen away into ungodly and false forms of worship. To the same thing must be referred what follows, thy neighings; for by this comparison, we know, is set forth elsewhere, by way of reproach, that furious ardor with which the Jews followed their own inventions. The word indeed sometimes means exultation; for the verb צהל, tsel, is to exult; but here, as in Jeremiah 5:0 it signifies neighing.

He then says, Thy adulteries and thy neighings, etc. Now this is far more shameful than if he had said thy lusts, for by this comparison we know their crime was enhanced, because they were not merely inflamed by a violent natural lust, such as adulterers feel towards strumpets, but they were like horses or bulls: Thy adulteries then and thy neighings; and he adds, the thought of thy whoredom, etc. The word זמת, zamet, is to be taken here for thought, and this is its proper meaning. It is indeed taken sometimes in a bad sense; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant here to wipe off a color with which the Jews painted themselves; for they said that they intended to worship God, while they accumulated rites which were not. prescribed in the law. The Prophet therefore condemns them here as being within full of unchastity, as though he had said, “I do not only accuse you of open acts of wickedness, but ye burn also within with lust, for impiety has taken such hold on all your thoughts, that God has no place at all in you; ye are like an unchaste woman, who thinks of nothing but of her filthy lovers, and goes after her adulterers: ye are thus wholly given up to your whoredoms.

Some read the words by themselves and put them in the nominative case, Thy adulteries and thy neighings, and the thought of thy whoredom on the mountains;” and then they add, “In the field have I seen thine abominations.” But I prefer to take the whole together, and thus to include all as being governed by the verb ראיתי, I have seen; “Thy adulteries and thy neighings, the thought of thy whoredom on the mountains in the field have I seen, even thy abominations.” The last word is to be taken in apposition with the former words. But the Prophet introduces God here as the speaker, that the Jews might not seek evasions and excuse themselves. He therefore shews that God, whose proper office it is to examine and search the hearts of men, is the fit Judge. (101)

He mentions hills and field. Altars, we know, were then built on hills, for they thought that God would be better worshipped in groves; and hence there was no place, no wood, and even no tree, but that they imagined there was something divine in it. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that their abominations were seen by God on the hills as well as on the plains. And he adds fields, as though he had said, that the hills did not suffice them for their false worship, by which they profaned the true worship of God, but that the level fields were filled with their abominations.

We now then perceive the meaning of what is here said, that the Jews in vain tried to escape by evasions, since God declares that he had seen them; as though he had said, “Cease to produce your excuses, for I will allow nothing of what ye may bring forward, as the whole is already well known by me.” And he declares their doings to be abominations, and also adulteries and neighings.

At length he adds, Woe to thee, Jerusalem! The Prophet here confirms what we have before observed, that the Jews had no just ground of complaint, for they had provoked God extremely. Hence the particle woe intimates that they were now justly given up to destruction. And then he says, Will they never repent? But this last part is variously explained; and I know not whether it can today be fully expounded. I will however briefly glance at the meaning.

Jerome seems to have read אחרי, achri, “after me,” “Wilt thou not then return after me?” as though God here intended to exhort the Jews to return at length to him, as he was ready to be reconciled to them. But as it is simply אחרי,achri, and he may have read without the points, I do not wish to depart from what is commonly received. There is further a difficulty in the words which follow, for interpreters vary as to the import of the words מתי עד,mati od, “how long yet?” In whatever sense we may take the words, they are sufficient to confute the opinion of Jerome, which I had forgotten to mention, because the malediction in that case would be improper and without meaning, “Woe to thee, Jerusalem, wilt thou not be made clean after me?” for what can this mean? It is therefore necessary so to read as to include all the words in the sentence, “Wilt thou not hereafter or at length be made clean?” Some, however, read the words affirmatively, “Thou shalt not be cleansed hereafter,” as though it was said, “Thou shalt not be cleansed until I first drive thee into exile.” But this meaning is too refined, as I think. I therefore take the words in their simple form, Wilt thou not at length be made clean? how long yet? as though God again reproved the hardness of the people, as indeed he did reprove it. Hence he says, “Wilt thou not at length be made clean?” for I take אחרי, achri, as meaning “at length.” Then follows an amplification, מתיעד, mati od, “how long yet?” (102) that is, “Wilt thou never make an end? and can I not at length obtain this from thee, since I have so often exhorted thee, and since thou seest that I make no end of exhorting thee? how long yet shall thy obstinacy continue, so that I cannot subdue thee by my salutary admonitions?” This is the meaning.

(101) In all the versions, as well as in the Targum, the words in the beginning of this verse, as far as “whoredom,” are read in apposition with “shame” in the preceding verse, and what follows as connected with the verb “I have seen,” in this manner, —

On hills in the field have I seen thy abominations.

Another arrangement, suggested by Gataker, is more consonant with the Hebrew style, by considering the substantive verb to be understood in the first clause, as follows, —

27.Thy adulteries and thy neighings, The scheming of thy fornication,
Have been on hills in the field; I have seen thine abominations.

The word זמת, which I render “scheming,” is from a verb which means to devise, to contrive, to scheme, to plot. It is rendered “wickedness” by the Vulgate, “alienation” by the Septuagint, “fornication” by the Syriac, and “design” or counsel by the Targum. It never means “lewdness.” It seems to mean here the contrivances and devices formed by those given to fornication. Blayney considers it a verb in the second person: he connects the first line with the preceding verse, and renders thus what follows, —

Thou hast devised thy whoredom upon the hills,
In the fields I have seen thine abominations.

The simplicity of this order recommends it, but the former seems preferable. — Ed.

(102) The meaning seems to be right, but it is better to construe אחרי, “after,” with these words, —

Woe to thee, Jerusalem! thou wilt not be cleansed
After what time wilt it yet be?

Literally it may be rendered, “After when yet?” — Ed.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/jeremiah-13.html. 1840-57.
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