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Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ jeremiah-20.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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Jeremiah relates here what sort of reward he had received for his prophecy, — that he had been smitten and cast into prison, not by the king or by his courtiers, but by a priest who had the care of the Temple. It was a grievous and bitter trial when God’s servant found that he was thus cruelly treated by one of the sacred order, who was of the same tribe, and his colleague; for the priests who were then in office had not been without right appointed, for God had chosen them. As, then, their authority was founded on the Law and on God’s inviolable decree, Jeremiah might well have been much terrified; for this thought might have occurred to him, — “What can be the purpose of God? for he has set priests of the tribe of Levi over his Temple and over his whole people. Why, then, does he not rule them by his Spirit? Why does he not render them fit for their office?
Why does he suffer his Temple, and the sacred office which he so highly commends to us in his Law, to be thus profaned? or why, at least, does he not stretch forth his hand to defend me, who am also a priest, and sincerely engaged in my calling?” For we know that God commands in his Law, as a proof that the priests had supreme power, that whosoever disobeyed them should be put to death.
(Deuteronomy 17:12.) “Since, then, it was God’s will to endue the priests with so much authority and power, why therefore did he not guide them by his grace, that they might faithfully execute the office committed to them?”
Nor was Jeremiah alone moved and shaken by this trial, but all who then truly worshipped God. Small, indeed, was the number of the godly; but there was surely no one who was not astonished at such a spectacle as this.
Pashur was not the chief priest, though he was of the first order of priests; and it is probable that Immer, his father, was the high priest, and that he was his vicar, acting in his stead as the ruler of the Temple. (4) However this may have been, he was no doubt superior, not only to the Levites, but also to the other priests of his order. Now this person, being of the same order and family, rose up against Jeremiah, and not only condemned in words a fellow-priest, but treated him outrageously, for he smote the Prophet. This was unworthy of his station, and contrary to the rights of sacred fellowship; for if the cause of Jeremiah was bad, yet a priest ought to have pursued a milder course; he might have cast him into prison, that if found guilty, he might afterwards be condemned. But to smite him was not the act of a priest, but of a tyrant, of a ruffian, or of a furious man.
We may hence learn in what a disorder things were at that time; for in a well-ordered community the judge does not leap from his tribunal in order to strike a man, though he might deserve a hundred deaths, as regard ought to be had to what is lawful. Now, if a judge, whom God has armed with the sword, ought not thus to give vent to his wrath and without discretion use the sword, it is surely a thing wholly inconsistent with the office of a priest. Then the state of things must have been then in very great disorder, when a priest thus disgraced himself. And from his precipitant rage we may also gather that good men were then very few. He had been chosen to preside over the Temple; he must then have excelled others not only as to his station, but also in public esteem and in the possession of some kind of virtues. But we see how he was led away by the evil spirit.
These things we ought carefully to consider, for it happens sometimes that great commotions arise in the Church of God, and those who ought to be moderators are often carried away by a blind and, as it were, a furious zeal. We may then stumble, and our faith may wholly fail us, except such an example as this affords us aid, which shews clearly that the faithful were formerly tried and had their faith exercised by similar contests. It is not then uselessly said that Pashur smote Jeremiah Had he struck one of the common people, it would have been more endurable, though in that case it would have been an act wholly unworthy of his office; but when he treated insolently the servant of God, and one who had for a long time discharged the prophetic office, it was far less excusable. This circumstance, then, ought to be noticed by us, that the priest dared to strike the Prophet of God.
It then follows that Jeremiah was cast by him into prison But we must notice this, that he had heard the words of Jeremiah before he became infuriated against him. He ought, doubtless, to have been moved by such a prophecy; but he became mad and so audacious as to smite God’s Prophet. It hence appears how great is the stupidity of those who have once become so hardened as to despise God; for even the worst of men are terrified when God’s judgment is announced. But Pashur heard Jeremiah proclaiming the evil that was near at hand; and yet the denunciation had no other effect on him but to render him worse. As, then, he thus violently assailed God’s Prophet, after having heard his words, it is evident that he was blinded by a rage wholly diabolical. We also see that the despisers of God blend light with darkness, for Pashur covered his impiety with a cloak, and hence cast Jeremiah into prison; for in this way he shewed that he wished to know the state of the case, as he brought him out of prison the following day. Thus the ungodly ever try to make coverings for their impiety; but they never succeed. The hypocrisy of Pashur was very gross when he cast Jeremiah into prison, in order that he might afterwards call him to defend his cause, for he had already smitten him. This great insolence, then, took away every pretense for justice. It was therefore extremely frivolous for Pashur to have recourse afterwards to some form of trial for deciding the case.
, mephicat, is rendered by some, fetter; and by others, stocks; and they think it to be a piece of wood, with one hole to confine the neck, and another the feet. But I know not whether this is suitable here, for Jeremiah says that it was in the higher gate of Benjamin. This certainly could not be properly said of fetters, or of chains, or of stocks. It then follows that it was a prison. (5) He mentions the gate of Benjamin, as it belonged to that tribe; for we know that a part of Jerusalem was inhabited by the Benjamites. They had two gates, and this was the higher gate towards the east. He says that it was opposite the house of Jehovah; for besides the court there were many small courts, as it is well known, around the Temple. It follows: — מהפכת
(4) The account which Blayney gives is the most probable: that he was the first of his order. There were twenty-four courses of priests, as appointed by David, 1 Chronicles 24:0; and the head of each course was for the time the ruler or governor of the Temple. These heads of the courses were no doubt the “chief priests” mentioned in the New Testament, for in fact there was only one chief priest. They were also called the “captains” of the Temple. “The chief overseer in the house of Jehovah” is the most suitable rendering. The whole verse might be rendered as follows, — “When Pashur, the son of Immer, the priest, while he was the chief overseer in the house of Jehovah, heard Jeremiah prophesying these words, then Pashur smote Jeremiah,” etc. So the Syriac, and so does Blayney connect the first with the second verse. The family of “Immer” formed the sixteenth course. See 1 Chronicles 24:14. “The priest” refers to Pashur, and not to “Immer;” and it is so rendered by the Sept., Vulg., and the Arab., though not by the Syr. Immer was the name of the family. — Ed.
(5) The versions differ — “dungeon” is the Sept.; “stocks-nervum” is the Vulg.; and “circle,” or “circuit,” is the Syr.; but the Targ. has “prison.” The word occurs in two other places, in 1 Chronicles 29:26, and in 2 Chronicles 16:10, and is rendered “prison.” Venema renders it “the torturing prison,” taking the verb from which the word comes in a bad sense, as signifying to distort, and hence to torture. Symmachus favors this view, for he renders it “a place of torment —
,” and “a rack — ζασανιστήριον .” The form of the expression is in favor of this idea, “and set him in the stocks,” or on the rack. And so in Jeremiah 29:26, the rendering ought to be — “that thou shouldest set him on the stocks (or rack) and in prison” Of what kind was this instrument of torture it is not known. Prisons had especially three names — “the house of roundness ( στρεζλωτήριον );” “the house of confinement ( הסהר );” and “the house of the rack, or stocks, ( הכלא ).” See Genesis 39:20; 1 Kings 22:27; and 2 Chronicles 16:10. But “the house” is not here torture itself. Had the prison been intended, the word “house,” as in 2 Chronicles 16:10, would have been placed before it. It is at the same time probable that the prison was the place where the rack or the stocks were. — Ed המהפכת
No doubt Pashur called other priests to examine the case. It was, indeed, a specious pretense, for he seemed as though he did not wish to condemn the holy Prophet hastily, or without hearing his defense. But Jeremiah only says briefly that he was brought out of prison: we at the same time gather that he was not dismissed, for he was summoned before Pashur to give a reason for his prophecy.
But here the Prophet shews that he was not cast down or disheartened, though he had been most contemptuously treated; he bore patiently the buffetings and stripes he had received, and also his incarceration. We know that such outrages are so bitter to ingenuous minds, that they can hardly sustain them. But Jeremiah teaches us, by his own example, that our constancy and firmness ought not to be weakened though the whole world loaded or almost overwhelmed us with reproaches. We ought, then, to understand that courage of mind ought not to fail or be weakened in God’s servants, however wickedly and contumeliously they may be treated by the world. For Jeremiah, when he came out of prison, spoke more boldly than before; nor was he beyond the reach of danger. Courage increases when one obtains the victory, and he can then safely and securely insult his enemies; but Jeremiah was yet a captive, though he had been brought out of prison, and he might have been afterwards cast there again and treated more cruelly than before. But neither the wrong he had received, nor the fear of new contumely, deterred him from denouncing God’s judgment on the ungodly priest. Such magnanimity becomes all God’s servants, so that they ought not to feel shame, nor grow soft, nor be disheartened, when the world treats them with indignity and reproach; nor ought they to fear any dangers, but advance courageously in the discharge of their office.
It must in the second place be noticed, — that God’s Prophet here closes his eyes to the splendor of the priestly office, which otherwise might have hindered him to denounce God’s judgment,. And this ought to be carefully observed; for we know the ungodly he hid under masks, as the case is in the present day with the Pope and all his filthy clergy: for what do they allege but the name of Catholic Church and perpetual priesthood and apostolical dignity? Doubtless, Pashur was of the priestly order; but what the Papacy is, the Scripture neither mentions nor teaches, except that it condemns it as altogether filthy and abominable. And the Levitical priesthood, as I have said, was founded on God’s Law; and yet Jeremiah, guided by the command of God, hesitated not severely to reprove the priest and to treat him as he deserved. It is, therefore, then only that we tightly and faithfully discharge the prophetic office, when we shew no respect of persons, and disregard those external masks by which the ungodly deceive the simple, and are haughty towards God while they falsely pretend his name. (6)
Now he says, Jehovah has called thy name not Pashur, but terror on every side Some render the words, “Because there will be terror to thee on every side;” but incorrectly, for in the next verse a reason is given which explains what the Prophet means. Jeremiah no doubt had a regard to the meaning of the word Pashur, otherwise it would have been unmeaning and even foolish to say, “Thy name shall be called not Pashur, but terror on every side.” Interpreters have expounded the word Pashur as meaning an increasing prince, or one who extends power, deriving it from
, peshe, to increase, and transitively, to extend; and they add to it the word פשה , sher, which means a prince; and so they render it, a prince extending power, or a prince who increases. But as there is some doubt as to the points, I know not whether this etymology can be maintained. I am more inclined to derive the word from שר , peshech, to cut or break. It is indeed but once found in this sense in Scripture, but often in the Chaldee language. However this may be, it is taken in this sense once by Jeremiah in the third Chapter of Lamentations. (7) And hence by a metaphor it means to open; and פשח , aleph, may be deemed quiescent in the second word, so that it means one who breaks or opens the light. The words which follow — “terror on every side” — induce and compel me to give this interpretation. He does not say that he would be a terror on every side; but that terrors surrounded him, א , mesabib, so that there was no escape. As then the name of Pashur was honorable, signifying to open light, he mentions this, (it is indeed a metaphor, by which breaking means opening:) as then he had this name, which means to bring forth light, Jeremiah says, “Thou shalt be called a terror on every side;” that is, a terror that so surrounds all that no escape is possible. (8) We see that the contrast is most suitable between the opening of light and that terror which spread on every side, so that there is no opening and no escape; and the explanation follows: מסביב
(6) I would render the verse thus: —
3.And it happened on the morrow that Pashur brought out Jeremiah from the stocks; and Jeremiah said to him, — Not Pashur does Jehovah call thy name, But, Terror on every side.
to be a participle, and not a verb in the past tense. — Ed קרא
(7) The word is not spelt with
, but with ה ; it is “Pashchur.” Therefore, the former derivation cannot be admitted. Venema derives it from ח , to be proud, or ferocious, and פוש , which means “white,” or splendid; then the meaning is, “splendid prince.” Gataker seems to prefer the opinion of those who derive the word from חור , diffusion, and פש , paleness, because he diffused, or spread fear, which produces paleness to all around. Instead of this, a terror, the cause of paleness, would be to him and to all his friends, as stated in the following verse. — Ed חור
(8) The Vulg. alone gives this meaning to the phrase; the Sept. has “
— emigrant,” and the Syr. “stranger and wanderer.” And then in the fourth verse both these versions give a correspondent meaning. “I will deliver thee into emigration (or captivity) with all thy friends.” That this word, rendered “terror,” may be derived from μέτοικον , which means to sojourn, to peregrinate, is undeniable; as a participle noun from Hiphil, it may mean a sojourner, or an emigrant. The word in this sense is found often in the plural number. See Genesis 47:9; Exodus 6:4. But the phrase, as found here, occurs four times in this book, where it can have no other meaning than “terror (or fear) on every side,” Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; and it occurs once elsewhere, in Psalms 31:13; where also its meaning is evident from the context. — Ed גור
Here Jeremiah explains more at large why he said that Pashur would be terror on every side, even because he and his friends would be in fear; for he would find himself overwhelmed by God’s vengeance, and would become a spectacle to all others. In short, Jeremiah means, that such would be God’s vengeance as would fill Pashur and all others with fear; for Pashur himself would be constrained to acknowledge God’s hand without being able to escape, and all others would also perceive the same. He then became a spectacle to himself and to others, because he could not, however hardened he might have been, do otherwise than feel God’s vengeance; and this became also apparent to all others.
Behold, he says, I will make thee a terror to thyself and to all thy friends; and fall shall they by the sword of their enemies, thine eyes seeing it; and all Judah will I deliver into the hand, etc. He repeats what he had said; for Pashur wished to be deemed the patron of the whole land, and especially of the city Jerusalem. As, then, he had undertaken the cause of the people, as though he was the patron and defender of them all, Jeremiah says, that all the Jews would be taken captives, and not only so, but that something more grievous was nigh at hand, for when the king of Babylon led them into exile, he would also smite them with the sword, not indeed all; but we know that he severely punished the king, his children, and the chief men, so that the lower orders on account of their obscurity alone escaped; and those of this class who did escape, because they were not noble nor renowned, were indebted to their own humble condition. It follows, —
He goes on with the same subject, but amplifies what he had said in order to confirm it. At the same time there is no doubt but that Pashur was more exasperated when he heard these grievous threatenings; but it was right thus to inflame more and more the fury of all the ungodly. Though, then, they may a hundred times raise a clamor, we must not desist from freely and boldly declaring the truth. This is the reason why the Prophet now more fully describes the future calamity of the city.
I will give up, he says, the whole strength of this city, etc. This word “strength” is sometimes taken metaphorically for riches or wealth. Then the whole strength, or substance, of this city and all its labor will I give up, etc. This second clause is still more grievous, for what had been acquired with great labor was to be given to plunder; for when any one becomes rich without labor, that is, when riches come to one by inheritance, without any trouble or toil, he is not so distressed when he happens to be deprived of his wealth; but he who has through a whole life of labor obtained what he expects would be for the support of life, this person grieves much more and becomes really distressed with anguish, when enemies come and deprive and plunder him of all he possesses. There is therefore no doubt but that “labor” is here mentioned, as in other parts of Scripture, in order to amplify the evil. He then adds, all its precious things and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I deliver into the hand of their enemies; who will carry away, not only riches, labor, and treasures, but also the men themselves, and bring them to Babylon (9) The rest to-morrow.
(9) What Calvin and our version render “strength” is rendered the same by the Sept.,
, — by the Vulg., “substance,” — by the Syr., “citadels,” — and by the Targ., riches. The primary meaning of the word is to be strong, or firm; and then what is strongly, or firmly secured — store, or treasure, here, and the two things which follow are explanatory of this store, — the labor, or the fruit of labor, — their garments; and precious things, — their gold, silver, and precious stones and furniture: — ἰσχὺν
5.And I will give the whole store of this city, Even all the fruit of its labor, And every precious thing in it, — Yea, all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give, Into the hand of their enemies: And they shall plunder them and take them, And bring them into Babylon.
All the versions refer “them” in the two last lines to the people, but the Targum to the things mentioned in the preceding lines; but the former view is the right one. To render the last verb to “carry,” as in our version, is not correct; for it means to cause to come, and hence to bring; and this clearly supports the versions.
The exposition of Blayney is, that by “strength’” is meant the military, by “labor” the workmen, and by “the precious” the respectable part of society. Then he ought to have gone on and said, that by “the treasures” were meant the kings of Judah! But all this is fancy, and wholly inconsistent with the tenor of the passage. They were to “plunder” them; and if their stores were not referred to, how could this be said of what their enemies would do? And then, according to this view, the treasures of the kings were to become a spoil, and not the stores of the city. To spoil the people of their property was one of the most common threatenings of the Prophets. — Ed.
Now Jeremiah declares that Pashur himself would be a proof, that he had truly foretold the destruction of the city and the desolation of the whole land. He had indeed before exposed his vanity; but he now brings the man himself before the public; for it was necessary to exhibit a remarkable instance, that all might know that God’s judgment ought to have been dreaded.
Though that impostor flattered the people, yet Jeremiah says, that he and all his domestics would be led into captivity; that is, that the whole family would be as it were a spectacle, so that all the Jews might see that Pashur would be brought to nothing. “Let all the Jews then know,” he seems to have said, “that he is a false prophet.”
But what follows might have raised a question; for Jeremiah declares as a punishment, that Pashur dying in Babylon would be buried there; but he had said before, “I will give their carcasses for meat to the birds of heaven and to the beasts of the earth;” and now it is not consistent in the Prophet to represent that as a punishment which is reckoned as one of God’s favors. In answer to this, let it be especially noticed, that God does not always punish the ungodly alike, or in the same way. He would have some to be cast away unburied, as they were unworthy of that common lot of humanity; but he would have others buried, but for a different, purpose; for there is weight in the particle there, for Babylon is put in contrast with the holy land. Whosoever were buried in the land of Canaan, had even in their death a pledge of the eternal inheritance; for as it is well known, God wished them while they lived so to enjoy the land, that they might look forward to heaven. Hence burial in the land of Canaan was as it were a visible mark or symbol of God’s adoption, as though all the children of Abraham were gathered into his bosom until they arose into a blessed and immortal life. Hence Pashur, by being buried in Babylon, became an outcast from God’s Church; for it was in a manner a repudiation, as though God would thus openly put on him a mark of infamy.
If it be objected and said, that the same thing happened to Daniel, and to some of the best servants of God, and that Jeremiah himself was buried in Egypt, which was far worse; the answer we give is this, — that temporal punishments which happen to the elect and God’s children for their good do in a manner change their nature as to them; though, indeed, it must be held, that all punishments are evidences of the wrath and curse of God. Whatever evils then happen to us in this life ought to be regarded as the fruits of sin, as though God thereby shewed himself openly to be displeased with us. This is one thing. Then, when poverty, famine, diseases, and exile, and even death itself, are viewed in themselves, we must always say that they are the curses of God, that is, when they are regarded, as I have said, in their own nature. But God consecrates these punishments as to his own children, so they turn to their benefit, and thereby cease to be curses. Whenever then God declares, “Thou shalt be unburied,” it is no wonder that this dishonor should be deemed an evidence of his wrath and a proof of his curse. And farther, whenever he formerly said thus, “Thou shalt be buried out of the holy land,” it was also an evidence of his curse, that is, with regard to the reprobate. At the same time God turned to good whatever might otherwise be a curse to his elect; and hence Paul says, that all things turn out for good and benefit to the faithful, who love God. (Romans 8:28.)
Now, then, we understand why the Prophet says, that Pashur would be buried in Babylon; nor is there a doubt but that there was more disgrace in that burial, than if his body was cast out and devoured by wild beasts; for God intended to render him conspicuous, that all might for a long time turn their eyes to him, according to what is said in Psalms 59:12,
“Slay them not, O God, for thy people may forget them.”
God then intended that the life and death of Pashur should be a memorial, in order that the minds of the people might be more impressed. At the same time, were the word burial taken in a wider sense, there would be nothing wrong, as though it was said, “There shall his carcass lie until it becomes putrified.”
Then Jeremiah adds, Thou and thy friends to whom thou hast prophesied falsely (10) This passage teaches us that a just reward is rendered to the ungodly who wish to be deceived, when they sustain a twofold judgment from God. Behold, then, what all the wicked who seek flatterers that promise them wonderful things, gain for themselves! they thus earn for themselves a heavier vengeance. The more they strive to put afar off God’s judgment, the more, no doubt, they increase and inflame it. This is the reason why the Prophet denounces a special judgment on the friends of Pashur, to whom he had prophesied; they had wilfully laid hold on those false promises by which he had flattered them, so that they boldly despised God. Since, then, they wished of their own accord to be thus deceived, it was right that these deceptions through which they slandered the prophetic threatenings, and which they usually set up as a shield against them, should bring on them a heavier punishment. It then follows —
(10) This verse ought to be thus arranged, —
6.And thou, Pashur, and all who dwell in thine house, Go shall ye into captivity: Yea, to Babylon shalt thou go, And there shalt thou die, and there be buried — Thou and all thy friends, To whom thou hast prophesied falsely.
There is here an instance of the free and unmodified manner in which statements are often made in Scripture. It is said in Jeremiah 20:4, that “his friends” would fall by the sword; but here, that they would be carried into Babylon, die, and be buried there. The hearers of Jeremiah, no doubt, understood him, though a captious hearer could have made out a contradiction against him. But the meaning is, that many of them would be slain by the sword, and that many of them, or most of such as remained, would be led into captivity. A great number were to be slain, and a great number would be taken captives. — Ed.
Some think that these words were not spoken through the prophetic Spirit, but that Jeremiah had uttered them inconsiderately through the influence of a hasty impulse; as even the most eminent are sometimes carried away by a hasty temper. They then suppose the Prophet, being overcome by a temptation of this kind, made this complaint, to God, “What! Lord, I have followed thee as a leader; but thou hast promised to me what I do not find: I seem, then, to myself to be deceived.” Others give even a harsher explanation, — that the Prophet had been deceived, according to what is said elsewhere,
“I the Lord have deceived that Prophet.” (Ezekiel 14:9.)
But there is no doubt but that his language is ironical, when he says that he was deceived He assumes the character of his enemies, who boasted that he presumptuously prophesied of the calamity and ruin of the city, as no such thing would take place. The Prophet here declares that God was the author of his doctrine, and that nothing could be alleged against him which would not be against God himself; as though he had said that the Jews contended in vain, under the notion that they contended with a mortal man; for they openly carried on war with God, and like the giants furiously assailed heaven itself. He then says that he was deceived, not that he thought so; for he was fully satisfied as to himself; nor had he only the Spirit of God as a witness to his calling, but also possessed in his heart a firm conviction of the truth he delivered. But as I have already said, he relates the words of those who, by opposing his teaching, denied that he was God’s servant, and gave him no credit as though he was only an impostor.
But this mode of speaking is much more striking than if he had said in plain terms, “Lord, I am not deceived, for I have only obeyed thy command, and have received from thee whatever I have made public; nor have I presumptuously obtruded myself, nor adulterated the truth of which thou hast made me the herald: I have, then, faithfully discharged my office.” If the Prophet had thus spoken, there would have been much less force in his words than by exposing in the manner he does here the blasphemies of those who dared to accuse God, and make him guilty by arraigning his servant as a false prophet.
We now, then, understand why he spoke ironically, and freely expostulated with God, because he had been deceived by him; it was that the Jews might know that they vomited forth reproaches, not against a mortal man, but against God himself, who would become the avenger of so great an insult.
Were any one to ask whether it became the Prophet to make God thus his associate, the answer would be this, — that his cause was so connected with God’s cause, that the union was inseparable; for Jeremiah speaks not here as a private individual, much less as one of the common people; but as he knew that his calling was approved by God, he hesitated not to connect God with himself, so that the reproach might belong to both. God, indeed, could not be separated from his own truth; for nothing would be left to him, were he regarded as apart from his word. Hence a mere fiction is every idea which men form of God in their minds, when they neglect that mirror in which he has made himself known, Nay more, we ought to know that whatever power, majesty, and glory there is in God, so shines forth in his word, that he does not appear as God, except his word remains safe and uncorrupted. As, then, the Prophet had been furnished with a sure commission, it is no wonder that he so boldly derides his enemies and says, that God was a deceiver, if he had been deceived. To the same purpose is what Paul says,
“If an angel come down from heaven and teach you another Gospel, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)
Certainly Paul was inferior to the angels, and we know that he was not so presumptuous as to draw down angels from heaven, and to make them subservient to himself; no, by no means; but he did not regard what they might be; but as he had the truth of the Gospel, of which he was the herald, sealed in his heart, he hesitated not to raise that word above all angels. So now Jeremiah says, that God was a deceiver, if he was deceived: how so? because God would deny himself, if he destroyed the truth of his word.
We now, then, perceive that the Prophet did not exceed what was right, when he dared to elevate himself, so as to become in a manner the associate of God, that is, as to the truth of which God was the author and he the minister.
But from this passage a useful doctrine may be gathered. All who go forth to teach ought to be so sure of their calling, as not to hesitate to appeal to God’s tribunal whenever any dispute happens. It is indeed true, that even the best servants of God may in some things be mistaken, or be doubtful in their judgment; but as to their calling and doctrine there ought to be that certainty which Jeremiah exhibits to us here by his own example.
He afterwards adds, Thou hast constrained me By saying that he had been deceived, he meant this, — “O God, if I am an impostor, thou hast made me so; if I have deceived, thou hast led me; for I have derived from thee all that I have; it hence follows, that thou art in fault, and less excusable than I am, if there be anything wrong in me.” Afterwards, as I have said, he enlarges on this, — that God constrained him; for he had not coveted the prophetic office, but being constrained, undertook it; for he could not have rejected or cast off the burden laid on him. He then expresses two things, — that he had brought no fancies of his own, nor invented anything of what he had said, but had been the instrument of God’s Spirit, and delivered what he had received as from hand to hand: this is one thing. And then he adds, — that had he his free choice, he would not have undertaken the prophetic office; for he had been drawn as it were by constraint to obey God in this respect. We now then perceive the meaning of Jeremiah.
Were any to ask, whether it could be deemed commendable in the Prophet thus constrainedly to undertake his office; to this the plain answer is, — that a general rule is not here laid down, as though it were necessary for all to be thus unwillingly drawn. But though Jeremiah might not have been faultless in this respect., yet he might have justly testified this before men. And we have seen at the beginning, that when God appointed him a teacher to his Church, he refused as far as he could the honor,
“Ah! Lord,” he said, “I know not how to speak.”
Though then he was constrained by God’s authority, and as it were, led by force, and though he may have shewed in this respect that he was not free from fault or weakness; yet he might have rightly pleaded this against his enemies.
He then says, that he was a scorn continually, and was derided by all The Prophet no doubt tried here to find out whether any portion of the people was still reclaimable; for to hear that God was charged with falsehood, that the Prophet’s office was rendered void by the wilfulness and audacity of men, was much calculated to rouse their minds. When, therefore, they heard this, they must surely have been terrified, if they had a particle of true religion or of right knowledge. Hence the Prophet wished to make the trial, whether there were any remaining who were capable of being reclaimed. But his object also was to shew, that their wickedness was inexpiable, if they continued wickedly and proudly to oppose his doctrine. (11)
And we ought carefully to notice this; for this passage has not only been written, that we may be instructed in the fear of God; but the Holy Spirit continually proclaims against all despisers, and openly accuses them, that they offer to God the atrocious insult of charging him with falsehood and deception. Let us then know that a dreadful judgment is here denounced on all those profane men who despise God’s word and treat it with derision; for the Holy Spirit by the mouth of Jeremiah openly proclaims, as I have said, before God’s tribunal, that God is made by them a liar. It afterwards follows, —
(11) I find none agreeing with Calvin in his view of this verse; nor many with our version in rendering the first verb “deceived.” So is the Septuagint, but the Vulgate, Syriac, and Targum have “enticed.” In other parts it is rendered in our version “enticed,” “allured,” and “persuaded.” Blayney has “allured,” but Gataker and Lowth prefer “persuaded;” and this wholly comports with the view the Prophet gives of his calling in the first chapter, to which he evidently refers, and also with what follows in this verse. He was unwilling to undertake the office, but he was induced to do so by what God said to him. There was nothing like deception in the case; for God had previously told him of the difficulties he would have to encounter. And then he adds, that he was “constrained,” which I consider to be the meaning of the next verb. He had been persuaded by reasons and promises, and constrained by authority. I would render the verse thus, —
7.Thou didst persuade me, O Jehovah, and I was persuaded; Thou didst constrain me, and didst prevail: I am become a derision every day; The whole of it are jeering me.
The “it” refers to the city where he was, and of which he speaks at the end of the last chapter; for this chapter is but a continuation of the narrative. What he relates there of the fate of the city drew the attention and excited the rage of Pashur. After having spoken of what Pashur did, Jeremiah gives utterance here to his complaints.
Blayney renders the last line thus, and is approved by Horsley, —
Ridicule hath spent its whole force upon me.
All the versions and the Targum regard
, not as a verb, but as signifying “all,” or every one; and the proposed rendering is too refined. — Ed כלה
The Prophet says here that he found no fruit from his labors, but on the contrary, he saw that all his efforts and endeavors had an opposite effect; for they exasperated all the Jews, inflamed their rage, and drove them into a greater licentiousness in sinning. Hence he says, that he purposed to give up the office assigned to him, but that by a secret impulse he was constrained to persevere, and that thus he was not at liberty to desist from the course which he had begun.
But the verse is variously explained; From the time I spoke, I cried violence aloud and proclaimed devastation Thus some take the words, as though Jeremiah said, that since he began to teach he uttered complaints; for he saw that he was violently assailed and was exposed to all kinds of wrongs: but this view appears to me too frigid. Others come nearer to the truth who consider him as saying, that he had not ceased to cry against outrages and plunders, when he saw that all kinds of wickedness prevailed among the people; as though he had said, “I could not mildly and peaceably teach them, for their disposition and temper prevented me, but their wickedness compelled me to treat them with severity, as all God’s servants ought wisely to consider what the state of the Church requires.” If indeed we should in tranquil times cry aloud, it would be mad affectation; and this is what is done by many, who without thought and without any reason always make a great cry; but when we see Satan reigning, we ought not then to withhold nor to act as in a truce; but as it is an open war it is necessary to cry aloud. They who take this view, then, understand that Jeremiah cried aloud, because he saw that the people were refractory, and also saw that things were so bad that they could not be restored to a right state without the greatest sharpness and vehemence.
But I rather think that the Prophet had another kind of trial, — that he brought down a greater vengeance of God by his cries, as though he had said, “To what purpose should I furnish God with weapons by my preaching? since I do nothing but increase his wrath, which will at length fulminate and consume the whole land together with the people.” He then says, that he cried violence and devastation aloud, for impiety itself is a sort of hostile violence by which God is provoked. The meaning is, that the Prophet saw no other fruit to his labor, but that men were rendered more insolent, and from being thieves became robbers, and from being disdainful became ruffians, so that they increasingly kindled God’s wrath, and more fully abandoned themselves. This was indeed a most severe and dangerous trial; it is therefore no wonder that the Prophet says, that it came to his mind to turn aside from his office as a teacher.
Now this passage is especially worthy of being observed; for not only teachers are influenced by this feeling, but all the godly without exception. For when we see that men are, as it were, made worse through God’s word, we begin to doubt whether it be expedient to bury every remembrance of God and to extinguish his word, rather than to increase the licentiousness of men, they being already inclined enough to commit sin. We indeed see at this day that the doctrine of the Gospel does not restore all to obedience; but many give themselves a more unbridled license, as though the yoke of discipline was wholly removed. There was some fear under the Papacy, there was some sort of obedience and subjection; and now the liberty of the Gospel, what is it to many but brute license, so that they sin with impunity and blend heaven and earth together. There are also others who, on observing so many controversies, do, under that pretext, throw aside every concern for religion, and every attention to it. There are some fanatics who allow themselves to doubt and even to deny the existence of God. As then we see that the effect of the truth is not such as might be wished, those who are otherwise firm must needs be shaken or made to totter. Therefore, this passage ought the more to be noticed; for Jeremiah confesses that he was sore troubled when he saw that the word of God was a derision, and hence he wished to withdraw from the course of his calling. Let us know that whenever such a thing comes into our minds we ought manfully to resist it; and, therefore, the two things here mentioned ought to be connected, for when he said, I will no more mention him, nor speak in his name, he added, but the word of God was like a burning fire
We hence see how God restrained his servant, lest he should fall headlong, or succumb under his temptation; for he would have been suddenly drawn in as it were into a deep gulf, had he not been preserved by God. Therefore, whenever temptations of this kind present themselves to us, let us pray God to restrain and to support us; or if we have already fallen, let us pray him to raise us up and to strengthen us by his Spirit.
But the way is shewn by which God aided his servant: The word of God became as a burning fire in his heart; and it was also closed up in his bones, so that he was led by an ardent zeal, and could not be himself without going onward in the course of his office. He concludes by saying, that he was wearied, or could hardly bear himself, with forbearing; as though he had said, that it was not in his power either to abstain from teaching or to do what God commanded; for a burning ardor forced him to go on; and yet he had no doubt in his view those despisers with whom he had to do. It is the same then as though he had said, that he had found out what it was to have the whole world against him, but that God prevailed. Now this was said, because profane men take occasion to be secure and indifferent, when they imagine that Prophets and teachers are unfeeling men, — “O, what do we care for fanatics, who do not possess common feelings? and it is no wonder, since they are stupid and insensible, that they are thus angry and violent, disregard all others, and feel nothing that is human.” As, then, they imagine that men are sticks, when they speak of God’s servants as being without discretion, the Prophet seems to say, “Surely ye are deceived, for I am not so much an iron, but that I am influenced by strong and many feelings; nay, I have learnt and I know how great is my weakness, nor do I dissemble but that I am subject to fear, to sorrow, and to other passions; but God has prevailed There is then no reason for you to think that I speak so boldly, because I feel nothing human; but I have done so after a hard struggle, after all those things came into my mind, which are calculated to weaken the courage of my heart; yet God stretched forth his hand to me, and not only so, but I was constrained, lest I should arrogate anything to myself, or boast of my heroic courage. I did not prevail, he says, but when I submitted myself to God and desired to give up my calling, I was constrained, and God dealt powerfully with me, for his word became as a burning fire in my heart, so that at length, through the strong influence of the Spirit, I was constrained to proceed in the discharge of my office.”
Therefore I said, I will mention him no more, nor speak in his name; not that the Prophet wished himself or others to forget God, but because he thought that he lost all his labor, and that he in vain made a stir, since he cried aloud without any benefit, and not only so, but he more and more exasperated the wicked; as an ulcer, the more it is pressed, the more putrid matter it emits; so the impiety of the people was more and more discovered, when the Prophet reproved sins which were before hid. (12)
Let us now then learn by the example of the Prophet, that whenever Satan or our flesh raises an objection and says, that we ought to desist from preaching celestial truth because it produces not its proper and legitimate fruits, it is nevertheless a good odor before God, though fatal to the ungodly. Though then the truth of the Gospel proves the savor of death to many, yet our labor is not on that account of no value before God; for we know that we offer to God an acceptable sacrifice; and though our labor be useless as to men, it is yet fruitful as to the glory of God; and while we are the odor of death unto death to those who perish, yet to God, even in this respect, our labor is acceptable. (2 Corinthians 2:16)
Let us also beware lest we withdraw ourselves from God; but even when many things happen to impede our course, let us overcome them by the power of the Spirit. At the same time let us fear, lest through our sloth we bury our ardor of which the Prophet speaks. We see what happened to Jonah; he had so far fallen as to forsake entirely his office, by extinguishing, as much as he could, the judgment of God; and when he became a fugitive, he thought himself beyond danger, as though he was removed from God’s presence. (Jonah 1:3.) God indeed saw him, but yet his word was not in him as a burning fire. As then so great a man through his own sloth extinguished, as far as he could, the light of the Holy Spirit, how much more ought we to fear, lest the same thing should happen to us? Let us then rouse the sparks of this fervor, until it inflame us, so that we may faithfully devote ourselves altogether to the service of God; and if at any time we become slothful, let us stimulate ourselves, and may the power of the Holy Spirit be so revived, that we may to the end pursue the course of our office and never stand still, but assail even the whole world, knowing that God commands us and requires from us what others disapprove and condemn.
(12) The beginning of the eighth verse seems to be connected with the end of the seventh. Such appears to be the Syriac version. Then the remaining part of the eighth will coalesce with the ninth. This gives a consistency to the whole passage.
I am become a derision every day; The whole of it are jeering me,
8.Whenever I speak, cry against violence, Or, proclaim a devastation. Because the word of Jehovah was to me A reproach and a scoff every day,
9.Therefore I said, “I will not mention it, Nor will I speak any more in his name;” But it became in my heart Like a burning fire, confined in my bones; And I was wearied with restraining and I could not.
Jeremiah proceeds with the same subject, and before God accuses his enemies, — that they disgracefully contended with him, though he deserved no such treatment, for he had endeavored to secure as far as he could their safety. He then says, that he had heard the slander of many, or as it may be rendered, of the great; but the former rendering is more suitable, for it immediately follows, that there was terror on every side, as though all with one consent assailed him. He then says, that he was surrounded with terror on every side, because he saw that the whole mass was opposed and hostile to him, and that he stood alone. He says, also, that his enemies laid in wait for him, and sought occasions to destroy him.
Report ye, and we will report to him Here he assumes their person and relates what they consulted to do. He, no doubt, introduces here the chief men and the priests as the speakers, who were contriving means to form an accusation against the holy man; for we know what is commonly done in conspiracies of this kind; worthless men run here and there and hunt for every little thing; then they bring their report, and from this the accusation is formed. As, then, it did not comport with the dignity of the chief men and of the priests, to run here and there and to inquire of such as they might meet with what Jeremiah had said, they sat still and sent others, and said, “Go and report to us, and we shall then report to the king.” For the word “king” must be here understood, as the pronoun is put without an antecedent; come then and report, and we will report to him We now perceive what Jeremiah complained of, even that he had not only many enemies who calumniated him, but that he had also those who wished insidiously to entrap him.
And he adds what was still worse, — that he was thus unjustly treated, not only by strangers or those who were openly his enemies, but by his own friends or relations; for the Hebrews called domestics and those connected by relationship, men of peace;
“the man of my peace, in whom I trusted,”
is an expression used in Psalms 41:9; but it is a phrase which often occurs. In short, Jeremiah means, that he was not only in a manner overwhelmed by a vast number of enemies, but that he was also without any friends, for they treacherously betrayed him. He says that they watched his side, or halting. Some render it “breaking;” but halting or debility is the most suitable; and the metaphor is most appropriate; it is taken from the side, and they who halt or through weakness totter, incline now on this side, then on that side. So Jeremiah says, that they watched him; if by chance he go astray, he again speaks in their name, “Let us then watch whether he will halt or go astray from the road; and then we shall prevail against him.”
We may, in short, gather from these words, that this holy servant of God was not only harassed openly by professed enemies, but that he was also insidiously watched, and perfidiously, too, by men who pretended to be his friends, while yet they were his worst enemies. If, then, deceitful men at this time assail us by secret means, and others oppose us openly, let us know that nothing new has happened to us; for in these two ways God tried Jeremiah. We also see that it was a common thing with the ungodly to lay hold on some pretext for calumny; for as soon as the Prophets opened their mouth, they could have said nothing but what was immediately misrepresented; and hence Micah complained that he was assailed by a similar artifice, for when the spoke with severity, they all cried out that he raised a tumult among the people, and sought nothing but new things, so that by disturbing the state of the city and kingdom, he would bring all things to ruin. (Micah 2:6.) If, then, God suffers us to be tried by such intrigues, let us bear such indignity with resigned and calm minds; for no Prophet has been exempt from this kind of trouble and annoyance.
They said further, Let us take our revenge on him, as though, indeed, they had a cause for revenge! for what had Jeremiah done? In what had he offended them? Though, then, they had suffered no wrong, they yet would take revenge! But it is no wonder that the ungodly and the despisers of God spoke thus; for we know that they thought themselves grievously injured whenever their wounds were touched; for they considered reproofs, however just and necessary, to be reproaches. Hence then it was, that their rage kindled in them a desire for revenge, though yet no wrong had been done to them. (13) He afterwards adds, —
(13) There is not much agreement in the early versions on this verse, nor in the Targum; and modern expounders somewhat differ, though the general meaning is obvious, and is given very lucidly by Calvin. I shall give what I consider to be the most literal rendering, —
Truly I have heard the babbling of many, — “Terror on every side, publish ye, We also shall publish it:” All the men who are at peace with me, Watch for my halting, — “He may perhaps be enticed; Then we shall prevail over him, And shall take on him our revenge.”
Both Grotins and Blayney render
, “truly,” or verily, and consider this verse connected with the following. There is evidently in the second line an allusion to the name given to Pashur: the multitude, by the way of ridicule, repeated the name. Cocceius and Blayney render the line according to this meaning. “All the men,” etc., literally, “Every man of my peace,” that is, who is at peace with him; they were those who seemed to be his friends, though really his enemies, and plotting for his downfall, and that by trying to entice him out of his course. — Ed כי
Here the Prophet sets up God’s aid against all the plottings formed against him. However, then, might perfidious friends on one hand try privately to entrap him, and open enemies might on the other hand publicly oppose him, he yet doubted not but that God would be a sufficient protection to him. And we ought to act exactly in the same manner, whenever Satan rouses the wicked against us to oppose us either by secret artifices or by open cruelty; God alone must be, as they say, our brazen wall. But we must first know that he stands on our side; for the power of God can avail nothing to animate us, except we be firmly persuaded of this truth, that he is on our side. And how this confidence can be obtained, we shall presently see.
He says, that his persecutors would fall, so that they would not prevail, but be ashamed We see how many persecuted the holy man, and also with what arms they were furnished; for they possessed great power, and were also endued with guiles and intrigues. But the Prophet was satisfied with the help of God alone, and boldly concluded, that they would fall; for it could not be but that God would prove victorious. Whenever, then, we fight with the world and the devil and his slaves, this ought in the first place to come to our minds, that God stands on our side to defend our cause and to protect our safety. This being settled, we may then boldly defy both the artifices and the violence of all enemies; for it cannot be but that God will scatter, lay prostrate, overwhelm, and reduce to nothing all those who fight against him.
He further says that their reproach would be perpetual, and would never come to oblivion We have seen already that the Prophet was loaded with many reproaches; but whenever God suffers his servants to be exposed to the curses of the wicked, he in due time aids them; and therefore we ought fully to expect that he will shortly dissipate, as mists, such calumnies. As then God, according to what is said in Psalms 37:6, brings forth the innocency of the godly like the dawn, which in a moment appears while the earth seems buried in darkness, so the Prophet now says that on the other hand the reproach with which God will cover all the wicked will be perpetual. (14) It now follows, —
(14) Except in the first line, the Sept. and the Vulg. differ from the text as well as from one another; both are exceedingly confused. Few expounders have kept the proper tenses of the verbs. The Prophet states not only what would happen to his enemies, but also what had already in part happened to them, —
11.But Jehovah is with me as a terrible warrior; Therefore my persecutors shall stumble, And shall not prevail: They have become exceedingly ashamed, Because they have not succeeded; A perpetual shame! It shall not be forgotten.
The last two lines are according to what Horsley suggests. “A terrible warrior” is rendered by the Sept. , “a strong combatant,
;” by the Vulg. , “a brave warrior, μαχητὴς ἰσχύων bellato fortis, by the Syr. , “the strongest giant;” and by the Arab. , “the strongest help.” — Ed
The Prophet shews here briefly how he dared to allege God’s name and help against his enemies; for hypocrites often boast that God is their helper, but they falsely pretend his name. The proof, then, by which the Prophet shews that he did not falsely or presumptuously pretend what he had stated, — that God was to him like a strong giant, who could easily lay prostrate all the wicked, ought to be well weighed; and it was this — that he dared to make God the witness and judge of his integrity. Hence if we desire to have God’s name to plead for the purpose of repelling all those artifices which are contrived against us by the devil, we must learn to offer ourselves to be tried by him, so that he may really examine our thoughts and feelings.
Now, in the first place, let us bear in mind what the Prophet teaches, — that nothing is hid from God; for hypocrites will not hesitate to go so far as to offer themselves to be tried by God; but they do not yet duly consider what is said here, that nothing is hid from him. There are many recesses in the heart of man, and we know that all things there have many wrappings and coverings; but God in the meantime is a heart-discerner, (
) who proves the heart and reins. Under the word reins, the Hebrews include all the hidden thoughts and feelings. We must then remember this as the first thing, that the Prophet acknowledges that there can be no disguise as to God, and that men gain nothing by acting fallaciously, for he penetrates into the inmost thoughts and discerns between the thoughts and the feelings. καρδιογνώστης,
He adds that the righteous are tried by God. There is to be understood here a contrast, because men’s judgment is commonly superficial; for when there is an appearance of integrity, there is an immediate acquittal, though the heart may be deceitful and full of all perfidy. The Prophet then means, that when we come to God’s tribunal no one is there acquitted but he who brings a pure heart and real integrity. He then rises to a higher confidence, and says, that he should see the vengeance of God.
We now see whence the Prophet derived his confidence, even because he had thoroughly examined himself, and that before God; he had not appealed to earthly witnesses only, nor had he, as it were, ascended a public theater to solicit the favor of the people; but he knew that he was approved by God, because he was sincere and honest.
And then he justly adds, at the same time, that he had made known his cause or his complaint to God. There is to be understood here again a contrast; for they who are carried away by the popular breath do not acquiesce in God’s judgment. Ambition, like a violent wind, always carries men along so that they cannot stop themselves; hence it is that neither the testimony of conscience nor the judgment of God has much weight with them. But the Prophet says, that he had made known his cause to God.
If any one objects and says, that hypocrites do the same, to this I answer, that though some imitation may appear in them, there is nothing real or genuine; for though they may boast that God is their witness, and that he approves of their cause, it is only what they speak vainly before men; for there is not one of them who deals thus privately with God. As long, then, as they are given to ostentation, they do not make known their cause to God, however they may appeal to him, refer to his tribunal, and declare that they have no other end in view but to promote his glory. They, then, who boastingly sound forth these things before the world for their own advantage, do not yet make known their cause to God, but by frivolous and vain boasting pretend his name.
What, then, is it to make known our cause to God? It is to do this when no one is witness, and when God alone appears before us. When we dare in our prayers to address God thus, — “O Lord, thou knowest my integrity, thou knowest that there is nothing hid which I do now lay before thee,” then it is that we truly make known our cause to God; for in this case there is no regard had for men, but we are satisfied with the judgment of God alone. This was the case with the Prophet when he said, that he had made known his cause to God; and it must have been so, for we have seen that all ranks of men were opposed to him. As then he was under the necessity of fleeing to the only true God, he justly says, that he had referred his cause to him.
By saying that he should see the vengeance of God, he alludes to that wished-for revenge before mentioned, for his enemies had said, “Let us take our revenge on him.” The Prophet says, “I shall see thy vengeance, O Lord.” By saying that he should see it, he speaks as though he had his hands tied; for thus the faithful, of their own accord, restrain themselves, because they know that they are forbidden by God’s command to revenge themselves on their enemies. As, then, there is a difference between doing and seeing, the Prophet here makes a distinction between himself and the audaciously wicked; for he would not himself take vengeance according to the violence of his wrath, but that he should only see it; and then he calls it the vengeance of God, for men rob God of his right whenever they revenge themselves according to their own will. Paul says,
“Give place to wrath.” (Romans 12:19)
While exhorting the faithful to forbearance, he uses this reason, that otherwise no place is given to God’s judgment; for whenever we take revenge, we anticipate God, as though every one of us ascended God’s tribunal, and arrogated to ourselves his office. We now, then, perceive what this mode of speaking means. (15)
But we must at the same time notice, that God’s vengeance is not to be imprecated, except on the reprobate and irreclaimable. For the Prophet no doubt pitied his enemies, and wished, if they were reclaimable, that God would be propitious and merciful to them, according to what we have before seen. What, then, the revenge intimates of which he speaks is, that he knew by the prophetic spirit that they were wholly irreclaimable; and as his mind was under the influence of right zeal, he could imprecate on them the vengeance of God. If any one now, after the example of the Prophet, should wish all his enemies destroyed, and would have God armed against them, he would act very presumptuously, for it does not belong to us to determine before the time who the reprobate and the irreclaimable are; until this be found out by us, we ought to pray for all without exception, and every one ought also to consider by what zeal he is influenced, lest we should be under the power of turbulent feelings, as is commonly the case, and lest also our zeal be hasty and inconsiderate. In short, except it be certain to us that our zeal is guided by the spirit of uprightness and wisdom, we should never pray for vengeance on our enemies. He afterwards adds, —
(15) There is but little difference between this verse and the 20th of the 11th chapter (Jeremiah 11:20); the variety is in the first two lines. While here we have —
But Jehovah of hosts, who art the trier of the righteous,
The seer of the reins and of the heart;
we have as follows in Jeremiah 11:20, —
But Jehovah of hosts, who art a righteous judge,
The trier of the reins and of the heart.
As in the former instance, the Versions render what follows as an imprecation, — “May I see,” etc., while the Targum does as Calvin, “I shall see,” etc.; and this better comports with the passage. The Prophet first mentions God as a righteous judge, and then he concludes that he should see God’s vengeance on his enemies, because he had devolved his cause on him, or revealed it to him. He had referred his cause to a righteous judge, and hence he felt assured that vengeance would overtake his enemies. — Ed.
Here the Prophet breaks out into an open expression of joy, and not only gives thanks himself to God, that he had been freed from the intrigues and violence of the wicked, but he also summons others, and encourages them to sing praises to God; as though he had said, that his deliverance was such a favor, that not only he should be thankful to God for it, but that all should join to celebrate it, according to what is said by Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:11, that thanks might be given by many to God. The Prophet no doubt had experienced God’s help, yea, that help which he had before so highly extolled. As, then, he had really found that God was victorious, and that his safety had been defended against all the ungodly by God’s invincible power, he in full confidence expressed his thanks, and wished all God’s servants to join with him. (16)
Whenever, then, we are reduced into straits, and seem to be, as it were, rejected by God himself, let us still wait patiently until he may be pleased to free us from the hand of the wicked; without misery and distress preceding, we should never sufficiently acknowledge the power of God in preserving us. Thus Jeremiah confesses that he was for a time miserable and oppressed, but that he was at length delivered, even when the ungodly and wicked thought themselves victorious. Now follows an outcry, which seems to be of a very different character, —
(16) The “poor” here does not mean him who is in low circumstances, but him who is helpless or defenseless; and this is the meaning of the word often in other parts, especially in the Psalm. The word “soul,” too, here and in other places, means life, —
Sing ye to Jehovah, praise Jehovah, For he hath rescued the life of the helpless From the hand of malignants.
It seems, as I have said, that the Prophet was inconsistent with himself; from joy and thanksgiving he immediately passed into curses and execrations; what could have been less appropriate? If we say that he was tried by a new temptation, yet this seems by no means satisfactory, though it is in this way that interpreters commonly untie the knot. But it seems to me a levity unworthy of the holy man to pass suddenly from thanksgiving to God into imprecations, as though he had forgotten himself. I, therefore, doubt not but that the Prophet here relates how grievously he had been harassed by his own thoughts. The whole of this passage, then, is connected with thanksgiving, for he amplifies the deliverance which he has just mentioned, that is, that he had been brought back, as it were, from the lower regions. Thus he recites, in the latter passage, what had before happened to him, as though he had said, “When I now declare that I have been rescued by God from the hand of the wicked, I cannot sufficiently express the greatness of that favor, until I make it more clearly known to all the godly how great and how dreadful agonies I suffered, so that I cursed my birth-day, and abhorred everything that ought to have stimulated me to give praise to God.”
In short, the Prophet teaches us here that he was not only opposed by enemies, but also distressed inwardly in his mind, so that he was carried away contrary to reason and judgment, by turbulent emotions which even led him to give utterance to vile blasphemies. For what is here said cannot be extenuated; but the Prophet most grievously sinned when he became thus calumnious towards God; for a man must be in a state of despair when he curses the day in which he was born. Men are, indeed, wont to celebrate their birth-day; and it was a custom which formerly prevailed, to acknowledge yearly that they owed it to God’s invaluable goodness that they were brought forth into vital light. As then it is a reason for thanksgiving, it is evident that when we turn to a curse what ought to rouse us to praise God, we are no longer in a right mind, nor possessed of reason, but that we are seized as it were with a sacrilegious madness; and yet into this state had the Prophet fallen. (17)
We may then here learn with what care ought every one of us to watch himself, lest we be carried away by a violent feeling, so as to become intemperate and unruly.
At the same time I allow, and it is what we ought carefully to notice, that the origin of his zeal was right. For though the Prophet indirectly blamed God, we ought yet to consider the source of his complaint; he did not curse his birth-day because he was afflicted with diseases, or because he could not endure poverty and want, or because he suffered some private evils; no, nothing of this kind was the case with the Prophet; but the reason was, because he saw that all his labor was lost, which he spent for the purpose of securing the wellbeing of the people; and further, because he found the truth of God loaded with calumnies and reproaches. When, therefore, he saw the ungodly thus insolently resisting him, and that all religion was treated with ridicule, he felt deeply moved. Hence it was that the holy man was touched with so much anguish. And we hence clearly see, that. the source of his zeal was right.
But we are here reminded how much vigilance we ought to exercise over ourselves; for in most instances, when we become weary of life, and desire death, and hate the world, with the light and all the blessings of God, how is it that we are thus influenced, except that disdain reigns within us, or that we cannot with resignation bear reproaches, or that poverty is too grievous to us, or that some troubles press on us too heavily? It is not that we are influenced by a zeal for God. Since, then, the Prophet, who had no regard to himself nor had any private reason either of gain or of loss, became yet. thus exasperated and so very vehement, nay, seized with so violent a feeling, we ought surely to exercise the more care to restrain our feelings; and though many things may daily happen to us, which may produce weariness, or overwhelm us with so much disdain as to render all things hateful to us, we ought yet to contend against such feelings; and if we cannot, at the first effort, repress and subdue them, we ought, at least, according to the example of the Prophet, to learn to correct them by degrees, until God cheers and comforts us, so that we may rejoice and sing a song of thanksgiving.
(17) The greatest difficulty in this passage is the connection. That Jeremiah should have cursed his birthday is what can be accounted for, as in the case of Job. Nature, even in the best of men, sometimes utters its own voice. But how he came to do this immediately after having thanked God for his deliverance, seems singular. The explanation of Calvin, that he relates what had passed in his mind, while he was confined by Pashur, is plausible, and has been adopted by Grotius, Gataker, Cocceius, and Henry. Grotius considered, “I had said,” to be understood at the beginning of the fourteenth verse. Adam Clarke thought that the words have been transposed, and that the five last verses ought to come in between the eighth and the ninth verse: and he says what is true, that there are many transpositions in this book. Houbigant, approved by Horsley, thought the right place for these verses is between the sixth and the seventh verse. But these transpositions are not satisfactory. Venema’s notion is, that Jeremiah does not speak in his own name, but in the name of Pashur. Having described in the previous verse his own ease, the protection he found from God, he describes in these verses the wretchedness and misery of his persecutor, and introduces him as cursing his birth-day, etc. But this is very far-fetched and fanciful. Scott acknowledges the transition to be very extraordinary, but yet thinks that the Prophet describes what had passed through his own mind, and says that the experience of good men proves that such sudden changes occur. “An experimental acquaintance with our hearts,” he says, “and the variations of our passions, under sharp trials, as encouraging or discouraging thoughts occur to our minds, will best enable us to understand it.” This is probably the right view of the subject. The Prophet, indeed, acknowledged God’s kindness in saving his life, and invited others to join him in praising him: yet when he considered his circumstances, he gave way to his own natural feelings. — Ed.
We said yesterday that the Prophet’s confused state of mind is described in this passage; for he would have no doubt himself confessed, that he was carried away by an intemperate feeling, so as not to be himself; for it is to cast reproach on God when any one curses his own birth-day. And he goes farther than this, for he adds, Cursed be the man who declared to my father, that a male child was born Here he not only fights against God, but is also ungrateful towards men; for what but thanks did he deserve who first told his father that he had a son born to him? It was then an ingratitude in no way excusable And hence we also learn that the Prophet had no control over his feelings, but was wholly led away by a blind impulse, which made him to utter very inconsiderate words; for in this sentence there is no piety nor humanity; but as I have said, the Prophet was ungrateful to men as well as to God; and his hyperbolical language also more fully expresses how intemperate his feelings were, who declared to my father that a male child was born He seems here, as though he avowedly despised God’s favor, for we know that males are preferred to females. But the Prophet mentions here the word male, as though he wished to complain of what he ought to have been thankful for.
And he adds, Who with joy made him joyful We see, as it is commonly said, how he mingles heaven and earth; for had it been in his power, when this frenzy possessed his mind, he would have certainly disturbed all the elements. But more grievous and more inordinate is what follows, Let that man be like the cities which God destroyed without repentance Why did he imprecate on an innocent man the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? and then he speaks not of temporal punishment, but devotes the man to endless perdition, for that is the import of the words, and he repented not; as though he had said, “May God be angry with him, without shewing any mercy, but manifest himself as wholly implacable, as he dealt with Sodom, which he at once destroyed without leaving it any hope.” Had he spoken of an inveterate enemy, he ought to have kept within those bounds prescribed to all God’s children; but he had nothing against the man who brought the news to his father. We hence see how he was led away as it were by an insane impulse. But let us hence learn to restrain, in due time, our feelings, which will pass over all bounds if we indulge them; for they will break out then as it were into fury, as the case was with the Prophet.
He also adds, Let him hear a cry in the morning, and a tumult at noon-tide Here he devotes an innocent man to perpetual inquietude. And mention is made of the dawn, for we know that terrors occur during darkness in the night. If anything happens in the day-time, we inquire what it is, and we are not so frightened; but when there is any noise in the night, fear takes full possession of us. There is then something monstrous in what the Prophet expresses here. Hence, also, we more fully learn how very hot was his indignation, that he thus wished perpetual torments to an innocent man. In the morning, he says, let him hear a cry, and at noon a tumult Had he said, “Let him hear a cry perpetually,” it would not have been so grievous. It now follows, —
After having denounced his imprecations on his birth-day, and on the messenger who had wished to convey joy to his father, Jeremiah now expostulates with God. It hence appears how great was his madness; for thus must we speak. But if Jeremiah spared not God, how should he spare a mortal man? There is then no doubt but that he raged furiously against God, for his expostulation is that of a man wholly desperate; he asks, why he was not slain from the womb, as though he did not regard it as a kindness that he came alive into light. But this life, though exposed to many sorrows, ought yet to be counted as an evidence of God’s inestimable favor. As the Prophet, then, not only despised this goodness of God, but contended with God himself, because he had been created a man and brought into light, how great was his ingratitude!
He then adds, My mother might have been my grave; (18) that is, “This light and life I value not; why then did I not die in my mother’s womb? and why did she conceive me?” Then he says, Why came I forth from the womb that I might see trouble and sorrow, and that my days. might be consumed in, reproach? Here he gives a reason why he was wearied of life; but he could not have been cleared on this account, nor ought he to be so at this day; for what just cause can we have to contend with God? Jeremiah was created to sorrow and trouble: this is the condition of all; why, then, should God be blamed? his days were spent in reproach: there was nothing new in his case; for many who have received an honorable testimony from God had suffered many wrongs and reproaches. Why, then, did he not look to them as examples, that he might bear with patience and resignation what had happened to other holy men? but he seemed as though he wished to appear as it were in public, that he might proclaim his disgrace, not only to his own age, but to every age to the end of the world.
At the same time we must remember the object he had in view; for the Prophet, as we have said, was not seized with this intemperate spirit after he had given thanks to God, and exulted as a conqueror, but before; and in order to amplify the grace of God in delivering him as it were from hell itself, into which he had plunged himself, he mentioned what had passed through his mind. The drift of the whole description seems to be this, — “I was lost, and my mind could conceive nothing but what was bitter, and with a full mouth I vomited forth poison and blasphemies against God.” What the Prophet then had here in view, was to render more conspicuous the kindness of God in bringing him to light from so deep an abyss.
A similar mode of speaking is found in the third chapter of Job. But Job had not the reason which, as we have said, Jeremiah had; for Jeremiah was not influenced by any private grief when carried away by all insane impulse to speak against God. Whence, then, was his great grief? even because he saw he was despised by the people, and that the whole of religion was esteemed by them as nothing: in short, he saw that the state of things was quite hopeless. He was, then, inflamed with zeal for God’s glory; and he also was extremely grieved at the irreclaimable wickedness of the people; but Job had only a respect to his own sufferings. There was, therefore, a great difference between Job and Jeremiah; and yet we know that both were endowed, as it were, with angelic virtue, for Job is named as one of three just men, who seemed to have been elevated above all mankind; and Jeremiah, if a comparison be made, was in this instance more excusable than Job; and yet we see that they were both inflamed with so unreasonable a grief, that they spared neither God nor man.
Let us then learn to check our feelings, that they may not break out thus unreasonably. Let us at the same time know that God’s servants, though they may excel in firmness, are yet not wholly divested of their corruptions. And should it happen at any time to us to feel such emotions within us, let not such a temptation discourage us; but as far as we can and as God gives us grace, let us strive to resist it, until the firmness of our faith at length gains the ascendency, as we see was the case with Jeremiah. For when overwhelmed with such a confusion of mind as to lie down as it were dead in hell itself, he was yet restored, as we have seen, to such a soundness of mind, that he afterwards courageously executed his own office, and also gloried, according to what we observed yesterday, in the help of God. Let us proceed, —
(18) Our version seems right in rendering the
in this sentence or; and so it ought to be rendered in the previous verse, otherwise there is an inconsistency in representing a man destroyed, and hearing an outcry, etc. The two verses may be thus rendered, — ו
16.And let that man be like the cities Which Jehovah overturned and repented not; Or a hearer of an outcry in the morning And of tumult at noon-tide.
17.Why not slay me did he from the womb? Or become to me did my mother my grave, And her womb a perpetual conception?
The last words are, literally, “a conception of perpetuity,” — the Vulg. has, “an eternal conception,” — the Syr., “a perpetual conception.” Then the next verse is as follows, —
18.For what purpose has this been? From the womb I came forth To see labor and sorrow, And spent in shame are my days.