God now mentions to his servant the commands which he was to convey to the king and priests, and to the whole people; for by the ears of Jerusalem he means all its inhabitants. God here intimates that the Jews were unworthy of being cared for by him any more; but that he is induced by another reason not to reject them wholly, until he had found out by experience their irreclaimable wickedness. So then he makes this preface, I remember thee for the kindness of thy youth, and the love of thy espousals In these words he shews that he regarded not what the Jews deserved, nor acknowledged any worthiness in them, as the reason why he was solicitous for their salvation, and endeavored to bring them to the right way by the labors of his Prophet, but that this is to be ascribed to his former benefits.
Some render the words, “I remember the piety or kindness of thy youth;” and לך l ak, may be thus taken, as it is in other places. Others omit this word; while others consider a copulative to be understood, “I remember thee, and the kindness of thy youth.” But none, as I think, have attained to the meaning of the Prophet: there is yet no obscurity in the words, if a preposition be considered as being understood, so as to read thus, — that God remembered his people for the kindness which he had shewn to them, and for the love which he had manifested towards them from the beginning. Then the real meaning of the Prophet I think to be this, — that God here takes away every ground for pride and boasting from the Jews; as though he had said, that they were worthy, they had no reason to think; but that he was still their Father, and was therefore unwilling that the benefits he had formerly conferred upon them should be wholly lost. There is, in short, given here a reason why God sent Jeremiah after the other prophets; as though he had said, “It is a testimony to you of the paternal care which I shew to you, when I send my Prophet to give you a hope of pardon, if ye return to the right way and be reconciled to me. But how is it that I still shew a concern for you, as ye have forgotten me, and wholly disregarded my law? It is so, because I wish to continue my favors to you.” The kindness of thy youth he takes in a passive sense; for he does not mean that the Jews were kind or merciful, but that they had experienced the kindness of God.
But the metaphor here used must be noticed. God compares himself here to a young bridegroom, who marries a youthful bride, in the flower of her age, and in the prime of her beauty: and it is a manner of speaking commonly adopted by the prophets. I will not now detain you with a long explanation, as the subject will be treated more at large in another place.
As God, then, had espoused the people of Israel, when he redeemed and brought them out of Egypt, he says now, that he remembers the people on account of that kindness and love. He sets kindness or beneficence before love. The word חסר, ch es ad, properly means a gratuitous favor or kindness, which is shewn to the miserable, or beneficence. By the word love, God means in many other places the gratuitous election with which he had favored the whole people. The expression is indeed made clearer when kindness or gratuitous favor is placed first, and then love is added: though nothing new is added, yet the Prophet more fully shews that the people had been loved by God in no other way than through his kindness. (27)
Now this is a remarkable passage; for God shews that his covenant, though perfidiously violated by the Jews, was yet firm and immutable: for though not all who derive their descent according to the flesh from Abraham, are true and legitimate Israelites, yet God ever remains true, and his calling, as Paul says, is without repentance. (Romans 11:29.) We may therefore learn this from the Prophet’s words, — that God was not content with one Prophet, but continued his favor, inasmuch as he would not render void his covenant. The Jews indeed had impiously departed from the covenant, and a vast number had deservedly perished, having been wholly repudiated; yet God designed really to shew that his grace depends not on the inconstancy of men, as Paul says in another place, for it would then presently fail, (Romans 3:4) and that were all men false and perfidious, God would yet remain true and fixed in his purpose. This we learn from the Prophet’s words, when it is said, that God remembered the people on account of the kindness of their youth.
As to youth and espousals, we may hence learn that they had been anticipated by God’s kindness; for they became in no other way connected with God than by having been chosen by him: their espousal would not have been enjoyed by the people, had not God anticipated them. What was Abraham? and what were all his posterity? God then now shews, that the beginning of all blessings, and as it were the fountain, was this, — that it pleased him to choose the people for himself.
And the same thing is confirmed in other words: When, he says, thou didst follow me in the desert, in a land not sown The people, we know, did not obey God as they ought to have done, even when he had redeemed them. Hence God does not so much in this place commend the people for any merits of their own, but especially confirms what I have already stated, — that he could not cast aside every care for a people whom he had once adopted, and whom he had led through the desert, that they might be a people separated from the rest of the world. He however concedes to them, according to his great goodness, the praise of obedience, because they followed God through rough ways, as though a tender young woman refused not to undergo hard and irksome toils from love to her bridegroom. He afterwards adds —
2.Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, — I remember, with regard to thee, The kindness of thy youth, The love of thy espousals, Thy coming after me in the desert, Through a land not sown.
“Thy coming, or, walking after me,“ stands in the same relation to “remember” as the two preceding words: this is plainly the construction; and this construction determines the meaning of the foregoing lines. Our version is quite wrong in rendering לך, “thee;” it ought ever to be rendered as above, when the verb, as here, is followed by an accusative case. See Leviticus 26:45; Psalms 79:8; Psalms 106:45
What has led commentators, no doubt, to divert this passage from its right meaning was their impression that more is here ascribed to Israel than their history warrants. But this is not the only instance in which their former conduct is contrasted with their latter conduct. This is done in Malachi 2:5, as to the priests. The object here is to set forth the difference between the people when brought out of Egypt, and following God’s guidance in the wilderness, and their conduct at the time of Jeremiah. They were indeed very far from being what they ought to have been in the first instance, but their deportment in Jeremiah’s age was incomparably worse. — Ed.
God here more clearly reprobates the ingratitude of the people: and first he enumerates his favors by which he had bound the people for ever to himself; and secondly, he shews how malignantly the people responded to the many blessings which they had received.
In saying, then, that Israel was holy, he intends it not by way of honor. It was indeed in itself an illustrious testimony to their praise, that God had consecrated that people to himself, that he designed them to be the first — fruits of his increase: but we must remember that there is here an implied contrast between this great and incomparable favor of God, and the wickedness of the people, who afterwards fell away from that God who had been so liberal and gracious to them. According to this view, then, does Jeremiah say, that Israel was holiness to God; that is, that they were separated from all other nations, so that the glory of God shone only among them.
He then adds, that they were the first-fruits of his produce For though whatever produce the earth may bring forth ought to be consecrated to God, by whose power it grows, yet we know that the first — fruits were gathered and set on the altar as a sacred food. As, then, God had commanded, under the law, the first-fruits to be offered to him, and then given to the priests, he says here, in accordance with that rite, that Israel were the first — fruits of his produce. For the nations, who then everywhere dwelt, were not removed from under God’s government (as he is the creator of all, and shews himself to all as the Father and supporter); but he passed by other nations, and chose the race of Abraham, and for this end, — that he might protect them by his power and aid. Since, then, God had so bound the nation to himself, how great and how strong was the obligation under which that people was to him? Hence the more base and the more detestable was their perfidy, when the people despised the singular favors which God had conferred on them. We now see why the Prophet says that Israel was holy to God, and the first — fruits of his increase.
He also intimates that the time would come, when God would gather to himself other nations; for in the first-fruits the people dedicated and offered to God the whole produce of the year is included. So then Israel was like the first-fruits, because God afterwards took to himself other nations, which for many ages were deemed profane. But yet his special object was to shew that the guilt of the people was extreme, as they did not acknowledge the great favors which God had bestowed on them.
He then adds, Whosoever will devour him shall be punished Of this meaning I approve, because the explanation immediately follows, evil shall come on them God then means not that they should be only guilty of a crime, who should devour the first-fruits, but refers rather to punishment; as though he had said, “The profane shall not be unpunished who shall devour the first-fruits which has been dedicated to me.” For if any had stolen the first- fruits, God would have executed a vengeance such as sacrilege deserved. If, however, any one prefers the other explanation, — that it would be a crime to injure Israel, or to do him any harm, because he was under God’s protection, I shall not oppose him: but the wording of the sentence leads me to the other view, that is, that those who would injure Israel would not only be guilty, but would not be able to escape God’s vengeance, — and why? because evil will come upon them, saith Jehovah (28) He afterwards explains more clearly the import of his doctrine —
Holy was Israel to Jehovah,
The first-fruits of his produce:
“All his devourers shall be deemed guilty,
Evil shall come to them,” said Jehovah.
The verb אשם is rendered “ πλημμελήσουσι — shall offend,” by the Septuagint, as in our version, and by Grotius; “trespass,” by Gataker; and, “guilty of a trespass,” by Blayney. The contradiction of guilt is what is meant, as the punishment is announced in the next words. See Psalms 105:14. — Ed
Here God explains why he had referred to what we have noticed, — that he had consecrated Israel to himself as a peculiar people, and as the first — fruits. God often mentions his favors to us, in order to encourage our hope, that we may be fully persuaded that whatever may happen we are ever safe, because we are under his protection, since he has chosen us. But in this place, and in many other places, God recounts the obligations under which the Israelites were to him, that thence their ingratitude might become more apparent.
Hence he says, Hear ye the word of Jehovah By this preface he seeks to gain attention; for he intimates that he was going to address them on no common subject. Hear ye, then, O house of Jacob; hear all ye families of the house of Israel; as though Jeremiah had said, “Here I come forth boldly in the name of God, for I fear not that any defense can be brought forward by you to disprove the justice of God’s reproof; and I confidently wait for what ye may say, for I know you will be silent. I then loudly cry like a trumpet and with a clear voice, that I am come to condemn you; if there is anything which ye can answer, I give you full liberty to do so; but the truth will constrain you to be mute, for your guilt is extremely odious and capable of the fullest proof.” Hence it was that he exhorted them to hear attentively.
Then follows the charge: What, iniquity have your fathers found in me, that having forsaken me they should walk after vanity and become vain? Here Jeremiah charges the people with two crimes, — that they had departed from the true God, whom they had found to be a deliverer, — and that they had become vain in their devices; or, in other words, that they were become for no reason apostates: for their sin was enhanced, because there had been no occasion given them to forsake God, and to alienate themselves from him. As then God had kindly treated them, and they themselves had shaken off the yoke, and as there was no one whom they could compare with God, they could not have said, “We have been deceived, ” — how so? “For ye have, he says, followed vanity; and vanity alone was the reason why ye have departed from me.” (29) I wish I could proceed farther; but I have some business to which I was called even before the lecture.
5.Thus saith Jehovah, What have your fathers found in me? Oppression? For they have gone far from me, And have followed after vanity, And have become vain.
The word שול, oppression, injustice, or tyranny, is so placed in the sentence that it cannot be construed with “what.” The word “vanity” means often an idol, and it is so considered here by the Targum, by Piscator, Grotius, Gataker, and others. It is often found in the plural, “vanities,” as it is here in the Septuagint; see Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings 16:26; Psalms 31:6 : but it is here the poetical singular. They “became vain,” that is, foolish, sottish, having no more sense or reason than their idols, as idolaters are represented in Psalms 115:8. Their senselessness is set forth in the next verse. An idol is especially called “vanity,” because it can do no good and avails nothing: deluded imagination alone gives it all its efficacy and power. Samuel gives a true account of idols, 1 Samuel 12:21. But as long as the devil deceives and deludes the world, idols and images will be in repute, though they are in themselves wholly useless and worthless, while yet they prove ruinous to the souls of men. — Ed
The Prophet goes on with the same subject; for God adduces here no small crime against his people, as they had buried his favom’s in oblivion. Indeed, a redemption so wonderful was worthy of being celebrated in all ages, not only by one nation, but by all the nations of the earth. As then the Jews had thus buried the memory of a favor so remarkable and valuable, their base impiety appeared evident. Had they not experienced the power and kindness of God, or had they only witnessed them in an ordinary way, their guilt might have been extenuated; but as God had from heaven made an unusual display of his power, and as his majesty had been manifested before the eyes of the people, how great was their sottishness in afterwards forgetting their God, who had openly and with such proofs made himself known to them!
We now then understand what the Prophet means by saying, they have not said: for God here sharply reproves the stupidity of the Jews, — that they did not consider that they were under perpetual obligations to him for his great kindness in delivering them in a manner so wonderful from the land of Egypt. By saying that they did not say, Where is Jehovah, he intimates that he was present with them and nigh them, but that they were blind, and that hence they were without an excuse for their ignorance, as he was not to be sought as one at a distance, or by means tedious and difficult. If then this only had come to their mind, “Did not God once redeem us?” they could not have departed after their vanities. How then was it that their error, or rather their madness, was so great that they followed idols? Even because they did not choose to make any effort, or to apply their minds to seek or to inquire after God.
Here then the Prophet meets the objection of the hypocrites, who might have said, that they had been deceived, and had relapsed through ignorance; for they have ever some evasions ready at hand, when they are called to an account for their sins. But lest the Jews should make any pretense of this kind, the Prophet here shews that they had not been through a mistake deceived, but that they had followed after falsehood through a wicked disposition, for they had willfully despised God and refused to inquire respecting him, though he was sufficiently nigh them.
This passage deserves to be especially noticed; for there is nothing more common than for the ungodly, when they are proved guilty, to have recourse to this subterfuge, — that they acted with good intention, when they gave themselves up to their own superstitions. The Prophet then takes off this mask, and shews that where God is once known, his name and his glory cannot be obliterated, except through the depravity of men, as they knowingly and willfully depart from him. Hence all apostates are by this one clause condemned, that they may no more dare to make evasions, as though they have been through more simplicity deceived: for when the matter is examined, their malignity and ingratitude are discovered, because they deign not to inquire, Where is Jehovah?
And he afterwards adds what explains this sentence. I have said that other nations are not here condemned, but the Jews, who had known by clear experience that God was their father. As then God had, by many testimonies, made himself known to them, they had no pretext for their ignorance. Hence the Prophet says, that they did not consider where God was who brought them from the land of Egypt, and made them to pass through the desert He could not have stated this indiscriminately of all nations; but, as it has been said, the words are addressed particularly to the Jews, who had clearly witnessed the power of God; so that they could not have sinned except willfully, even by extinguishing, through their own malignity, the light presented to them, which shone before their eyes. And here, also, the Prophet amplifies their guilt by various circumstances: for he says, not simply that they had been brought out of Egypt, but intimates that God had been their constant guide for forty years; for this time is suggested by the word “desert.” The history was well known; hence a brief allusion was sufficient. He, at the same time, by mentioning the desert, greatly extols the glory of God.
But the first thing to be observed is, that the Jews were inexcusable, who had not considered that their fathers had been wonderfully and in an unusual manner preserved by God’s hand for forty years; for they had no bread to eat, nor water to drink. God drew water for them from a rock, and satisfied them with heavenly bread; and their garments did not wear out during the whole time. We then see that all those circumstances enhanced their guilt. Then follows what I have referred to: the Prophet calls the desert a dry or a waste land, a dreary land, a horrible land, a land of deadly gloom, as though he had said, that the people had been preserved in the midst of death, yea in the midst of many deaths: for man was not wont to pass through that land, nor did any one dwell in it (30) “Whence then,” he says, “did salvation arise to you? from what condition? even from death itself: for what else was the desert but a horrible place, where you were surrounded, not only by one kind of death, but by a hundred? Since then God brought you out of Egypt by his incredible power, and fed you in a supernatural manner for forty years, what excuse can there be for so great a madness in now alienating yourselves from him?” Now this passage teaches us, that the more favors God confers on us, the more heinous the guilt if we forsake him, and less excusable will be our wickedness and ingratitude, especially when he has manifested his kindness to us for a long time and in various ways.
And they have not said, “Where is Jehovah, Who brought us up from the land of Egypt, Who led us in the wilderness, Through a land of waste and of the pit, Through a land of drought and of the shadow of death, Through a land in which no man traveled, And no human being dwelt there?”
The word “pit” is used poetically, the singular for the plural, and correctly rendered “pits” in our version. It is probably an allusion to the practice of digging pits and covering them over, in order to catch wild beasts; and the word is used here only to express hidden dangers. “The shadow of death” means a barren dreariness. After “land,” in the last line but one, אשר is supplied by three MSS., and by the Septuagint, though by no means in character with the Greek language; but the idiom of the Hebrew requires it, and is no doubt the true reading. I have rendered אדם in the last line, after Blayney, “human being.” The five last lines are thus given by the Septuagint, —
Who conducted you in the wilderness,
In a land unknown and inaccessible ( ἀβάτῳ )
In a land without water and barren ( ἀκάρπῳ —fruitless)
In a land through which no man passed,
And no son of man inhabited there.
The word “barren” is rendered more literally by Theodotion, “ σκιασ θανάτου — of the shadow of death.” — Ed
He afterwards adds, And I brought you in, etc. Here Jeremiah introduces God as the speaker; for God had, as with his hand stretched forth, brought in the children of Abraham into the possession of the promised land, which they did not get, as it is said in Psalms 44:3, by their own power and by their own sword; for though they had to fight with many enemies, yet it was God that made them victorious. He could then truly say, that they did not otherwise enter the land than under his guidance; inasmuch as he had opened a way and passage for them, and subdued and put to flight their enemies, that they might possess the heritage promised to them. I brought you in, he says, into the land, into Carmel Some consider this to be the name of a place; and no doubt there was the mount Carmel, so called on account of its great fertility. As then its name was given to it because it was so fertile, it is nothing strange that Jeremiah compares the land of Israel to Carmel. Some will have the preposition כ, c aph, to be understood, “I have brought you into a land like Carmel.” But there is no need laboriously to turn in all directions the Prophet’s words. It is, as I think, a common noun, meaning fruitful, and used here to shew that the Israelites had been brought by God’s hand into a fertile land; for its fertility is everywhere celebrated, both in the Law and in the Prophets. (31)
That ye might eat its fruit and its abundance; that is, “I wished you to enjoy the large and rich produce of the land.” By these words God intimates that the Israelites ought to have been induced by such allurements cordially to serve him; for by such liberal treatment he kindly invited them to himself. The greater, then, the bounty of God towards the people, the greater was the indignity offered by their defection, when they despised the various and abounding blessings of God.
Hence he adds, And ye have polluted my land, (32) and mine heritage have ye made an abomination; as though he had said, “This is the reward by which my bounty towards you has been compensated. I indeed gave you this land, but on this condition, that ye serve me faithfully in it: but ye have polluted it.” He calls it his own land, as though he had said, that he had so given the land to the Israelites, that he remained still the lord of it as a proprietor, though he granted the occupation of it to them. He hence shews that they impiously abused his bounty, in polluting that land which was sacred to his name. For the same purpose he calls it his heritage, as if he said that they possessed the land by an hereditary right, and yet the heritage belonged to their Father. They ought, therefore, to have considered, that they had entered into the land, because it had been given to Abraham and to his children for an heritage, — by whom? By God, who was the fountain of this bounty. The more detestable, then, was their ingratitude, when they made the heritage of God an abomination It follows —
And I caused you to come into a fruitful land, To eat its fruit and its rich produce; And ye came and polluted my land, And made mine heritage an abomination.
The whole runs thus much better, and has the conciseness of poetry: and the idea intended to be conveyed is more apparent — God caused them to come, and they came. — Ed.
God assails here especially the teachers and those to whom was committed the power of ruling the people. It often happens that the common people fall away, while yet some integrity remains in the rulers. But God shews here that such was the falling away among the whole community, that priests as well as prophets and all the chief men had departed from the true worship of God, and from all uprightness.
Now, when Jeremiah thus rebukes the teachers and the priests and others, he does not excuse the common people, nor extenuate the crimes, which then prevailed everywhere, as we shall see from what follows. As many think that they set up a shield against God, when they pretend that they are not acquainted with so much learning as to distinguish between light and darkness, but that they are guided by their rulers, the Prophet, therefore, does not here cast the faults of the people upon their rulers, but, on the contrary, he amplifies the atrocity of their impiety, for they had, from the least to the greatest, rejected God and his Law. We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet. (33)
We may learn from this passage how unwise and foolish are they who think that they are in part excusable when they can say, that they have proceeded in their simplicity and have been drawn into error by the faults of others; for it appears evident that the whole community was in a hopeless state when God gave up the priests and rulers unto a reprobate mind; and there is no doubt but that the people had provoked God’s vengeance, when every order, civil as well as religious, was thus corrupt. God then visited the people with deserved punishment, when he blinded the priests, the prophets, and the rulers.
Hence Jeremiah now says, that the priests did not inquire where Jehovah was: and he adds, and they who keep the law, etc. The verb תפש t aph esh, means to keep, to lay hold on, and sometimes to cover; so that there may be here a twofold meaning, — that the priests kept the law, — or, that they had it shut up as it were under their keeping. It would not, however, be in harmony with the passage to suppose that the law was suppressed by them; for God, by way of concession, speaks here honorably of them, thought he thereby shews that they were the more wicked, as they had no care for their office. He says, then, that they were the keepers of his law, not that they really kept the law, as though a genuine zeal for it prevailed among them, but because they professed this. They indeed wished to be thought the keepers of the law, who possessed the hidden treasure of celestial truth; for they wished to be consulted as though they were the organs of God’s Spirit. Since, then, they boasted that they kept and preserved the law, the Prophet now more sharply rebukes them, because they knew not God himself. And Paul seems to have taken from this place what he says in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,
“Thou who hast the form of the law — thou who preachest against adultery, committest adultery, and thou who condemnest idols art thyself guilty of sacrilege; for thou keepest the law, restest in it, boastest in God, and with thee is understanding and knowledge.”
Paul in these words detects the wickedness of hypocrites; for the more detestable they were, as they were thus inflated with false glory; they profaned the name of God, while they pretended to be his heralds, and as it were his prophets. We now see that this second clause refers to the priests, and that they are called the keepers of the law, because they were so appointed, according to what we read in Malachi. (34)
He afterwards adds, The pastors have dealt treacherously with God We may apply this to the counselors of the king as well as to the governors of cities. The Prophet, I have no doubt, included all those who possessed authority to rule the people of God; for kings and their counselors, as well as prophets, are in common called pastors.
And he says, that the prophets prophesied by Baal The name of prophet is sacred; but Jeremiah in this place, as in other places, calls those prophets (contrary to the real fact) who were nothing but impostors; for God had taken from them all the light of divine truth. But as they were held still in esteem by the people, as though they were prophets, the Prophet concedes this title to them, derived from their office and vocation. We do the same in the present day; we call those bishops and prelates, and primates and fathers, who under the papacy boast that they possess the pastoral office, and yet we know that some of them are wolves, and some are dumb dogs. We concede to them these titles in which they take pride; and yet a twofold condemnation impends over their heads, as they thus impiously, and with sacrilegious audacity, claim for themselves sacred titles, and deprive God of the honor rightly due to him. So then Jeremiah, speaking of the prophets, does now point out those as impostors who at that time wickedly deceived the people.
He says that they prophesied by Baal: they ascribed more authority to idols than to the true God. The name of Baal, we know, was then commonly known. The prophets often call idols Baalim, in the plural number; but when Baal signifies a patron, when the prophets speak either of Baal in the singular number, or of Baalim in the plural, they mean the inferior gods, who had then been heaped together by the Jews, as though God was not content with his own power alone, but had need of associates and helpers, according to what is done at this day by those under the papacy, who confess that there is but one true God; and yet they ascribe nothing more to him than to their own idols which they invent for themselves at their pleasure. The same vice then prevailed among the Jews, and indeed among all heathen nations; for it was the plain and real confession of all, that there is but one supreme Being; and yet they had gods without number, and these all were called Baalim. When, therefore, the Prophet says here, that the teachers were ministers of Baal, he sets this name in opposition to the only true God, as though he had said that the truth was corrupted by them, because they passed over its limits, and did not acquiesce in the pure doctrine of the law, but mingled with it corruptions derived from all quarters, even from those many gods which heathen nations had invented for themselves.
Nor does the Prophet insist on a name; for it may have been that these false teachers pretended to profess the name of the eternal God, though falsely. But God is no sophist: there is then no reason for the Papists to think that they are at this day unlike these ancient impostors, because they profess the name of the only true God. It has always been so. Satan has not begun for the first time at this day to transform himself into an angel of light; but all his teachers in all ages have presented their poison, even all their errors and fallacies, in a golden cup. Though, then, these prophets boasted that they were sent from above, and confidently affirmed that they were the servants of the God of Abraham, it was yet all an empty profession; for they mingled with the truth those corruptions which they had derived from the ungodly errors of heathen nations.
It follows, And after those who do not profit have they gone (35) He again, by an implied comparison, exaggerates their sin, because they had despised him whom they had known, by so many evidences, to be their Father and the author of salvation, whose infinite power they had as it were felt by their own hands, and then they followed their own inventions, though there was nothing in all their idols which could have justly allured the people of Israel. Since, then, they followed vain and profitless deceptions, the more heinous and inexcusable was their sin. It afterwards follows —
(lang. cy) Arol neb a lesant y rhodiasant.
After none (who) profit have they walked.
That is, After none who can do them good have they gone. — Ed.
The particle עוד oud, yet, or still, is not without weight; for the Prophet intimates, that if God had already punished the perfidy and wickedness of the people, he still retained whole his right to do so, as though he had said, “Think not that you have suffered all your punishment, though I have already severely visited your fathers for their wickedness and obstinacy; for as ye proceed in the same course, and as there is no moderation nor limits to your sins, I will not desist from what I have a right to do, but will punish to the last both you and your children, and all succeeding generations.” We now then understand what the Prophet means.
It is indeed usual with hypocrites foolishly to cast off all fear, especially after having been once chastised by the Lord; for they think it enough that they have suffered punishment for their sins; and they do not consider that God moderately punishes the sins of men to invite others to repentance, and that he is in such a way sharp and severe as yet to restrain himself, in order that there may be room for hope, and that they who have sinned, while waiting for pardon, may thus more readily and willingly return to the right way. This is what hypocrites do not consider; but they think that God on the first occasion expends all his rigor, and so they promise themselves impunity as to the future. As for instance, — When God chastises a city, or a country, with war, pestilence, or famine, while the evils continue there is dread and anxiety: most of those whom God thus afflicts sigh and groan, and even howl; but as soon as some relaxation takes place, they shake off the yoke, and having no concern for their wickedness, they return again as dogs to their vomit. It is hence necessary to declare to hypocrites what we see to have been done here by Jeremiah, — that God so visits men for their sins, that in future he ceases not to pursue the same course, when he sees men so refractory as not to profit under his scourges.
Still, therefore, he says: this threat no doubt exasperated the minds of the nation: for as they dared to clamor against God, as we find in many places, and said that his ways were thorny, they spared not the prophets, and this we shall hereafter see: they indeed gave the prophets an odious character; and what? “These prophets,” they said, “chatter nothing else but burdens, burdens, as though God ever fulminated against us; it would be better to close our ears than to be continually frightened by their words.” It must then have been a severe thing to the Jews, when the Prophet said, Still God will contend with you But it was needful so to do.
Let us then learn from this passage, that whenever God reproves us, not only in words, but in reality, and reminds us of our sins, we do not so suffer for one fault as to be free for the future, but that until we from the heart repent, he ever sounds in our ears these words, Still God will contend with you: and a real contention is meant; for Jeremiah speaks not of naked doctrine, but intimates that the Jews were to be led before God’s tribunal, because they ceased not to provoke his wrath: (36) and he declares the same thing respecting their children and the third generation. It afterwards follows —
Here, by a comparison, he amplifies the wickedness and ingratitude of his own nation, — that they had surpassed in levity all heathen nations; for he says that all nations so agreed in one religion, that each nation followed what it had received from its ancestors. How then was it that the God of Israel was repudiated and rejected by his own people? If there was such persistency in error, why did not truth secure credit among them who had been taught by the mouth of God himself, as though they had been even in heaven? This is the drift of the Prophet’s meaning, when he says, Go into the islands of Chittim, and send into Kedar
He mentions Greece on one side, and the East on the other, and states a part for the whole. The Hebrews, as we have seen in Daniel, called the Greeks Chittim, though they indeed thought that the term belonged properly to the Macedonians; but the Prophet no doubt included in that term not only the whole of Greece and the islands of the Mediterranean, but also the whole of Europe, so as to take in those parts, the whole of France and Spain. There is indeed some difference made in the use of the word; but when taken generally, it was understood by the Hebrews, as I have said, to include France, Spain, Germany, as well as Greece; and they called those countries islands, though distant from the sea, because they carried on no commerce with remote nations: hence they thought the countries beyond the sea to be islands; and the Prophet spoke according to what was customary. (37)
He then bids them to pass into the islands, southward as well as northward; and then he bids them, on the other hand, to send to explore the state of the East, Arabia as well as India, Persia, and other countries; for under the word Kedar he includes all the nations of the East; and as that people were more barbarous than others, he mentions them rather than the Persians or the Medes, or any other more celebrated nation, in order more fully to expose the disgraceful conduct of the Jews.Go then, or send, to all parts of the world, and see and diligently consider, see and see again; as though he said, that so great was the stupidity of the Jews, that they could not be awakened by a single word, or by one admonition. This then is the reason why he bids them carefully to inquire, though the thing itself was very plain and obvious. But this careful inquiry, as I have said, was enforced not on account of the obscurity of the subject, but for the purpose of reproving the sottishness of that perverse nation, which must have been conscious of its gross impiety, and yet indulged itself in its own vices.
Hence he says, Yea, pass over unto the islands; and then he adds, see whether there is a thing like this; that is, such a monstrous and execrable thing can nowhere be found. An explanation follows, No nation has changed its gods, and yet they are no gods; that is, religion among all nations continues the same, so that they do not now and then change their gods, but worship those who have been as it were handed down to them by their fathers. And yet, he says, they are no gods If it had been only said, that no nation has changed its gods, the impiety of Israel would not have been so grievously exposed; but the Prophet takes it for granted, that all the nations were deceived and led away after fictitious gods, and yet remained constant in their delusions. Now, God does not set this forth as a virtue; he does not mean that the constancy of the nations was worthy of praise in not departing from their own superstitions; but, compared with the conduct of the chosen people, this constancy might however appear as laudable. We hence see that the whole is to be thus read connectively, — “Though no nation worships the true God, yet religion remains unchangeable among them all; and yet ye have perfidiously forsaken me, and you have not forsaken a mere phantom, but your glory. ”
He sets here the favor of God in opposition to the delusions of false gods, when he says, My people have changed their own glory For the people knew, not only through the teaching of the law, but also by sure evidences, that God was their glory; and yet they departed from him. It is then the same as though Jeremiah had said, that all the nations would condemn the Israelites at the last day, because their very persistency in error would prove the greater wickedness of the Jews, inasmuch as they were apostates from the true God, and from that God who had so clearly manifested to them his power.
Now, if one asks, whether religion has been changed by any of the nations? First, we know that this principle prevailed everywhere, — that there was to be no innovation in the substance of religion: and Xenophon highly commends this oracle of Apollo, — that those gods were rightly worshipped who have been received by tradition from ancestors. The devil had thus bewitched all nations, — “No novelty can please God; but be ye content with the usual custom which has descended to you from your forefathers.” This principle then was held by the Greeks and the Asiatics, and also by Europeans. It was therefore for the most part true what the Prophet says here: and we know that when a comparison is made, it is enough if the illustration is for the most part, επὶ τὸ πολὺ, as Aristotle says, confirmed by custom and constant practice. We hence see that the charge of levity against the Jews was not unsuitably brought by Jeremiah, when he said, that no nation had changed its gods, but that God had been forsaken by his people whose glory he was; that is, to whom he had given abundant reasons for glorying. (38)
When the Prophet saw that he had to do with besotted men, almost void of all reason, he turned to address the heavens: and it is a way of speaking, common in the Prophets, — that they address the heaven and the earth, which have no understanding, and leave men endued with reason and knowledge. This they were wont to do in hopeless cases, when they found no disposition to learn.
Hence now the Prophet bids the heavens to be astonished and to be terrified and to be reduced as it were unto desolation; as though he had said, “This is a wonder, which almost confounds the whole order of nature; it is the same as though we were to see heaven and earth mixed together.” We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet: for by this representation he intended to shew, how detestable was the impiety of the people, since the heavens, though destitute of reason, ought justly to dread such a monstrous thing.
As to the words, some render them, “Be desolate, ye heavens,” and then repeat the same: but as שמם sh em em, means to be astonished, the rendering I have given suits the present passage better, “Be astonished, ye heavens, for this,” and then, “be ye terrified and dried up;” for: חרב ch ar eb, signifies to become dry, and sometimes, to be reduced to a solitude or a waste. (39) It afterwards follows: —
Astonished be ye, the heavens, for this, And be horrified, Be ye wholly wasted, saith Jehovah.
The alteration in the last verb, in accordance with the Syriac, חרדו, which means to “tremble,” instead of חרבו, though proposed by Secker and approved by Horsley, is by no means necessary, and countenanced by no MSS. Nor is the emendation of Blarney, in conformity with the Septuagint, to be at all approved. These alterations are not only unnecessary, but destroy the expressive and striking character of the passage. Learned men are sometimes led too much by an innovating spirit. — Ed
If a reason is given here why the Prophet had bidden the heavens to be astonished and terrified, then we must render the words thus, “For two evils have my people done:” but I rather think that the preceding verse is connected with the former verses. The Prophet had said, “Go to the farthest lands, and see whether any nation has changed its gods, while yet they are mere inventions.” I think then the subject is closed with the exclamation in the preceding verse, when the Prophet says, “Be astonished, ye heavens.” It then follows, “Surely, two evils have my people done,” even these, — “they have forsaken me,” — and then, “they sought for themselves false gods.” When any one forsakes an old friend and connects himself with a new one, it is an iniquitous and a base conduct: but when there is no compensation, there is in it united together, folly, levity, and madness. If I despise what I know to be profitable to me, and embrace what I understand will be to my hurt, does not such a choice prove madness? This then is what the Prophet now means, when he says, that the people had sinned not only by departing from the true God, but also by going over, without any compensation, unto idols, which could confer no good on them.
He says that they had done two evils: the first was, they had forsaken God; and the other, they had fallen away unto false and imaginary gods. But the more to amplify their sin, he makes use of a similitude, and says that God is a fountain of living waters; and he compares idols to perforated or broken cisterns, which hold no water (40) When one leaves a living fountain and seeks a cistern, it is a proof of great folly; for cisterns are dry except water comes elsewhere; but a fountain has its own spring; and further, where there is a vein perpetually flowing, and a perennial stream of waters, the water is more salubrious and much better. The waters which rain brings into cisterns are never so wholesome as those which flow from their own native vein: and when the very receptacles of water are full of chinks, what must they be but empty? Hence then God charges the people with madness, because he was forsaken, who was a fountain and a fountain of living waters; and further, because the people sought unprofitable things when they went after their idols. For what is to be found in idols? some likeness; for the superstitious think that they labor not in vain, when they worship false gods, and they hope to derive some benefit. There are then some resemblances to the true in false religions; and hence the Prophet compares false gods to wells, because they were made hollow, suitable to hold water; but there was not a drop of water in them, as they were broken cisterns.
We now perceive what the Prophet meant, — that we cannot possibly be free from guilt when we leave the only true God, as in him is found for us a fullness of all blessings, and from him we may draw what may fully satisfy us. When therefore we despise the bounty of God, which is sufficient to make us in every way happy, how great must be our ingratitude and wickedness? Yet God remains ever like himself: as then he has called himself the fountain of living waters, we shall at this day find him to be so, except he is prevented by our wickedness and neglect. But the Prophet adds another crime; for when we fall away from God, our own conceits deceive us; and whatever may appear to us at the first view to be wells or fountains, yet when thirst shall come, we shall not find a drop of water in all our devices, they being nothing else but dry cavities. It follows —
For two evils have my people done, — Me have they forsaken, the fountain of living waters; In order to dig for themselves pits, Broken wells, which cannot hold water.
It is singular that Adam Clarke should say that these cisterns were “vessels in put together,” since they were pits dug in the ground to receive rain-water. — Ed.
These verses are to be read together; for the Prophet first shews that Israel was not as to his original condition miserable, but that this happened through a new cause, and then he mentions the cause. He then first asks, whether Israel was a servant or a slave? God had adopted them as his people, and had promised to be so bountiful to them as to render them in every way happy; and what was more, as a proof of their happiness, he said, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14.) We then see what was the original condition of Israel; they excelled all other nations, because they were God’s peculiar people, they were his heritage, they were a royal priesthood.
Hence the Prophet, as though astonished at something new and strange, asks this question, Is Israel a servant? He was free beyond all nations; for he was the first — born son of God: it was therefore necessary to inquire for the cause why he was so miserable; for he says afterwards, that lions roared against him, and sent forth their voice; he says, that their cities were burnt, or destroyed; he says, that their land was reduced to desolation; and at length he adds, Has not this done these things to thee? This again is put as a question, but it is doubly affirmative, for it takes away every doubt: “What do you say is the cause why you are so miserable? for all are hostile to you, and you are exposed to the wrongs of all: whence can you say has all this proceeded, except from your own wickedness?” We now see what the Prophet means.
But that what he says may be more clear, we must remember that he reminds the people, by way of reproach, of the benefits which God had conferred on them. As then the children of Abraham had been honored with so many singular favors that they had the preeminence over all the world, this dignity is now referred to, but only for the purpose of exposing their base conduct, as though he had said, “God did not deceive you, when he promised to be bountiful to you; his adoption is not deceptive nor in vain: hence you would have been happier than all other nations, had not your own wickedness rendered you miserable.” We now see for what end the Prophet asked, Is Israel a servant or a slave? They were indeed on an equality with other people, as they were by nature; but as they had been chosen by God, and as he had favored them with that peculiar privilege, the Prophet asks, whether they were servants, as though he had said, “What is it that prevents that blessedness to appear among you, which God has promised? for it was not God’s design to disappoint you: it then follows that you are miserable through your own fault.” (41)
And by saying, Why is he become a prey, he intimates that except Israel had been deprived of God’s protection, they would not have been thus exposed to the caprice of their enemies. They were not then become a prey except for this reason, because God had forsaken them, according to what is said in the song of Moses,
“How should one chase a thousand, and ten should put to flight as many thousands, except God had given us up as captives, except we had been shut up by his hand.”
For Moses in that passage does also in an indirect manner remind the people how often and how wonderfully God had given them victories over their enemies, and thus he leaves it to their posterity, when in distress, to consider how the change came that one should chase a thousand; that is, how could it be, that they, possessing great forces, should yet be put to flight by their enemies; for they were not wont to turn their backs, but to conquer their enemies: it then follows, that they were made captives by God, and not by the men who chased them. So also here the Prophet shews, that Israel would not have been made a prey, had they not been deprived of God’s assistance.
Blarney renders the two first lines thus, —
Is Israel a slave? or if a child of the household, Wherefore is he exposed to spoil?
He considers “the child of the household” to be the son and the heir, as Isaac was, and refers to Galatians 4:7. Horsley coincides with him. But the usus loquendi gives no countenance to this view, while it confirms the other. To refer to filiusfamilias in Latin is to no purpose. “The child of the house,” as the expression literally is, and similar phrases, ever mean in Scripture those who were born slaves in a family. — Ed.
He afterwards adds, Over him roar the lions. The Prophet seems not simply to compare the enemies of Israel to lions on account of their cruelty, but also by way of contempt, as though he had said, that Israel found that not only men were incensed against them, but also wild beasts: and it is more degrading when God permits us to be torn by the beasts of the field. It is then the same, as though he had said, that Israel were so miserably treated, that they were not only slain by the hands of enemies, but were also exposed to the beasts of prey. And then he adds, they have sent forth their voice; which is the same as to say, that Israel, whom God was wont to protect by his powerful band, were become the food of wild beasts, and that lions, as it were in troops, were roaring against them.
He then adds, without a metaphor, that his land was laid waste, and his cities burnt without an inhabitant This language cannot be suitably applied to lions or to any other wild beasts; but what he had figuratively said before, he now explains in a plain manner, and says, that the land was desolate, that the cities were cut off or burnt up. Now this, as we have said, could not have been the case, had not Israel departed from God, and had been on this account deprived of his help. (42)
Over him shall young lions roar;
They have uttered their voice,
And have made his land a waste;
His cities are grown over with grass,
Without an inhabitant.
The verb in the first line is future, the other verbs are in the past tense; and Blarney thinks that they are so put to denote the certainty of what is said, as it is often done by the prophets: and this is rendered probable by what is contained in Jeremiah 4:7, where the same judgment is spoken of. The verb נצתה, in the received text, ought evidently to be נצתו, according to the Keri and twenty MSS.; and so we find it in Jeremiah 9:10. Our version and Calvin give it the idea of “burning;” but according to Leigh and Parkhurst, its meaning is, to shoot forth, to produce grass, or to grow over with grass, as the case is with ruined cities; and the words connected with it here and in other places seem to favor this meaning. It is rendered in our version, “laid waste,“ in Jeremiah 4:7, and “desolate” in Jeremiah 46:19. — Ed
By way of amplification he adds, Also the sons of Noph and of Tephanes shall for thee break the head, or, the crown of the head. We shall hereafter see that the Israelites were wont to seek help from the Egyptians. The particle גם, g am, may be thus explained, “Not only those who have been hitherto professed enemies to thee, but even thy friends, in whose help thou didst confide, shall turn their power against thee and break for thee thy head.” Some think that their degradation is here enhanced, because the Egyptians were an unwarlike people; and ancient historians say that men there followed the occupations of women; but as this is not mentioned in Scripture, and as the Egyptians are not thus spoken of in it, I prefer to follow the usual explanation, that the Egyptians, though confederate with Israel, would yet be adverse to them, and had been so already. By the head, some understand the chief men among the people of Israel: but we may render it thus, they will break for thee the head, as we say in our language, Ils to romperont la tete, or, Ils to frotteront la tete; and this, in my judgment, is the real meaning. (43)
They shall break thee, the crown of the head.
“The crown of the head” seems to be explanatory of “thee;” it might then be rendered, —
They shall break thee, even the crown of thy head.
The Septuagint mistook one letter for another, and took the verb to be, ידעוך, “they knew thee,” instead of ירעוך “they shall break thee;” but what they made the last word to be, it is hard to know, for they rendered it, “and searched thee.” The Vulgate has followed the Septuagint; and the idea is a very indecent one: and there is nothing in the context to favor it. The Targum’s paraphrase is this, “They shall slay thy brave men, and plunder thy riches;” which countenances the idea evidently conveyed by the figurative terms of the Hebrew.
The next verse literally rendered is as follows, —
Is not this what thou wilt do for thyself,
By thy forsaking of Jehovah thy God,
At the time he was leading thee in the way?
The first verb is no doubt future, whether it be rendered in the second or third person. The sentence may be rendered in Welsh without “Is,” or the relative “what,” and word for word, —
(lang. cy) Ai nid hyn a wnai i’th hun ?
And the future is understood as the present. Blayney’s version is, —
Shall not this be done unto thee,
Because thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God,
At the time that he led thee in the way?
Now follows the cause; the Prophet, after having shewn that Israel were forsaken by God, now mentions the reason why it so happened, Has not this done it for thee? Some read in the second person, “Hast thou not done this for thee?” but the meaning is still nearly the same. More probable, however, is the rendering which others have given, “Has not this happened to thee, because thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God?” Jeremiah, in short, teaches us that the cause of all the evils was the defection of the people, as though he had said, “Thou hast concocted for thyself all this evil; then must thou swallow it, and know that the blame cannot be cast on God; for he would have been faithful to thee, except thine impiety had prevented him. God has not, indeed, chosen thee in vain, nor has he in vain preferred thee to other nations; but thou hast rejected his kindness. Thy condition then would have never been as it is, hadst thou not procured thine own ruin.” How so? “Because thou hast departed from thy God.”
And he further exaggerates this sin by saying, At the time when he led thee in the way To lead in the way, is rightly to govern, so as to make people happy. The Prophet then shews, that the people’s perfidy and defection were without excuse in rejecting the worship of their God, for they were happy during the time they served him. Had they been in various ways tempted, or tried, they might have reigned some pretense. “We thought ourselves deceived in hoping in the true God, for he concealed his favor from us; we were therefore compelled by necessity. There ought at least some indulgence to be shewn to our levity; for we could have formed no other conjecture but that God had removed far from us.” The Prophet meets this objection, as he does in the fifth verse, “What iniquity have your fathers found in me?” and, as it is done in another place,
“My people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I been troublesome to thee?”
for God in that passage shews that he was prepared to defend his own cause, and to clear himself from whatever the people might object to him. So also he does in this place, “I have led thee,” he says, “in the way;” that is, “Thou didst live happily under my government, and yet I could not retain thee by my goodness while I kindly treated thee; and thou knewest that nothing could be better for thee than to continue under my protection; but thou hast determined to go over into the service of idols. Now what excuse hast thou, or what pretense is left thee?” We hence see, that the sin of the people is greatly enhanced, for they were induced by no temptation or trial to forsake God, but through mere perfidy gave themselves up to idols: and a confirmation of this verse follows —
As I have just stated, the Prophet confirms what I said, — that the people could not ascribe the cause of their evils to others; for they ought to have imputed to themselves whatever they suffered; and at the same time their sin was doubled, because they looked here and there for vain remedies, and thus accumulated for themselves new causes of misery; for they ought to have acknowledged no other remedy for their evils except reconciliation with God. If, for instance, any one being ill knew the cause of his disease, and instead of adopting the true remedy had recourse to some vain expedients injurious to his recovery, is he not deemed worthy to die for having willfully despised what might have healed him, and for indulging himself in what is deceptive and fallacious? The same thing does Jeremiah now reprove in the people of Israel. “If you carefully inquire,” saith God, “how it is that you are so miserable, you will find that this cannot be ascribed to me, but to your own sins. Now, then, what ought you to have done? what remedy ought you to have sought, except to reconcile yourselves to me, to seek pardon from me, and to strive to correct your wickedness? I would then have immediately healed you; and had you come to me, you would have found me the best physician. And why do you now act in a way quite contrary? for you run after vain helps; now you flee to Egypt, then you flee to Assyria; but you will gain nothing by these expedients.” We now understand the object of the Prophet. For after having proved the people to be guilty of impiety, and shewn that the evils which they suffered could be ascribed neither to God nor to chance, nor to any such causes, he now shews to them, that the one true remedy was to return into favor with God; but that it was an evidence of extreme madness to run now to Egypt, and then to Assyria.
Now this reproof is supported by history; for the people had at one time the Assyrians as their enemies, and at another the Egyptians; and the changes were many. God employed different scourges to awaken the sottishness of the people; at one time, he whistled for the Egyptians, as we shall presently see; at another, he blew the trumpet in Assyria: so that the Israelites might know that they could never be safe without being under the government of God. But all these things being overlooked, such was the blindness of the people, that when they were assailed by the Assyrians, they fled to Egypt and sought aid from the Egyptians, and entered into a treaty with them; afterwards, when a change occurred, they sought a treaty with the Assyrians, and also bought it at a high price.
This madness is what the Prophet now reprobates, when he says, What hast thou to do in the way of Egypt? that is, “What advantage dost thou gain? How great is thy folly, since thou knowest that God is angry with thee, and that thou art suffering many evils? God is adverse to thee, and yet thou thinkest nothing of reconciliation. Thy healing would be to flee to God and to be reconciled to him; but what dost thou now do? Thou fleest to the Assyrians and to the Egyptians. How wretched is thy condition, and how great is thy folly in thus wearying thyself without any advantage!”
Now we may learn from this passage, that whenever God chastises us for our sins, we ought to seek a remedy, and not to rest in those vain comforts which Satan often suggests; for such charms introduce drowsiness, and healable diseases are by such means rendered fatal. What then ought we to do? We ought, as soon as we feel the scourges of God, to seek to return into favor with him; and not in vain shall be our effort. But if we look around us in all directions for help, our evils shall not be lessened but increased. To drink the waters of the Nile, and to drink the waters of Euphrates, is nothing else but to seek aids here and there.
He indeed alludes to the legations which had been sent; for they who went to Egypt drank of the waters of the Nile, and others of Euphrates. He yet speaks metaphorically, as though he had said, “God was ready to help thee, hadst thou betaken thyself to his mercy as thine asylum; but having neglected him, thou thoughtest it more advantageous to have such aids as Egypt and Assyria could bring. Thou thus seekest drink in remote countries, while God could give thee waters.” And he seems to refer to the similitude which he had shortly before used: he had called God the fountain of living waters; as though he had said, “God is to thee a refreshing and perennial fountain, and there would be abundance of waters for thee wert thou satisfied with him; but thy desire is to drink the waters of the Nile, and the waters of the Euphrates.” (44) We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
He, no doubt, speaks of the waters of the Nile and of the Euphrates, because both those nations abounded apparently in wealth and power and in military forces. As, then, the people of Israel trusted in such auxiliaries, the Prophet here reproves their ingratitude, because they were not content with God’s help, though that was not so visible and conspicuous. God, indeed, has help sufficient for us; and were we content with him alone, no doubt an abundance of good things would to a full satisfaction be given to us; and as he is not wearied in doing good, he would supply us with whatever is desirable: but as we cannot see his beneficence with carnal eyes, we are therefore carried away after the allurements of the world. We may hence learn that we are not to seek drink either from the Nile or from the Euphrates, that is, from the enticing things of the world, which make a great shew and display; but that we are, on the contrary, to drink from the hidden fountain which is concealed from us, in order that we may seek it by faith. It now follows —
And now, what hast thou to do with a journey to Egypt, That thou mightest drink the waters of Sihor? And what hast thou to do with a journey to Assyria, That thou mightest drink the waters of the river?
The comparison evidently is between the waters of Sihor and of the river Euphrates, and the living waters. As in other parts of Scripture the Euphrates is no doubt meant by the river, though here, as in Psalms 80:11, and Isaiah 7:20, the article ה is not prefixed to it. — Ed
Here again, the Prophet confirms what I have before stated, — that the people would at length find, willing or unwilling, what it was to deport from God; as though he had said, “As thou hast not hitherto learnt by so many evidences, that thy perfidy is the cause of all thy evils, God will heap evils on evils, that thou mayest at length know, even against thy will, that thou receivest, a reward due to thy wickedness.” This is the sum of the whole.
But he says first, chastise thee shall thy wickedness, as though he had said, that though God ascended not his tribunal, nor put forth his hand to punish the people, yet judgment would be evident in their very sins. And this is much more powerful, and has greater weight in it than if the Prophet had said only, that God would inflict on the people a just punishment; thy wickedness, he says, shall chastise thee; and a similar mode of speaking is adopted by Isaiah;
“Stand;” he says, “against thee shall thy wickedness,”
(Isaiah 3:9; Isaiah 59:12)
as though God had said, “If I were even to be silent and not to take upon me the office of a judge, and if there were no other accuser, and no one to plead the cause, yet stand against thee will thy wickedness, and fill thee with shame.” To the same purpose is what is said here, thy wickedness (45) shall chastise thee
But we must consider the reason why the Prophet said this. There were then, we know, complaints in the mouths of many, — that God was too rigid and severe. Since then they thus continually clamored against God; the Prophet repels such calumnies, and says that their wickedness was sufficient to account for the vengeance executed upon them. He says the same of their turnings aside; (46) but what he had said generally before, he now expresses more particularly, — that the people had withdrawn themselves from the worship of God and obedience to him. He therefore points out here the kind of wickedness of which they were guilty, as though he had said that there was no need of an accuser, of witnesses, or of a judge, but that the defections of the people alone would sufficiently avail to punish them.
He afterwards adds, Thou shalt know and see how wicked and bitter it is to forsake Jehovah thy God These are words hard in their construction; but we have already explained the meaning; “Thy forsaking,” or thy defection, means, “that thou hast forsaken thy God.” And my fear was not on, or, in thee Here, again, the Prophet points out as by the finger the sins of the people. He had before spoken of their turnings aside; but he now mentions their defection, — that the people had plainly and openly departed from the true God. They, indeed, ever continued some kind of worship in the Temple: but as the whole of religion was corrupted by many superstitions, and as there was no fidelity, no sincerity; and as they mingled the worship of idols with that of the true God, they had dearly departed from God, who is jealous of his honor, according to what is in the law, and allows of no rivals. (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14) We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
He says, Thou shalt know that it is an evil and a bitter thing, etc. This must be applied to punishment; and he repeats what he had said before, — that the evils which the people then suffered did not happen by chance, and that as they were overwhelmed with many bitter sorrows, the cause was not to be sought afar off, for their bitterness, and whatever calamities they endured, flowed from their impiety. Thou shalt then know by the reward itself; even experience will convince thee what it is to depart from God; and he says, from Jehovah thy God, or, to forsake Jehovah thy God. For, if God had not made known his grace to the Israelites, their perverseness would not have been so detestable; but since they had found God to be a Father to them, and since he had so bountifully treated them, having been pleased to enter into a covenant with them, their wickedness was inexcusable.
And afterwards the person is changed, And my fear was not in thee Here at length the Prophet intimates, that they were destitute of every sense of religion; for by the fear of God is meant reverence for his name. Men often fall, we know, through mistake, and are deceived by the craft of Satan; and when made thus miserable they are to be pitied. But the Prophet shews here that the people were wholly undeserving of pardon. How so? Because there was no fear of God in them. “You cannot,” he says, “object and say, that you have been deceived, or make any pretense by which you may cover your wickedness: it is evident that you have acted shamelessly and basely in forsaking thy God, for there was no fear of God in you. (47) He subjoins at last, saith Jehovah of hosts: by which words the Prophet secures more authority to what he had announced; for what he had said must have been very bitter to the people: and many of them, no doubt, according to their usual manner, shook their heads; for we know how insolent were most of them. Hence the Prophet here openly declares, that he was not the author of what he had said, but only the proclaimer; that it proceeded from God, and that he had spoken nothing but what God himself had commanded.
19.Chastise thee shall thy wickedness, And thy apostasy, it shall correct thee; Know then and see, That evil and bitter shall be Thy forsaking of Jehovah thy God; And my fear is not in thee, Saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts.
The future is spoken of. They were warned; they were to know and see, or consider, that the forsaking of God, “the apostasy,” would be afflictive and bitter: and then the cause of the “wickedness” first mentioned is stated, no “fear” of God. How “wickedness” was to chastise them, and “apostasy” to correct them, is signified, — they would turn out to be “evil” — afflictive — hurtful, and “bitter” — grievous — painfully distressing. Hence Grotfius’s exposition cannot be right —”Thy wickedness shall be a proof that thou art justly punished.” The reference is to the very evils and miseries to which their “wickedness” and “apostasy” would inevitably lead them. Their foreign alliances were eventually the means of their degradation and misery; and in seeking them, they forsook God as their protector; and by adopting idols, they forsook him as the object of their worship. — Ed.
As there are two readings in Hebrew, two meanings are given; for some think the verb to be, עבד ob ed, and others, עבר ob er, the two letters being very similar. If we read, “I will not pass over,” or, I will not transgress, the sense is, “When I broke thy yoke;” that is, “When I delivered thee from the tyranny of Egypt, then thou didst pledge thy faith to me.” The covenant then made between God and the Israelites was mutual; for as God received them under his protection, when he became, as it were, their patron, so they, on the other hand, promised to submit to his authority. If we take this reading, the passage is an expostulation; as though God condemned here the people, for their ingratitude and perfidy. But the Prophet seems to mean another thing; and therefore I prefer the other reading, “I will not serve:” and yet I reject what interpreters have alleged; for this passage, I have no doubt, has been perverted. The prevailing exposition has been this, “I will not serve idols;” and they who seemed endued with some judgment did not see that this sense is unsuitable, and strained, or too far — fetched: and it may have been, and it seems to me probable, that for this reason the letter has been changed; for all gave this explanation, “Thou hast said, I will not serve idols:” but it is wholly a strained comment.
Now, on the contrary, I think that God here complains that the liberty which he had given to his people was turned into licentiousness: and this view is exactly suitable, as it is evident from the context, — For from old time have I broken thy yoke and burst thy bonds: therefore thou hast said, (the ו here is an illative,) I will not serve; that is, “When thou oughtest to have devoted thyself to me, who had become thy Redeemer, thou thoughtest that liberty to do thine own will was granted thee.” And then the proof given of this is in every way appropriate, for on every high hill, and under every shady tree, didst thou run here and there like a harlot Then God shews that his redemption had been ill bestowed on the ungodly, who made a bad use of their privilege; for hence it was that they gave themselves up to all kinds of lasciviousness.
If any one prefers the other reading, I will not contend with him; and then the sense is, “I have long ago shaken off thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou hast said, (he speaks of the people as of a woman, for the feminine gender is used; and this is done, because God sustained the character of a husband towards that people; and whenever he accused them of defection, it was as though a husband charged an unchaste wife with the crime of adultery,) thou hast then said to me, that is, promised to me that thou wouldest not transgress;” or, in other words, “thou hast promised to be faithful to me, and pledged mutual chastity.” Then the particle, כי, ki, which is commonly a causative, is to be taken here, according to its meaning in some other parts of Scripture, as an adversative, Yet on every high hill and under every shady tree, thou didst run here and there like harlots, who are seeking lovers.
But as I have already said, it seems to me more probable that God is here expostulating with the people, because they availed themselves of the favor of liberty as an occasion for licentiousness and wantonness: and thus the whole passage reads well, and every clause is most suitable, consistent the one with the other.
What God says, that he had broken the yoke and burst the bands, is confined by some to their first redemption: but I approve of what others say, — that the Prophet speaks here of many deliverances. We indeed know that the people were brought out of Egypt but once; but when they were afterwards oppressed, he stretched forth his hand to deliver them: God then had from old time, but at various periods, shaken off the yoke of the people; for this is evident from the book of Judges. As, then, the people were not made free, except through God’s kindness, who redeemed them, ought they not to have devoted themselves to the service of their Redeemer? For on this condition, and for this end, they were redeemed by God, — that they might consecrate themselves wholly to him. God then now condemns the people for their ingratitude, because they thought that the yoke was shaken off, that they might be, as we shall hereafter find, like untamable wild beasts.
That what the Prophet means may be more evident to us, let us remember what Paul teaches us in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 6:0), — that while we serve sin we are free from righteousness; for we go astray after our lusts, and are restrained by no bridle: but when God really sets us free from the miserable bondage of sin, we begin to be his servants, and the servants of righteousness; for being freed from sin we become the servants of righteousness: and this is the end of our redemption. But many turn the favor of God into an occasion for licentiousness, and thus abandon themselves, as though there was no law and no rule for a holy and upright life. God complains that this was the case with the people of Israel: Thou hast said, I will not serve “It is base ingratitude, that thou hast not in the first place regarded me as thy Redeemer; and that in the second place thou hast not considered that I dealt so kindly with thee for this very purpose — that thou mightest be mine: for he who has been redeemed by another’s kindness is no longer his own.” God had redeemed that people; and redemption brought with it an obligation, by which the people were bound willingly to submit to God as their Ruler and King. Thou hast then said, I will not serve Thus God complains that his favor had been ill bestowed on the people, because they had abused their liberty, and turned it into lasciviousness. (49)
And the reason that is subjoined more fully explains the meaning, for thou didst run here and there as a harlot, on every high hill and under every shady tree For we know that the Israelites, whenever they departed from God, had some particular places, on hills and under trees, as though greater sanctity were there than anywhere else. And at this day the case is the same with the Papists; for the devotion, or rather the diabolical madness, by which they are carried away, is of a similar kind. “O! this place, they say, “is more favorable to devotion than another; there is in it more sanctity.” Of the same opinion were the Israelites: for they thought that they were nearer heaven when they went up to a mountain; they also thought that they had a more familiar intercourse with God when concealed under shady trees. And we see that the same folly has ever bewitched all heathen nations: for they imagined that God was nigher them on hills, and thought that there was some hidden divinity in fountains and under the shades of trees. As, then, this superstition had long prevailed among the Israelites, God here reproves them, because they ran here and there
But we must further notice the comparison: he says, that they were like harlots, who, having cast off all shame, run here and there, not only because they burn with insane lust, but are also carried away by their own avariciousness. Thou, harlot, he says, didst run here and there on all the high hills, and under all the shady trees; as though he had said, “This is what I have effected in delivering thee! thou thinkest that unbridled liberty has been granted thee! Hence, then, it is that thou art become so wanton as to follow thy base lusts.” It follows —
Though from old time I had broken thy yoke, I had burst thy bands asunder; Yet thou hast said, “I will not obey:” For on every high hill and under every green tree Thou ramblest, playing the strumpet.
God here confirms what is said in the last verse; for he condemned the Israelites for having perversely run here and there after their superstitions, when yet they had been redeemed for this end, — that they might be ruled by the hand of God. Hence he says, I planted thee as a choice vine; that is, “When I redeemed thee from thine enemies, I did not give thee permission thus to prostitute thyself without any restraint, without any shame; for I planted thee as a choice vine.”
The metaphor is well known, and often occurs; for God frequently compares his Church to a vine. He calls it generally his heritage, or his land; but as vines excel other possessions, (for they are usually preferred to pasture lands, or to cultivated fields,) as then vines are the most valuable property, God hereby testifies how highly he values his Church; for he calls it his vine rather than his pasture or his field, when he speaks of it. So he does in this place, “I did not deliver thee from Egypt, that I might afterwards throw aside every care of thee; but my purpose was, that thou shouldest strike roots, and become an heritage precious to me, as an exquisite and a noble vine. I, therefore, planted thee a generous vine, שורק shur ek, that thou mightest bring me forth fruit.”
Then he says, a wholly right seed; (50) that is, “I planted thee for this end, — that thou mightest produce fruit acceptable and pleasant to me.” God regards here his own grace, and not the character of the people; for that people, as it is well known, was never a true seed: but God here shews the purpose for which he had redeemed the people, which was, that they might be like a choice vine. How then? he adds. God speaks here of their corruptions with wonder, for the indignity was such as was enough to astonish all men: how then art thou turned to me into degenerations! So I render סורום surim, though the word is not in common use in Latin: but it is enough for me if we understand the meaning of the Prophet. The word is derived from סור sur, to turn aside, or back. We ought to say then correctly, “into turnings aside.” But as this would be obscure, when the vine is spoken of, I have not hesitated to fix on another word: How then art thou turned to me into the degenerations of a strange vine! Some give this version, “into useless branches of grapes:” but I know not whence they have taken the words. I wish to keep to what is more genuine, — that the vine, which ought to have been fruitful, had so degenerated that it produced nothing, as we shall find in another place, but wild grapes. (51) And he calls them the turnings aside of a strange vine, which ceases to be the choice vine, שורק, shur ek, and is turned to a wild vine, which produces nothing but sour or bitter fruit: and in the last place, as it brought forth nothing useful, God justly calls it a strange vine. It follows —
The whole of it a genuine plant (or shoot).
What is rendered “choice vine,” שורק is the yellow vine; the best was so called, because it produced wine of that color. — Ed
Yet how I find thee changed! Depart, O vine of spurious growth.
But there is a harshness and incongruity in this version that renders it inadmissible. Besides “vine of spurious growth” is not the meaning of the words used, for it is “a foreign vine,” that is, a heathen vine; which contains an allusion to the idolatry which had been imported from heathen nations.
It is most probable that סורי, or in full, סורים, means degenerate shoots or branches, as Parkhurst thinks. To turn aside, to decline, to degenerate, seems to be the most common meaning of the verb. There would in this case be a congruity in the whole verse, —
And I myself had planted thee a choice vine, The whole of it a genuine plant; How then art thou become to me The degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?
The plant was of the best kind, but the shoots or the branches had become degenerated, such as a foreign or heathen vine produced. — Ed.
We have already seen, and the Prophet will often repeat the same thing, — that the people were become so refractory that they would not willingly give way to any reproofs; for they were almost all of such a hard front, and so obdurate in their wickedness, that they dared insolently to raise objections against the prophets; whenever they severely reproved them: “What! Are not we God’s holy people? Has he not chosen us? Are we not the holy seed of Abraham?” It was therefore necessary for the prophets to apply a hard wedge to a hard knot, as they commonly say. As, then, the Israelites were like a knotty wood, it was necessary to strike hard their obstinacy.
On this account Jeremiah now says, Even if thou wert to wash thyself with nitre, and multiply to thee borith, yet thine iniquity would be before me marked; that is, “Ye effect nothing when ye set forth various pretences for the sake of excusing your impiety: wash yourselves, but your iniquity remains marked before me.” The Prophet speaks in the person of God, that he might add more weight to the denunciation he pronounced on the Israelites, and by which he reduced to nothing their self — flatteries, according to what has been already stated.
By nitre and borith they removed stains in cloth; and hence borith is often mentioned in connection with fullers. But there is no need of a laborious inquiry, whether it was an herb or dust, or something of that kind; for as to what is meant, it is generally agreed that the Prophet teaches us by this metaphor, — that hypocrites gain nothing by setting up their pretences, that they may escape, when God condemns them. Hence he says, that all their attempts would be vain and fruitless. How so? Because their iniquity remained unwashed; that is, because they could not remove by washing what is imprinted. Spots or stains can indeed be cleansed or washed away by soap or other things; but when the stain is inward, and imprinted within, washing will avail nothing, for the marks are so deep that some more efficacious remedy must be adopted. So now the Prophet says, that the stains were imprinted, and therefore could not be washed away or cleansed by soap or borith. (52)
But the Prophet says, that the stains were marked, or stamped, before God; for it was a common thing with the Israelites to clear themselves from every blame; nay, so great was their audacity, that they openly opposed the prophets, as though some great wrong was done to them; and they called the prophets accusers and slanderers, Hence he says, Thine iniquity is stamped before me? (53) that is, “However thou mayest by self — flatteries deceive thyself, and hidest thy sins before the world, yet thou gainest nothing; for in my sight thine iniquity ever remains stamped. ” He afterwards adds —
But thou washest thyself with nitron, And multipliest for thyself fuller’s ashes: Stamped is thine iniquity before me, Saith the Lord Jehovah.
Jeremiah goes on here with his reproof, and dissipates the clouds of hypocrites, under which they thought themselves to be sufficiently concealed: for hypocrites, when they allege their fallacious pretences, think themselves already hidden from the eyes of God and from the judgment of all men. Hence the Prophet here sharply condemns this supine self — security, and says, How darest thou to boast that thou art not polluted? How darest thou to say, that thou hast not walked after Baalim? that is, after strange gods. I have already said, that by this word were meant inferior gods: for though the Jews acknowledged one Supreme Being, yet they sought for themselves patrons; and hence arose, as it is usual, a great number of gods. The superstitious never lapsed into that degree of impiety and madness, but that they ever confessed that there is some supreme Deity; but they added some inferior gods. And thus they had their Baalim and patrons, like the Papists, who call their patrons saints, for they dare not in their delusions to call them gods. Such was the sophistry of the Jews.
How then, he says, canst thou excuse thyself, and say, that thou hast not walked after Baalim? See, he adds, thy ways, see what thou hast done in the valley, and know at length that thou hast been like a swift dromedary The Prophet could not have fully expressed the furious passions which then raged in the Jews without comparing them to dromedaries: and as he addresses the people in the feminine gender, the female dromedary is mentioned. I consider that she is called swift, not only on account of the celerity of her course, but on account of her impetuous lust, as we shall presently see.
Now this passage teaches us, that the people had become so hardened, that they insolently rejected all reproofs given them by the prophets. Their impiety was openly manifest, and yet they ever dared to allege excuses, for the purpose of shewing that the prophets unjustly condemned them. Nor are we to wonder that such contumacy prevailed in that ancient people, since at this day we find that the Papists, with no less perverseness, resist the clear light of truth. For however gross and shameful their idolatry appears, they yet think that they evade the charge by merely saying, that their statues and images are not idols, and that the people of Israel were, indeed, condemned for inventing statues for themselves, but that they did this, because they were prone to superstition. Hence they cry against us, and say, that the worship which prevails among them is unjustly calumniated. We see, and even children know, that under the Papacy every kind of superstition prevails; and yet they seek to appear innocent, and free from every blame. The same was the case formerly: and as the temple continued, and the people offered sacrifices there, and as some kind of religion remained, whenever the prophets reproved the impious corruptions, which were blended with and vitiated the pure worship of God, and which were called adulteries, as they everywhere declare, “What!” they said, “Do we not worship God?” This very perverseness is what the Prophet now condemns by saying, How darest thou to say, I am not polluted, I have not walked after Baalim? So the Papists say at this day, “Do we not believe in one God? Have we devised for ourselves various gods? Yet they rob God of all his power, and dishonor him in a thousand ways: and at the same time they assert against us, with a meretricious mouth and an iron front, that they worship the one true God. (54) The case was exactly the same with the Jews: but the Prophet here proves their boasting to be vain and grossly false, See, he says, thy ways in the valley; see what thou, a swift dromedary, hast done As they could not be overcome by reasons, their willfulness being so great, the Prophet compares them to wild animals: “Ye are,” he says, “like lascivious dromedaries, which are so carried away by lust, that they forget everything while pursuing their own courses.” It follows —
As Jeremiah had called the people a dromedary, so he now calls them a wild ass: “Thou,” he says, “art both a dromedary and a wild ass.” For when a wild ass has caught the wind according to her desire, that is, when she has pantingly sought it, and has caught the wind of her occasion, that is, such as may chance to be; for he meant to shew, by this expression, that there is no choice made by beasts, no judgment shewn, no moderation exercised; — when, therefore, she has caught the wind, wherever chance may take her, no one can restrain her from her impetuous course; and he who pursues her will in vain fatigue himself, until he finds her in her month
By these words the Prophet intimates the untamable madness of the people, that they could not by any means be restrained, being like a wild ass, which cannot be tamed nor divested of its wildness, especially when she has caught the wind. For were she shut in, bolts might do something, so as to prevent her headlong course: but when a wild ass is free, and allowed to ramble over hill and dale, when she catches the wind, and catches it according to her desire; that is, when she can wander here and there, and nothing prevents her from rambling in all directions, — when such a liberty is allowed to wild animals that they catch the wind, and the wind of occasion; that is, any wind that may chance to be, there is no reason, as the Prophet seems to intimate, in wild beasts, nor do they keep within any due bounds. When any one of us undertakes a journey, he inquires how far he can go in one day, he avoids weariness, and provides against it as far as he can, and after having fixed the extent of his journey, he thinks of a resting — place; and he also makes inquiries as to the right way, and the best road. The case is different with wild animals; for when they begin to run, they go not to Lyons or to Lausanne, but abandon themselves to a blind impulse: and then when they are fatigued, they cease not to proceed in their course, for lust hurries them on. We now perceive the design of the Prophet.
He then adds, Who can bring her back? As though he had said, that the people could not be stopped or brought back to anything like moderation, for a wildness, yea rather a complete madness, had taken an entire possession of them. (55)
It afterwards follows, There is no reason for any one to weary himself, he will at length find her in her month All interpreters agree that this month is to be taken for the time of foaling. When the wild asses are in foal, and the time of parturition draws nigh, they are then restrained by their burden, and may be easily caught, as they retain not their previous swiftness, for they carry a burden. The Prophet then says, that the people were like wild asses, for they could be restrained by no instruction, and nothing could bridle their excesses; but that the time of parturition must be waited for.
Let us now see how this similitude applies to the people. The verse contains two parts. The first shews, as I have already said, that the people could not be turned by any warnings, nor would they obey any counsels, but were carried away by their insane passions, as it were by the wind of occasion, or any wind that might blow. This is the first part. Now as the obstinacy of the people was so great, God here declares to hypocrites, that the time would come when he would put a restraint on them, and break down their impetuous infatuation. How? The time of parturition would come; that is, “when ye shall have done many iniquities, your burden will stop and restrain you.” And he intimates, that it would be the time of his judgment; as though he had said, “you must be dealt with not as sane men, endued with a sound mind; for ye are wild beasts which cannot be tamed.” What, then, remains to be done? As the wild ass is weighed down with her burden when the time of parturition approaches, so I will cause you at length to feel the burden of your iniquities, which will be by its weight intolerable; and though your perverseness is untamable, yet my hand will be sufficient to restrain you; for I shall break you down, as ye will not bend nor obey my instruction.” We now, then, understand the import of the similitude, and how applicable it was to the case of the people; the use of which ought to be learnt, also, by us in the present day. The rest tomorrow.
23.How canst thou say, “I have not been polluted, After Baalim have I not walked!” See thy way in the valley, Know what thou hast done, — Like a swift dromedary which winds about her courses, —
24.A female which, in the wide space of the wilderness, Through the desire of her natural instinct, Snuffs up the wind she meets with: Who can turn her back? All who seek her, Let them not weary themselves; In her month they shall find her.
By “winding about her courses,” or tracks, or ways, is meant running in this and in that direction, and not in a straight course. The word, as a noun, denotes the string or latchet by which the ancients fastened their sandals, and which they twined round the feet. “The wind she meets with,” is literally, “the wind of her meeting.” The Septuagint and the early versions have departed widely from the original; the Vulgate comes nearest to it; nor is the Targum far off — Ed.
The words of the Prophet, as they are concise, may appear at the first view obscure: but his meaning is simply this, — that the insane people could by no means be reformed, however much God might try to check that excess by which they were led away after idols and superstitions. In the first clause, God relates how he had dealt with the people. All the addresses of the prophets had this as their object — to make the people to rest contented under the protection of God. But he employs other words here, Keep thy foot, he says, from unshodding, and thy throat from thirst For whenever there was any danger they ran, now to Egypt, then to Assyria, as we have already seen. Hence God complains of their madness, because they obeyed not his wise and salutary counsels. Had God bidden them to run here and there, either to the east or to the west, they might have raised an objection, and say, that the journey would be irksome to them; but he only commanded them to remain still and quiet. How great, then, was their madness, that they would not with quietness wait for the help of God, but weary themselves, and that with no benefit? Isaiah says nearly the same thing, but in other words; for he expostulated with them, because they underwent every kind of weariness, when they might have been protected by God, and be in no way wearied.
We now, then, comprehend the design of the Prophet: for God first shews that the people had been admonished, and that in time; but that they were so taken up with their own perverse counsels, that they could not endure the words of the prophets. It was the highest ingratitude in them, that they refused to remain quiet at home, but preferred to undergo great and severe labors without any advantage, according to what is said by Isaiah in another place,
“This is your rest, but ye would not.” (Isaiah 30:15.)
There is no one who desires not rest and peace; nay, all confess that it is the chief good, which all naturally seek. The Prophet says now, that it was rejected by the people of Israel. It hence follows, that they were wholly insane, for they had lost a desire which is by nature implanted in all men. The Prophet, then, does not here simply teach, but reminds the Jews of what they had before heard from Isaiah, and also from Micah, and from all the other prophets. For God had often exhorted them to remain quiet; and the Prophet now upbraids them with ingratitude, because they gave way to their own mad folly, and rejected the singular benefit offered them by God.
Let us then know that the Prophet states here what others before him had taught, Keep back, he says, thy foot from unshodding. Some render the last word, “from nakedness,” because they wore out their shoes by long journeys; but this I think must be understood of what was commonly done, for they were wont to make journeys unshod: keep then thy foot from being unshod, (56) and thy throat from thirst We know that thirst is very grievous to men: hence the Prophet here reproves the madness of the people, — that they were so seized with the ardor of an impious passion, that they willfully exposed themselves to thirst even by long journeys. As then God required nothing from the people but to ask his counsel, their sin was doubled by their unwillingness to obey his salutary direction. A plausible excuse, as I have already said, might have been alleged, had God dealt in a hard and severe manner with the people; but as he was ready kindly and graciously to preserve them in a complete state of quietness, no kind of excuse remained for them.
It then follows, Thou hast said, There is not a hope, no The Prophet shews here, as to the people, how perverse they were; for they obstinately rejected the kind and friendly admonitions which had been given them. They say first, There is not a hope, or, it is all over; for יאש iash, in Niphal, means to despair, or, to be out of hope. It may be rendered, “It is weariness;” and this would not be unsuitable, if taken in this sense, “I have thoughtlessly tormented myself more than enough, so that weariness itself induces me to rest.” No. The Prophet speaks concisely in order to express more strikingly the refractory conduct of the people. By saying, “There is not a hope,” it is the same as though he had said, that they spurned all exhortations; and then he adds, No. There is no verb put here; but an elliptical expression, as I have said, is more forcible to set forth the ferocity of the people. (57)
Isaiah expostulated with them in another way, and blamed them, because they did not say, “There is not a hope.” (Isaiah 57:10.) Thus Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to be inconsistent; for our Prophet here reproves the people for saying, “There is not a hope;” and Isaiah, for not having said so. But when the Jews expressly answered, according to this passage, “There is not a hope,” they meant that the prophets spent their labor in vain, as they were determined to follow their own course to the last. Hence by this expression, “There is not a hope,” is set forth the extreme perverseness of the people; and he shews that no hope of repentance remained, since they said openly and without any evasion that it was all over. But Isaiah reproved the people for not saying, that there was not a hope, because they did not acknowledge after long experience that they were proved guilty of folly: for after having often run to Egypt and then to Assyria, and the Lord having really taught them how ill-advised they had been, they ought to have learnt from their very disappointments, that the Lord had frustrated their expectations in order to lead them to repentance. Justly then does Isaiah say, that the people were extremely besotted, because they ever went on in their blind obstinacy, and never perceived that God did set many obstacles in their way, in order to compel them to go back and to cast aside all their vain hopes, by which they deceived themselves. We hence see that there is a complete agreement between the two prophets, though their mode of speaking is different.
Jeremiah then introduces the people here as saying expressly, and thus avowing their own perverseness, There is not a hope; as though they said, “Ye prophets do not cease to stun our ears, but vain and useless is your labor; for we have once for all made up our minds, and we can never be brought to revoke our resolution.” But what does Isaiah say? He reproves the madness of the people, that having been so often deceived by the Egyptians as well as by the Assyrians, they did not understand that they ought by such trials and experiments to have been brought back to the right way, but continued obstinately to follow their own wicked counsels. As to the passage before, we perceive what the Prophet means, — that God had kindly exhorted the Jews to rest quiet and dependent on his aid; but that they were not only stiff-necked, but also insolently rejected the kindness offered to them.
It then follows, For I have loved strangers, and after them will I go Here he exaggerates the sin of the people, for they gave themselves up to strangers; and he retains the similitude which we have already observed. For as God had taken the people under his own protection, so the obligation was mutual: both parties were connected together as by a sacred bond, as the case is between a husband and his wife; as he pledges his faith to her, so she by the law of marriage is bound to him. Jeremiah here retains this similitude, and says that the people were like the basest strumpet, for they would not hear the voice of their husband, though he was willing and anxious to be reconciled to them. Now, a wife must be wholly irreclaimable when she spurns her own husband, who is ready to receive her into favor, and to forgive her all the wickedness she may have done. The Prophet then shews, that there was in the people so great and so hopeless an impiety, that they closed their ears against God who kindly exhorted them to repent; and worse still, they shamelessly boasted that they were resolved to worship idols and their own fictions, and to reject the only true God. It follows —
25.Keep thy foot from being bare And thy throat from thirst; But thou hast said, “Hopeless! No; For I have loved strangers, And after them will I go.”
The first part implies that they were pursuing a useless course. The insolent answer was, “Is it hopeless? By no means.” The Septuagint omit the negative, and have only “ ἀνδριοῦμαι — I will act manfully;” and this version has been followed by the Syriac and Arabic The Vulgate has, “desperavi, nequaquam faciam — I have despaired, I will by no means do so. ” The most literal rendering is given above, and affords the best and the most suitable meaning.
To confess that it was a hopeless thing to attempt to reform them, is not so appropriate, as to deny it to be hopeless to have recourse to foreign alliances: which seems to be the import of the passage. This is the view which Gataker seemed most inclined to take; and he mentions this rendering, “Should I despair? No.” To the same purpose is the version of Jun. and Trem. But Grotius, Henry, and Adam Clarke, agree with the explanation of Calvin. — Ed.
Some render the words in the future tense, “So ashamed shall be the house of Israel,” etc.; and they think that the Prophet is speaking here of the punishment which was impending over the people: but I explain the words as they are, — that the impiety of the people was so gross, that there was no need formally to prove it, as it was so very palpable. Hence the Prophet compares the Jews to open thieves, as though he had said, that hypocrites among that people gained nothing by their evasions and subterfuges, for their impiety was quite public: they were like a thief when caught, who cannot deny nor hide his crime. Hence he says that they were caught, as they say, in the very act; that is, their flagitious deeds were so conspicuous, that whatever objections they might raise, they could not clear themselves, but their baseness was known to all. We now then perceive what the Prophet means. We have before seen that the people had recourse to many excuses, but Jeremiah shews here, that they attained nothing by their evasions, except that they more fully discovered their own effrontery, for their dishonesty was evident to all; it was so manifest that they could not cover it by any cloaks and pretences. (58)
Nor does he speak only of the common people; but he condemns kings, princes, priests, and prophets, as though he had said, that they were become so corrupt from the least to the greatest, that having cast off all shame, they openly shewed a manifest and gross contempt for God by following their own inventions and superstitions. And yet the Jews no doubt attempted by many excuses to defend themselves; but God here shakes off all those fallacious pretexts, by which they thought to cover their flagitious deeds, and says that they were notwithstanding manifestly thieves.
The Prophet had said before, that the Jews made a different declaration; and now he condemns their effrontery: but there is no inconsistency as to the meaning. The Jews denied that they were apostates and guilty of perfidy, or that they had forsaken the worship of God; they denied this in words; but the Prophet, in now proclaiming their shamelessness, does not refer to words; for they had ready at hand their false pretensions, as it has been already stated: but the Prophet now takes the fact itself as granted, and says that they wickedly and perversely resisted God, so that their wickedness and obstinacy were past all remedy. It now follows —
26.As a thief is ashamed when he is found out, So made ashamed have been the house of Israel, They, their kings, their princes, Their priests and their prophets;
27.Who have said to the wood, “My father art thou,” And to the stone, “Thou hast begotten me.” Though they have turned to me the back and not the face; Yet in the time of their calamity, They say, “Arise and save us.”
The participles in Hebrew are regulated as to their tense by the verbs in the passage. Hence אמרים in Jeremiah 2:27, is to be in the same tense with the previous verb. The future in the last line is to be in the present, as it expresses what was commonly done. Then what was usually said to them is mentioned in the following verse, —
28.But where are thy gods, which thou hast made for thyself? Let them arise, if they can save thee In the time of thy calamity: For according to the number of thy cities Have been thy gods, O Judah.
Blayney has kept to the past tense as to the last line, and also as to the beginning of Jeremiah 2:26. — Ed.
The Prophet here confirms what he had before said of the perverse wickedness of the people. He shews that he had not said without reason, that their sins were extremely gross, and could not be excused by any evasions: for they say, he adds, to the wood, Thou art my father, and to the stone, Thou hast begotten, me By these words the Prophet shews, that idolatry was so rampant among the people, that they openly ascribed to their statues, made of wood or stone, the honor due to the only true God.
But the Prophet points out here what is especially to be detested in idolatry, and that is, the transferring of the honor, due to God, to statues, not only as to the external act by bending the knee before them, but by seeking salvation from them.
And this is what we ought particularly to notice: for the Papists at this day, though they prostrate themselves before their pictures and statues, do not yet acknowledge themselves guilty of idolatry, when such a charge is brought against them. They say that they worship the statues, not with the honor due to God, but with such honor as a servant renders to his master. (59) They think that they thus exculpate themselves. But were we to grant what they allege, they yet cannot deny but that they address prayers and supplications to statues. As then they ask the very statues to save them, whatever sophistry they may adopt, it is altogether nugatory: for the prophets condemn not merely the outward gesture, the bowing down, and other ceremonious acts, as they are called, when they condemned idolaters. What then? They condemned them, because they said to statues, Thou art my Father; that is, because they ascribed the power, which belongs only to God, to statues made of wood or stone. It is indeed certain, that the Jews never sunk into so great a depth of sottishness as expressly to profess that gods of wood and stone were equal to the true God, and they never said any such thing. Yet the Prophet did not calumniate them, in ascribing what is here said to them: but as it is clearly evident from other places, the Prophet regarded their thoughts rather than their words: for the Jews professed the same thing as the Papists of the present day, when they prostrated themselves before their statues; they said that they worshipped the only true God and sought salvation from him; and yet they thought that the power of God was inherent in the statues themselves: hence they said, Thou art my father, Thou hast begotten me The case is the same with the Papists of the present day. When any one prostrates himself before the statue of Catherine or of Christopher, he says, “Our Father.” When he justifies himself in doing this, he says that it is done in honor to the one true God: and yet thou runnest blindly, now to one statue, and then to another, and muttcrest, “Our Father.” There is not the least doubt but that the superstition which now prevails under the Papacy, is even more gross than that which prevailed among the Jews. But to say nothing of the Papists, because they mutter, “Our Father,” before their statues, there is no doubt but that when they present their prayers to statues, they consider God’s power to be in them.
We must now, then, bear in mind, that the Jews were not only condemned, because they burnt incense and offered sacrifices to idols, but because they transferred the glory of God to their statues, when they asked salvation from them. And as this was not done in express words, the Prophet here brings to light their impious thoughts; for they did not raise up their minds and thoughts to God, but turned them to their statues.
It afterwards follows, They have turned to me the neck (60) and not the face In these words, God again confirms what he had before said, that the apostasy or defection of the people was more manifest than what could be disguised by any colorings. He then adds, Yet (the ו is to be taken here adversatively) in the time of their affliction, they will say, Arise, and save us God here complains that the Jews most strangely abused his kindness; for they came to him when any grievous calamity constrained them. “What have I to do with you?” he says, “Ye are wholly devoted to your idols, ye call them your fathers, and ascribe to them the glory of your salvation, when things go on peaceably with you; but when your idols in time of distress give you no aid, then ye return to me and say, Arise, and save us; but, since idols are your fathers, and ye expect salvation from them, I shall have nothing to do with you; be contented with your idols, and trouble me no more, for I have been forsaken by you.”
And hence he adds, Where are your gods? Here God laughs to scorn the false confidence by which the Jews deceived themselves: Where are your gods, which you have made for yourselves? Let them arise, let us see whether they will help you in the time of your distress. We now understand what the Prophet means: for he shews that the people acted in a most strange manner; for they worshipped idols when they were in safety, and afterwards would have God to be bound to them; and yet they denied the true God when they fell away unto idols. He then shews that they could expect no aid from God; for they robbed him of his own power when they devised idols for themselves. But we must ever remember what he said, that false gods were counted as fathers and authors of salvation by the people.
The same thing is, no doubt, done at this day under the Papacy; for the Papists have their patrons; and when they find that their foolish superstitions can do nothing for them, they would have God to help them, and yet they leave nothing to him: after having taken away all his glory, and divided it as a spoil among dead saints, they would then have God to be their helper. But we see what God’s answer to them is, “Where are your gods?” etc.
Now this truth is of use to us; and we hence learn, that we are not to wait until we are really, and in the last state of despair, compelled to acknowledge that our labors have been useless, while we hoped and prayed for help from idols; but that we ought to come directly to God himself for aid in our distress.
God proceeds farther with the sarcasm or the derision which he has employed, Where are thy gods? Let them now arise that they may help thee; that is, — let them try their utmost whether they can aid thee. According to the number of thy cities have been thy gods, O Judah As the people were not satisfied with one God, every city chose a patron for itself. “Since, then, innumerable gods are invoked by you, how comes it that they do not help you?” We hence see that the unbelief of the people is here sharply reproved; for they did not acquiesce in God alone, but sought to procure for themselves gods without number: there were many cities in the tribe of Judah, and there were as many patrons. The one true God would have been fully sufficient for them, and would have brought them complete deliverance whenever needed; but the one true God they despised, and every city devised a god for itself. “Since ye trust,” he says, “in such a multitude, let them now arise, that they may succor you; for I, who am one, am despised by you.” We now understand what the Prophet means also in this part. It afterwards follows —
Jeremiah concludes here his previous subject: he says that the Jews gained nothing by alleging against God that they were innocent, and by thinking that they could by mere words escape his judgment, and not only by doing so, but also by hurrying on to such a degree of presumption as to challenge God himself, and to seek to prove him guilty. But God answers them in one word, and says, that they were perfidious. The meaning then is, that the Jews ill consulted their own interest in hardening themselves in their obduracy; for God would hold them fully convicted of impiety, so that they in vain alleged this or that as an excuse. (61)
Now this passage deserves especial notice: for we know how prone we are by nature to hypocrisy; and when God summons us to his tribunal, hardly one in a hundred will acknowledge his guilt and humbly pray for forgiveness; but the greater part complains, nay almost all murmur against God, and still more, they gather boldness, and proudly dare to challenge and defy God. Since, then, hypocrisy thus prevails in us and is deeply fixed in the hearts of almost all, and since hypocrisy generates insolence and pride against God, let us remember what the Prophet says here, — that all who dispute against God gain nothing by their excuses, because he will at length detect their defection and perfidy. It then follows —
Why should ye contend against (or, with) me?
Then follows a fact sufficient to put an end to all contention, —
All of you have rebelled against me, Saith Jehovah.
The primary idea of פשע is, to go, to pass, to march on. See Isaiah 28:4. Its meaning depends on the preposition which follows it. Followed by על, over, it means to transgress, it being a going or passing over the limits set by the law, Hosea 8:1, — by מ, to go from, to revolt, to apostatize, 2 Kings 8:22,-and by ב, to go against, to rebel, as in this passage. Hence the noun has attained various meanings-transgression, apostasy, and rebellion. Its precise meaning in any case is to be determined by the context.Gataker and Blayhey render the verb here the same, —
All of you have rebelled against me, saith Jehovah.
The early versions vary. The Septuagint have “ ἠσεβήσατε — ye have acted impiously,” the Syriac, “ye have denied me,” — the Arabic, “ye have sinned against me,”-and the Vulgate, “ye have forsaken me.” The general idea is the same, but the specific one is that of rebelling against God. — Ed
Some expound the beginning of this verse as though the meaning were, — that God chastised the Jews on account of their folly, because they habituated themselves to falsehoods: but the latter clause does not correspond. There is therefore no doubt but that God here expostulates with the Jews, because he had tried to bring them to the right way and found them wholly irreclaimable. A similar expostulation is found in Isaiah,
“In vain,” he says, “have I chastised you; for from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no soundness.”
There God shews that he had tried every remedy, but that the Jews, being wholly refractory in their spirit, were wholly incurable. Jeremiah speaks now on the same subject: and God thus exaggerates the wickedness of the people; for he testifies that he had tried whether they would be taught, not only by words, but also by scourges and chastisements, but that his labor in both instances had been in vain. He spoke before of teaching, “Keep thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst.” The Prophets, then, had exhorted the Jews by God’s command to rest quietly. This teaching had been useless and unfruitful. God now adds, that he had tried in another way to bring them back to a right mind; but this effort had been also useless and in vain: In vain have I chastised you; for ye have not received correction
But he speaks of children, in order to shew that the whole people were unteachable: for though lusts boil more in youth, yet their obduracy is not so great as in the old; as he who has through his whole life hardened himself in the contempt of God, can hardly be ever healed and be amended by correction; for old age is of itself morose and difficult to be pleased, and the old also think, that wrong is in a manner done them when they are reproved: but when the insolence and obduracy of the young are so great that they reject all correction, it is more strange and monstrous. The Prophet then shews that there was nothing sound or right in that people, since their very children refused correction. (62)
We now perceive his object, — that, as God had sent his prophets, and as their labor availed nothing, he now shews, that not only the ears of the people had been deaf to wholesome teaching, but that they were hard — necked and untamable; for he had tried to correct them by scourges, but effected nothing. It follows, their sword has devoured the prophets But I cannot finish now.
The prophet assumes the character, no doubt, of one in astonishment, that he might render the sin of the people more detestable: for he speaks as one astonished, generation! The word, דור, dur; as it is well known, means an age. It is then the same as if he had said, “On what time are we fallen? or in what an age do we now live?” We now then perceive the import of the word. Then he adds, See ye the word of Jehovah The word, see, seems not to be suitable; for he ought to have said, “Attend to, “or “hear.” But he bids them to see, and most appropriate is the term; for he does not require the people to hear, but, on the contrary, to know, as though he had said, “See ye yourselves what this is which the Lord declares.” And he emphatically says, אתם at em, “ ye yourselves.” For the Jews might have been deservedly condemned by all nations, were they brought into judgment. But the Prophet shews, that however blind they were, they might see with their own eyes what the Lord now says. He does not refer to instruction, but to a fact, as though he had said, “The Lord by me expostulates with you; and though there should not be present any witnesses or a judge or an umpire, ye yourselves are able to understand and know the whole matter.” We hence see how fitly the Prophet speaks, when he bids them to see the word of Jehovah (63)
For he immediately adds, Have I been a desert to Israel? He makes the Jews themselves the umpires and judges of the cause, whether they had not experienced the bounty of God and had forsaken him, according to his former complaint, when he said that God was the fountain of living waters, and that they had dug for themselves broken cisterns. Hence he says, “How has it happened that ye have departed from me? Have I in vain promised to be bountiful and kind to you? Did I disappoint you or your expectation, while ye served me? Since then I had not been to you a dark and a gloomy land, a land without the light of the sun; but as abundance of blessings had ever been found in me, how has it been that you have departed from me?”
He afterwards mentions another crime, Why has my people said, We are lords The verb רדנו, r ed enu, is variously explained by interpreters. Some derive it from ידר, ir ed, to descend, and think that the י, iod, is supplied by a point. But these differ in their views: some refer to the calamities with which the Jews had been visited, and others to their apostasy. The first give this explanation, “We have descended;” that is, “We have been oppressed with calamities, what then can we gain by calling on God, since our affairs are in so hopeless a state?” The second draw forth another meaning, “We have gone back;” that is, “There is no reason for the prophets to stun our ears by their clamors, for we have once for all resolved never to return to God; we have wholly renounced him; away with him, let him begone together with his exhortations, for we will not attend to them.” Both these expounders think it to be the language of despair: but we perceive how they differ; the first apply “descend” to the calamities of the people, and the second to their perfidy, because they had bidden adieu, as it were, to God, and wished not to have any farther intercourse with him.
But there are others who take the word more grammatically: for רדה, r ede, and רוד, rud, signifies to be lord, or to rule. I therefore prefer the view of those who render the word, We are lords Some take the verb in a passive sense, but I know not for what reason: and the comment of others is very diluted, “We have kings and counselors.” I consider it to be the language of pride and of vain boasting: for the Jews thought themselves to be kings, according to what Paul says of the Corinthians,
“Ye are rich, ye have reigned without us, and I would ye did reign.” (1 Corinthians 4:8.)
The Corinthians, being inflated with pride on account of the opulence of their city, despised the simplicity of the Gospel; they looked for refined things, and were much addicted to novelties. Hence Paul, seeing that they despised the grace of God, ironically reproved them, and said, that they wished to be rich and to be kings without him, to whom yet as an instrument they owed everything. The same vice is what Jeremiah now condemns in that people, We are lords, we will not come to thee; as though he had said, “Your happiness has hitherto proceeded from me; for whatever you have been, and whatever has been given you, ought to be ascribed to me and to my bounty: but now without me (for God himself speaks) ye are kings, but by what right and by what title? What have you as your own? Why then has my people said, We will come no more to thee?” We now understand the real meaning of the Prophet.
As to the subject itself, he in the first place, as I have already said, is in a manner astonished at the wickedness of the people, as at something monstrous. Hence he exclaims, O generation! as though he had said, that what he saw was incredible. Then he immediately adds, see ye yourselves the word of Jehovah, This was much more severe, than if he had summoned them before God’s tribunal; for he thus proved that their wickedness was extremely gross; for they had, without any cause, nay, without any pretext, and without shame, renounced God, who had been so bountiful towards them. He also in an indirect manner reproved them, because they refused to be instructed; for he commanded them to look on the fact itself, inasmuch as they were deaf, or having ears they closed them against all instruction; for, as we have said, he calls away their attention from the word to the fact itself, and this is what interpreters have not observed.
Then follows an upbraiding, — that God had not been a desert to them; but, as the Prophet had before shewed, abundance of all blessings had flowed to them so as fully to satisfy them. Since then God had enriched them through his blessing, their sin in departing from him was thereby more increased.
In the last part of the verse God expostulates with them on their ingratitude, because they thought themselves to be lords. They were indeed a royal priesthood, but it was through God’s favor. They did not reign through their own right, they did not reign because they had attained power through their own valor or efforts, or through their own merits or their own good fortune; how then? only through the favor of another. Though then they were kings only on the condition of being subject to the supreme King, yet they wished to reign alone, that is, according to their own pleasure; and thus trod under their feet the favor of God. It is with this wickedness then that the Prophet charges them. And the end of the verse is of the same import, we will come no more to thee; as though they stood in no need of God’s aid; for they thought that they could supply themselves with whatever was necessary to support them. As then they were inflated with much pride, they despised the favor of God, as though they stood in no need of the aid of another. It follows —
Ye of this age, see, spoken hath Jehovah, — Have I been a wilderness to Israel, Or a land of darkness? Why have they said, even my people, “We have ruled, we will no more come to thee?”
The above rendering of the latter part of the first line is favored by the Septuagint, “ Hear ye the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord.” The Arabic is the same. The Vulgate has, “See the word of the Lord,” — and the Syriac, “ Hear the word of the Lord.” Blayney renders thus, “Behold ye the cause of Jehovah.” Gataker takes “see” in the sense of considering, “See,“ or seriously consider, “the word of the Lord.” The particle אם after ה, may be rendered “or,” as in the Syriac See Joshua 5:13. The word מאפליה is found in two MSS., מאפילה, which seems to be the true reading, countenanced by the Targum, and all the early versions, except the Vulgate, which has “serotina — lateward.” Darkness is a common metaphor for wretchedness and misery “We have ruled” is the literal rendering of רדנו, and there is no other reading. The Septuagint gives the same meaning, though the form is different, “We shall not be lorded over — οὐ κυριευθησόμεθα.” The Arabic is the same. It is the language of proud independence. The Targum, the Vulgate, and the Syriac have mistaken the verb for ירדנו, which means, to descend, to come down, to bring down. Blayney gives the correct idea, “We are our own masters, “which Horsley approves. The preterite in Hebrew often includes the present; so the full meaning is, “We have ruled and do rule.” — Ed
God here confirms what is said in the last verse, and would make his people ashamed, because they valued him less than girls are wont to value their ornaments. The necklaces of young women are indeed nothing but mere trifles, and yet we see that girls are so taken with them through a foolish passion, that they value such trinkets more than their very life. “How then is it, “says God, “that my people have forgotten me? Is there to be found any such ornament? Can anything be found among the most valuable jewels and the most precious stones which can be compared with me?”
God shews by this comparison how perverted the minds of the Jews were, when they renounced and rejected a benefit so invaluable as to have God as their Father, and to be prosperous under his dominion; for nothing necessary for a blessed life had been wanting to them as long as they continued the recipients of that paternal favor, which God had manifested towards them, and wished to shew to them to the end. As then they had found God to have been so bountiful, must they not have been more than mad, when they willfully rejected his favor? while yet young women commonly set their thoughts and affections strongly and permanently on such trifles as are of no value. (64) But the Prophet designedly used this similitude, that he might introduce what is contained in the next verse: his object was to compare the Jews to adulterous women, who being led away by unbridled lust, follow wanton lovers. As then he intended to bring this charge against the Jews, he spoke expressly of the ornaments of young women; and hence it follows —
Can a maid forget her ornaments,
A virgin her bands?
That the word קשרים means bands of some kind is evident, as the verb signifies to bind, to join closely. Bands or bandage for the breast — στηθοδεσμίδα, is the version of the Septuagint; the Arabic and the Vulgate are the same. Parkhurst considers that “head-bands” are meant. The word is found also in Isaiah 3:20; where the Septuagint render it “ δακτυλίοις -rings,” and the Targum, “ murenulas — chains,” which were of gold, and worn around the neck. For any practical purpose it is only necessary to know that they were embellishments which young women delighted in: and women in every age are too fond of such things, and men too; but the case is introduced here only for the sake of illustration. — Ed
This verse is differently explained: but the Prophet simply means; that the Jews were like lascivious women, who not only despise their husbands at home, but ramble here and there in all directions, and also paint their faces and seek for themselves all the charms of wantonness. He says that the Jews had acted in this way; and hence he says that they made beautiful their ways The verb in Hebrew has a wide meaning: it means to prepare, to conciliate favor. But its import here is, as though the Prophet had said, “Why dost thou disguise and paint thyself like strumpets, who use many artifices to allure young men and to inflame their lusts? why then dost thou undertake so much labor to gain a meretricious hire?” We shall hereafter see why he says this; for he upbraids them for applying to the Assyrians and the Egyptians.
It was a common thing with the Prophets to compare the people to lovers; for the Jews, while they ought to have been firmly attached to God, (like a chaste woman, who does not turn her eyes here and there, nor gad about, but has respect to her husband alone,) thought to seek safety now from the Assyrians, then from the Egyptians. This sinful disposition is then what the Prophet here condemns; and hence he speaks of them metaphorically as of an adulterous woman, who despises her husband and rambles after any she can find, and seeks wanton and silly young men in all places, and subjects herself to the gratification of all. We now then understand what the Prophet means.
The words must be noticed: he says, Why makest thou fine thy ways? But he refers here to the care which a wanton woman takes to adorn her person, as though he had said, “Why dost thou thus prepare thyself? and why dost thou seek for thyself what is splendid and elegant, that thy appearance may deceive the eyes of the simple?” For the Jews might have remained safe and secure under God’s protection, and might have been so without any calamity. As a husband is content with the beauty of his wife, and seeks no adventitious and refined elegancies; so God required nothing from that people except fidelity, like a husband, who requires chastity in his wife. The meaning then is, — “As a wife, really attached to her husband, has no need to undergo much labor, for she knows that her own native beauty pleases him, nor does she labor much to gain the heart of her husband, for the best recommendation is her chastity; so ye might have lived without any trouble by only serving me and keeping my law: but now what is your chastity? ye are like wanton women, who labor to gain the hearts of adulterers; for as they burn with lust, so there is no end nor limits to their attempts to seek embellishments; and they torment themselves, only that they might attach adulterers to themselves. Such then are ye (says God;) for ye spend much care and labor in seeking for yourselves strange lovers.”
He afterwards adds, Therefore thou hast also taught lewdnesses He alludes to the words he had before used, Thou hast made fine (or fair) thy ways: and now he says, thou hast also taught wickednesses by thy ways He declares that the Jews were worse than the Assyrians and the Egyptians, as a lascivious woman is far worse than all the adulterers whom she captivates as her paramours. For when a young man is not deceived, and the devil does not apply the fagot, he may continue chaste and pure; but when an impudent and wanton woman entices him, it is all over with him. The Prophet then says, that the Assyrians and the Egyptians were innocent when compared with his own nation. How so? “Because they have been led away,” he says, “by your allurements, like young men, who are destroyed by the fallacious ornaments of strumpets; for it is the same as though they had fallen into snares: the evil then has proceeded from you, and the fault lies with you. (65)
We now understand the Prophet’s meaning: for he condemns the Jews, because they afforded an occasion of evil both to the Assyrians and to the Egyptians, while they of their own accord sought their favor. It now follows —
Therefore also have I taught calamities thy ways.
That is, “that God had directed calamities where to find them.” But this is rather a remote idea. In favor of the second person, “thou hast taught,“ are several MSS., all the early versions and the Targum; and it is what has been by most adopted. “The wicked ones” of our version is a rendering not countenanced by any of the ancient versions, nor by the Targum; all render it evil or evils or wickednesses. — Ed.
The Prophet repeats, as I think, what he had before said, — that the wickedness of his nation was incorrigible; for they repented not when warned, but on the contrary raged like wild beasts against the Prophets and religious teachers. Those interpreters are mistaken who think that the savage cruelty of the Jews in general is here condemned; and all are of this opinion. But the Prophet no doubt enhances this evil, by saying, that the Jews were not only obstinate in their vices, but also raged furiously against the Prophets. Hence he shews again, that God had used all remedies to heal the Jews, but without effect, for what better medicine could have been offered than for the Prophets to reprove the people and to shew to them how wickedly they had departed from God? God then wished thus to correct the vices of his own people; but so far was he from effecting anything, that at Jerusalem and through the whole of Judea, the Prophets were slaughtered, and the whole land was filled with and polluted by their blood.
Hence he says, Even in thy wings has been found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents. He calls the borders of garments wings. He seems to say, that these slaughters were not hid, for the Jews were besprinkled with blood to the very extremities of their garment; as though he had said, “There is no cause for me to deal sharply with you in this instance; for your filthiness is most apparent: ye have not only been rebellious against my teaching, but ye have also cruelly murdered my prophets. If ye ask, Where these slaughters are to be found? Even in your wings, on the borders of your garments; so that your crimes are fully known.” We now perceive what the Prophet means.
We must also notice the import of the particle גם, g am, also, or even. Their cruelty was worse and more nefarious, because they thus rose up against their own physicians; for the prophets, as it has been said, were the ministers of their safety. As then they thus raged against God’s favor so as to murder his prophets, it became still more evident, that they were utterly irreclaimable.
He afterwards adds what serves for a confirmation. They have not been found in digging under Some give another explanation; but their opinion is right who think, that the Prophet alludes to what is said by Moses in Exodus 22:2, — that if a thief should be found in digging under, (or undermining,) he might be killed with impunity: for he who thus breaks through into the houses of others, is equal to a robber in audacity; and he ought to be counted not only a thief, but also as one guilty of manslaughter and felony. God then says, that the Prophets, who had been slain by the Jews, had not been found in digging up, that is, had not been found guilty of any crime, either of robbery or of murder: for he mentions a particular act, instead of the general crime. But it has been on account of all these things; that is, “because they boldly dared to reprove you, because they severely condemned your vices, because they discovered your baseness, because they were enemies to your perfidy and to your sins: as then the prophets had thus by the divine Spirit carried on war with your sins, they have on this account been murdered by you. (66)
We see how well the whole passage reads, provided it be applied to the prophets only. It was not indeed the object of Jeremiah to condemn murders generally among the Jews, but to shew that they were the enemies of the prophets, because they were opposed to every good and sound counsel, and were incapable of receiving instruction. The mistake of other expounders is hereby made evident: for in the last clause they touch neither heaven nor earth. It follows —
Also in thy skirts has been found
The blood of the souls of the innocent poor:
Not by searching have I found it,
But upon all these (i.e., skirts.)
The reference is to what is said in Jeremiah 2:30, where the Jews are charged with the killing the prophets. As to “the blood, “we find a similar passage in Ezekiel 24:7. — Ed.
The Prophet here shews that the Jews were possessed of such a brazen front, that they could not be led by any admonitions to feel any shame. Though then they were like adulterous women, and though they gave meretricious hire to such as they ran to in all parts, and though also they had murdered the prophets and the pious ministers of God, yet they boasted, as persons conscious of no evil, that they were innocent.
Thou hast yet said; that is, “How darest thou to pretend to be innocent, since thou art proved to be guilty, not by allegations, but by manifest and glaring proofs?” In short, the Prophet shews that the condition of the people was past remedy, for they would not receive any admonition; nay, they dared, as it were with the front of brass, obstinately to boast that they were innocent: Thou hast said, (he still speaks of a woman, in the feminine gender,) Thou hast yet said, surely I am clean Thus hypocrites not only excuse themselves, and allege vain pretences, but dare to come forth publicly, and to fly as it were above the clouds, elated by their own self — confidence. “Who will dare to allege anything against me?” Thus hypocrites willfully and impertinently challenge all the servants of God and seek by their own presumption to close the mouth of all. The Prophet now condemns this petulancy in the Jews; for though they were manifestly proved guilty, yet they boastingly asserted that they were innocent. Only ( אך, ak, I take here to mean only) depart, etc. The Prophet upbraids the Jews with another crime, — that they said, that wrong was done to them by God in seeking to bring them to a right mind by punishment and by reproofs. For God, as it is well known, had inflicted many punishments on the Jews, and had also added serious reproofs. He tried by these means to find out whether they were capable of being healed. What did they say? “I am innocent; and God is angry with me without a cause. Let him remove his anger from me; ” that is, “only let not God deal severely with us, nor use his supreme authority, and we shall be able to prove our innocency.” Thus ungodly men, when urged with severe warnings, vomit forth their blasphemies against God, — “O what can I do? I know that I am not able to resist; God fights with a shadow when he afflicts me; his violence I must indeed bear though he may overwhelm me; yet he doeth me wrong: but were he to deal justly and fairly with me, I could prove that I do not deserve these evils.” Such then was the language of the Jews, — only depart let his fury from me, we could then shew that we are just, or at least excusable.
Now also in this part we perceive the design of the Prophet: it was to shew, that the Jews not only dared dishonestly and proudly to claim innocency for themselves, but hesitated not to contend with God, and to intimate that he with too much severity oppressed them, and did not treat them justly, but announced a cruel sentence for the purpose of overwhelming them.
Behold, he says, I will judge thee, because thou hast said, I have not sinned Some give this version, “I judge, or, condemn thee.” But there is here no doubt a contrast between the fury of God and his judgment. The people said, that God was too rigorous; this was his fury: God now mentions his judgment. “There is no reason,” he says, “for you to allege such a pretext as this, as it will vanish into nothing; for I will in judgment contend with you;” that is, “I will really prove that I am a just judge and not a tyrant, that I execute just punishments and according to the law, and that I am not like a man in anger, who takes vengeance on his enemies and does so precipitantly and rashly: I will shew,” he says, “that I am a just judge.”
We may hence gather a profitable instruction. Let it in the first place be observed, that nothing is so displeasing to God as this headstrong presumption, that is, when we seek to appear innocent, while our own conscience condemns us. Then in the second place observe, that all who thus perversely rebel and strive dishonestly and shamelessly to defend their own vices, contend at the same time with God: for false excuses have ever this tendency — to charge God with unjust severity. But we see what such men gain for themselves; for God shews that he will be at length their judge, and that he will openly discover the vices of those who thought that they could excuse themselves by evasions and by false charges against himself. They then who thus obstinately resist God, must at length, according to what the Prophet declares, come to this end, — that they will be constrained to acknowledge that God has not been too violently angry with them, but has only executed a just punishment. (67)
35.And thou hast said, “Verily I have been innocent; Surely turned away has he his anger from me:“ Behold I will contend in judgment with thee, On account of thy saying, “I have not sinned.”
The Septuagint have rendered the second line, “Let his anger be turned away from me;” the Vulgate and the Arabic are the same. The Syriac is, “therefore he turns away his anger from me.” “Turned away is his anger,“ is the Targum, Piscator, Jun. and Trem. Blayney renders it, —
Surely his wrath shall turn from me.
There is no reason for construing the verb in the future tense, or in the imperative mood. It is in the past tense, and there is no other reading. The claim of innocency is made on the supposition that God had turned away his displeasure. Hence the declaration that follows — that God would contest the matter — would bring it as it were into trial, as the verb here when in Niphal means. — Ed.
The Prophet goes on with the same subject. He had said before that the people were like an unfaithful wife, who having left her husband rambles here and there to gratify her lusts. For this view he now gives the reason; for he might have appeared to treat the people too severely, had not the fact been pointed out as it were by the finger; and this he does now. He says, that they ran here and there, not in a common manner, but in a way to render evident their shameful levity, such as is seen in strumpets, who without any shame seek either adulterers or fornicators.
But I have already briefly shewn what the Prophet means: When any danger was nigh, the Jews sought aid, now in Egypt, then in Assyria. Yet they knew that this was forbidden them; not that it was in itself an evil or a bad thing to seek help from neighbors; but because it was God’s will that the safety and security of that people should be dependent on him only; for he had taken them under his safeguard. As then the Jews were God’s dependents, they ought to have acquiesced in his protection. When they wandered here and there, it was an evidence of unbelief; and what they attributed to the Egyptians or to Assyrians, they took away from their own God, who had promised that their safety would be the object of his care. Hence he compares these movements to wanton levity; they were like those of strumpets, who ramble in all directions. Now a strumpet must be wholly shameless, when she thus seeks the gratification of her lust: for harlots often wait for the coming of lovers; but when they ramble everywhere, they are altogether abominable. This then is what the Prophet now means, that is, that the Jews ran here and there; and thus it was, that they changed their ways
There remains indeed often in harlots some natural love; but it is a proof of a brutish, shameless, and monstrous lust, when a woman seeks the company of any one she may see, or when a man lusts after any woman he may meet with. When there is such a shamelessness as this, it appears that no modesty remains, nor even what is natural; for as I have already said, it ought to be deemed monstrous, when a woman is inflamed with lust at the sight of any one. And yet this lewdness is what the Prophet reprobates in the Jews when he says, that they ran here and there to change their ways: so that their love never continued, but they lusted after any they met with; nay, they went here and there to allure them. This subject is spoken of oftener and more at large by Ezekiel; and we shall find this comparison used also in other parts of this book. But it is enough for me to mention briefly the design of the Prophet. (68)
He then adds, Ashamed shalt thou also be of the Egyptians, as ashamed thou hast been of the Assyrians Before the time of Hezekiah, the Jews had made a treaty with the Assyrians against the Syrians and the Israelites, as it is well known; and then against the Egyptians; for soon after a war arose between them and the Egyptians, who had been their confederates, and changing their policy, they went for help to Assyria. They afterwards reconciled themselves to their ancient enemies; but this second treaty also turned out unhappily. Hence the Prophet says, that the end would be the same with what they had before experienced. God had indeed chastised their ungodly defection when they went to Assyria. He now says, that no better success would attend the help of the Egyptians than what attended the help of the Assyrians. The Jews, we know, were ever subjected to plunder, and suffered more loss from their associates than from their open enemies. It was the just reward of their impiety and defection. God then declares that he would be the avenger of this second defection, as he had been of the former. It follows —
Quinn vilis factus es nimis, iterans vias tuas !
How extremely worthless art thou become, iterating thy ways!
The other versions are nearly of the same general import. Blayney’s version is, —
Why wilt thou make thyself exceedingly vile, In repeating over again thy ways?
Modern critics have considered the verb to be אזל, and not זל. It no doubt may be either. As shame is threatened at the end of the verse, the latter verb is the most suitable, —
Why shouldest thou become wholly degraded By repeating thy course?
Even by Egypt shalt thou be put to shame, As thou hast been put to shame by Assyria.
“Course,” or way, means here a proceeding, and to repeat it is to pursue a course similar to what had been previously adopted. — Ed.
He expresses more clearly what he had said of the shameful character of his own nation, — that the Jews, who thought that their safety would be secured by the Egyptians, were seeking their own entire ruin. This seemed to them indeed incredible; for as the Egyptians were neighbors, and as the Jews then only feared the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who were afar off, they thought that they had the best prospect: “What! our enemies are distant from us twenty or thirty days’ journey; and those who are prepared to help us will be soon with us at the shortest warning.” Hence the Jews thought, as we have said, that they were quite safe. But the Prophet here declares, that they were greatly mistaken; for on account of this wickedness, that is, because they trusted in their unlawful and accursed treaty, and promised themselves peace from their enemies, or thought that they could easily overcome them; on this account, he says, thou shalt go forth: but nothing could have been less credible to the Jews than what the Prophet said; for as the Egyptians opposed themselves as a wall against the Chaldeans, and were deemed unassailable, who could have otherwise thought but that the Jews would be preserved quiet in their own country? But he says, Go forth shalt thou, and thine hands on thy head (69)
By this gesture he means extreme despair; for women did either strike or extend their arms when any great calamity happened, as we see it done often in the present day; for when a woman, not able to keep within due bounds, either loses a husband, or expects some very great calamity, she beats her breast, or raises up her hands, according to what is said here. Jeremiah then mentions this gesture as an evidence of extreme despair; as though he had said, “The treaty which fills the Jews with so much confidence shall be so far from being advantageous to them, that it will, on the contrary, bring on them utter ruin and disgrace. (70) But the reason which follows ought especially to be observed, because abhor does Jehovah thy confidences The Prophet here shews why he had spoken so severely. It might have appeared that he spoke hyperbolically when he said, that the people were like an abandoned harlot, who rambled here and there in all directions: but the reason here given ought to have been sufficient to take away all evasions, and that is, that they foolishly trusted in those fallacious helps which they knew were condemned by God. Had this been permitted by God, they would not have been so severely reprimanded; but as God had forbidden them to flee to the Egyptians, it was in the first place a disallowed confidence; and in the second place, they thus despised the aid of God, and cast aside, as it were, all his promises: for as their hearts were fixed on the Egyptians, and as they thought that their safety would be secured by them; so their prayer to God became not only cold, but almost wholly extinguished.
We hence see that the Prophet did not exceed due limits when he spoke against the Jews with so much displeasure, and condemned them in such reproachful terms; for they had transferred the glory due to God to the Egyptians, when they considered them to be the authors of their safety; and they had thus despised the promises of God, so that there was no attention given to prayer: Abhor, then, does Jehovah thy confidences (71)
He then adds, Thou shalt not prosper in them. It ought to be carefully observed, that whatever we resolve to do that is not approved by God, cannot possibly succeed; for God will subvert all our hopes. Let us then know that here is set before us the punishment of all unbelievers, who, being not content with God’s protection, wander after vain and false objects of trust, and prefer to have men propitious to them rather than God himself. Now follows —
With thy hands upon thy head.
But more consistent with the genius of the language is to regard the auxiliary verb to be understood, —
And thy hands shall be on thy head.
There is a similar phrase in Isaiah 35:10, which ought to be rendered thus, —
And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
37.Also from this place shalt thou go forth, And thy hands shall be on thy head: For rejected has Jehovah those in whom thou trustest, And thou shalt not prosper by them.
It is not correct to render מבטחיך, “thy confidences;” for the word means “thy confided ones,“ it being a Huphal participle. The Syriac renders it, “those who afford thee confidence — fiduciam tibi praebentibus.” Blayney’s version is, “the objects of thy trust;” and he translates the verb, “reprobated.” That this is its meaning when followed by ב is evident from Jeremiah 6:30. — Ed
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany