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Here the Prophet promises the restoration of the Church; but he reminds hypocrites that there was no reason for them on that account to flatter themselves, especially the king, his councillors, and the priests. Then this prophecy is a mixture of promises and threatenings, for God promises that he would be propitious to the miserable Jews, after having chastised them, so that the seed of Abraham might not be entirely cut off: he yet deprives hypocrites of vain confidence, so that they might not falsely apply to themselves the hope of salvation, from which they had excluded themselves by their impiety. And this is what ought to be noticed, for as soon as God’s mercy is offered, hypocrites apply to themselves whatever God promises, and become more and more insolent, as though they held him bound to them; for impunity leads them to take more liberty to sin. Hence it is that they boast that they are safe, for they consider themselves to be the people of God. The Prophet, therefore, teaches here that whatever God promises belongs to his elect, that it does not appertain indiscriminately to all, nor ought to be extended to hypocrites who falsely pretend his name, but that it peculiarly belongs to the elect, though they may be small in number, and though they may be despised.
He says first, Wo to the pastors who destroy, (73) etc. Here are contrary things — a pastor and a destroyer! But he concedes to them the name which was honorable; and yet he derides their false boasting, for they thought that they could hide their crimes under this shade, falsely claimed. Though then he calls them pastors, he yet removes the mask, and thus shews that they in vain boasted while they assumed the name of pastors. “Ye are pastors,” he says, ““and ye are destroyers! who dissipate or scatter the flock of my pastures.” (74)
Here God shews the reason why he was so grievously displeased with these pastors; for by exercising tyranny over the people, they not only injured men, but also injured and dishonored God, who had received under his own protection his chosen people. It is indeed true that they deserved such a scattering; for we have already seen in many places, that the people could by no means be excused when they were deceived by wicked and unfaithful leaders; for in this way was rendered to them all their past reward for having provoked God’s wrath against themselves, from the least to the greatest. But the impiety of wicked pastors was not on this account excusable; for they ought to have considered for what purpose this burden was laid on them, and also by whom they had been appointed. God then intimates that great injury was done to him, when the people were thus so ignominiously scattered. He was himself the chief pastor; he had put as it were in his own place the king and his counsellors and also the priests. Justly then does he now condemn them, because they had destroyed the flock of God, according to what is said in another place,“
That they had destroyed his vineyard.” (Jeremiah 12:10; Isaiah 5:3)
In short, when God calls the Jews the flock of his pastures, he does not regard what they deserved, or what they were, but he, on the contrary, sets forth the favor bestowed on the seed of Abraham. He has respect then here to his gratuitous adoption, though the Jews had rendered themselves unworthy of such a benefit.
(73) It is an exclamation in the Sept. and Syr.; “Oh! the Pastors,” etc., but a denunciation in the Vulg. and the Targ., “Wo to the Pastors,” etc. The original may be rendered in either way; the latter is the most suitable here. — Ed.
(74) The word is singular in Hebrew, “pasture,” or feeding. — Ed
He afterwards adds, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, to the pastors who feed my people In the same sense he calls them now his people, as he had called them before the flock of his pastures. They had alienated themselves from God, and he had already by his own decree repudiated them; and God might in one respect have deemed them aliens; and yet in respect of the covenant he acknowledged them as his own; and hence he calls them his people He now then confirms what we have already noticed, that these pastors were not only thieves and robbers, but also sacrilegious; for they not only had exercised cruelty towards the flock, but as far as they could injured and dishonored God himself, who had undertaken the care of that people.
But there is here a twofold concession, he calls them pastors, and they are said to feed the people. He had said before that they destroyed and scattered the flock, and now he says that they fed them; but in what sense we well know, for by this kind of irony he meant to reprove them; they boasted that they were pastors, and they thought that their crimes would by such a covering be buried in the sight of God, as in the sight of men. In a similar manner when we speak in the present day of the Pope and his mitred bishops and filthy clergy, we use expressions which are commonly employed. But Antichrist is everything but a father, and we know how far they are from being really bishops who assume the title; and as to the clergy, the name is sacred, but they are very far from being God’s heritage. We indeed make no account of these empty titles. But it is a great aggravation of their guilt, that they being devils, should assume angelic names, that they being wolves and robbers, and sacrilegious, should falsely pretend God’s name, and recommend themselves by spurious titles, as though they were pastors, bishops, abbots, and prelates, and what not.
So then our Prophet calls those whom he condemns, by way of taunt, pastors, and says that they fed, that is, were called for this end, to do this work. But he afterwards adds, My flock have ye scattered, and driven away, and not visited (75) Surely it was not to feed, to have no care for the sheep. To visit is to be extended here to every part of the duty of overseeing, as though he had said, that the flock had been by them neglected, betrayed, and deserted. We hence see that they had wholly neglected their pastoral office. But the other two things are still worse, for they had scattered and driven away the flock. Their sloth in neglecting the flock was not to be tolerated; but it was still more intolerable when they exercised so much cruelty as to scatter the flock as though they were deadly enemies; and yet these are the things for which Jeremiah condemns them. We hence see that there was an implied taunt, when he conceded to them the office of feeding.
He then denounces judgment on them, I will visit upon you the wickedness of your doings Here God declares that he would punish the pastors, to whom was justly ascribed the scattering of the people. For though no one was exempt from blame, as it has been before stated; yet the main fault belonged to these pastors. This then is the reason why God declares that he would take vengeance; for he would not have his flock scattered with impunity.
(75) The meaning seems to be that they had caused the flock to be scattered and driven away through their bad conduct, because they did not take care of them, as the last verb means. The two first verbs are indeed in Hiphil, and may be rendered causatively thus, —
Ye have caused my sheep to be scattered, And have caused them to be driven away; And ye have not cared for them.
The last verb is not in Hiphil, and states the reason why the sheep had been dispersed. It means to oversee, to take care of, to attend to. The dispersion was owing to the neglect of the pastors in taking care of the sheep. The scattering or dispersion was their exile; which God states in the third verse was his act as a punishment for their wickedness, but the cause of dispersion was the conduct of the pastors.
We see here an instance of the order in which ideas are often stated by the Prophets. Scattering, though mentioned first, is the last act, the most ostensible; the driving out of the land was the previous act, and the first in order, though the last stated, was the neglect of the pastors in taking an oversight of them. It is to begin with the effect and to go back to the cause. “You have caused them to be scattered to all lands, you have made them to be driven out of their own land, and you have neglected to take care of them.” These are the three points of accusation, but stated in an inverted order. There are constant instances of this kind of arrangement. — Ed.
It then follows, And I will gather my flock. As they had driven the people away, so God promises that it would be his care to gather them. And yet he ascribes to himself what he had imputed to them — that he had driven away his flock, but in a different sense; the pastors had scattered the flock, not only by their sloth, but also by their cruelty, for they became rapacious wolves; but God had punished the people, for they all had fully deserved such a scattering. We hence see that the ungodly execute God’s judgment; but they are not on this account excusable as though they were God’s ministers, for they have nothing less in view. Nor can God be involved in their sin, while he thus employs them to execute his purpose. In short, the scattering of the people was a just punishment from God, for they had all departed from the faith, they had broken the sacred bond of the covenant, by which God had bound them to himself. It was also the fault of the pastors, because they avariciously and cruelly tyrannized over them. The pastors, as I have said, were not only the priests, but also the king and his counsellors.
I will gather, he says, not the flock, but the remnant of the sheep God intimates here that he would be so merciful as to receive unto favor, not all indiscriminately, but a small number, constituting the elect. And hence Paul carefully distinguished between the people and the remnant of grace, or the gratuitous remnant; for Christ appeared by his coming to have abolished the covenant by which God had adopted the children of Abraham, but Paul does not admit this. Now, if any one objects and says that the greater part of the people had been cut off, this he allows; but he says that the covenant remains valid in the remnant, and produces also examples, such as that of which we now speak. God then has ever been the preserver of his Church; and thus his gratuitous adoption, by which he had chosen the seed of Abraham, never fails. But this adoption is effectual only as to the remnant.
As to the word remnant, the fewness of those whom God had resolved to gather is not only intimated, but also the vengeance, which as to time had gone before; for God seemed to have destroyed the Jews when they were driven away into various lands, as they had no name remaining, the kingdom and the priesthood were abolished. It was therefore a certain kind of death, as I have before said; but God here declares that there would be some remnant, according to what is said in Isaiah 10:22, that God saved a few as it were from the consumption; for he refers there to the very few that remained alive, when they thought that all was over with the whole people, that there was no hope of restoration.
I will gather, he says, the residue of my sheep from all the lands to which I shall have driven them He again confirms what I have stated, that there would be no place for mercy until he had cleansed his Church from its many filthy pollutions. The scattering then of the people into various lands was the purgation of the Church, according to what God says, that he would separate the refuse and the chaff from the wheat in chastising his people; for as the chaff and the refuse are blown here and there when the wheat is winnowed, and the wheat only remains and is afterwards laid up in the granary; so when God drove his people away into various lands, he then purged his Church. If any one objects and says, “Then the remnant were dealt with like the refuse;” it is true as to the individuals, but God refers here to himself, when he calls them his own, sheep, who were yet unworthy of such an honor.
He then adds, that he would bring them back to their folds, (76) that they might be fruitful, that is, bring forth and increase, and be multiplied By folds he no doubt means the land of Canaan; for there was then no wealth in the world which the Jews would have preferred to the inheritance promised to them; the whole world was to them an exile. For God had chosen that land in which they dwelt, and had consecrated it to himself, and he gave it to them as an earnest or a pledge of the eternal inheritance. Rightly then does he now call that land folds, for they lived there under his guardianship and protection. The temple was as it were the pastoral staff; they knew that God dwelt there, that being protected by his power they might continue in safety. Since then there was safety for them under God’s protection in the land of Canaan, he calls it their fold. Then he says, that they may be fruitful, and be multiplied; for among other blessings their increase was not the least. He afterwards adds, —
(76) “To their own pasture,” is the Sept. and Arab.; “to their own country,” the Vulg.; “to their own fold,” the Syr.; “to their own places,” the Targ. The Hebrew is, “to their own folds;” the word is plural, and means generally “habitations,” either for men, or cattle, or beasts. As sheep are mentioned, “folds” no doubt is the proper word. — Ed.
He confirms the promise, for he would give them faithful and true pastors, who would perform their office as it behoved them; for it would not be enough that the sheep should be restored to their folds, except they were fed. We indeed know that a sheep is a silly animal, and therefore has need of a shepherd to rule and guide it. God then intimates by these words, that after he had collected his flock into the fold it would be the object of his constant care; for he would appoint pastors, who would discharge their office in a far different way from wolves and sacrilegious robbers. He then adds a promise as to their security, which we shall consider tomorrow.
The Prophet confirms what he had before said of the renewal of the Church; for it would not have been in itself sufficiently strong to say “I have promised pastors who shall faithfully perform their duty,” except the only true Pastor had been set before them, on whom God’s covenant was founded, and from whom was to be expected the accomplishment of the promises which were hoped for. And it was usual with all the prophets, whenever they gave the people the hope of salvation, to bring forward the coming of the Messiah, for in him have God’s promises always been, yea, and amen. (2 Corinthians 1:20.) This, indeed, appears now, under the Gospel, more clear than formerly; but the faith of the Fathers could not have been complete except they directed their thoughts to the Messiah. As, then, neither the love of God could have been made certain to the Fathers, nor the testimony of his kindness and paternal favor be confirmed without Christ, this is the reason why the prophets were wont to set Christ before their eyes whenever they sought to inspire the miserable with a good hope, who otherwise must have been overwhelmed with sorrow and driven into despair.
What, therefore, so often occurs in the prophets is deserving of special notice, so that we may know that God’s promises will become ineffectual to us, or be suspended, or even vanish away, except we raise all our thoughts to Christ, and seek in him what would not be otherwise certain and sure to us.
According to this principle the Prophet now says, that the days would come in which God would raise up to David a righteous branch He had spoken generally of pastors; but the Jews might have still been in doubt, and hesitated to believe that any such thing could be hoped for; hence God calls here their attention to the Messiah; as though he had said, that no hope of salvation could be entertained except through the Mediator who had been promised to them, and that therefore they were not sufficiently wise except they turned their minds to him. Moreover, as the accomplishment of salvation was to be expected through the Mediator, God shews that the promise, that he would give them pastors, ought not to be doubted. Hence it appears that I rightly stated at the beginning, that the former doctrine is confirmed by this passage in which God promises the coming of the Mediator. And the demonstrative particle, behold, as we have elsewhere seen, is intended to shew certainty; and it was necessary for the Jews to be thus confirmed, because the time had not as yet arrived, and we know that their faith must have been grievously shaken by so many and so long trials, had they not some support. God, then, seems to point out the event as by the finger, though it was as yet very remote. He does not intimate a short time, but he thus speaks for the sake of making the thing certain, so that they might not faint through a long expectation. Come, then, he says, shall the days in which he will raise up to David a righteous branch
Though the preposition ל, lamed, is often redundant, yet in this place it seems to me that God has a reference to the covenant which he had made with David. And the Prophet did this designedly, because the Jews were unworthy of being at all regarded by God; but he here promises that he would be faithful to that covenant which he had once made with David, because David himself was also faithful and embraced with true faith the promise made to him. God then, as though he would have nothing to do with that perverse and irreclaimable people, but with his servant David, says, “I will raise up to David a righteous branch;” as though he had said, “Though ye were even a hundred times unworthy of having a Deliverer, yet the memory of David shall ever remain complete with me, as he was perfect and faithful in keeping my covenant.” Now, it cannot be doubted but that the Prophet speaks here of Christ.
The Jews, in order to obscure this prophecy, will have this to be applied to all the descendants of David; and thus they imagine an earthly kingdom, such as it was under Solomon and others. But such a thing cannot certainly be gathered from the words of the Prophet; for he does not speak here of many kings, but of one only. The word “branch,” I allow, may be taken in a collective sense; but what is afterwards said? A king shall reign They may also pervert this, for the word “king” is often taken for successors in a kingdom. This is indeed true; but we ought to consider the whole context. It is said, in his days Hence it appears evident that some particular king is intended, and that the words ought not to be applied to many. And the last clause is a further confirmation, This shall be his name, by which they shall call him, Jehovah our righteousness Here also the Jews pervert the words, for they make God the nominative case to the verb, as though the words were, “Jehovah shall call him our righteousness; ” but this is contrary to all reason, for all must see that it is a forced and strained version. Thus these miserable men betray their own perverseness; for they pervert, without any shame, all the testimonies in favor of Christ; and they think it enough to elude whatever presses hard on them.
We must now, then, understand that this passage cannot be explained of any but of Christ only. The design of the Holy Spirit we have already explained; God had from the beginning introduced this pledge whenever he intended to confirm faith in his promises; for without Christ God cannot be a Father and a Savior to men; nor could he have been reconciled to the Jews, because they had departed from him. How, indeed, could they have been received into favor without expiation? and how could they have hoped that God would become a Father to them, except they were reconciled to him? Hence without Christ they could not rely on the promises of salvation. Rightly, then, have I said, that this passage ought to be confined to the person of Christ.
And we know of a certainty that he alone was a righteous branch; for though Hezekiah and Josiah were lawful successors, yet when we think of others, we must say, that they were monsters. Doubtless, with the exception of three or four, they were all spurious and covenant-breakers; yea, I say, spurious, for they had nothing in common with David, whom they ought to have taken as an example of piety. Since, then, they were wholly unlike their father David, they could not have been called righteous branches. They were, indeed, perfidious and apostates, for they had departed from God and his law. We hence see that there is here an implied contrast between Christ and all those spurious children who yet had descended from David, though wholly unworthy of such an honor on account of their impiety. Therefore as these kings had roused God’s wrath against the people, and had been the cause of their exile, the Prophet says now, that there would be at length a righteous branch; (78) that is, that though those did all they could to subvert God’s covenant by their wicked deeds, there would come at length the true and the only Son, who is elsewhere called the first-born in the whole world, (Psalms 89:27,) and that he would be a righteous branch.
And this ought to be carefully noticed; for neither Hezekiah nor Josiah, nor any like them, when viewed in themselves, were worthy of this sacred distinction,“
I will make him the first-born in the earth;” and further, “My Son art thou.” (Psalms 2:7.)
This could not have been said of any mortal man, viewed in himself. And then it is said,“
I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son;”
and the Apostle tells us, that this cannot be applied even to angels. (Hebrews 1:5.) As, then, this dignity is higher than angels’ glory, it is certain that none of David’s successors were worthy of such an honor. Hence Christ is justly called a righteous Branch. At the same time, the Prophet, as I have already reminded you, seems to set the perfect integrity of Christ in opposition to the impiety of those who under a false pretense had exercised authority, as though they were of that sacred race of whom it had been said, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.”
It follows, — And reign shall a king This also has not been added without reason, shortly after Jeconiah had been driven into exile, and also the whole royal family had been exposed to every kind of reproach. The crown, indeed, was cast on the ground, as it has already appeared, and was trodden under feet. There was, therefore, no hope of a future kingdom when the seed of Abraham had become, as it were, extinct. This is the reason why God promises what we now hear of the restoration of the throne; and we may easily infer from what all the prophets have said, that the salvation of the people was dependent on the person of their king; and whenever God bade the people to entertain hope, he set a king before their eyes. A king was to be their head under God’s government. We now see the design of the Prophet in saying, that a king would reign
Some think that a king is to be understood as in opposition to a tyrant, because many kings had departed from their duty, and committed robbery under that specious authority. I have no doubt but that the word king was expressed, lest the people should doubt the fulfillment of this prophecy; for if it had been only said, “I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign,” they might, indeed, have entertained some hope, but it would have been small, and not full and complete. We, indeed, know that Zerubbabel and others excelled in some things, and were highly regarded for David’s sake; but there was then no kingdom. God therefore intended here expressly to testify that there would be the high privilege of a kingdom, that there might be nothing wanting to the Jews, as the power of Christ would not be inferior to the power of David. Reign, then, shall a king; that is, he shall reign gloriously, so that there would not be merely some remnants of pristine dignity, but that a king would flourish, become strong, and attain perfection, such as it was under David and Solomon, and much more excellent. (79)
It follows, — And shall act prudently, and shall do judgment and justice in the land; or, “he shall prosper,” for שכל, shecal, means both; yet the Prophet seems here to speak of right judgment rather than of success, for the two clauses ought to be read together, “he shall act prudently,” and “he shall do judgment and justice.” It seems then that he means this in short, — that Christ would be endued with the spirit of wisdom as well as of uprightness and equity, so that he would possess all the qualifications, and fulfill all the duties of a good and perfect king. (80)
And in the first place, wisdom or prudence is necessary; for probity alone would not be sufficient in a king. In private individuals indeed it is of no small value; but probity in a king, without wisdom, will avail but little, hence, the Prophet here commends Christ for his good discernment, and then mentions his zeal for equity and justice. It is indeed true that Christ’s excellences are not sufficiently set forth by expressions such as these; but the similitude is taken from men; for the first endowment of a king is wisdom, and then integrity in the second place. And we know that Christ is often compared to earthly kings, or set forth to us under the image of an earthly king, in which we may see him; for God accommodates himself to our ignorance. As, then, we cannot comprehend the unspeakable justice of Christ or his wisdom, hence God, that he may by degrees lead us to the knowledge of Christ, shadows him forth to us under these figures or types. Though, then, what is said here does not come up to the perfection of Christ, yet the comparison ought not to be deemed improper; for God speaks to us according to the measure of our capacities, and could not at once in a few words fully express what Christ is. But we must bear in mind that from earthly kings we must ascend to Christ; for though he is compared to them, yet there is no equality; after having contemplated in the type what our minds can comprehend, we ought to ascend farther and much higher.
Hence, the difference between the righteousness of Christ and the righteousness of kings ought to be here noticed. They who rule well can in no other way administer righteousness and judgment than by being careful to render to every one his own, and that by checking the audacity of the wicked, and by defending the good and the innocent; this only is what can be expected from earthly kings. But Christ is far different; for he is not only wise so as to know what is right and best, but he also endues his own people with wisdom and knowledge; he executes judgment and righteousness, not only because he defends the innocent, aids them who are oppressed, gives help to the miserable, and restrains the wicked; but he doeth righteousness, because he regenerates us by his Spirit, and he also doeth judgment, because he bridles, as it were, the devil. We now then understand the design of what I said, that we ought to mark the transcendency of Christ over earthly kings, and also the analogy; for there is some likeness and some difference: the difference between Christ and other kings is very great, and yet there is a likeness in some things; and earthly kings are set forth to us as figures and types of him.
(78) The Sept. and Arab. give, “a righteous sun-rising — ἀνατολὴν δίκαιαν;” the Vulg., “a righteous branch;” the Syr., “a ray of righteousness.” The Vulg. is alone correct, as there can be no doubt as to the original words. — Ed
(79) We cannot express the words in our language without changing the terms as follows, “And a ruler shall rule,” or, “a reigner shall reign.”
Bochart says that this double use of the same word, as a substantive and a verb, imports in Hebrew what is enhancive, according to what Calvin says here. The king was to be a king indeed, with full power and dignity, and with a large extent of empire.
The Welsh will express the words literally, — (lang. cy) A breniniaetha brenin.
And so it is rendered in Greek, —
Καὶ βασιλεύσει βασιλεὺς—
(80) The verb שכל first means to be wise or prudent, and in Hiphil, as here, to understand, to act wisely or prudently; and secondly, as the natural effect of wisdom, it means sometimes to prosper. But the first sense is given to it here by all the Versions: “and shall understand,” is the Septuagint; “and shall be wise,” the Vulgate; “and shall act prudently,” the Syriac. Our version is the Targum, Blayney gives the same idea with Calvin, “and shall act wisely;” which is no doubt the correct one. — Ed
It then follows, that Judah shall be saved in the days of this king. By days we are not to understand the life only of Christ, which he lived in this world, but that perpetuity of which Isaiah speaks, when in wonder he asks,“
His age who shall declare?” (Isaiah 53:8;)
for he died once, that he might live to God, according to what Paul says. (Romans 6:10.) It was then but a short beginning of life when Christ was manifested in the world, and held converse with men; but his life is to continue for ever. It is then the same thing as though the Prophet had said, that when Christ came and descended from the Father, the Church would be saved.
If it be now asked, “How long shall it be saved?” the answer is, “As long as the King himself shall continue; and there is no end to his kingdom.” It follows then that the salvation of the Church will be for ever. This is the import of the whole.
Now, though the Prophet speaks of the deliverance of the people, there is yet no doubt but that he especially sets forth what properly belongs to the kingdom of Christ. He is set over us as a king, that he might be our Savior; and his salvation, though it extends to our bodies, ought yet to be viewed as properly belonging to our souls; for the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and so is everything connected with it. Hence, when the Prophet says that saved would be Judah, it is the same thing as though he promised that the happiness of the Church would be real and solid under Christ.
He adds, Israel shall dwell in confidence; for in a happy life the first thing is, that we possess tranquil and quiet minds; for tranquillity has not been without reason commended by the ancients. When all things which men covet are heaped together, and what they think necessary for happiness, they yet cannot be otherwise than miserable if their minds are not in a right state. It is not then without cause that tranquillity is added, when mention is made of salvation. And experience itself teaches us, that we have no salvation, unless we, relying on Christ the Mediator, have peace with God, as Paul also mentions it as the fruit of faith, and shews that we cannot otherwise but be always miserable: we have peace, he says, with God. (Romans 5:1.) He hence also concludes that our very miseries are a help to our salvation; for afflictions prove patience, patience exercises hope, and hope never makes us ashamed; and the proof of this is added, because God thus really shews that he is present with us.
We hence see how fitly the Prophet connects tranquillity of mind with happiness. Moreover it is certain that we do not yet enjoy either salvation or peace, such as are here promised; but let us learn by faith what salvation is, and also what is rest even in the midst of the agitations to which we are continually exposed; for we recumb on God when we cast our anchor in heaven. Since, then, the Prophet says here that Judah would be saved and that Israel would be in a tranquil state, let us know that he includes the whole kingdom of Christ from the beginning to the end, and that therefore it is no wonder that he speaks of that perfect happiness, the first fruits of which now only appear.
He then adds, And this is the name by which they shall call him, Jehovah our Righteousness By these words the Prophet shews more clearly that he speaks not generally of David’s posterity, however excellent they may have been, but of the Mediator, who had been promised, and on whom depended the salvation of the people; for he says that this would be his name, Jehovah our Righteousness (81)
Those Jews, who seem more modest than others, and dare not, through a dogged pertinacity, to corrupt this passage, do yet elude the application of this title to Christ, though it be suitable to him; for they say that the name is given to him, because he is the minister of God’s justice, as though it was said, that whenever this king appeared all would acknowledge God’s justice as shining forth in him. And they adduce other similar passages, as when Moses calls the altar, “Jehovah my banner,” or my protection. (Exodus 17:15.) But there is no likeness whatever between an altar and Christ. For the same purpose they refer to another passage, where it is said,“
And this is the name by which they shall call Jerusalem, Jehovah our peace.” (Ezekiel 48:35)
Now Moses meant nothing else than that the altar was a monument of God’s protection; and Ezekiel only teaches, that the Church would be as it were a mirror in which God’s mercy would be seen, as it would shine forth then, as it were, visibly. But this cannot for the same reason be applied to Christ; he is set forth here as a Redeemer, and a name is given to him, — what name? the name of God. But the Jews object and say, that he was God’s minister, and that it might therefore be in a sense applied to him, though he was no more than a man.
But all who without strife and prejudice judge of things, can easily see that this name is suitably applied to Christ, as he is God; and the Son of David belongs to him as he is man. The Son of David and Jehovah is one and the same Redeemer. Why is he called the Son of David? even because it was necessary that he should be born of that family. Why then is he called Jehovah? we hence conclude that there is something in him more excellent than what is human; and he is called Jehovah, because he is the only-begotten Son of God, of one and the same essence, glory, eternity, and divinity with the Father.
It hence appears evident to all who judge impartially and considerately, that Christ is set forth here in his twofold character, so that the Prophet brings before us both the glory of his divinity and the reality of his humanity. And we know how necessary it was that Christ should come forth as God and man; for salvation cannot be expected in any other way than from God; and Christ must confer salvation on us, and not only be its minister. And then, as he is God, he justifies us, regenerates us, illuminates us into a hope of eternal life; to conquer sin and death is doubtless what only can be effected by divine power. Hence Christ, except he was God, could not have performed what we had to expect from him. It was also necessary that he should become man, that he might unite us to himself; for we have no access to God, except we become the friends of Christ; and how can we be so made, except by a brotherly union? It was not then without the strongest reason, that the Prophet here sets Christ before us both as a true man and the Son of David, and also as God or Jehovah, for he is the only-begotten Son of God, and ever the same in wisdom and glory with the Father, as John testifies in Jeremiah 17:5.
We now then perceive the simple and real meaning of this passage, even that God would restore his Church, because what he had promised respecting a Redeemer stood firm and inviolable. Then he adds what this Redeemer would be and what was to be expected from him; he declares that he would be the true God and yet the Son of David; and he also bids us to expect righteousness from him, and everything necessary to a full and perfect happiness.
But by saying, God our righteousness, the Prophet still more fully shews that righteousness is not in Christ as though it were only his own, but that we have it in common with him, for he has nothing separate from us. God, indeed, must ever be deemed just, though iniquity prevailed through the whole world; and men, were they all wicked, could do nothing to impugn or mar the righteousness of God. But yet God is not our righteousness as he is righteous in himself, or as having his own peculiar righteousness; and as he is our judge, his own righteousness is adverse to us. But Christ’s righteousness is of another kind: it is ours, because Christ is righteous not for himself, but possesses a righteousness which he communicates to us. We hence see that the true character of Christ is here set forth, not that he would come to manifest divine justice, but to bring righteousness, which would avail to the salvation of men, For if we regard God in himself, as I have said, he is indeed righteous, but is not our righteousness. If, then, we desire to have God as our righteousness, we must seek Christ; for this cannot be found except in him. The righteousness of God has been set forth to us in Christ; and all who turn away from him, though they may take many circuitous courses, can yet never find the righteousness of God. Hence Paul says that he has been given or made to us righteousness, — for what end? that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Since, then, Christ is made our righteousness, and we are counted the righteousness of God in him, we hence learn how properly and fitly it has been said that he would be Jehovah, not only that the power of his divinity might defend us, but also that we might become righteous in him, for he is not only righteous for himself, but he is our righteousness. (82)
(81) See the Preface to this volume.
(82) “This king,” says Venema, “is the true God, the meritorious cause and pledge of our righteousness, and also the efficient cause and exemplar of all holiness, piety, and virtue.” He holds that Messiah alone is spoken of here, and blames Grotius for applying the passage in the first place to Zerubbabel, and maintains that what is said here cannot be applied to any but to the Messiah. He mentions, as a proof of this, his name — “a righteous Branch;” his royal dignity — “a king shall reign;” his title — “Jehovah our righteousness,” his prosperity and the security of his kingdom. All these things comport with the character of no one, but with that of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Ed.
The Prophet, after having spoken of the Redeemer who was to be sent, now sets forth in high terms that great favor of God, and says that it would be so remarkable and glorious, that the former redemption would be nothing to the greatness and excellency of this. When the children of Israel were brought up out of Egypt, God, we know, testified his power by many miracles, in order that this favor towards his people might appear the more illustrious; and rightly did the Prophets exhort and encourage the faithful to entertain good hope by calling to their minds what was then done. But our Prophet enhances the second redemption by this comparison, that hereafter the kindness of God, with which he favored his people when he delivered them from the bondage of Egypt, would not be remembered, but that something more remarkable would be done, so that all would talk of it, and that all would proclaim the immense benefit, which God would confer on them in delivering them from their exile in Babylon. (84)
He then says that the days would come in which it would not be said, Live does Jehovah, who brought his people from Egypt, but who brought his people from the land of the North (85) Yet he does not mean that the memory of God’s favor towards the Israelites, when he brought them from Egypt, was to be abolished; but he reasons here from the less to the greater, as though he had said that it was an evidence of God’s favor that could not be sufficiently praised, when he delivered his people from the land of Egypt, that if it were taken by itself, it was worthy of being for ever remembered; but that when compared with the second deliverance it would appear almost as nothing. The meaning is, that the second redemption would be so much more remarkable than the first, that it would obscure the remembrance of it, though it would not obliterate it.
And this passage deserves to be especially noticed, for we hence learn how much we ought to value that redemption which we have obtained through the only-begotten Son of God. And hence, also, it follows that we are more bound to God than the Fathers under the Law, as he has dealt far more bountifully with us, and has put forth his power more fully and effectually in our behalf. We further learn, that the Prophet does not in this prophecy include a few years only, but the whole kingdom of Christ and its whole progress. He indeed speaks of the return of the people to their own country, and this ought to be allowed, though Christians have been too rigid in this respect; for passing by the whole intermediate time between the return of the people and the coming of Christ, they have too violently turned the prophecies to spiritual redemption. There is no doubt but that the Prophet makes a beginning with the free return of the people from captivity; but, as I have said, Christ’s redemption is not to be separated from this, otherwise the accomplishment of the promise would not appear to us, for a small portion only returned to their own land. We also know that they were harassed with many and continual troubles, so that their condition was always miserable, for nothing is worse than a state of disquietude. We know further, that they were spoiled, and that often, and were also reduced to a state of bondage. We know how cruelly they were treated at one time by the Egyptians, and at another by the kings of Syria. Then more was promised by Jeremiah than what God has really performed, except we include in this prophecy the kingdom of Christ. But as God so restored his Church by the hand of Cyrus, that it might be a kind of prelude to a future and perfect redemption, it is no wonder that the prophets, whenever they spoke of the people’s return and of the end of their exile, should look forward to Christ and to his spiritual kingdom.
We now, then, see the design of the Prophet, when he says that the days would come in which their first redemption would not be spoken of by the people, as a remarkable or as the chief evidence of God’s favor and power, as their second redemption would far exceed it.
As to the formula or manner of speaking, Live does Jehovah, we know that the ancients used such words in making a solemn oath, and whenever they sought to animate themselves with hope under adversities. Whenever, then, they found themselves so pressed down that they had no other escape from evil than through God’s favor, they usually said that the God who had formerly been the Redeemer of his people still lived, and that there was no diminution of his power, so that he could ten times, or a hundred times, or a thousand times, if necessary, bring help to his Church and to every member of it.
(84) It is a fact worthy of being observed, that what God effected in the course of his providence was more remarkable, and is represented as more astonishing, than what he did by means of many and wonderful miracles: the secret working of his providence on the minds of men is more wonderful and effects greater things than his power when put forth to reverse the course of nature. Though he performs no miracles now, yet he works in a way more wonderful than if he did. We cannot but see this if we notice the course of events with enlightened eyes. — Ed.
(85) The verse begins with לכן, rendered “therefore,” or, “on this account,” by the Vulg., the Syr., and by our own version; but, “after this,” by Blayney, and “moreover,” by Gataker. It might be rendered “surely,” or doubtless, as it is by Venema, —
Surely, behold the days are coming, saith Jehovah, When they shall no more say, Jehovah lives, etc.
It is better to render the ו, “when,” than “that,” as in our version. The Sept. and Vulg, render it “and,” which gives no meaning in either language. Calvin follows the Syr., and gives the sense, “in which.” — Ed
He says, from all the lands to which I shall have driven them, and he says this for two reasons, which we shall presently state. The change of person does not obscure the meaning: Live, he says, does Jehovah, who brought out and led his people from the land of the north, and from all the lands to which I had driven them; but there is no ambiguity in the sense.
As to the subject itself, it seems that God in the first place intended to remind the Jews of their sins, as this knowledge was to be the way to repentance, or a preparation for it. For except they were convinced that they were chastised for their sins by God’s hand, they would either have thought that their exile was by chance, or have given way to murmuring complaints as they often did. But God here declares that he was the author of their exile, in order that the Jews might know that God justly punished them for their many and grievous sins. But God, in the second place, shews that it was in his power, whenever he pleased, to restore those whom he had afflicted. It was the same as to raise from death those whom he had slain, according to what is said elsewhere,“
God is he who kills, and who brings to life.” (1 Samuel 2:6.)
Many indeed can destroy, but they cannot heal the wound which they may have made. But with regard to God, he is both a righteous Judge and a merciful Savior. As, then, death is in his power whenever he punishes men for their wickedness, so also he has life in his hand and at his bidding, whenever he intends to shew mercy. We now, then, perceive what the Prophet had in view in saying that the Jews had been driven away by God.
He afterwards adds, They shall dwell in their own land It was necessary that the Jews should have been sustained by this support until the coming of Christ, for they saw that they would be in that inheritance which had been promised to the fathers as a pledge of eternal life and of the heavenly kingdom. It now follows, —
The Prophet here again inveighs against the wickedness of the people; but as the prophets by their flatteries had then led astray the king and his princes, as well as the people, the Prophet directed his discourse to them, and says that his heart was troubled on account of the prophets We know that men think themselves half absolved when no one severely reproves them. When, therefore, the prophets ceased from their work, there was so great a security among the whole people, that there was no fear of God in them. This is the reason why the Prophet now says that his heart was troubled on account of so much indifference; for the prophets were, as it is said elsewhere, like dumb dogs; they overlooked the most grievous and the most atrocious sins, they made no effort to restore the people to the right way. Troubled, then, he says, is my heart for the prophets; a heavier judgment awaited them, for they ought to have been the instruments of God’s Spirit, the heralds of his judgments; they ought to have undertaken his cause by using exhortations, reproofs, and threatenings.
There is yet no doubt but that what is said ought to be extended to the whole body of the people. But Jeremiah wished to begin with the prophets, as though he had said that it was monstrous that the prophets boasted that they were God’s ministers, and yet were dumb in the midst of so much wickedness. On account of the prophets, (86) he says, broken is my heart Then he says that his bones were disjointed. In the first chapter of Genesis, when Moses speaks of the Spirit as moving on the waters, he uses the same verb, but in a different conjugation. However this may be, it is most suitable to say that his bones were disjointed. (87) And we know that the bones are tied together by sinews, that they may not be moved from their places; for the loosening of one bone renders the whole body almost useless. He meant, then, by this kind of speaking, to express the most painful perturbation of mind, as though he had said that what he had, as the firmost and strongest thing, was become weak and altogether feeble.
He afterwards compares himself to a drunken man; by which metaphor he understands that he was completely stunned, and that all his senses were taken from him. And he adds, over whom wine has passed The verb עבר, ober, means to pass beyond; but to pass over is its meaning here. He who is overcome by immoderate drinking seems as though he was drowned; for when one falls under the water, he is no more sunk than he who drowns his brain with wine; for drunkenness is like a grave, inasmuch as it holds the whole man under its power. Yet the Prophet meant no other thing than that this monstrous thing rendered those astonied who were of a sane and sound mind, and that it also shook and disjointed all the members, and terrified and confounded minds otherwise quiet and tranquil. For, certainly, Jeremiah was a wise man, and was also endued with courage, so that he would not have quailed under every evil though great; nor could he have been easily overwhelmed with stupor like a drunken man. Hence by these comparisons he shows how dreadful and monstrous it was, that the prophets were so unconcerned as not to say a word, when they saw that impiety and contempt of God were so rampant, when they saw the whole land defiled with every kind of wickedness, as we shall presently see.
Then he says, On account of Jehovah, and on account of the words of his holiness By saying, on account of Jehovah, he brings God before them as a judge and avenger; as though he had said, “If they believe that there is a God in heaven, it is a wonder that they are so brutish as to dare to boast of his name, and yet silently to allow heaven and earth to be mingled together. Where, then, is their reason, when they dare so heedlessly to profess a name so fearful and awful? for whenever God’s name is mentioned, there ought to come into their minds not only his goodness and mercy, but also his severity, and then his power, which is dreadful to all the wicked. As then these men dare thus to trifle with God, must not their stupidity be monstrous?” What, then, the Prophet means is this, — that it was a wonder that the prophets undertook their office, and yet had no concern for the glory of God.
And he adds, On account of the words of his holiness Men would seek easiness were not God to rouse them by his word. But as the Law had been written for the Jews, as these false prophets knew that if they wished rightly to perform their work, they ought to have been the expounders of the Law — as these things were sufficiently known, the Prophet justly refers here to the word of God, as though he would put a bridle in their mouths, lest they should, after their usual manner, evade what a bare profession of God’s name implied. Since, then, God had testified in his Law how he would have his people ruled, how was it that these prophets were not terrified by God’s words? And as hypocrites not only despise God himself, and depreciate his glory, but also disregard the doctrine of his law, the Prophet adorns God’s words with a remarkable encomium, calling his words the words of his holiness And he thus calls God’s words holy, and therefore inviolable, in order that the ungodly might know, that a dreadful vengeance was nigh them, because they disregarded both God and his holy words. It follows —
(86) These words are connected with the former verse in the Sept. where they seem to have no meaning. The Vulg. puts them as a heading to what follows, and Blayney has done the same, “concerning the prophets.” The Syr. connects them with the following words, as Calvin does, and our version, and also the Arab. and Targ. The most suitable rendering would be, —
For the prophets broken is my heart within me.
The sentence is otherwise hardly complete. It may be rendered “with regard to the prophets,” etc. — Ed.
(87) The idea of shaking or trembling is commonly given here to the verb: “are shaken,” Sept.; “have trembled,” Vulg., Syr., and Targ. The word “tremble” is the most suitable. — Ed.
Jeremiah now assigns the reason why he was so much horrified by the insensibility which he observed in the prophets. If things were in good order, or if, at least, they were tolerable, the prophets would have more calmly addressed the Jews; for what need is there to make a great ado when men willingly follow what God commands? When, therefore, we have to do with meek and modest men, vehemence is foolish; and they who thus bestir themselves, and seek, through great ambition, to shew very fervid zeal when there is no need, are nothing but apes; but when things are in disorder and confusion, then vehemence is wanted. Jeremiah now declares that things were so extremely out of order, that the prophets could not have been silent, except they were like logs of wood.
These two things, then, ought to be connected together, — that the prophets were dumb, — and that they were dumb when there was the greatest necessity for speaking; for they saw the land filled with adulteries. Though he names adulterers, he yet condemns the crime. As then the land was polluted by adulteries and perjuries, as they all gave themselves up to do evil, it was by no means to be tolerated that the prophets should not be indignant, as though things were well ordered and peaceable.
We hence see how much God abhors sloth in the ministers of his word, in those whom he appoints as teachers in his Church, while they connive at wickedness, and heedlessly pass by adulteries, and fornications, and perjuries, and frauds, and other kinds of wrongs; for if there were even the least particle of religion in their hearts, they would certainly have been moved, and could not have been for a moment silent. For if that zeal ought to be in all God’s children, which was in the Psalmist,“
The zeal of thine house has consumed me, and the reproaches of them who reproached thee have fallen upon me,” (Psalms 69:10,)
how inexcusable must be the indifference of prophets, when they see God’s name exposed to mockery, and when they see every kind of wickedness prevailing? We now see not only what the Prophet teaches in this passage, but also the usefulness of his doctrine and how it ought to be applied. Let us then learn, that the more liberty men take in sinning, and the more audaciously their impiety and contempt of God break out, the more sharply ought prophets and faithful teachers to reprove and condemn them; and that it is the time of fighting, when the world thus presumptuously and furiously rise up against God.
The Prophet mentions some kinds of evil, and yet does not enumerate all kinds; but under adulteries and perjuries he includes also other crimes. As to the word אלה, ale, it properly means swearing; but as cursing often accompanies it, some render it here “execration.” (88) But I rather think that what is meant is perjury, and that swearing here is taken in a bad sense, signifying swearing falsely in the name of God.
Mourned, he says, has the land, and dried up have the pastures of the desert Here the Prophet strikingly shews how shameful was that torpor of which he speaks, for the land itself cried out, and not only the land which was cultivated and had on it many men, but also the very mountains and their recesses. He says that the land was in mourning, because God shewed his judgments everywhere by rendering the fields barren, and by other means which he used as punishments. And it is a very striking mode of speaking, when the Prophet mentions the mourning of the land, as though it assumed the character of a mourner, when it saw God angry on account of the wickedness of men. It is, indeed, a kind of personification, though he does not introduce the land as speaking; but he describes mourning as it appeared in the sterility of the land, and also in hails and storms, in unseasonable rains, in droughts, and in other calamities.
Whenever then God raises his hand to punish men for their sins, if they themselves perceive it not, the very land, which is without sense and feeling, ought to fill them with shame for their madness; for mourning appears in the very land, as though it knew that God was displeased with it. When, therefore, men sleep in their sins, and thus disregard God’s vengeance, how monstrous must be their torpor! And if this be intolerable in the common people, what can be said of the prophets, who ought to proclaim such words as these, — “Cursed is he who has transgressed the precepts of this law” — “ cursed is he who has corrupted the worship of God” — or, “who hath dealt unjustly with his neighbor,” — and whatever else the law contains? (Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 28:47.) We now then perceive how emphatical are the words when the Prophet says, Mourned has the land And he amplifies the same thing by saying, Dried up have the beautiful places of the desert; as though he had said, that God’s judgments were seen in the remotest places, not only in the plains, where the greater number of men dwelt, did the land mourn; but if any one ascended the mountains, where shepherds only with their flocks were to be found, even there the wrath of God was visible; and the very mountains cried out that God was angry; and yet men still deluded themselves, who, at the same time were expounders of the law, who were the mouth of God, and to whom he had committed the office of reproving; but they were dumb! We now understand what these words contain, and what is to be learnt from them.
He adds, that their course was evil, (89) and that their strength was not right By course he no doubt means their doings and all their actions, and also the aid which they proposed to themselves; for our life is called a course, because God has not created us that we may lie down in one place, but he has set before us an end for which we are to live. Therefore, by course, the Scripture means all our doings, and the very end for which we are to live. He then says, that all their strength had been perverted; that is, that they had applied all their powers to do evil. It then hence appears that, except the prophets had been perfidious, they would have thought it full time to cry out, when men provoked God with so much audacity in their wicked courses. It follows —
(88) The early Versions and the Targum differ as to this word: the Sept., the Syr., and the Arab. have “on account of these,” that is, adulterers; the Vulg.,” on account of a curse,” that is of God; the Targ., “on account of false swearing.” Blayney says, that there is nothing here about swearing, and renders the words “because of these:” but the 14 verse (Jeremiah 23:14) decides the question, where we have “adultery” and “walking in lies,” ascribed to the same persons, the prophets. That, אלה means sometimes “false swearing,” is evident from Hosea 4:2; and in Hosea 10:4, we have the word “falsely” added to it. Their false swearing was their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant, their apostasy in worshipping idols. And the charge of being “adulterers” seems to refer to their spiritual adultery — their idolatry, and not as Calvin and others think, to that which is natural. Everything in the context favors this view; their wickedness was found in God’s house, verse 11 (Jeremiah 23:11); and a comparison is made between them and the Samaritan prophets, verse 14 (Jeremiah 23:14). The construction of this verse leads us to the same conclusion: when two כי occur in succession, as here, they may be rendered as and so, —
As the land has been filled with adulterers, So for false swearing has the land mourned, Withered have the pastures of the wilderness; And their course has become calamitous, And their strength not firm, (that is, to run their course.)
Houbigant and Horsley have re-arranged the whole verse, and made several transpositions. Had these learned men for a moment reflected how such delocations of words, as they suppose, could have taken place, they would have, no doubt, restrained their innovating propensities. — Ed.
(89) That the word means “course,” is evident from Jeremiah 8:6, where it can have no other meaning. So it is rendered by the Sept. and the Vulg. Blayney gives it another meaning.
Their will also hath been wickedness, And their might without right.
He derives it from רצה, to choose, and not from ריף, run: but the sense of the last line is hardly discernible. — Ed
He adds here that it ought not to appear strange that the prophets were silent when they ought to have loudly cried out, because they were guilty themselves: and whence can freedom of speech come except from a good conscience? Hypocrites, who indulge themselves, are indeed often severe against others, and even more than necessary; but no one can dare honestly to cry out against wickedness, but he who is innocent. For he who condemns others seems to make a law for himself, according to what a heathen writer has said, (Cicero in Salustium.) Then the Prophet here shews to us why the prophets were not only idle, but were even like stocks and stones; for in speaking against wickedness, it was necessary for them in the first place to amend themselves; for their lives were wholly dissolute. As then they were of all the most wicked, they could not boldly cry out against others; and hence the Prophet condemns them, because their own impiety prevented them to perform their own duty.
It is, indeed, possible for one to live soberly, honestly, and justly, and yet to connive at the wickedness of others; but the Prophet here condemns the prophets and priests on two accounts, — for being mute, and for not undertaking God’s cause when they saw the land polluted with all kinds of defilements; and he then shews the fountain of this evil, that is, the cause why they were idle and wholly indifferent, and that was, because they dared not say a word against those crimes of which they were themselves guilty, yea, with which they were more loaded than even the common people. We now perceive the Prophet’s object in saying that both the priests and the prophets had acted impiously; (90) it was to shew, that their contempt of God, for which they were notorious, and also their wickedness, had taken away from them all power and freedom in acting.
It is added, Even in my house have I found their wickedness He enhances what he had said of their impiety; for they were not only infamous and wicked in common life, as to the duties of the Second Table; but they also corrupted the whole service of God, and the true Prophets were derided by them. For what was found to be the priests’ wickedness in the Temple, except that they practiced a sort of merchandise under the cover of the priesthood? and then the prophets vitiated and adulterated God’s worship; and what was religion to them but the means of filthy lucre or gain? When, therefore, the prophets thus trod under foot the service of God, corrupted and perverted the Law to make gain or to acquire power, their impiety was not only seen in the habits of daily life, but also in the very Temple of God, that is, with regard to the sacerdotal office.
Now, since this is true as to what took place under the Law, there is no wonder that such a base example is to be seen in the present day. And hence also is discovered the folly of the Papists, who think that they ingeniously evade every objection as to the crimes of the Pope and his filthy clergy, by saying that the Pope indeed may be wicked, as almost all of them have been, and that the same thing may be said of their mitred bishops; but that the Pope, as a Pope, cannot err, and that the bishops, as bishops, that is, in their government and office, are ruled by the Holy Spirit, because they represent the Church. But are they better than these ancient priests, whom God himself had expressly appointed, and to whom he commanded obedience to be rendered by the whole people? But the Prophet not only says here that they were wicked, that they acted impiously and wickedly towards their neighbors, that they committed plunders and robberies, that they were given to violence and rapacity, that they abandoned themselves to adultery and to every other crime; but he says also, that their wickedness was found in the very Temple, that is, in the very sacred office itself; for not only was their life wicked, but they also impiously and perfidiously corrupted the doctrine of God and subverted his worship.
(90) This verb is used three times in Jeremiah 3:1, and 9, and in every instance in the sense of defiling the land with adultery, and in the two last verses, with spiritual adultery — idolatry. It is rendered here passively by the Sept. and the Vulg., “have become defiled;” but it is most commonly used in a transitive sense; and so Jun. and Trem. render it here, and consider it, the land, as understood after it; and this is most consistent with the context, —
For both prophet and priest have defiled it: Also in my house have I found Their wickedness, saith Jehovah.
The “house” of God is here put in contrast with the land or the country; and in Jeremiah 23:15, it is expressly said that from Jerusalem pollution had gone forth throughout all the land. Idolatry is evidently what is meant throughout this passage, from verse 9 to 15 (Jeremiah 23:9). Calvin as to this verb has followed the Syriac version. — Ed.
Here he declares to false prophets and unfaithful priests that the Lord’s judgment was nigh at hand, because they had deceived the people. But he speaks figuratively when he says, that their way would be to them as lubricities. By way he understands the means which they thought to be of the best kind, as elsewhere, nearly in the same sense, what is deemed delectable, or what conduces to sustain life, is called “the table” of the wicked. (Psalms 69:22.) The meaning then is, that when they thought all things prosperous, as if one made his way through a plain, they would find themselves on a slippery ground. Their way, then, would be to them as lubricities, (91) that is, when they seemed to take a safe counsel and so prudently to set all things in order, as that nothing could happen amiss to them, their way would become slippery, and that in darkness. He doubles the evil; for one may stand on a slippery ground, and yet may take care of himself on seeing danger; but when darkness is added to the slippery ground, he who can neither stand nor move can hardly do otherwise than fall, either on this or that side: hence he says, they shall stumble and fall in it
The reason follows, even because the Lord was displeased with them. They could not then escape ruin, for they had to do with God. But as the ungodly derive false confidence from God’s forbearance, so that they dare to glory in their wickedness, he adds, the year of their visitation Though, then, God would not immediately put forth his hand to punish them, yet their time was to come; for the year of visitation means the suitable time which God has determined within himself. He indeed defers punishment; but when hypocrites and his despisers have long abused his forbearance, he then suddenly begins to thunder against them; and this is the year of visitation. It follows, —
(91) Such is the word literally; but there is here an ellipsis, not uncommon in Hebrew; the word way is left out before “lubricities” or slipperinesses. The word being plural, and a reduplicate, expresses what is extreme — “most slippery,” or, wholly slippery, —
12. Therefore their way shall be to them, As a way wholly slippery in thick darkness; They shall drive on and fall in it; For I will bring on them an evil — The year of their visitation, saith Jehovah.
It is not darkness, but thick darkness is what the word means; and it is connected with the previous words by the Targ. and by all the versions, except the Syr.; which Blayney has thus followed, —
Into darkness shall they be thrust and shall fall therein.
But this spoils the whole force of the passage: their way was to be altogether slippery, and also in thick darkness; along which they would be hurried on, or slide, or drive on, and the inevitable effect would be falling. — Ed.
These two verses are to be read together; for there is no doubt but that the Prophet here compares the false prophets, who had corrupted God’s worship in the kingdom of Israel, with those in Jerusalem who wished to appear more holy and more perfect. And he thus compares them that he might set forth those who sought to be deemed God’s faithful ministers, as being by far the worst; for he says, that he had found fatuity in the prophets of Samaria, but depravity in the prophets of Jerusalem. They are, therefore, mistaken in my judgment who take also, תפלה, tephle, as meaning depravity; for they do not consider that he here enhances by comparison their wickedness who thought themselves the best, as they say, without exception.
As to the prophets of Samaria, they had been long ago condemned; nor was there any at Jerusalem who dared openly to defend them; for they had departed from the worship of God, and had led away the people from the only true Temple and altar. They were then held at that time in the kingdom of Judah as apostates, perfidious, and unprincipled. But the kingdom of Judah still wished to be deemed pure and blameless; and the prophets, who were there, boasted that they were uncorrupt and free from every spot. The Prophet therefore says, that fatuity had been found in the prophets of Samaria, that is, in those who had corrupted the ten tribes, and vitiated there the pure worship of God; but that there was more wickedness in the prophets of Jerusalem and of the kingdom of Judah, because they were not only foolish, but also designedly subverted all religion, and allowed liberty in all kinds of wickedness, so that they carried as it were a banner in approbation of every species of iniquity. We hence see that the object of Jeremiah was to shew, that the prophets of the kingdom of Judah surpassed in impiety those very prophets whom they proudly condemned; for they were not only fatuitous and foolish, but had designedly as it were conspired against God, and had become open enemies not only to religion but to all laws.
As to the words, that he found fatuity (92) in the prophets of Samaria, he speaks in the person of God, who is the only fit judge. And he subjoins the cause of their senselessness, because they prophesied by Baal, and made the people of Israel to go astray Had Jeremiah spoken only of these, he would no doubt have used stronger terms in describing their sin; but as he was contrasting them with those who were worse, he was satisfied with the word fatuity; as though he had said, “Were any one to consider them by themselves, they were indeed very wicked, and deserved the most severe punishment; but if they be compared with the prophets of Judah, then they must be deemed only fatuitous and sottish.” Then the copulative is to be rendered thus, “I have, indeed, seen fatuity in the prophets of Samaria;” and then differently in the following clause, “but in the prophets of Judah I have seen depravity.” It is to be read adversatively in this verse, and concessively in the former. Then in the prophets of Jerusalem have I seen depravity (93)
(92) Rendered “iniquities” by the Sept.; “fatuity” by the Vulg.; “falsehood” by the Syr.; and “impiety by the Targ. Blayney has, “that which was disgusting.” The word, as here, is found only in two other places, Job 1:22; Job 24:12. It means, not what is “disgusting,” but what is crude, insipid, untempered, and hence figuratively, what is unreasonable, absurd, fatuitous, foolish. It is rendered “folly” in Job. The Vulg., which is followed by Calvin, gives its best meaning here — “fatuity.” To prophesy by Baal was the effect of infatuation: it was an absurd and fatuitous thing. This was the character of the thing in itself; and the evil which this fatuity produced was to lead the people astray. — Ed.
(93) Or “wickedness — pravitatem,” rendered “horrible things” by the Sept., and “folly” by the Syr. The Vulg. and the Targ. go altogether astray. The word means properly horridness, hideousness, or a horrid thing, and may be rendered enormity. The difference found in the Targ. and the Versions, as to the word and the manner of rendering the words which follow, seems to shew that the passage was not understood. I offer the following version, —
14. But among the prophets of Jerusalem Have I seen a horrid thing — The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; And they have strengthened the hand of the wicked, That they might not turn, each from his wickedness: They are all of them become to me like Sodom, And its inhabitants like those of Gomorrah.
The verb I render “the committing of adultery,” is an infinitive without a preposition; it cannot be otherwise rendered in our language, but in Welsh it can be rendered literally, as an infinitive without a preposition, though commonly in that language, as in Hebrew, the infinitive mood has a preposition before it. The “horrid thing” was adultery, that is, idolatry, combined with “walking in falsehood,” that is, with a false profession of prophesying in God’s name, which is afterwards more distinctly specified. Here was the difference between the prophets: those of Samaria were idolaters, and consistently they prophesied in the name of Baal; but the prophets of Jerusalem were not only idolaters, but added to this sin the enormity of defending all they did by alleging that they were the Lord’s prophets. This was the horrid thing. It is a great sin to advocate error, but to do this in the name of the Lord, or by perverting his word, is a horrid thing. The last line presents an instance of that ellipsis mentioned in a Note on the 12th verse. The word “inhabitants” is to be understood before Gomorrah. — Ed.
It follows, They commit adultery, and walk in deception Expositors think that there is a change of number; but what if these words be applied to the people? as though Jeremiah had said, “When any one is an adulterer, when any one walks in deception, that is, when any one is fraudulent, they strengthen, the hands of the wicked.” And, doubtless, this sense seems here to be the most correct. Then Jeremiah shews how they surpassed other prophets in impiety, even because they dissimulated when they saw on one hand adulteries prevailing, and on the other frauds, plunders, and perjuries; and not only so, but they undertook the patronizing of the wicked, and strengthened the hands of the ungodly, and added audacity to their madness. For as fear weakens the hands, so does shame; as, then, these prophets removed shame as well as fear from the wicked and ungodly, so they strengthened their hands; that is, they gave them more confidence, so that they rushed headlong into every evil more freely and with greater liberty.
That they might not return, he says, every one from his wickedness This is added for the sake of explanation; for, as I have said, either the fear of God or shame from men might have checked their audacity; but when they were confirmed and countenanced, they broke out into all excesses, and hardened themselves in their obstinacy: That they might not return, every one from his wickedness.
In the last place he adds, They shall be to me all of them as Sodom, and its inhabitants as Gomorrah We see that the last clause is confined to the citizens of Jerusalem. Then God says, that these prophets would be like the Sodomites, and the citizens of Jerusalem like the citizens of Gomorrah. This is not to be understood only as to crimes, but also as to punishment; as though he had said, that there was no more hope of pardon for them than for the Sodomites, for they had provoked to the utmost the wrath of God, so that he could not now spare them. It then follows, —
This verse is addressed to the prophets of the kingdom of Judah, as we learn from its conclusion; and thus the exposition which I have given is confirmed, even this, that God extenuates the fault of other prophets, in speaking of the prophets of Jerusalem, who boasted of greater sanctity. But he declares that they would have poison for meat and gall for drink; as though he had said, “I will pursue them with every kind of punishment.” He expresses evidently the same thing I have before referred to, that their table would become a snare to them. (Psalms 69:22.) The ungodly, indeed, always think that they can by their arts escape; God on the other hand declares, that though they might have a table prepared, they yet would find nothing on it, but poison for meat, and gall for drink. For as to God’s children and faithful servants, evils are turned to their benefit; so as to the ungodly and his wicked despisers, all things must necessarily turn out for their ruin, even meat and drink, and their course of life, and in a word everything.
The cause follows, For gone forth is impiety (94) through the whole land from the prophets of Jerusalem By which words he declares that they were the authors of all evils, so that in comparison with them the prophets of Samaria might have been deemed in a manner righteous. But there is no doubt but that this declaration was considered too severe; yet we see by what necessity Jeremiah was constrained thus to speak; for the lamp of God as yet remained at Jerusalem, according to what is said in many passages, nor was the light of sound doctrine wholly put out. They professed that they continued to obey the Law; and at the same time they were much worse than others, for not only the worship of God in the Temple and in the city was corrupted, but adulteries, frauds, plunders, and all kinds of wickedness prevailed everywhere. He adds —
(94) This is the Syr., but it is not the meaning; it is properly rendered “pollution,” or defilement, by the Sept., the Vulg., and Arab., but improperly flattery, by the Targ. The verb from which it comes is commonly rendered to defile; see Isaiah 24:5; Micah 4:11. The “profaneness” of our version, and “the perverseness” of Blayney, seem incorrect; the word is used in neither sense. The pollution here was by idolatry — the adultery beforementioned. This pollution had spread from Jerusalem through the whole land. — Ed.
What is here said must have appeared very severe, and must have grievously offended the people; for Jeremiah forbade them to hear the teaching of the prophets. He indeed concedes to them the name of prophets, which was a sacred name; but yet he discredits them, and deprives them of all dignity. he speaks not of magicians or impostors, who were aliens to God’s people; he speaks not of Egyptians, or Chaldeans, or any like them, nor does he speak of the prophets of Samaria, but of those who daily appeared in the Temple and boasted that they were divinely chosen, endued with the spirit of revelation, and that they brought nothing but what God had committed to them. As then Jeremiah forbade them to hear these, some great perplexity must have necessarily seized the minds of all, especially of the simple, — “What does this mean? why does God suffer these unprincipled men to occupy a place in the Temple, and to exercise there the prophetic office, while at the same time they are cheats, perjurers, and impostors?”
In the same manner we see that many at this day are perplexed on account of the discords by which the Church is harassed, and as it were torn to pieces. We are constrained to contend with those who arrogate to themselves the name of the Catholic Church, who boast that they are bishops, vicars of Christ, successors of the Apostles. When therefore the ignorant see such hostile conflicts in the very bosom of the Church, they must necessarily be terrified, and such stumbling-block shakes dreadfully their faith. Hence this passage ought to be especially noticed; for though at first ignorant people may be disturbed by such a prohibition as this, yet every one who really fears God will exercise his mind, so that he may distinguish between false and true prophets; and God will never leave his chosen people destitute of the spirit of judgment and discernment, when teachers contend on both sides, and tumults nearly overthrow the Church; even then, as I have said, God will preserve his own elect, provided we piously and humbly strive to submit to his word; he will also guide us by his hand, so that we may not be deceived. Since then God had commanded Jeremiah to forbid the people to hear the false prophets, let us not at this day wonder, that faithful teachers who desire to maintain true doctrine and genuine piety, feel themselves constrained to oppose these men of titles who shelter themselves under the masked names of pastors, and prelates, and bishops, that they may delude the unwary and the ignorant; Hear not, he says, the words of the prophets who prophesy to you
He adds, They make you to be vain; that is, they infatuate you. (95) But this would not have been sufficient, had he not added what more fully confirmed it. Hence Jeremiah says, that they brought forward the vision of their own hearts, and did not speak what came from God’s mouth. This is a mark which can never deceive us, except we willingly throw ourselves into the snares and intrigues of Satan, as many do who wilfully seek to be deceived, and even hunt for falsehoods; but whosoever applies his mind to the study of truth, can never be deceived, if by this mark, which is set before us, he distinguishes between prophets and prophets; for every one who speaks according to the mere suggestions of his own mind must be an impostor. No one then ought to be deemed a sound teacher, but he who speaks from God’s mouth.
But here a question may be raised, How can the common people understand that some speak from God’s mouth, and that others propound their own glosses? I answer, That the doctrine of the Law was then sufficient to guide the minds of the people, provided they closed not their eyes; and if the Law was sufficient at that time, God does now most surely give us a clearer light by his prophets, and especially by his Gospel. Since then God has once given us his testimony, every one ought to obey him as soon as he knows what is right, what he ought to follow, and what he ought to shun.
We now then see how useful this passage is; for there is nothing more miserable than for men to be tossed here and there, and to be led astray from the way of salvation. There is therefore nothing more desirable than to know this way with certainty, Now, God shews us the way here as by the finger; for he says that those who speak from his mouth can be heard with safety; but that others are to be rejected, how much soever they may boast of being prophets, and thus seek under the guise of authority to subject men’s minds captive to themselves. And this ought to suffice at this day to put an end to all controversies; for on this no doubt depends almost every question that is now agitated in the world. The Papists will have their own devices to be taken as oracles, and claim to be the Church; but we, on the other hand, say that perfect wisdom is alone to be found in the Law, in the Prophets, and in the Gospel. Were we then to attend to the mouth of God, it would be easy to settle all the disputes between us. It hence also follows, that the Papists are deceived because they deign not to ask at God’s mouth, but choose to become slaves to men and to their own falsehoods, rather than to inquire what pleases God; for he himself has spoken, and has not spoken hiddenly, neither doubtfully nor obscurely; for there is nothing more clear than his teaching, provided men do not become wilfully blind. He then adds, —
(95) The Sept. gives this version, “for they make a vain vision for themselves; from their heart they speak, and not from the mouth of the Lord.” Though the sense is given, yet it is not a correct version. The Vulg. and Syr. keep nearer to the original, and render the first clause “and they deceive you.” The words literally are, “Infatuating you are they.” The whole verse is as follows, —
16. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Hearken not to the words of the prophets, Who prophesy unto you; Infatuating you are they; The vision of their own heart do they speak, And not from the mouth of Jehovah.
The “And” in the last line is supplied in several copies, is given by the Sept. and the Syr. To render “from,” as Blayney does, “after the mouth,” etc., is no improvement. To speak “from the mouth of the Lord” is very striking. All the Versions retain the preposition “from,” and the Targ. gives “word” for “mouth.” — Ed.
Jeremiah introduces another mark by which the false prophets might be known as different from the true prophets, — they flattered the ungodly and wicked despisers of God. He thus repeats what he had before said, that they strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that they became hardened in their impiety, and threw aside every care for repentance. Though he uses different words, yet the meaning is the same, that they promised peace, or prosperity, to the despisers of God, for the word שלום, shalum, means to live well or happily.
They say, then, to those who despise or reject me; for נאף, nats, means both. The doubling of the word for “saying,” is also emphatical, אמרים אמור, amrim amur: (96) for we know with how much haughtiness and confidence the false prophets dared to announce their dreams; for they were led by the spirit of pride, as they were the children of Satan. Hence then was their confidence, so that they made their declarations as though they had come down from heaven. They say, then, by saying; that is, they promise, and that with great effrontery, that peace would be to all the despisers of God; and not only so, but they pretended God’s name, Spoken, has Jehovah (97) They wished to be deemed the instruments or agents of the Holy Spirit, while they were vainly announcing, as it has been said, their own imaginations. And hence Jeremiah applied to them, though improperly, the word vision, They speak the vision of their own heart By using this word he makes a concession; for he might have said only, that they adduced nothing but trifles, even the falsehoods which they themselves had devised, but he mentions the word חזון, chezun, which in itself ought to be deemed of high import. And yet he means that they were only apes as prophets, when they prattled of visions and confidently declared that they brought forward the revelations of the Spirit. He then concedes to them, though improperly, that they saw visions; but what did they see? even that Jehovah had spoken, Peace shall be to you
Then he says, They promise to those who walk in the wickedness of their own heart, that all things shall turn out well to them, No evil shall come upon you; as though he had said, “They promise impunity to all the wicked.”
(96) Some, as Venema and Blayney, think that אמרים belongs to the preceding verse; but this would not consist with the Hebrew idiom, where a participle often precedes a verb in the future tense, but never follows it; nor is this countenanced by any of the Versions or the Targ. The words as they stand are indeed unusual; the probability is that אמור should be אמרו, and all the Versions give it as such, “they say.” Then it would be, “Saying they say;” which imports the boldness and the confidence of the false prophets; that is, “They boldly say.” — Ed
(97) There is a difference in the early versions as to this clause; it is connected in the Sept. and Arab. with the preceding, “They say to those who reject the word of the Lord,” etc., and Blayney has followed this arrangement. The Vulg., the Syr., and the Targ., take it as a separate clause, and render it as here. The Hebrew no doubt admits of either constructions, but the Lord appears to be the speaker, and therefore the latter construction ought to have the preference, —
17. They boldly say to those who despise me, Spoken hath Jehovah, “Peace shall be to you;”
And to every one who walks in the resolutions of his own heart, They say, “Not come upon you shall evil.” This rendering also corresponds more with what is said in Jeremiah 23:25, that the prophets prophesied lies in God’s name. — Ed.
The verse which follows is usually thus explained, Jeremiah condemns the false teachers for their carelessness, because they attended not to the word of God, and regarded as nothing what the Law contained. But interpreters seem to me to have been certainly much mistaken in this view; for Jeremiah here shews throughout, he passage how insolently and arrogantly the false teachers conducted themselves in audaciously opposing the true and faithful servants of God, Who has stood in the counsel of Jehovah? They no doubt spoke thus tauntingly of the true prophets, “What! These announce to you pestilence, war, famine, as though they were angels sent by God from heaven; have they stood in the counsel of God?” Thus I connect this verse with the former, for I am fully persuaded that he refers here to the arrogance which the false teachers manifested towards the true teachers. (98)
Examples of this in our time give a plain exposition to this passage. For when the Papists feel themselves driven to an extremity, when they prevail nothing by clamor and falsehood, they run to this sort of evasion, “He! if we must determine everything in religion by the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, what certainty can be found? The Scripture is like a nose of wax, for it can be turned to anything, and no meaning can with certainty be elicited; thus all things will remain perplexed and doubtful, if authority belongs to the Scripture alone.” We then see that the enemies of truth at this day, when they cannot otherwise cover their filthiness, labor to throw all things into confusion, and to discredit God’s word, and to introduce such darkness, that white cannot be distinguished from black, that light becomes mixed with darkness.
Similar to this was the perverse wickedness of the false teachers. For Jeremiah and his associates, when they came forth, declared that God’s vengeance could no longer be deferred, for the people continued to provoke it; and they announced themselves as the heralds of God and witnesses to his hidden purpose; but these unprincipled men, that they might lull to sleep, yea, and stupify the consciences of men, said, “Eh! who has stood in the counsel of Jehovah? who has heard? who has attended? who has seen? all these things are uncertain; and though these severely threaten you with pestilence, war, and famine, yet there is no reason why ye ought to fear. Be then easy, and quietly and cheerfully enjoy yourselves, for they do not understand the purpose of God.” And this meaning we shall presently see confirmed by what is said in verse 22, ואםעמדו בסודי, veam omdu besudi, “And if they had stood in my counsel.” There is then no doubt but that he turns against them what they perversely boasted. But it now follows, —
(98) What seems to militate against this view is the fact, that these false prophets themselves pretended to a divine revelation; they announced their message as coming from God. Hence these questions seem to deny their pretensions. He seems to say, “Who of you have been in the council of Jehovah?” The tautology may be avoided without having recourse to the emendations which Blayney proposes, —
But who (of you) has stood in the secret council of Jehovah? And saw and understood his business? Who has listened to his word and heard it?
We know that דבר means not only a word, but also a thing, affair, business, matter, any thing represented or imagined. The verb to “see,” which implies a vision, proves that it means the latter here. Then in the last line it means a message, because it was what was listened to and heard. But the verb שמע, in the first clause, comports with seeing, and understanding is what it sometimes signifies; and in the last clause it comports with listening, which is that of hearing. The Prophet refers to a vision and to a message, or to an affair as set before one admitted into the council chamber of his sovereign, (for this is the representation,) and to a message given to him who is commissioned to transact the business. It is not an unusual thing in Scripture to use a word in two different senses in the same passage; but the surrounding context is always sufficient to make the subject clear. — Ed
The verse which I read at the end of my last Lecture must be now repeated to you, Behold, the tempest (or whirlwind) of Jehovah! it shall go forth with fury; even the impending whirlwind! on the head of the ungodly shall it abide, or fall; for יחול, ichul, means both. The Prophet now assails with more vehemence the false teachers, for they were almost stupid. None, indeed, can betray so much audacity as to oppose God, except when wholly blinded by Satan. Hence our Prophet deals with the false teachers as with fanatics or those wholly stupified: he tells them that God would come like a whirlwind Whether we render it a whirlwind or a storm, there is not much difference. (99) And he adds, that they could not escape, for the wrath of God was impending over them, and would at length remain on them.
Now, it is usual in Scripture to deal very sharply with hypocrites, and especially with false teachers, because Satan rules in them to an awful extent. And doubtless, as I have already said, except a person be fascinated with illusions, he could not dare to oppose God. There is, then, no wonder that the Prophet fulminates against these ungodly teachers; for it was nothing but play and sport to them to pretend God’s sacred name that they might deceive the people. He afterwards adds, —
(99) “Storm,” or tempest, is the most suitable here. The word חמה, after Jehovah, seems to belong to it — “hot tempest;” the reference is to the burning winds of the south. See Jeremiah 4:11. The verse may be thus rendered, —
Behold the burning tempest of Jehovah! It shall go forth, yea, a pregnant tempest; On the head of the wicked shall it burst.
The tempest or storm would be “burning,” and also “pregnant,” or in travail, as the word means; and being as it were in labor, it would “burst,” or literally bring forth on the head of the wicked. The verb is not from יחל, but from חול, which means not only to be in labor but also to bring forth. “It shall come,” is the Sept. and the Vulg.; our version is the Targum. — Ed
He confirms what he had said, lest the hypocrites, with whom he had to do, should think that their punishment would be light and soon pass away. For though they may have seen that God’s hand was armed against them, yet they took comfort, because they expected that it would only be for a short time. Hence Jeremiah here reminds them that they were much deceived if they thought that they could dissipate as a cloud the vengeance that, was at hand; for God would not cease to punish them until he had destroyed them.
There was another security which deceived the ungodly: they were not terrified by threatenings of the Prophet, because they thought that God was in a manner dallying with them whenever he denounced ruin. And, doubtless, the wicked could not have so securely indulged themselves, had it not been that they did not believe that God’s word would be fulfilled. As, then, God’s threatenings did not strike hypocrites with terror, the Prophet here declares that there was no reason for them to harbor the vain hope that God only uttered words, and that there would be no execution of his vengeance.
Turn back, he says, shall not the anger of Jehovah until he has performed and confirmed the thoughts of his heart Jeremiah shews that God had not spoken in vain by his servants, according to what is done by men, who often speak rashly, for their tongue frequently outruns their purpose. But he reminds them here that God is far different from men, for he ever speaks in earnest, and his prophetic word is a sure evidence of his hidden purpose, as it will again be presently declared. This is the reason why he mentions the thoughts of his heart
We must not yet think that God is like us, as though he reflected on this thing and on that, and formed many purposes, while one thing or another comes into his mind; no, such a gross idea as this cannot be entertained, and cannot be consistent with the nature of God.
But Jeremiah calls, by a kind of metaphor, the counsel of God his thoughts, even that fixed and unchangeable counsel, which he declared by his prophets. Sometimes, indeed, God threatened, in order to restore men to repentance; but we must bear in mind that he neither varies himself nor changes his purpose. Whatever, then, the prophets announced in his name, flowed from his hidden purpose, and it was the same as though he had made known to us his own heart. And it is no small commendation to prophetic doctrine that God as it were connected his heart with his mouth. The mouth of God is the doctrine itself; and he says now that it had proceeded from the depth of his heart. It hence follows that there is nothing frustratory, (deceptive,) as they say, in God’s word; for he here declares that whatever he had committed to his servants were the thoughts of his heart. And to confirm, or establish, must be applied to the execution of his thoughts.
The sum of the whole is, that God now pronounces a sentence against the people, which could not be reversed; for he had once for all decreed to destroy the men who were obstinate in their sins.
But he seems to refer to the word יחול, ichul, which means, as I have said, to fall, and also to abide or to lie upon. According to this meaning, he says now, that the anger of God would not return, so as to change its course, until it had completed what had already been decreed, even what God had resolved respecting the destruction of the people.
Then he adds, In the extremity of days ye shall understand the knowledge of this thing So it is literally; but we may give a simpler version, “Ye shall perceive the knowledge of this matter,” or “Ye shall know what this means.” The Prophet, no doubt, exults over the insensibility of those who could not be moved by such awful warnings. We know how great is the hardness of the ungodly, especially when Satan possesses their minds and hearts. There is, indeed, no iron and no stone which has so much hardness as there is in the perversely wicked; and they in a manner assail God with the greatest obstinacy, as though they were victorious, for they despise all his warnings and threatenings. Hence the Prophet derides their insolence, or rather their madness, and. says, “Ye shall understand,” but too late; for by extremity of days, (100) he means the time which God had appointed for his anger. But yet God had in due time warned them that they might repent before his judgment came. It was now then the same as though he left them in their own stupor, and said that they could not, however, escape the hand of God by their perverseness, according to what Paul says,“
Let him who is ignorant, be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 14:38.)
He no doubt checks the arrogance of those who rejected every sound doctrine and all right counsels.
So, then, the Prophet teaches us here that hypocrites gain nothing by setting up their own contumacy and arrogance in opposition to God, for they will find, though too late, that God has not spoken in vain. We then see that by extremity of days is to be understood that time when the door shall be closed, because they did not in due time respond to God when he invited them to himself, and set before them the hope of salvation.
There is also another truth taught us here, that we are to seek God while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6.) For if we abuse his forbearance and despise him who speaks to us today, we shall find out too late, and not without the most grievous sorrow, that we have been deceived by the devil, because we did not attend to God calling us. It follows, —
(100) Literally, “at the posteriority of days,” meaning, at a future time, without designating any particular period; it is the same as “hereafter.” The words which follow can hardly be rendered literally in our language — “ye shall discern it with discernment.” What is the antecedent to “it,” which is, ה, a feminine gender? Venema says that it is to be taken as a neuter; but if so, what does it refer to? It appears to me that there is nothing in the passage to which it can be referred, except to the “tempest,” which is feminine, in the former verse; they would understand at a future time the meaning of that tempest, that it was from the Lord as a punishment for their sins. This they did not understand at the time. These two verses are found nearly in the same words at the end of Jeremiah 23:30 : The last word is omitted there, — “At the posteriority of days ye shall discern it,” or understand it, or consider it.
The Vulg. here is, “at the last days ye shall understand his counsel;” the Sept., “at the last of days ye shall understand it;” and the Targ., “at the end of days ye shall by understanding understand this.”
The Prophet again warns the Jews not to be perverted by the flatteries of false teachers, and not to disregard the threatenings of God. We have already said that the minds of the people were then lulled asleep by false teachers, who promised them impunity. And there is no evil worse than when false teachers, under the name of God, flatter us, and drive away every fear and concern for our souls. This evil prevailed among the ancient people, as it does also at this day. Indeed the greater part of the world have ever sought flatterers, and when God sees that men thus indulge themselves, and in a manner seek for themselves snares, he gives loose reins to Satan and his ministers, that they may deceive those miserable men who thus wilfully seek to be deceived. The object, then, of Jeremiah was to remind the people often, that all flatteries were nothing but the wiles of Satan, or some deadly poison which stupified all their senses. For when one gives a person poison, which extinguishes the senses of the body and the faculties of the mind, it is all over with the miserable being who has been thus drugged. We see a similar thing done by false teachers, who soothe miserable sinners and promise peace to them, as we saw in our last lecture. As, then, it was difficult to awaken men out of this stupor, which became, as it were, innate in them, and as Satan always employs the same intrigues, it was necessary for the holy Prophet to urge his doctrine more and more.
God now says that he did not send the Prophets, and yet they ran For this objection might have appeared sufficient against Jeremiah, — that he was alone, and that the other prophets were many in number. It is, indeed, the dictate of common sense, that we ought to believe a hundred persons rather than one. Jeremiah, then, was alone, and there was a great number of false prophets; and the prophetic name was common to them all. It was therefore necessary to meet this objection, which was calculated to render God’s faithful servant contemptible. Hence he mentions the difference between the false teachers with whom he contended and himself, as though he had said, “I indeed am alone, but sent by God; and I am thoroughly convinced of my legitimate calling, and am also ready to prove that I bring no inventions of my own brain; let not, then, a false comparison of one man with a great multitude deceive you. For the question here is not of men or of their authority, but what we ought to inquire is, who sends them? If God be the author of my mission, then I, though alone, am superior to the whole world; and if they have not been called by God, though they were a hundredfold more than they are, yet all that they boast of means nothing, for in God alone we ought to believe.” We now see the design of the Prophet in saying that the prophets ran, but were not sent, that they prophesied, but had received no commands from God.
Now this passage especially teaches us that no one is worthy of being heard except he be a true minister of God. But there are two things necessary to prove a person to be such — a divine call, and faithfulness and integrity. Whosoever, then, thrusts in himself, however he may pretend a prophetic name, may be safely rejected, for God claims the right of being heard to himself alone. Yet a simple and naked call is not sufficient; but he who is called must also faithfully labor for his God; and both these things are intimated here, for he says that the prophets ran, though they were not sent, and that they prophesied, though they were without any command from God. I indeed allow that the same thing is here repeated, according to common usage, in Hebrew, in different words; yet the stronger expression is found in the second clause, for to send belongs properly to the call, and to command to the execution of the office. For God in the first place chose his prophets, and committed to them the office of teaching, and then he commanded them what to say, and dictated to them as it were his message, that they might not bring forward anything devised by themselves, but be only his heralds, as it has appeared elsewhere. (101)
We hence learn also that our ears ought not to be open to impostors, who boldly pretend the name of God, but that we ought to distinguish between true and false teachers; for Jeremiah does not here speak to a few men, but he addresses the whole people. And what he designed to shew was, that they in vain sought to escape under the pretense of ignorance, who were not attentive to sound doctrine; for except they designedly neglected God and his word, they might have known whom to believe. It hence follows that frivolous is the excuse which many consider at this day to be as it were their sacred asylum; for they plead in their own behalf they have been deceived by false teachers. But we ought to see and to inquire whether God has sent them, and whether they teach as coming from his school, and bring anything but what they have received from his mouth.
I shall not here speak at large of God’s call; but if any one wishes for a very short definition, let him take the following: There is a twofold call; one is internal and the other belongs to order, and may, therefore, be called external or ecclesiastical. But the external call is never legitimate, except it be preceded by the internal; for it does not belong to us to create prophets, or apostles, or pastors, as this is the special work of the Holy Spirit. Though then one be called and chosen by men a hundred times, he cannot yet be deemed a legitimate minister, except he has been called by God; for there are peculiar endowments required for the prophetic, the apostolic, and the pastoral office, which are not in the power or at the will of men. We hence see that the hidden call of God is ever necessary, in order that any one may become a prophet, or an apostle, or a pastor. But the second call belongs to order; for God will have all things carried on by us orderly and without confusion. (1 Corinthians 14:40.) Hence has arisen the custom of electing. But it often happens that the call of God is sufficient, especially for a time. For when there is no Church, there is no remedy for the evil, except God raises up extraordinary teachers. Then the ordinary call, of which we now speak, depends on a well-ordered state of things. Wherever there is a Church of God, it has its own laws, it has a certain rule of discipline: there no one should thrust in himself, so as to exercise the prophetic or the pastoral office, though he equaled all the angels in sanctity. But when there is no Church, God raises up teachers in an unusual way, who are not chosen by men; for such a thing cannot be done, where no Church is formed.
This subject deserves, indeed, to be much more diffusely treated; but as I am not wont to digress unto particular points, it is enough for me to state what the present passage requires, which seems to be this, — that none ought to be acknowledged as God’s servants and teachers in the Church, except those who have been sent by God, and to whom he has, as it were, stretched forth his hand and given them their commission. But as the internal call of God cannot be surely known by us, we ought to see and ascertain whether he who speaks is the organ or instrument of the Holy Spirit. For whosoever brings forward his own figments and devises, is unworthy of being attended to. Hence, let him who speaks shew really that he is God’s ambassador; but how can he shew this? By speaking from the mouth of God himself; that is, let him not bring anything of his own, but faithfully deliver, as from hand to hand, what he has received from God. But as there might be still some perplexity on the subject, it follows —
(101) The order here is according to the usual style of the prophets; the most visible act is mentioned first — the prophets ran without being sent; then the previous act is referred to, — God never spoke to them, and yet they prophesied. They ran as though God had communicated something to them; but God neither spoke to them nor sent them. They had neither a mission nor a message from God. In the following verse, consistently still with the style of Scripture, the order is reversed. The message is first referred to, and then the mission. They had no message, because they never “stood” or were present in God’s council; and then they did not go forth for the purpose of turning the people from their evil way. — Ed.
This verse is as it were an explanation of the former; for many might have been perplexed, if it had only been said to them, that there are none who are fit and legitimate teachers but those who had been sent and entrusted with what God had commanded. Hence the Prophet here calls our attention to the truth which is certain and manifest; for God had delivered the sum of all truth in his Law. As then the perfection of wisdom was found in the Law, from which the prophets drew whatever we read in their writings, no excuses, such as the following, could be admitted, — “How can we know that the prophets speak from God’s mouth, that they bring nothing devised by themselves, that they have the instructions which God approves?”
The Prophet then calls the attention of the Jews to the Law, as though He had said as Moses did,“
There is no need to ascend above the clouds, or to descend into the depths, or to run beyond the sea; for the Law and the word is nigh in thy mouth, that is, God has set before you whatever is necessary and useful to be known.” (Deuteronomy 30:12; Romans 10:6.)
This, then, is fully made known to you, nor will the knowledge of anything necessary be obscure, if ye attend to the Law. Hence the cause of error is not only your sloth, but also your perverseness; for ye wilfully neglect the Law, and remain doubtful and inquire, “Which is the way?”“
This is the way,” said Moses, “walk ye in it.” (Deuteronomy 5:33.)
We now then perceive what Jeremiah had in view: he had before said, that none were to be attended to, except they who were sent and spoke from the mouth of God; but he now explains what he meant, even that the Law contained the whole sum of wisdom. But as he had before introduced the false prophets, as boldly deriding the true and faithful servants of God, by objecting to them and saying, “Who had stood in the counsel of God? these imagine that they have fallen from the clouds, they terrify you with dreadful threatenings, as though they were angels from heaven,” — as then the false prophets were thus wont to speak disdainfully of God’s servants, and alleged that they did not stand in God’s counsel, Jeremiah now retorts upon them, and says, speaking in God’s name, If they had stood in my counsel, they would doubtless have spoken from my Law; as though he had said, “They believe not my servants, because they are men and not angels; they hence deny that they are of my counsel: thus they persuade the whole people to despise the doctrine of salvation. There are, however, some prophets whom I have sent: now, if they wish to be deemed sent, let them prove themselves to be so.” What is the true proof? If they had stood in my counsel, they would have doubtless made known my word to my people. What is that word? the definition follows, even the word of the Law, They would have turned the straying people from their evil way (102)
The passage may seem obscure, but from the context itself we can gather that the real design of the Prophet was to convict the false teachers, that they might no longer boast of God’s name, and falsely pretend that they were endued with the prophetic office, and glory in that distinction. He says that it was an evident proof that they were not God’s prophets, because they did not faithfully teach what they ought to have derived from the Law.
It is indeed certain, that no one has been God’s counsellor, according to what Scripture says in many places, when the object is to check the arrogance of those who, in their curiosity, attempt to penetrate into the hidden judgments of God, (Isaiah 40:13;) and Paul, while speaking of God’s eternal election, it being incomprehensible, exclaims, Who has been his counsellor? (Romans 11:0 : 34.) He uses a similar language in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 2:16 :) and why? that he might check the temerity of the human mind, which ventures farther than it is lawful. But afterwards Paul adds by way of correction, “But we have the mind of Christ:” how so? because he has made known his counsel to us. When, therefore, the false prophets denied that God’s servants were his counsellors, they might indeed have said so, viewing them only as mortal men; but their object was to discredit and to render void the word of God; so that they wished to put a restraint not only on men, but also on God himself. This was an intolerable insult to God.
Moreover the Prophet now turns as it were upon them, “There is then no Prophet of God in the world!” But fixed was that saying, that there would ever be some prophets; and none of the Jews could have dared to deny Moses to have been divinely inspired. This, then, being allowed, the Prophet now indirectly reproves them, “Where are the prophets of God?” and as they laid claim to this distinction, he says, “Doubtless ye stand not in God’s counsel. How so? because the counsel of God is included in his Law; and as ye have departed from the doctrine of true religion, as ye have no care to convey instruction, as your doctrine does not teach men the fear of God, nor leads to repentance, it follows that ye are not God’s counsellors nor his prophets.” But that this may appear more evident, we must bear in mind what Moses said, that God has his own secret things, but that whatever is taught in the Law belongs to us and to our children. (Deuteronomy 29:29.) There is then no reason why the inquiry should be difficult respecting the true prophets of God; for they, without controversy, deserve to be heard as the angels of God, who are faithful interpreters of his Law; but they who lead us away from the Law ought to be firmly and boldly rejected.
But we must also bear in mind the definition that is given when it is said, that they ought to have turned the people from their evil way, and from the wickedness of their doings (103) We indeed know that the worst men insolently pretend to preach God’s word, as the Papists do at this day: though they have inebriated the whole world with their ungodly and delirious doctrines, they yet boast that they are the servants of God. Hence the Prophet, after having spoken generally of God’s word, adds a special distinction, — that the doctrine of God is that which edifies, which teaches and leads men to repentance and the fear of God, according to what Paul says, that the Scripture is useful for these purposes, (2 Timothy 3:16;) for by so saying, he intended to condemn all false interpreters of Scripture, as there were many then who boasted that they were the best teachers, while yet they only pleased itching ears. As then there were many who regarded display and not edification, Paul says, that the Scripture is useful; and therefore he rejected with contempt all expositions in which there was nothing useful. So also in this place the Prophet shews that the right and legitimate use of Scripture was when it was employed to restore men from their evil way.
There is, indeed, here an instance of a part being stated for the whole: for if we only exhort men to repent, there will be no great fruit; and our teaching would be defective, for the doctrine of repentance would be inefficient without faith and without calling on the name of God. But the Prophet did not intend here to mention every part of a sound and useful doctrine; he deemed it enough to confute the false teachers who wished to be alone in repute, while yet they had no care to edify the people; for they saw all things in disorder, they saw crimes prevailing everywhere, they saw a dreadful contempt of God, but to these things they were wholly blind. It might then have been hence easily inferred that they neither faithfully labored for God nor manifested any care for the safety of the Church; for they thus betrayed miserable souls, whose ruin they saw was near at hand.
We now then see the whole design of the Prophet. But there is no doubt but that to the evil way he added the wickedness of their doings, in order that he might more fully expose the insensibility of those who under such an urgency were silent and remained inactive. There is sometimes the need of a moderate reproof; but when people allow themselves an extreme license in wickedness, when impunity is everywhere permitted, and when such corruptions prevail in common, that nothing remains untainted, if then the tongue of the teacher is silent and as it were tied, is he not rightly called an idle and a dumb dog? And thus the Prophet enhances the insensibility, for which he condemns the false teachers; they were silent, as though things were in a good order, while they had to witness not only common crimes, but even a vast accumulation of all kinds of crimes; for the people gave themselves up not only to one kind of wickedness, but to all kinds, and wholly despised God and his Law. It afterwards follows, —
(102) In the Sept. there is no corresponding clause to the “if” at the beginning of the verse. The Vulg. and the Targ., as in our version, make the “turning” to be such a clause, but strangely render it in the first person singular, “then would I have turned them,” etc. The rendering of Calvin, is the most suitable, only the ו after אם, might better be rendered “then” than “surely,” —
But if they had stood in my council, Then would they have caused my people to hear my words, And turned them from their wicked way, And from the wickedness of their doings.
Blayney renders the verse in the same way, making the corresponding clause to begin at the second line. — Ed.
(103) Their “evil way” was their idolatry, and “the wickedness of their doings” was their injustice and immoral conduct. — Ed.
Here he especially shakes off from hypocrites their self-delusions; for they were torpid in their vices, because they thought that they could in a manner blind the eyes of God. They did not indeed say so; but the heedless security of men would, never be so great as it is, were they to believe that nothing is hid from God, but that he penetrates into the inmost recesses of the heart, that he discerns between the thoughts and the feelings, and leaves not unobserved the very marrow. If, then, this truth were fixed in the hearts of all, they would certainly obey God with more reverence, and also dread his threatenings.
As, then, they are so heedlessly torpid, it follows, that they imagine God as not having a clear sight, who sees only things nigh him, like one who has a deficient vision, who can see what is near at hand, but not what is far off. Such is what hypocrites dream God to be, who after the manner of men either connives at things, or is blind, or at least does not clearly see but what is near at hand. We now understand the design of the Prophet in saying, that Jehovah is God afar off as well as near at hand.
And that this is the meaning appears more clearly from the next verse, which ought to be read in connection with this; Will a man hide himself in coverts, that I should not see him? (106) This verse is added by way of explanation; there can therefore be no doubt respecting the words, far off and near, — that God is said to be a God afar off; because his eyes penetrate into the lowest depths, so that nothing can escape him.
It is a wonder that the Greek translators made so great a mistake; for they wholly changed the sense, — that God is God nigh at hand, but not afar off. In the first place, they did not consider the question, and then, as they did not see the drift of the passage, they contrived from their own brains what is wholly remote from the words of the Prophet. This sentiment, that God is nigh and not afar off, is indeed true; but what is meant here is quite another thing, — that God sees in a way very different from men, for he fully and perfectly sees what is farthest from him, according to the passage we have quoted from Psalms 102:19; and there is another in Psalms 139:7, where the Psalmist says,“
Where shall I flee from thy face? for if I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I lie down in hell, there thou stretchest forth thine hand; if I take the wings of the dawn and fly to the clouds, even thine hand will lay hold of me there; if I seek coverts, even the night itself is before thee as the light, and darkness shines as the light.”
If, then, we join together these two passages, there will appear nothing ambiguous in the words of Jeremiah, — even that God penetrates with his eyes into the lowest depths, so that nothing is hid from him.
But Jeremiah not only explains the meaning of the last verse, but also makes a practical use of it; Will any one, he says, hide himself in coverts that I should not see him? The seeing of God has a reference to his judgment. Then all frivolous speculations ought to be cast aside, since Scripture says that God sees all things; but we ought especially to consider for what purpose it is that he sees all things; which is evidently this, — that he may at last call to judgment whatever is done by men. There is then an application of the doctrine to our case; for we hence learn, that whatsoever we do, think, and speak, is known to God.
By coverts, or hiding-places, he means all the secret frauds which men think they can cover; but by such an attempt they gain nothing but a heavier judgment. By coverts then we are to understand all those vain thoughts which hypocrites entertain; for they think that they can so hide themselves that God cannot see their purposes. Hence God laughs them to scorn, and says in effect, “Let them enter into their coverts, let them hide themselves as much as they please, I yet do see them in their coverts no less clearly than if they were quite close to me.”
To confirm this he adds, Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith Jehovah? This must not be refinedly explained of the infinite essence of God. It is indeed true, that his essence extends through heaven and earth, as it is interminable. But Scripture will not have us to feed on frivolous and unprofitable notions; it teaches only what avails to promote true religion. What therefore God declares here, that he fills heaven and earth, ought to be applied to his providence and his power; as though he had said, that he is not so taken up with things in heaven that he neglects the concerns of earth, as profane men dream; but he is said to fill heaven and earth, because he governs all things, because all things are noticed by him, because he is, in short, the judge of the world.
We now perceive what the Prophet means; and this passage is entitled to particular notice, because this error of imagining a God like ourselves is inbred almost in us all. Hence it is, that men allow themselves so much liberty; for they consider it a light thing to discharge their duty towards God, because they reflect not what sort of being he is, but they think of him according to their own understanding and character. As, then, we are thus gross in our ideas, it becomes us carefully to reflect on this passage, where God declares, that he is not only a God near at hand, that is, that he is not like us, who have only a limited power of seeing, but that he sees in the thickest darkness as well as in the clearest light; and that therefore it avails those nothing to deceive themselves who dig for themselves caverns, as it is said in Isaiah, and hide themselves in deep labyrinths. (Isaiah 2:21.) He thus denies that they gain anything, and gives this as the reason,“
Because he fills heaven and earth;”
that is, his providence, his power, and his justice are so diffused everywhere, that wherever men betake themselves, it is impossible for them to be concealed from him. It follows, —
(106) The future here ought to be rendered potentially, —
Can a man hide in hiding-places, That I should not see him, saith Jehovah? Do not I fill the heavens and the earth, saith Jehovah?
The first line may be thus rendered more literally, —
Can a man secrete himself in secrecies?
In Welsh, —
(lang. cy) A lecha dyn mewn llechveydd ?“
The heavens,” and not “heaven,” ought to be the word in the last line; and so does Blayney render it. The visible and the invisible heaven are intended. — Ed.
Jeremiah returns again to those impostors who soothed the people with their blandishments. Whenever Jeremiah and those who were like him, who faithfully performed their office, treated the people with severity by reproving and threatening them for their sins, these unprincipled men rose up against, them, and under the name of prophets flattered the ungodly despisers of God. It was, as we have before said, a most grievous trial, when in the very Church itself the ministers of Satan thus falsely pretended the name of God. The Jews would have unhesitantly despised and laughed to scorn what the vain prophets of the Gentiles might have boasted; for they knew that these had no knowledge of God; but when the false prophets of whom he now speaks occupied a place in the Church, and in high terms boasted that they were God’s servants, this would have greatly disturbed the weak and shaken their faith, and even wholly upset it, had not God stretched forth his hand. It is therefore no wonder that Jeremiah dwells so much on this subject; for it was an evil that could not be easily cured; had he said only, that they were not to be esteemed, the weak would not have been satisfied. It was hence necessary for him often to repeat this truth, that they were all to know that there was need of discrimination and judgment, and that those who pretended God’s name were not to be indiscriminately allowed to be his prophets.
He then repeats what we have before observed, but in other words, — I have heard, says God, what the prophets say who prophesy in my name (107) An objection is anticipated, for it might have been said, “What can this mean? the prophets disagree! and what is to be done under these dissensions? they who differ dazzle our eyes with an illustrious title, and boldly affirm that they have been sent by God. As, then, there is such a conflict between the prophets, what are we to do?” God meets this objection, and declares that it was not unknown to him what the false prophets boasted of. He adds, that they prophesied in his name It was an offense, which must have greatly distressed weak minds, to hear of this profanation of God’s name. For as it behoves us reverently to receive what proceeds from God, so it is no small danger when God’s name is falsely and mendaciously pretended. As, then, they might have been greatly disturbed by this false pretext of what was good, it is here expressly said, that they had used the name of God, but he adds, falsely
We hence see the truth of what I have said, that those who affirm that they are prophets and ostentatiously pretend God’s name, ought not to be received indiscriminately, but that judgment ought to be exercised; for it has been God’s will in all ages to try the faith of his servants by permitting to Satan and his ministers the liberty of pretending falsely his holy name. And as we see that the Church has ever been exposed to this evil, there is no cause for us to be disturbed at this day, when the same thing happens, for it is nothing new. Let us, therefore, learn to harden ourselves against such trials; and whenever false prophets try our faith, let; us remain firm, holding this principle, — that we ought wisely to consider, whether God himself speaks, or whether men falsely boast themselves to be his servants.
To dream is to be taken here in a good sense; for, as we have seen elsewhere, God was wont to make himself known to his servants by dreams. It is not then every kind of dreams that is to be understood here, but, such dreams as were from above. The false prophets, indeed, stated what was not true by using this language; for it was the same as though they testified that they did not bring their own devices, but faithfully related what they had received from God. As the Pope at this day declares that he is the vicar of Christ and the successor of Peter, while he exercises tyranny over the Church; so also these, by a specious pretext, deceived the simple by saying that they brought nothing human, but were only witnesses as to God’s oracles. It follows, —
(107) The more literal rendering is as follows, —
25. I have heard what the prophets have said, Who have prophesied in my name falsely, saying. — “I have dreamed, I have dreamed.”—
Here God reproves the false prophets, and also promises to his people what was especially to be desired, — that he would cleanse his Church from such pollutions. He then shews that it was his purpose to take vengeance, because the false prophets had dared in such an impious and bold manner to abuse his sacred name. For it ever occurred to their minds, “How is it that God permits this? Is it because he cares not for the safety of his people? or does it give him any delight when he sees truth mingled with falsehood, and light with darkness?” Hence God here shews that he for a time bore with that sacrilegious audacity which the false prophets practiced, but that he did not so connive at it as not at length to punish them.
How long? he says, which is the same as though he had said, “It shall not be perpetual; though I may delay, yet they shall know that they have with extreme perverseness abused my forbearance.” And he also enhances their crime by saying, How long shall it be in the heart of the prophets to prophesy falsehood? By this way of speaking he intimates, that they erred not through ignorance, as many do, who through want of knowledge bring forth what they do not understand; but God here complains that these prophets, as it were designedly, rose up to suppress the truth. Then by heart is to be understood thought or purpose; as though he had said, that they designedly made a false pretense as to his name, that it was their settled purpose to deceive the people. (108)
He adds, that they were prophets of the deceit of their own heart. This deceit of the heart is put in opposition to true doctrine; and thus God intimates that whatever men bring forward from themselves is deceitful, for nothing can proceed from them but vanity. There is yet no doubt but that he condemns that foolish conceit, of which the false prophets proudly boasted, that they were alone wise, as the case is now under the Papacy; how arrogantly do unprincipled men prattle whenever they speak of their own figments? Nothing can be more silly, and yet they think that they surpass the angels in acuteness and in high speculations. Such was the arrogance displayed by the false prophets of old. But God declares that whatever men invent, and whatever they devise, which they have not received from his mouth, is only the deceit of the heart.
And this ought to be carefully noticed; for there are many plausible refinements, in which there is nothing solid, but they are mere trifles. If, then, at any time these vain thoughts seem pleasing to us, let us bear in mind what Jeremiah says here, that whatever proceeds not from God is the deceit of the heart; and further, that though the whole world applaud falsehoods and impostures, we ought yet to know that everything is a deceit which has not God himself as its author.
(108) Emendators have been very busy in correcting the first words in this verse, without the authority of any MSS., or of the early versions. When there is a meaning and a striking one, emendations, merely conjectural, are surely to be repudiated. Houbigant, Blayney, and Horsley, have their corrections, but we can do without them. What seems to have prompted conjectural emendations has been the ה prefixed to יש; but Gataker removed this difficulty; his version is substantially as follows, —
How long! — Is it in the heart of these prophets, To be prophesying falsehood, And prophesying the deceit of their own hearts?
To be “in the heart” is to be resolved, to form a purpose or determination. See Isaiah 63:4. It is the same, as though it was said, “Are these prophets resolved?” To be “in the heart” means also to delight in a thing. See Psalms 40:8. The meaning then may be, “Is it the delight of these prophets?” etc. But the first sense is the most suitable. “How long!” is an exclamation of wonder at their perseverance in their wicked course. They had been often warned, and yet they continued. Then follows a question, whether it was their settled purpose to persevere in prophesying falsely? — Ed.
Then follows a clearer definition, that they made his people to forget his name by their dreams, as their fathers had forgotten it through Baal. (109) We may infer from this verse, that those with whom Jeremiah contended were not openly the enemies of the Law; for they held many principles of true religion. They maintained in common with the true and sincere worshippers of God this truth, — that the only true God ought to be worshipped; and also this, — that there was only one legitimate altar on which sacrifices according to the Law were to be offered. On these points, then, there was no controversy. But yet they deceived the people by their flatteries; for they made gain of their prophetic office. Hence Jeremiah condemns them, because they made God’s name to be forgotten by their dreams, as their fathers had forgotten it through Baal; as though he had said, “These dreams are like the fictitious and spurious forms of worship, by which true religion was formerly subverted; for their fathers worshipped Baal and Baalim: they set up for themselves these false gods, and thus subverted the glory of God by their own devices.” The impiety of the false prophets, who lived in the time of Jeremiah, was not indeed so gross; and yet it was an indirect defection, for they brought forward their dreams, and falsely professed that. they were God’s servants, though he had not commissioned them.
We have said elsewhere (Jeremiah 23:21) that their crime was twofold; first, they ran when not called nor sent; and secondly, they brought forward their own fancies and not the word of God. And this passage ought to be carefully noticed; for we here learn, that not only open defection cannot be endured by God, but also indirect depravations, which stealthily withdraw us from the fear of God. Then these two evils must be carefully avoided in the Church, if we desire to continue entire in our obedience to God. One evil is sufficiently known, that is, when truth is openly turned into falsehood, when men are drawn away into idolatry and filthy superstitions, or when the ancient people, as Jeremiah says, forgat the name of God through Baal. But the other evil is more hidden, and therefore more dangerous, that is, when some appearance of true religion is retained, and men are yet insidiously drawn away from the fear of God and his true worship, and from pure doctrine, as we see to be the case at this day in the Churches, which profess to have separated from the Papacy that they might embrace the doctrine of the Gospel: there are many among them who insidiously corrupt the simple and genuine doctrine of the Gospel. We see how many curious men there are at this time, who disturb all things by their own inventions, and how absurdly many seek refinements, and how confidently also do many propound their own inventions as oracles! It behoves us then to be watchful, not only that we may shun open abominations, but that we may also retain the pure and true word of God, so as not to allow false workers insidiously to corrupt and vitiate anything. It follows, —
(109) Calvin begins this verse as our version, “Who think,” etc. So the Sept.; the Vulg. is, “who seek (or wish), volunt.” Blayney has, “who study.” The verb means sometimes to contrive or to purpose a thing after counting the reasons for and against. It may be rendered here, “who design.” The Syriac is, “whose counsel is.” It was their design and intended object to make the people to forget God’s name through their dreams. But how to forget his name? for they professed to announce their dreams in his name. God’s name here evidently means his revealed name, himself as revealed in his word. — Ed
We ought also to read this verse attentively, for doubtless it contains a doctrine especially useful. I have already said, that the faith of many might have failed at seeing a conflict in the Temple of God, not only among the common people, but also among the prophets of God. God did not appear from heaven, nor did he send his angels, but would have himself to be heard through men. They who came to the Temple expected the prophets to teach them. There the ministers of Satan appeared, who corrupted and perverted all things. There were a few, who sincerely declared the truth of God, and faithfully explained what God commanded. What could miserable men do in this case, who were willing to obey, and possessed a teachable spirit? Hence it was, that many threw aside every concern for religion, and gave themselves up to despair: “What means all this? why are there so many discords, so many disputes, so many contentions, so many invectives? Where can we now betake ourselves? It is better not to care for anything any more.” Thus many took occasion to indulge their indifference, choosing not to weary themselves any more, nor to seek what God was, what his will was, whether there was salvation for them, whether there was any hope, rather than to entangle themselves in troublesome and thorny disputes.
Such a temptation existed in the time of Jeremiah. He, therefore, applied in due time a suitable remedy and said, The Prophet, who has a dream, that is, with whom is a dream, he will relate a dream; and then, The Prophet with whom is my word, he will speak my word; (110) as though God had said, that it was all extremely wicked thing to obstruct the way of truth by falsehood. But this is what usually happens, as I have already said; for where Satan has his agents, an obstacle seems to be in our way which prevents us to go on and proceed in the course of true religion. For when those who are right-minded, as we have said, see the prophets themselves contending, disputing, and quarrelling, they stand still, nay, they go backward. Now God shews that this is extremely unreasonable. Then the meaning is, as though he had said, “Let not the false prophets by Their fallacies impede the course of God’s servants, that they may not proceed, and that his word should not be reverently heard.”
Unless we attend to this which the Prophet had in view, the passage will appear unmeaning. It has been often quoted, but this circumstance has not certainly been observed. We ought, therefore, ever to consider, why is a thing said. This verse depends on what is gone before; and God here answers a question, which might have been raised, — “What then must we do, for falsehoods conflict with truth?” God answers, that his word ought not to be prejudiced by this circumstance; as though he had said, “Let nothing prevent my Prophets from teaching; I bid them to be heard.” We hence conclude, that those do wrong to God, who allege the controversies, by which religion is torn and as it were lacerated, and think that they thus obtain a license to indulge their impiety; for it is not a reason that can avail them, that Satan and his ministers labor to discredit the authority of God and of his servants. Though these false prophets insinuate themselves, though they may set up themselves against the true and faithful servants of God, yet let dreams, that is, prophetic revelations, retain their weight, and let him with whom is God’s word, speak the word of God, so that it may be heard. This clause refers to the hearers; they were not to desist from rendering obedience to the Law, how much soever Satan might strive to subvert their faith by attempting to destroy its unity.
It afterwards follows, What is the chaff to the wheat? This addition was also wholly necessary, for many might have again objected and said, that they had no sufficient judgment to distinguish between the true and false prophets. God here gives the answer, that the difference between true and false doctrine was nothing less to him who made a careful examination than between wheat and chaff And by this comparison he shews how foolishly and absurdly many detract from the authority of the Law on this pretense, that there are many who falsely interpret it. For when any one rejects the wheat because it is covered with chaff, does he not deserve to perish through hunger? and who will pity him who says that he has indeed wheat on his floor, but that it is mixed with chaff, and therefore not fit for food? Why, then, thou silly man, dost not thou separate the chaff from the wheat? But thou choosest to perish through want, rather than to cleanse the wheat that thou mayest have it for thy food. So also in the Temple the wheat is often mixed with the chaff, the pure truth of God is often defiled with many glosses and vain figments; and yet, except it be our own fault, we shall be able to distinguish between the wheat and the chaff. (111) But if we be negligent, and think that it is a sufficient excuse for despising the word of God, because Satan brings in his fallacies, we shall perish in our sloth like him who neglects to cleanse his wheat that he might turn it to bread. But the time will not allow me to say more.
(110) All the early versions and the Targ. render the last verb in the imperative mood, “Let him speak,” etc. And so most of modern expounders. — Ed
(111) The difference between the chaff and the wheat is what the Sept. and Vulg. intimate, “What is the chaff to the wheat?” But the Syr. has another idea, “Why mingle ye the chaff with the wheat?” The literal rendering of the Hebrew is, “Why to the chaff the wheat?” The mixture is what seems to be intended. So thought Gataker and Blayney, who rendered it, “What has the chaff to do with the wheat?” that is, why do you mix them together? And so does Adam Clarke view the phrase. Venema, Henry, Scott, and Lowth take the first meaning, which is also that of our version; but the other is more agreeable to the original. — Ed
He confirms what he said of the chaff and the wheat, but in different words. It was a fit comparison when Jeremiah compared God’s word to wheat, and the figments of men to chaff. But as the Jews, through their ingratitude, rendered the word of God ineffectual, so it did not become to them a spiritual support, the Prophet says that it would become like a fire and like a hammer, (112) as though he had said, that though the Jews were void of judgment, as they had become hardened in their wickedness, yet the word of God could not be rendered void, or at least its power could not be taken away; for as Paul says,“
If it is not the odor of life unto life, it is the odor of death unto death to those who perish,” (2 Corinthians 2:16)
and so also the same Apostle says in another place, that God’s servants had vengeance in their power, for they bear the spiritual sword, in order to cast down every height that exalteth itself against Christ; but he adds,“
After the obedience” of the faithful “had been completed.” (2 Corinthians 10:6)
The first and as it were the natural use of God’s word is to bring salvation to men; and hence it is called food; but it turns into poison to the reprobate: and this is the reason for so great a diversity.
He said, first, that God’s word was wheat, because souls are nourished by it unto a celestial life; and nothing can be more delightful than this comparison. But now he declares it to be fire and a hammer There is in these terms some appearance of contradiction; but there is a distinction to be made as to the hearers, for they who reverently embrace the word of God, as it becomes them, and with genuine docility of faith, find it to be food to them; but the ungodly, as they are unworthy of such a benefit, find it to be far otherwise. For the word which is in itself life-giving, is changed into fire, which consumes and devours them; and also it becomes a hammer to break, to tear them in pieces, and to destroy them.
The import of the whole is, that God’s word ever retains its own dignity; for if it happens to be despised by men, it cannot yet be deprived of its vigor and efficacy; if it be not wholesome for food, it will be like fire or like a hammer. Then these two comparisons belong to the wicked, for God’s word has another sense when called fire with reference to the faithful, even because it dries up and consumes the lusts of the flesh, as silver and gold are purified by fire. Hence the word of God is properly and fitly called fire, even with regard to the faithful; but not a devouring but a refining fire. But when it comes to the reprobate, it must necessarily destroy them, for they receive not the grace that it offers to them. It may also be called a hammer, for it subdues the depraved affections of the flesh and such as are opposed to God even in the elect; but it does not break the elect, for they suffer themselves to be subdued by it.
But this hammer is said to break the stone or the rock because the reprobate will not hear to be corrected; they must, therefore, be necessarily broken and destroyed. For this reason Paul also, while speaking of the refractory, says,“
Let him who is ignorant be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 14:38)
For by these words he means that they will at last find how great is the hardness of that word with which they dare to contend through the perverseness of their heart. But that passage which I have before quoted well explains what is here said by Jeremiah, even that truth in itself is wholesome, but that it turns into an odor of death unto death to those who perish. (2 Corinthians 2:16.) Paul, indeed, speaks of the Gospel, but this may be also applied to the Law. It now follows, —
(112) The particle כה at the beginning of this verse, rendered ut by Calvin, seems to be without meaning. It is omitted by the Vulg., and rendered “behold” by the Sept. and Syr., as though it was חנה. Venema regarded it either as a noun, burning, from כוה, to burn, or a misprint for כח, strength, vigor, power. The last is adopted by Blayney, and approved by Horsley, and is countenanced by the Targ., “Are not all my words strong as fire?” Blayney’s version is, —
Is not the power of my word like fire?
This is the most probable meaning; though there is no different reading, yet the difference between the two letters is very small. — Ed.
Jeremiah returns again to the false teachers, who were the authors of all the evils; for they fascinated the people with their flatteries, so that every regard for sound and heavenly doctrine was almost extinguished. But while God declares that he is an avenger against them, he does not exempt the people from punishment. We indeed know that a just reward was rendered to the reprobate, when God let loose the reins to the ministers of Satan with impunity to deceive them. But as the people acquiesced in those false allurements, while Jeremiah so severely reproved the false teachers, he reminds the people how foolishly they betook themselves under the shadow of those men, thinking themselves to be safe.
He says, first, Behold, I am, against the prophets, who steal my words every one from his neighbor. Many explain this verse as though God condemned the false prophets, who borrowed something from the true prophets, so that they might be their rivals and as it were their apes; and no doubt the ungodly teachers had ever from the beginning made some assumptions, that they might be deemed God’s servants. But it seems, however, a forced view, that they stole words from the true prophets, for the words express what is different, that they stole every one from his friend Jeremiah would not have called God’s faithful servants by this name. I rather think that their secret arts are here pointed out, that they secretly and designedly conspired among themselves, and then that they spread abroad their own figments according to their usual manner. For the ungodly and the perfidious, that they might obtain credit among the simple and unwary, consulted together and devised all their measures craftily, that they might not be immediately found out; and thus one took from the other what he afterwards announced and published. And this is what Jeremiah calls stealing, because they secretly consulted, and then declared to the people what they agreed upon among themselves; and they did this as though every one had derived his oracle from heaven. I have, therefore, no doubt but that the Prophet condemns these hidden consultations when he says that every one stole from his neighhour. (113)
We indeed see the same thing now under the Papacy, for the monks and unprincipled men of the same character have their own false doctrines; and when they ascend the pulpit, every one speaks as though he was endued with some special gift; and yet they steal every one from his friend, for they are like the soothsayers or the magi, who concocted among themselves their own falsehoods, and only brought out what they deemed necessary to delude the common people. This, then, was one of the vices which the Prophet shews prevailed among the false teachers, — that no one attended to the voice of God, but that every one took furtively from his friend what he afterwards openly proclaimed.
(113) Various have been the expositions of this sentence: they adopted the manner of the true prophets, as some say, and used their words, an instance of which is found in Jeremiah 28:1; and this is the view of Scott; others hold that the imitation in saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” is what is referred to. It has also been suggested that they are intended — who, knowing the truth, withheld it from the people; and that to withhold what they knew, is represented here as stealing. But none of these views sufficiently account for the words here used, “who steal my words every one from his neighbor.” They were God’s words committed to the people, and these prophets stole them, that is, by rendering them void by their falsehoods and vain dreams, as Satan is said to steal the seed sown in the heart of the way-side hearer. This is the view taken by Grotius, Venema, and Gataker. — Ed.
He adds, secondly, Behold, I am against the prophets, who mollify their own tongue Almost all interpreters take לקה, lekech, as signifying to render sweet or soft; and they understand that the false prophets are condemned, because they flattered the wicked for the sake of gain; for had they offended or exasperated them, they could not have attached them to themselves. They then think that to mollify their tongue means here that they used their tongue in speaking smooth and flattering things. But others give another explanation, — that they mollified their tongue because they polished their words in imitation of God’s servants, so that their speech was sweeter than honey. But as לקה, lekech, means to receive and to take, and sometimes to raise on high, and sometimes to carry, I see not why it should not be taken in its proper meaning. I certainly see no reason to turn its meaning to a metaphor, when it can be taken in its plain sense of raising their tongue; they elevated themselves, and in high terms boasted that the office of teaching had been committed to them, for we know how haughtily false teachers elevate themselves. Therefore the verse may be taken thus, that God would punish those impostors who raised their tongue, that is, who proudly boasted and boldly arrogated to themselves authority, as though they were messengers from heaven. (114)
It afterwards follows, And they say, נאם, nam, he saith. We know that it was a common thing for all the prophets to add, נאם יהוה, nam Jeve, the saying of Jehovah, or the word of Jehovah, in order to shew that they said nothing but what they had received from above. And if we read this verse as connected together, we shall find true what I have said — that the verb לקה, lekech, does not mean the smoothness or adulation used, but, the lofty vaunting of the false teachers, who wished to be deemed the organs of the Holy Spirit, and assumed to themselves all the authority of God. For their elation was this, that they confidently boasted that God himself had spoken, and said that it was the word; and they did this, that whatever they prattled might appear indisputed, though it was sufficiently evident that they falsely pretended the name of God.
(114) There are those who, with Houbigant, suppose a transposition in the word, the ח being put last instead of being first; and then it would mean to render smooth. But this does not suit the passage. The probable idea is what is given paraphrastically by the Sept., “who send forth the prophecies of the tongue;” they derived their prophecies from their own hearts and their own tongues, and said that they came from God. They took or used their tongues only, and at the same time professed to speak God’s words. Or we may consider the taking or using the tongue as meaning only profession, as though it was said, “who profess and say, ‘He saith.’”
The Syr. is, “who pervert their own tongues,” which means that they used them falsely; and the Targ., “who prophesy according to the will of their own heart.” — Ed.
He adds, thirdly, Behold, I am against those who prophesy dreams of falsehood It was indeed necessary to say here, that though the false teachers arrogated to themselves what alone belonged to the servants of God, they were yet mendacious. He afterwards adds, They narrate them, and cause my people to err by their falsehoods and their levity The meaning is, that however proudly they might, have pretended the name of prophets, they were yet impostors, who deceived the people by narrating to them their false dreams. The word dream is taken here in a good sense, but the word added to it, shews that they boasted of dreams which were only their own; and this is again confirmed when Jeremiah says, that they deceived the people by their falsehoods; and he adds, by their levity, (115) which some render “flattery.” I doubt not but that it means their inventions, which were vain, because they proceeded only from vain presumption.
He adds, Though I sent them not nor commanded them This negation ought especially to be noticed; for God shews how we are to form a judgment, when a question is raised respecting true and false teachers. Whatever, therefore, is without God’s command is like the wind, and will of itself vanish away. There is, then, no solidity in anything but in God’s command. Hence it follows, that all those who speak according to their own fancies are mendacious, and that whatever they bring forward has no weight in it; for God sets these two things in opposition the one to the other; on the one side are falsehood and levity, and on the other, his command and his call. It hence follows, that no one, except he simply obeys God and faithfully declares what he has received from him, can be of any account; for his whole weight is lighter than a feather, and all his apparent wisdom is falsehood.
At last he says, that they would not profit his people In which words he warns the people to shun them as the plague. But we see how the world indulges itself in this respect; for they who are drowsy seek to absolve themselves on the plea of ignorance, and throw the blame on their pastors, as though they were themselves beyond the reach of danger. But the Lord here reminded the people, that the teachers whom they received were pestilent; though for another reason he testified that they were useless, and that in order that he might shake off the vain confidence of the Jews, who were wont to set up this shield against all God’s threatenings, that their false teachers promised them wonderful things. It follows, —
(115) The word is rendered “errors,” by the Sept.; “miracles,” by the Vulg.; “lasciviousness,” by the Syr.; and “rashness,” by the Targ. It comes from a verb which means to swell, to overflow. As a feminine noun it is only found here, and as a participial noun in two places, Jude 9:4, in which places it evidently means licentious persons; and I once thought that as used here it means licentiousness; see Note on Zephaniah 3:4, in vol. 4 on the Minor Prophets: but I now think that the meaning most suitable here is excess or overflowing in words — vaunting boasting. The false prophets boasted that they were prophesying in God’s name; they were telling lies, and boasting that they were sent by God. In this way they succeeded in leading astray the people, Venema renders it “vain boasting.”
Behold, I am against those who prophesy Lying dreams, saith Jehovah; And who declare them, that they may lead astray My people by their lies and by their vauntings.
Then follows a virtual denial of their vauntings, for God had “not sent’ nor “commanded” them; and the conclusion of the verse refers to their lies, for what they said would “not profit” the people. Thus we see a perfect correspondence between what is said in this and in the following verse, and the order is according to the usual style of the Prophets, it being reversed in the latter instance; their vauntings were false, because God did not send them; and their lies were vain, for they would not profit the people. — Ed.
It appears sufficiently evident from this passage, — that the contumacy of the Jews was so great, that they sought from every quarter some excuse for their insensibility, as though they could with impunity despise God when they rejected his word. For the devil by his artifice fascinates the reprobate, when he renders God’s word either hateful or contemptible; and whenever he can exasperate their minds, so that they hear not God’s word except with disdain and bitterness, he gains fully his object. The Jews, then, were led into such a state of mind, that they regarded God’s word with hatred; and they were thus alienated from all docility and from every care for religion. In short, the prophets, as it is well known, everywhere employ the word משא, mesha, which means a burden.
Now, a burden means a prophecy, which terrifies the despisers of God by threatening them with vengeance. As, then, their minds were exasperated, they called through hatred the word of God a burden, and used it as a proverbial saying, “It is a burden, a burden.” They ought to have been moved by God’s threatenings, and to have trembled on hearing that he was angry with them. The word burden, then, ought to have humbled them; but, on the contrary, they became exasperated, first, through haughtiness, then through an indomitable contumacy, and thirdly, they kindled into rage. We hence see how the expression arose, that the prophets called their prophecies burdens. God now severely condemns this fury, because they hesitated not thus openly to shew their insolence. It was surely a most shameful thing, that the word of God should be thus called in disdain and contempt, in the ways and streets; for they thus acted disdainfully and insolently against God; for it was the same as though they treated his word with open contempt. It was then no wonder that he reproved this fury with so much vehemence, by saying, But if this people ask thee, What is the burden of Jehovah?
This manner of asking was altogether derisive, when they said to Jeremiah and to other servants of God, “What is the burden?” that is, “What dost thou bring to us, what trouble is to come on us?” They thus not only spoke contemptuously of God’s word, but, as though this wickedness was not sufficient, they became, as I have said, irritated and exasperated. If, then, they ask thee, What is the burden? And he speaks not only of the common people, but of the very prophets and priests.
We hence learn how great a contempt for God then prevailed, so that there was no integrity either in the priestly or the prophetic order. It is indeed wonderful with what impudence they dared to boast themselves to be God’s servants, while they spoke with so much insolence! But the same thing happens in the world in our day; for we see that the ministers of Satan in no other way hold the world under their power, than by alluring the minds of the ungodly; and at the same time they cause God’s word to be hated, and say that it brings not only troubles, but also torments. Since, then, these unprincipled men, who thus lead with hatred and disdain the true doctrine, occupy pulpits, we need not wonder that the same evil prevailed in the ancient Church.
It follows: If a prophet or a priest ask thee, What is the burden of Jehovah? thou shalt say to them, What burden? I will forsake thee, saith Jehovah. This was a most grievous threatening, but it has not been well considered and rightly understood; for interpreters have overlooked the implied contrast between the presence and the absence of God. Nothing could have been more acceptable to the Jews than God’s silence. And yet in no other way does he more clearly show that he is a Father to us, caring for our salvation, than by familiarly addressing us. Whenever, then, the prophetic word is announced, we have a sure and a clear evidence of God’s presence, as though he wished to be connected with us. But when the ungodly not only reject so remarkable a benefit, but also furiously repel, as far as they can, such a favor, they desire and seek the absence of God. Therefore God says, “Ye cannot bear my word, by which symbol I shew that I am present with you; I will forsake you;” that is, “I will no longer endure this indignity, but I will depart from you; there shall be hereafter no prophecy.” (116)
At the first view this was not deemed grievous to the Jews; for as I have said, the ungodly desire nothing more than that God should be silent, and they thought that they had gained their greatest happiness, when with consciences lulled to sleep they indulged themselves in their filth. It was then their chief wish that God should depart from them. But yet there was nothing more to be dreaded. The Prophet then shews here that they were extremely infatuated and wholly fascinated by the devil, for they could desire nothing more dreadful than that God should depart from them; as though he had said, “My word is a weariness to you, and I in my turn will now avenge myself, for I am weary of forbearing you, when I see that you can by no means be healed; and as I have been hitherto assiduous in instructing you, and have found you unteachable, I will now in my turn leave you.” It follows, —
(116) The latter part of the verse is rendered by the Septuagint, “Ye are the assumption. ( λὢμμα,) I will dash you to pieces, saith the Lord;” by the Vulgate, “Ye are the burden, I will surely cast you away, saith the Lord;” by the Syriac, “This is the word of the Lord; I will pluck you up, saith the Lord;” and by the Targum, “Such is the prophecy; I will cast you away, saith the Lord.”
Blayney considers that these words את מח משא ought to be thus arranged אתם המשא, consistently with all the Versions and the Targum; the letters are the same, only differently connected. This, doubtless, is the right reading, though not found in any MS.; both the Versions and the sense being in its favor. Then as to the verb, the most suitable meaning here is to cast off, as Blayney renders it. The verse then would read as follows, —
33. And when ask thee shall this people, Or a prophet or a priest, saying, “What is the burden of Jehovah?” Then say to them, “Ye are the burden;” And I will cast you off; saith Jehovah.
It was a suitable answer to mockers, who made, as it were, a sport of the true Prophets. — Ed.
Prophecy might indeed have been called a burden, when anything sad was announced; but it might also have been so called, when men were aroused to fear God, or when they were exhorted to repent. But God has a reference here to that wicked impiety, when men dared in ridicule to call any prophecy a burden. And hence it appears, that they were all so given up to their sins, that the very name of God’s judgment was hated by them. We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning when he said, that God would punish all those who called his word a burden; for the Prophets themselves were wont to speak thus; and we find that Jeremiah in many places used this word. He does not then speak here generally, but points out, as by the finger, a vice which prevailed; for the Jews had so hardened themselves in hatred to sound doctrine, that they said, “He! these Prophets do nothing but terrify us by threatenings and by denouncing ruin on us; and what will be the end of all this?” God says, that he would take punishment on all who thus spoke and on all their families. It hence appears how much he abominated this blasphemy; and hence also we see how precious to God is the honor of his word; for it is not of every kind of sin that God speaks when he extends his vengeance to posterity. It is the same thing as though Jeremiah had said, “It is altogether intolerable, when men became irritated and exasperated against God’s word.” And yet this evil is not an evil of one age only. We see that the Israelites ever complained of God’s rigor; hence that saying,“
The ways of the Lord are not tortuous, but rather your ways, O house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 18:25.)
And here we must notice the wickedness of the human mind; for God, as it has been before stated, has nothing else in view by calling us to himself, but to make us partakers of eternal life and salvation. It is then God’s design to receive us for the purpose or saving us; this is the end intended by, all the prophets; and hence the Prophet called before the word of God wheat; but what is done by men? They despise this favor; and not only so, but turn food into poison and cease not to provoke God’s wrath. He was, therefore, constrained to threaten them. When he finds us teachable, he allures us to himself even with paternal kindness. But when we provoke him to wrath, we in a manner force him to put on another character, according to what he says, that he will be refractory towards the refractory. (Psalms 18:26.) Yet we complain when God deals rigidly with us. We cease not to carry on war with him; but when he restrains and checks our insolence, we immediately expostulate with him, as though he were too severe and his word offended us. Whence is this offense? even from our obstinate wickedness. Were men to put an end to their sinful course, the Lord would change his manner of dealing with them, and gently treat them and foster them as chickens under his wings; but this they suffer not; nay, they reject such a treatment as much as they can. Hence it is, that they abhor the name of God and his word. What then is the excuse for the complaint, when they say that God is too rigorous, as though his word were a burden? There is none; for they are themselves refractory against God, and thus his word becomes a hammer to break their heads, to shatter and destroy them. We now see the reason why God not only declares that he was angry with these ungodly despisers of his word, but also denounces the same vengeance on their posterity. (117)
(117) The beginning of this verse will read better in connection with the last, in apposition with “you” whom the Lord threatened to cast off, —
Then say to them, “Ye are the burden;” And I will cast you off, saith Jehovah —
34. Even the prophet and the priest and the people: Who will say, “The burden of Jehovah,” Yea, I will punish that man and his house.
Notice here the change of order in the words; in the preceding verse we find “the people and the prophet and the priest;” but here, “the prophet and the priest and the people.” Whoever he might be, whether a prophet or a priest or one of the people,” that man was to be punished. — Ed.
Here the Prophet explains himself more clearly; he shews why God would not have his word to be called a burden. Why so? because they in a manner closed the way, so that they derived no benefit from God’s word, while they regarded it with disdain and hatred; for the word burden was an obstacle, so that they gave no access to God, nor opened their ears to hear his word. God then bids them to come with empty and sincere hearts; for it is a real preparation for a teachable spirit, when we acknowledge that we ought to believe in God’s word, and also when we are not possessed by a perverse feeling which forms a prejudice and in a manner holds us bound, so that we are not free to form a right judgment.
The import of the passage then is this, that the Jews, renouncing their blasphemies, were to prepare themselves reverently to hear God’s word, for hearing is due to God; and then that this word was to be heard with sincere hearts, so that no weariness, nor pride, nor hatred, nor any depraved feeling, might hinder his word from being believed and reverently heard by all. This then is what the Prophet means when he says, “Ye shall hereafter change your impious expression, and shall say, What has Jehovah answered? what has Jehovah spoken?” That is, they shall not themselves close the door, but willingly come to the school of God, being meek and teachable, so that nothing would hinder them from rendering honor to God and from embracing his word, that they might be terrified by his threatenings, and that being allured by his promises they might devote themselves wholly to him.
Jeremiah goes on with the same subject, that every one ought calmly and meekly to hear God speaking, he said, as we saw yesterday, that the prophets were to be asked as to what God had spoken and what he had answered; he thereby intimated that there must be docility, in order that God’s word may obtain credit, authority, and favor among us. He again repeats, that the word burden could not be endured by God; for, as we explained yesterday, this word was used commonly by the Jews as expressive of hatred or disdain, being as they were unwilling to receive sound doctrine.
In forbidding them to mention the word burden, it was the same thing as though he had said, “Let not this form of speaking be any longer in use among you.” He then adds, For to every one his word shall be his burden. By these words he shews that what is bitter in prophecies is as it were accidental; for God has nothing else in view in addressing men, but to call them to salvation. The word of God then in itself ought to be deemed sweet and delightful. Whence then is this bitterness and hatred towards it? even from the wickedness of men alone. As when a sick person, eating the most wholesome food finds it turned into poison, the cause being in himself; so it is with us, it is our own fault that the word of God becomes a burden. It was, moreover, the Prophet’s design to shew that the Jews had no reason to complain that prophecies were grievous to them, and always announced some trouble; for God wishes to address men with lenity and kindness, but he is forced by their wickedness to deal sharply with them. The Prophet seems, however, to go still farther, as though he had said, “Though prophecies should cease, yet every one shall be a prophet to himself; for as they murmur against God, and cannot bear his judgment, however silent God’s ministers may be, they will yet afford a sufficient cause for condemnation, who dare thus to rise up against God.”
We now see the design of the Prophet in saying, Ye shall no more mention the burden of Jehovah; that is, “This shameful proverb, which brands God’s word with disgrace, shall no more be used by you; this wicked practice shall cease, for else to every one of you; his word shall be a burden;” so the causal particle כי, ki, is to be rendered. But if another sense be preferred, I feel no objection, that is, that they ought to have considered the reason why God did not deal more mildly with them; which was, because they were of a perverse disposition, and thus they refused the paternal kindness which he was prepared to shew, provided they received it. (118)
This passage is entitled to special notice, for we see how the greater part cannot bear threatenings and terrors when announced to them. Hence they entertain contempt and hatred towards heavenly doctrine; and yet none consider why God so often threatens and terrifies them in his word. For if men ceased to sin, God would cease to contend with them; but when they continually provoke him, is he to be silent? and further, are his prophets to suffer everything just to be violated, and God himself to be despised? Let us then know that the fault is in us when God seems to deal rigidly with us, for we do not allow him to use such a paternal language as he always would, were it not that we put a hinderance in the way.
The Prophet also adds, For ye have corrupted the words of the living God, of Jehovah of hosts our God So ought the words to be rendered. Here he justly accuses them, that they perverted the words of God, and in two ways, because they constrained God by their wickedness to speak otherwise than he wished, and also, because they were preposterous interpreters of his dealings. For though God may severely chastise us, yet it is our duty to receive his reproofs with a meek spirit, as they are necessary for us; but when we murmur and become refractory, we pervert the word of God. We hence see that the word of God is not only perverted in one way, but when we furiously oppose him, we prevent him to deal gently and kindly with us; and we do the same when we submit not to his reproofs, but rage against him whenever he summons us to judgment. And as their wantonness was in this instance so great, the Prophet here sets up against them in express terms the power of God.
He says first, that he is the living God; and by this term he reminded them that the ungodly, who vomited thus their blasphemies against him, would not go unpunished; “See,” he says, “with whom ye have to do; for you contend with the living God; this audacity will rebound on your own heads; ye then carry on a fatal war.” He, secondly, adds, that he is Jehovah of hosts; by which expression he again shews his power. And, thirdly, he says, that he is the God of that people; as though he had said, that not only their impiety was madness in daring to contend with God, but that it was also connected with ingratitude; for God had adopted them as his people, and had promised to be their God.
We now then see the design of the Prophet; he first warned them not to entertain hatred in their hearts to prophetic doctrine; secondly, he shewed that the whole fault was in themselves, as they constrained God to deal severely with them; and further, that they perverted the word of God, being false interpreters of it, and closing the door against his kindness when he invited all the pious and the teachable; and lastly, he exalts God’s power and commends his goodness, that he might thus aggravate the sin of the people in daring to carry on war with God himself, and in despising the favor conferred on them. It follows, —
(118) This sentence, as given by the Sept. and Vulg., bears the meaning first mentioned by Calvin, but another, as given by the Syr., “for the word, let it be to man his prophecy,” that is, the Lord’s prophecy. The meaning of which seems to be, that the burden, or prophecy, ought to be deemed by every man as the word of God, or ought to be called his word; it was no longer to be called burden, but God’s word. According to Calvin and many others, the meaning is, “the word, or the phrase,” the burden of the Lord, “which ye use in derision, shall really be a burden to you.” The כי in this case must be rendered else or otherwise. But the following words do not well connect; and as punishment in case of disregarding the injunction here given is afterwards especially specified, to mention it here seems improper. I am therefore inclined to regard the two last clauses as including reasons for the prohibition; and I give this version,
36. And “the burden of Jehovah” ye shall no more mention; For the burden, it is become to every one his word; And ye have perverted the words of the living God, Of Jehovah of hosts, our God.
The word burden was used by all, it had become a common word; and by using it in derision, they turned the words of the living God into contempt, instead of receiving them as his words and obeying them. This was the process, they first ridiculed them, and then despised and neglected them. Hence God prohibited the use of the expression, “the burden of Jehovah.” The only objection to the rendering above is, that היה, a future, is rendered as a present, “it is become;” but this is what is often done. Besides, כי is sometimes conversive as well as the ו. — Ed
He repeats what we noticed yesterday, and almost in the same words. The meaning is, that if we desire to profit in God’s school, we must beware lest our minds be preoccupied by any corrupt feeling. For whence is it that God’s word is not savored by us, or excites in us a bitter spirit? even because we are infected by some sinful lust or passion which wholly corrupts our judgment. God then would have us to come to him free from every vicious disposition, and to be so teachable as to inquire only what he teaches, what he may answer to us; for whosoever becomes thus disentangled and free, will doubtless find the prophetic doctrine to be for his benefit. There is then but one cause why God’s word does not profit us, but on the contrary is injurious and fatal to us, and that is, because we seek not what God speaks, that is, because we are not teachable, nor come to learn, but either sloth, or contempt, or ingratitude, or perverseness, or something of this kind, bears rule in us.
Now he says here, that the prophets ought to be asked as to what God speaks, or as to what he may answer (119) In these words he exculpates God’s faithful servants; for if a hearer is ready to obey, he will find from a faithful teacher what may justly please and do him good. In short he shews that there is nothing wrong in the prophets when their doctrine does not please us, but that this happens because we do not regard what Jeremiah here reminds us of, that we ought to hear God that we may learn, and that we may obey his voice. It follows, —
(119) “Thus shalt thou say to the Prophet,” that is, every one of you. The singular is used, as is the case often, instead of the plural. The Syr. indeed adopts the plural, “Thus shall ye say,” etc. They are here directed how to address a Prophet. — Ed.
Here the Prophet confirms what he had said, for God might have seemed to be too indignant, having been so grievously offended at one short expression. The Jews had borrowed from the prophets themselves, when they called prophecies burdens, as we have already said, and as we find in many places. Now as the lubricity of language is great, though the Jews might have done wrong as to one word, it might yet have appeared an insufficient reason for the punishment which God threatened to inflict. But the Prophet here shews that God was justly angry with them, for he had sent to them, and often warned them not to use this form of speaking, which was a manifest evidence of their impiety. As then they had thus disregarded God and his warnings, was it an excusable mistake? In short, Jeremiah shews that they had not erred inconsiderately, as it often happens as to those who speak rashly and thoughtlessly, but that this perverted way of speaking proceeded from determined wickedness, from a wish to affix some mark of disgrace to God’s word; and thus they acted in disdain towards God himself. This then is the import of the words.
If ye shall say, even when I warn you not to speak in this manner; if then ye persevere in this obstinacy, Behold I, etc.; God here declares that he would take vengeance. As to this sentence, most interpreters derive the verb from נשה, nushe, making ה, he, the final letter; but I doubt the correctness of this; yet if this explanation be adopted, we must still hold that the Prophet alludes to the verb, to take away, which immediately follows. But I am disposed to take another view, that God would by removing remove them. It must be noticed that the word משא, mesha, which has often been mentioned, comes from the same root; משא, mesha, a burden, is derived from נשא, nusha, to remove or take away. As therefore this proverb was commonly used, that prophetic doctrine ever brought some burden and trouble, God answers, “I will take you away;” that is, “ye shall find by experience how grievous and burdensome your wickedness is to me, it shall rebound on your heads; ye have burdened and treated with indignity my word, and I will treat you with indignity,” but in what manner? I will take you away even by taking you away. If any one approves more of the sense of forgetting, let him follow his own judgment; but that explanation appears to me unmeaning, “I will forget you,” except נשא, nusha, be taken in the second place as signifying to take away. “I will forget you, that I may take you away.” (120)
He adds, And I will pluck you up; which some render, “I will forsake you,” but they seem not to understand what the Prophet intended; for he declares something more grievous and more dreadful than before, when he says, I will pluck you up; and yet this sense does not satisfy me. The verb נטש, nuthash, means to extend, and metaphorically to cast far off; and casting off or away seems to suit the passage best. God then would not only remove or take away the Jews from their own place, but would also cast them far off into distant countries. He thus denounces on them an exile, by which they were to be driven as it were into another world. For had they dwelt in the neighborhood, it would have been more tolerable to them, but as they were to be driven away, as by a violent storm to the farthest and remotest regions, it was much more grievous.
He afterwards says, And the city also which I gave to you and to your fathers The verbs, to cast away and to pluck up, do not well suit stones; but as to the sense, it may rightly be said that God would take away the city with its inhabitants, as though they were driven away by the wind. And this was added designedly, for the Jews relying on this promise, “This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell,” thought it impossible that the sanctuary of God would ever be destroyed. As then this vain confidence deceived them, that the city which God had chosen as his habitation would stand always, the Prophet expressly adds that the city itself would perish.
And it is also added, that it was given to them and their fathers He anticipates all objections, and shakes off from the Jews the vain hope by which they were inebriated, even that the city was given perpetually to them, and that God resided there to defend them; “This donation,” he says, “will not keep you nor the city itself from destruction.” He adds, From my presence; for it was customary for them to pretend God’s name, when they sought to harden their hearts against the threatenings of the prophets; but God here answers them and says, from my presence; as though he had said, “In vain do ye harbor the thought respecting the perpetuity of the city and the Temple; for this depends on my will and good pleasure. As ye then stand or fall as it seems right to me, I now declare that ye shall be ejected and wholly removed from my presence.” It follows, —
(120) The variety in the Versions as to this clause, and the different constructions given of it by expositors, seem to intimate some derangement in the text, and the text itself as it now exists, (and there are no different readings,) is not according to the Hebrew idiom; for הנני, “behold me,” is commonly, if not uniformly, followed by a participle and then by a verb, preceded by ו conversive in the past tense. See Jeremiah 9:7; Jeremiah 10:18; Jeremiah 16:16. This is not the case here. Besides, when a verb, and the same verb as a gerund are put together, which is no uncommon thing, the gerund in general, if not always, precedes the verb; not so here, if we take נשיתי, as most do, to be from נשא. These anomalies are evident in the text as it now stands. Suppose the misplacing of one word, and put נשא after הנני, and the sentence will be perfectly grammatical, and the version would be as follows, —
Therefore, behold, I will carry off and let you go; Yea, I will dismiss you and the city, Which I gave to you and to your fathers, From my presence.
Alluding to burden, he says that he would carry them off as one carries a burden, and then let them go, or throw them down: the verb נשה means to loosen, to disengage one’s self from a thing, to remit, to let go. Then נמש has a similar meaning, to set loose, to relax, to set free, to dismiss, to cast off; which intimates that he would not suffer them to continue as it were in his presence. It is the same verb as in Jeremiah 23:33 — Ed
What is here contained is, that though the Jews justly gloried for a time in being the peculiar people of God, yet this would avail them nothing, as they had divested themselves of that honor in which they had excelled, by the abnegation of true religion. Here then the Prophet strips the Jews of that foolish boasting with which they were inflated when they said that they were the people of God, and threatens that God having taken away their glory would make them lie under perpetual shame.
We at the same time know, that such threatenings are to be restricted as to time, they extend only to the coming of Christ; for the Church of God could not have been doomed to eternal reproach. But as to hypocrites, as there was no repentance, so they never obtained pardon; but God delivered his own from eternal reproach when Christ the Redeemer appeared; yet these words are to be understood as rightly addressed to the ungodly despisers of God. Now follows, —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14