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Thursday, July 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 4

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

The Prophet no doubt requires here from the people a sincere return to God, inasmuch as they had often pretended to confess their sins, and had given many signs of repentance, while they were acting deceitfully with him. As then they had often dealt falsely with God and with his prophets, Jeremiah bids them to return to God without any disguise and in good faith. With regard to what is here substantially taught, this is the Prophet’s meaning; but there is some ambiguity in the words.

Some read thus, “If thou returnest, Israel, to me, saith Jehovah, “connecting “to me, אלי, “with the first clause, then they read separately “תשוב, teshub, thou shalt rest;” and so they think that what follows is the repetition of the same thing, “If thou wilt take away thine abominations from before me, thou shalt not migrate;” that is, I will not cast thee out as I have threatened. Others take the verb תשוב, teshub, in the same sense, (for it is the same verb repeated,) “If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me.” The Prophet doubtless bids the Israelites to return to God in sincerity, and without any disguise, and not to act falsely with him, as they had often done.

I have as yet mentioned only what others have thought; but, in my judgment, the most suitable rendering is, “If thou wilt return, Israel, rest in me, “arrete toi, as we say in French. Rest then in me; and then a definition is given, If thou wilt take away thine abominations (for the copulative is to be taken as expletive or explanatory) from my sight, and wilt not wander What some of those I have referred to have given as their rendering, “If thou wilt return to me, Israel, thou shalt rest,” I wholly reject, as it seems forced: but I allow this reading, “If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;” or this, “If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me;” for the difference is not great. The Prophet here evidently condemns the hypocrisy which the Israelites had practiced; for they had often professed themselves as ready to render obedience to God, and afterwards proved that they had made a false profession. Since then deceit and emptiness had been so often found in them, the Prophet demands here, in the name and by the command of God, that they should in truth and sincerity return to him.

If this reading be approved, “Israel, return to me,” the intimation is, that they ever took circuitous courses, that they might not return directly to God: for it is usual with hypocrites to make a great show of repentance and at the same time to shun God. If then we follow this reading, the Prophet means this, “Israel, there is no reason for thee hereafter to think that thou gainest anything by boasting with thy mouth of thy repentance; return to me; know that thou hast to do with God, who is not deceived, as he never deceives any: return then faithfully to me, and let thy conversion be sincere and in no way deceptive.”

But if the verb, תשוב, teshub, be taken in the other sense, there would be no great difference in the meaning; “If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;” that is, thou shalt hereafter have nothing to do with idols and with thy perverted ways. Thus the Prophet briefly shews that the return of Israel would be nothing, except they acquiesced in God alone, and wandered not after vain objects, as they had often done. And with this view corresponds what follows, “Even if thou takest away (for the copulative, as I have said, is to be taken as explanatory) thine abominations from my sight, and wilt wander no more, ולא תנוד, vela tanud. ” For the vice which Jeremiah meant especially to condemn was this, — that Israel, while pretending a great show of religion, yet vacillated and did not devote themselves with all their heart to God, but were changeable in their purpose. This vice then is what Jeremiah justly condemns; and hence I am disposed to embrace this view “Israel, if thou wilt return, rest in me;” that is, continue constantly faithful to me: but how can this be done? “Even if thou wilt take away thy abominations, and if thou wilt not wander;” for thy levity and inconstancy hitherto has been well known. (98)

Whatever view we may take, this passage deserves to be noticed as being against hypocrites, who dare not openly to reject prophetic warnings; but while they shew some tokens of repentance, they still by windings shun the presence of God. They indeed testify by their mouth that they seek God, but yet have recourse to subterfuges: and hence I have said that this passage is remarkably useful, so that we may know that God cannot be pacified by those fallacious trifles which hypocrites bring forward, but that he requires a sincere heart, and that he abominates all dissimulation. It is therefore expressly said, If thou wilt take away thy abominations from my sight For hypocrites ever regard display and seek to be approved by men, and are satisfied with their approbation; but God calls their attention to himself. It must at the same time be observed, that he cannot be deceived; for he is the searcher of hearts. It follows —

(98) The best rendering is that which connects “to me” with the former clause: the end of the verse, as Grotius observes, proves this. If they returned to God, they were to return from captivity; and if they cast away their abominations, they were not to be vagabonds or to wander any more. This seems to be the meaning. The ו before לא in the last clause is left out in ten MSS., and in the Vulgate, Targum, and Syriac. The verse then would be as follows, —

1.If thou wilt return, Israel, saith Jehovah, to me, Thou shalt be restored, (that is, from captivity:) If thou wilt remove thy abominations from my sight, Thou shalt not be a wanderer.


Verse 2

Here the Prophet goes on with the same subject; for he denudes these flatteries, by which they thought that God could be pacified: for when they had his name in their mouth, they thought it sufficient for their defense, — “What! do we not call upon God? do we not ascribe to him his due honor, when we swear by his name?” There is in the Prophet’s words a part given for the whole; for swearing is to be taken for the whole of God’s worship. When therefore the Israelites made a profession of God’s name, they thought themselves absolved from all guilt.

Hence the Prophet says, Thou shalt swear truly in the name of God; that is, “Ye are indeed self — confident, because an external profession of religion seems to you to be a sort of expiation, whenever ye seek to contend with God: ye boast that you are Abraham’s seed, and swear by the name of God; but ye are sacrilegious, when ye thus falsely profess God’s name.” Swear then, he says, in truth

We hence see how the words of the Prophet harmonize together: he had said, that Israel had hitherto dealt falsely with God, because they had not performed what in words they had promised, for they went astray; and now he adds, that it availed the Israelites nothing, that they openly called on God and shewed themselves to be his people by an external worship: this, he says, is nothing, except ye worship God in truth and in judgment and in righteousness

Truth is no doubt to be taken here for integrity, as we shall see in the fifth chapter: it is the same as though he had said, that God is not rightly worshipped, except when the heart is free from all guile and deceit; in short, he means that there is no worship of God without sincerity of heart. But the truth, of which the Prophet speaks, is especially known by judgment and righteousness; that is, when men deal faithfully with one another, and render to all their right, and seek not their own gain at the expense of others. When therefore equity and uprightness are thus observed by men, then is fulfilled what is required here by the Prophet: for then they worship not God fallaciously, nor with vain words, but really shew that they do, without disguise, fear and reverence God.

What follows is variously explained by interpreters; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, does here indirectly reprove the Israelites, because God’s name had been exposed to many reproaches and mockeries, when the heathens said, that there was no power in God to help the Israelites, and when the people themselves expostulated with God, as though they had a just cause for contending with him, — “What! God has promised that we should be models of his blessing; but we are exposed to the reproaches of the heathens: how can this be?” Since then the Israelites thus deplored their lot, and cast the blame on God, the Prophet gives this answer, Bless themselves shall the nations and glory in him Some refer this to the Israelites, but not correctly. It had indeed been said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed,” or, shall bless themselves. But this blessing had its beginning, as it is here noticed by the Prophet. For we must look for the cause or the fountain of this blessing: how could the nations bless themselves through the seed or the children of Abraham, except God, the author of the blessing, manifested his favor towards the children of Abraham? Very aptly then does the Prophet say here, Then bless themselves in God shall all the nations, and in him shall they glory; that is, “Ye are to be blamed, that God’s curse is upon you and renders you objects of reproach to all people, and also, that heathens disdain and despise the name of God: for your impiety has constrained God to deal more severely with you than he wished; for he is ever ready to shew his paternal clemency. What then is the hindrance, that the nations bless not themselves in God and glory in him? that is, that pure religion does not flourish through the whole world, and that all nations do not come to you and unite in the worship of the only true God? The hindrance is your impiety and wickedness; this is the reason why God is not glorified, and why your felicity is not everywhere celebrated among the nations.” We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet, — that the Jews groundlessly imputed blame to God, because they were oppressed by so many evils; for they had procured for themselves all their calamities, and at the same time gave occasion to heathens to profane God’s name by their reproaches. (99) It follows —

(99) This is a very lucid and satisfactory exposition. The import of the passage is very clearly given. A simpler version may be made, and such as will exhibit the meaning more plainly. When two vaus occur, they may often be rendered, when and then: so here,

2.When thou shalt swear, “Live does Jehovah,” In truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; Then call him blessed shall nations, And in him shall they glory.

To swear is to avow Jehovah as our God. The verbs “bless” and “glory” are both in Hithpael, which has commonly a reciprocal sense, but not always. See Psalms 72:17; Psalms 105:3. This and the preceding verse belong to the last chapter. — Ed.

Verse 3

The Prophet still pursues the same subject; for he reproves the hypocrisy of the Israelites, because they sought to discharge their duty towards God only by external ceremonies, while their hearts were full of deceits and of every kind of impiety and wickedness. Hence he says, that God required this from the Jews, — to plough again the fallow, and not to sow among thorns.

It is a most suitable comparison; for Scripture often compares us to a field, when it represents us as God’s heritage; and we have been chosen by God as a peculiar people for this end — that he may gather fruit from us, as a husbandman gathers produce from his fields. We can indeed add nothing to what God is; but there is a fruit which he demands; so that our whole life is to be devoted to his glory. God then would not have us to be idle and fruitless, but to bring forth some fruit. But what is done by hypocrites? They sow; that is, they shew some concern, yea, they pretend great ardor, when God exhorts them to repent, or when he invites them. They then make a great bustle; yet they mar everything by their own mixtures, the same as though one scattered his seed among thorns: but it will be of no avail thus to cast seed among thorns; for the ground ought to be well cleared and prepared. Hence God laughs to scorn this preposterous care and diligence, in which hypocrites pride themselves, and says, that they busy themselves without any advantage; for it is the same, as though an husbandman had wholly lost his seed; for when the ground is full of briers and thorns, the seed, though it may grow for a time, cannot yet bring forth fruit. For this reason God bids the Israelites to plough the fallows; (100) as though he had said, that they were like a rough ground, which is full of thorns, and that therefore there was need of unusual and by no means a common cultivation; for when thorns and briers grow in a field, of what benefit will it be to cast seed there? Nay, a field cannot be well prepared by the plough alone, so that it may produce fruit; but much labor is also necessary, as is the case with fallow ground, which is called essarter in our language.

The Prophet then intimates that the people had become hardened in their vices, and that they were not only full of vices, like a field left uncultivated for two years; but that their vices were so deep, that they could not be well cleared away by ploughing alone, except they were drawn up by the roots, as they were like thorns and brambles, which have been growing in a field for many years. We hence see, that not only impiety and contempt of God, and other sins of the people of Israel, are referred to by the Prophet, but also their perverseness; for they had so hardened themselves for many years in their vices, that there was need not only of the plough, but also of other instruments to tear up the thorns, to eradicate those vices which had formed deep roots. As then, he had before warned them, that they would labor in vain except they returned to God with sincerity of heart and acquiesced in him; so here he bids them to examine their life, that they might not cast away their seed, like hypocrites, who formally acknowledge their sins. Hence he bids them wholly to shake off their vices, which were hid within, according to what they do, who tear up thorns and briers in a field, which has been long neglected, and left without being cultivated. It now follows —

(100) Literally, “Plough for yourselves the ploughing,“ or, the plough-land; or, “Fallow for yourselves the fallow.” They were not to sow a land once ploughed; but they were to plough again. — Ed.

Verse 4

The Prophet expresses here more clearly what he had before said metaphorically or by a figure; for he had bidden them to eradicate their vices, according to what is usually done by breaking up the fallow ground; but now dropping that figure, he clearly shews what was to be done, and yet the clause contains what is figurative. He calls their attention to circumcision, which was a symbol of renovation, as though he had said, — That they sufficiently understood what they were to do, except they were wholly unteachable; “For why, “he says, “has circumcision been enjoined? Does not God by this symbol shew, that if a man rightly aspires after true religion, he ought to begin by putting off all the evil propensities of his flesh? Is he not to deny himself, and to die as it were both to himself and to the world? for circumcision includes all this.” Then the Prophet shews that the Israelites had no excuse, that they went not astray through mistake or through ignorance; but they were acting perversely and deceitfully with God; for circumcision, by which they had been initiated into God’s service, sufficiently taught them, that God is not rightly nor faithfully served, except when men deny themselves.

We now then see what the Prophet meant by these words, when he bids them to be circumcised to God, and to take away the foreskin of their heart: Be ye circumcised, he says, to Jehovah Circumcision was their great boast; but only before men; for nothing but ambition and vanity ruled in them, while they openly exulted and boasted that they were God’s holy and peculiar people. Hence the Prophet bids them not to value what was of no importance, but to become circumcised to Jehovah; that is, he bids them not to seek applause before the world, but seriously to consider that they had to do with God. And hence he adds, Take away the foreskin of your heart, as though he had said, “When God commanded the seed of Abraham to be circumcised, (Genesis 17:10,) it was not his object to have a small portion of skin cut off, but he had regard to something higher, even that ye should be circumcised in heart.”

The Prophet, in short, teaches us here what Paul has more clearly explained, (Romans 2:29,) even this, — that the letter is of no value before God, but that the spirit is what he requires: for Paul in these words means, that the external sign is worthless, except accompanied by the reality within; for the literal circumcision mentioned by Paul is merely the external rite; in the same manner baptism with us may be called the letter, when there is no repentance and faith. But the spirit, or spiritual circumcision, is the denial of self; it is renovation, and in a word, that true conversion to God, of which the Prophet speaks here. Nor has Moses been silent on this point; for in the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy he shews that the Jews greatly deceived themselves, if they thought that they did all that God required, when they were circumcised in the flesh; “Circumcise, “he says, “your hearts to the Lord.” He indeed reminds us in another place, that this is altogether the work of God; but though God circumcises the heart, yet this exhortation, that men are to circumcise themselves, is not superfluous: and the same is the case with baptism; for when Paul exhorts the faithful to fear God and to lead a holy life, he refers to baptism. It is yet certain that men do not bestow on themselves what God signifies by the sign of baptism; but he counsels them to seek from God the grace of his Spirit, that they might not in vain be sealed by the external rite of baptism, while destitute of its reality. When therefore the Prophet bids the Israelites to take away the foreskin of their heart, it is the same as though he had said, that they were indeed liberal enough with regard to ceremonies and outward worship, but that these were empty masks unless preceded by a right disposition within.

And he addresses the Jews, and also the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for they thought that they far excelled the Israelites, on whom God had inflicted so grievous a punishment. He then shews that the tribe of Judah, nay, that the very inhabitants and citizens of Jerusalem were not better than others, and that they could not be exempted, as it were, by privilege, except they returned to a right mind, except they seasonably and from the heart repented.

He then adds, Lest my fury go forth like fire The Prophet here expressly declares, that the Jews were not to wait until God came forth as an avenger; for then, he says, if, would be too late to repent: in short, he bids them to anticipate in due time the judgment of God; for if once his fury went forth, it would burn like fire so as to consume them, and there would be no extinguishing of it. But if they repented, he holds forth to them the hope of pardon; for the fury of God had not yet gone forth.

He afterwards subjoins, On account of the wickedness of your deeds (101) By these words the Prophet again reproves them sharply, and shews that they gained nothing by their evasions; for when God ascends his tribunal and begins to execute his vengeance, then all vain excuses will come to an end, such as, that they deserved no such thing, or, that the atrocity of their sins was not great: “God, “he says, “will, with his own hand, teach you how grievous has been the atrocity of your vices; he will not, then, deal with you in words.” It then follows —

(101) Rather, “On account of the evil of your doings.” Their doings were evil or wrong, both as to God and man. Impiety seems to be the special evil intended, as their defection from God had been more particularly referred to. — Ed.

Verse 5

Jeremiah treats his own people here with more severity, for he saw that they were refractory, and so obstinate in their vices, that they could not by wise counsels be restored to the way of safety. Hence he addresses them here as men wholly irreclaimable, and to whom instruction proved useless. But though according to the manner of the prophets, he sounds a trumpet for the sake of filling them with terror, he seems yet to speak tauntingly, when he bids them to proclaim in Judah, and to publish in Jerusalem; as though he had said, When distress shall seize you, you will then by experience perceive that God is angry with you: though to — day ye believe not my warnings; yet that God may not, indeed, by a violent hand, bring you back to himself, and as ye seek evasions for yourselves, ye shall sound the trumpet, and proclaim, “The enemies are coming, and are nigh at hand; let, therefore, every one flee to Jerusalem, and enter into the city, and resort unto Zion: “that is, “If we cannot secure our safety in the city, we shall at least be safe in the fortress of Sion.” But God, he says, brings an evil on you from the north; and whatever ye may think will be for your safety will be wholly useless. It is, however, proper, especially to regard the Prophet as God’s herald proclaiming war; and that though he exults over their perverseness, he yet declares that such would be everywhere the terror, that they would seek safety by flight.

Sound, he says, in Judah, and publish, or proclaim, in Jerusalem, (הגידו, egidu, announce, literally.) He speaks not here for the same purpose as Joel did, (Joel 1:1,) when he bade them to sound the trumpet; for the latter exhorted the people to repent; but Jeremiah, as I have already said, tauntingly reproves here the people for their obstinacy and perverseness; as though he had said, “I see what ye will do, when God’s vengeance shall come upon you, that ye may not even then repent; for ye will sound the trumpet through the whole land, ‘Let all resort to Sion;’ as though ye could resist there your enemies, and preserve your lives.” He does not, then, bid them to sound the trumpet, but, on the contrary, shews what they would do.

Some improperly give this rendering, “Fulfill ye, “but the common version is, “Assemble yourselves.” But interpreters seem not to me to have regarded the etymology of the word; for it is of the same meaning in Hebrew as when we say, Amassez-vous, Gather yourselves. And say, Be ye assembled, and let us go into fortified cities It will, indeed, be announced to you to seek hiding — places to protect you from the assaults of your enemies; if so, Raise a banner in Sion, and flee; but God will at the same time bring evil on you from the north

Verse 6

The words אל-תעמדו, al-tomedu, may be explained in two ways, — “Stand not,” that is, “Hasten quickly,” as it is the case with those in extreme fear; or, “Ye shall not stand,” that is, “Though ye may seek a firm position on Mount Sion, ye shall not yet be able to continue there.” The first exposition appears to me the best, as it is more suitable to the context. (102)

(102) These two verses contain a very spirited address, in a style truly poetical, —

5.Announce ye in Judah, And in Jerusalem publish, and say, — Yea, sound the trumpet in the land, Proclaim, do it fully, and say, — “Be assembled, and let us enter into fortified cities;

6.Raise a banner towards Sion; Hasten ye, stay not:“ For an evil am I bringing from the north, And a great destruction.

The people of Judah were summoned to enter into fortified cities, and Mount Sion was to be the resort of the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Hasten ye,“ σπεύσατε — hasten, Septuagint. This is the meaning of עז in Hiphil. See Exodus 9:19; Isaiah 10:31. In Jeremiah 6:1, it is translated “Gather yourselves to flee;” but “hasten,” or remove vigorously or quickly, would be the best rendering. — Ed

Verse 7

The Prophet more fully declares the import of the threatening which we briefly considered yesterday; for God said in the former verse, that he would bring an evil from the north; and the kind of evil it was to be he now describes, and compares the king of Babylon to a lion; and afterwards, without a figure, he calls him the destroyer of nations

By the similitude of lion he means that the Israelites would not be able to resist; and when he adds that he would be the desolator of nations, he intimates that they would perish with the rest: for if Nebuchadnezzar was sufficiently able to destroy many nations, how could the Jews escape a similar calamity? He shall come, he says, the desolator of nations But he uses the past tense throughout, in order to shew the certainty of the prediction, and thus to shake secure men with fear, who had become torpid in their hypocrisy; for they would have otherwise deemed all threatenings as nothing: for as long as God spared them, they despised his judgment, and promised themselves impunity in their sins. Hence the Prophet, in order to awake them, set the matter before them, as though Nebuchadnezzar had already come with a strong and powerful army to lay waste Judea; for he says, that a lion had ascended from his hidingplaces: but the term for the last word means an entangled density, as when trees are entwined together, or when a place is filled with thorns. (103)

But the similitude is most suitable, because the Jews never thought that the king of Babylon would come forth from places so remote; for the passing through was difficult, and the expedition attended with great toil: yet the Prophet says, that the lion would come from his recesses, and that nothing would hinder him from breaking forth and coming to the open country. He at last concludes by saying, that the cities would be laid waste, (104) so as to be without an inhabitant It now follows —

(103) The word “thicket, “in our version, correctly expresses it; a tangled wood, where trees cross and entwine with each other. — Ed.

(104) “Laid waste” is the Chaldee sense; but the verb means in Hebrew to germinate, to produce grass, to grow over with grass as ruined cities do. The words which follow, “without an inhabitant,“ shew that this meaning suits here, —

Thy cities shall grow over with grass, without an inhabitant.

The Targum is,

Thy cities shall be desolate without an inhabitant.


Verse 8

The Prophet seems not yet to exhort his own nation to repent: a more gracious doctrine will presently follow; but here he only reminds them that a most grievous mourning was nigh at hand; for he saw that they were hypocrites, immersed in their own delusions, and could not be assailed by any fear. Hence he says, that they were greatly mistaken, if they thought themselves safe while God was angry with them.

Gird yourselves in sackcloth, he says, lament and howl; and then follows the reason, because the fury of God’s wrath was not turned away from them. We indeed know, that the ungodly are wont to make God subservient to themselves, as though they could by their perverseness turn aside or drive afar off his judgment, and restrain, as it were, his hand from acting. As, then, hypocrites are insolent towards God, the Prophet says expressly that the fury of his wrath was not turned away: and thus he warns them, that they would be in every way miserable until they were reconciled to God.

We now understand the design of the Prophet; for he confirms what the last verse contains, when he said that a lion had come forth, and that a desolator was already nigh; yea, he confirms what he had said, for there was no hope to them without having God propitious, and he declares that God was angry. Hence it follows, that all things would prove infelicitous to them.

Verse 9

As the royal dignity still continued with the Jews, though their power was greatly diminished, they, relying on that distinction, hoped that they had a sufficient protection: hence it was, that they were not moved by any denunciation; for the royal power, which remained not altogether secure, and yet so in some degree, was to them like a shield. We also know what pride filled the courtiers; for they extolled their kings, and thus made a show of their prudence and magnanimity. Since, then, this foolish notion of the chief men respecting their king, and their delusive boasting, deceived the Jews, the Prophet says, In that day perish shall the heart of the king, and the heart of the princes

By heart he no doubt means the understanding or the mind, as the word is to be taken in many other places. Moses says,

“God has not yet given you a heart to understand.”
(Deuteronomy 29:4.)

The Latins also call men “hearted” (cordatos) who excel in intelligence and wisdom. (105) So, then, the Prophet shews, that it was a vain and deceptive fancy for the people to expect that the king would be an invincible defense to them; for “the king, “he says, “shall then be deprived of understanding and reason; and the counselors, who lay claim to understanding, shall be found then to be wholly foolish: there is, then, no ground for that vain confidence which deceives you.” The Prophet briefly intended to shake off that false confidence, by which the Jews were inebriated, when they thought that there was a sure safety in the intelligence of the king and princes.

He says the same thing respecting the priests as well as the prophets, as much glory belonged to the priestly order; for the tribe of Levi had not taken that honor to itself, but God himself had set priests over the people. Hence an opinion prevailed, that the priests could not be without understanding and wisdom. With regard to the prophets, Jeremiah no doubt conceded the name to impostors, who falsely professed the name of God; and this way of speaking is common in the writings of the prophets. He does not, then, mean those true and faithful ministers of God, who duly executed their office, but those who boasted of the name and title: and he says of these, that they would be astonished (106)

He, in short, deprives the people of that false confidence, through which they hardened themselves, so as not to fear God’s judgment.

But this passage is entitled to special notice, because it shews that God’s grace is not to be tied either to ranks of men or to titles. The prophetic office had always been in high repute; nor was the priestly without honor, for it was founded on God’s command; but Jeremiah nevertheless declares, that there would be no understanding in the priests and in the prophets, because they would become stupefied and astonished. And with regard to the king, we know that he was the representative of Christ; and yet he pronounces the same thing of the king, and also of his counselors, — that they would be made blind by the just vengeance of God, so as not to see anything. he afterwards adds —

(105) Though the most common meaning of לב, heart, is what is here stated, yet it means also strength, firmness, courage. See Deuteronomy 20:2; 2 Samuel 17:10; Psalms 22:14; Psalms 73:26. And this meaning is most suitable to this passage. — Ed

(106) The verse is as follows, —

And it shall be in that day, saith Jehovah, That perish shall the heart of the king And the heart of the princes, And confounded shall be the priests, And the prophets shall be astonished.

“Confounded,” that is, like persons at their wit’s end, not knowing what to do, or what course to take. “Astonished,” or amazed, that is, at witnessing the reverse of what they had prophesied; being filled with stunning and stupefying amazement. — Ed.

Verse 10

Some so understand this passage as though the Prophet brought forward what was said by the people; for all the most wicked, when oppressed by God’s hand, usually cast the blame on him, and in their complaints contend and dispute with him. Hence they think that the Prophet here, not in his own person, but in that of the whole people, speaks thus: “O Lord, what can this be? thou surely hast deceived us.” Others give somewhat a looser explanation, that the Prophet here indirectly expostulates with God, because he had suffered the false prophets to flatter the people so as to stupefy the minds of all. But a different meaning is what I approve of: the Prophet, I think, tauntingly exposes those false adulations, by which the prophets had caused the ruin of the miserable Jews, by promising them God’s forgiveness, and by ever announcing favorable predictions.

God no doubt rendered the Jews their just reward, when he suffered them to be deceived by impostors: we, indeed, know that the world is ever afflicted with this disease, — that they seek flatteries, as God upbraids them by Micah:

“Ye seek prophets who promise to you an abundant harvest, an abundant vintage.”
(Micah 2:11)

Since, then, the Jews wished their vices to be spared, and not only disliked their faithful and severe reprovers, but also hated them, they had deserved to be thus dealt with: it was God’s will that many impostors should assume the prophetic name. Thus it happened, that the Jews thought that their peaceable condition would be perpetual; and this, as I have said, is usual with hypocrites. Now the Prophet, in a biting strain, exposes here these deceptions, and says, Ah, ah, Jehovah! surely thou hast deceived this people: for the Prophet does not speak in the person of the people, nor does he complain, that God permitted so much liberty to false prophets; but he derides these impostors as well as the people. And further, as they were all deaf, he turns to God, as though he had said, “Behold, Lord, worthy of this reward are they, who have sought flatteries, and have not attended to the holy warnings of thy servants: as, then, no kind of correction was what they could endure, let them now begin to learn that they have been deceived by others rather than by thee.” (107)

We then see that the Prophet ridicules that stupidity in which the Jews had been so long asleep; and the simple meaning is, that he turned to God: I have said, O Lord Jehovah, surely thou hast deceived this people. “ Surely” is to be taken in an ironical sense; that is, “It now really appears that they have been deceived; but by whom? They wish, indeed, to throw the blame on thee; but they are justly chargeable with foolish credulity, so that they, whom the false prophets have deceived, have been rightly dealt with.” What they said was, Peace shall be to you

This never came from the mouth of God; for Jeremiah daily thundered and threatened approaching ruin; for he was like a celestial herald, who filled every place with terror; but he was not heard: and at the same time the Jews praised the false prophets, who soothed them with various promises. We hence perceive, that God had not spoken peace to them; but that the Jews, not only willingly, but with avidity, laid hold on those things by which the false prophets sought to gratify them.

He afterwards adds, And reached has the sword unto the soul; that is, “Yet we are now destroyed by fatal evils.” The Prophet here indirectly sets before them those delusive flatteries with which the Jews pleased themselves, and shews that they would at length really find how falsely they pretended the name of God. It follows —

(107) There are various expositions of this verse: but the simpler and the plainer mode would be to take אמר as a noun, word, speech, saying, with an auxiliary verb, which is commonly omitted in Hebrew. The connection with the foregoing would be obvious and natural, —

And the saying will be, “Alas! Lord Jehovah, Surely, deceiving thou hast deceived This people and Jerusalem, By saying, ‘Peace shall be to you;’ And reach does the sword even to the soul.”

This would be the language of such as believed the false prophets, and considered them as sent by God.

But Lowth, Henry, Venema, Scott, and others, take this view, — that God had permitted or suffered the people to be deceived by the false prophets. It is said that this verb in Hiphil, as the case is here, has sometimes this meaning, and Lowth refers, as instances, to Isaiah 63:17, and also to Psalms 119:10; Proverbs 10:3. But the sentiment of the passage in this case would not be very suitable: for, according to this view, the cause of the Prophet’s grief is, that God had suffered the people to be deceived.

“It shall be said,” in the next verse, seems to be put in contrast with this “saying.” Instead of what would be commonly said of the people, God reminds them of what he would cause to be said and effected. — Ed.

Verse 11

Jeremiah proceeds with the same prediction: he says, that a terrible wind was coming, which would not only disperse or clear away, but dissipate and overthrow all things. He then expresses how great and how grievous would be the calamity which he had before mentioned. He compares it to dry or and wind; for צח, tsach, sometimes means “clear,” and sometimes “arid,” as the greatest dryness is found on high places. He means, no doubt, here the wind, which is violent, and disturbs the whole atmosphere, when there are no clouds, and where no trees impede its course. Hence, he speaks of high and desert places. It is the same as though he had said, that so great would be the violence of God’s vengeance, and so irresistible would be the eruption, that it would be like a violent wind when it passes through high regions and through dry land or desert places. He says, Towards the way of the daughter of my people; as though he had said, — that the course of the wind would be such as to bear directly on Judea. The mode of speaking here used is well known to all who are in any degree acquainted with the writings of the prophets. “The daughter of my people, “means the people themselves. Come, then, shall wind towards Judea.

He then adds, Not to scatter nor to cleanse Husbandmen are wont to winnow the corn when taken from the thrashing — floor, that the chaff may be carried away by the wind: but the Prophet says, that this wind would not be to clear away or scatter the chaff; for it will be, he says, a very vehement wind He means, in short, that God would shew so much displeasure towards the Jews, that he would no longer chastise them in a moderate degree, or use any moderation, as he had done previously; for God had already often punished the Jews, but had hitherto acted the part of a physician, having endeavored to heal the vices of the people. As, then, these corrections had been without fruit, the Prophet now says, that God’s wrath would now come, not to cleanse as before, nor to scatter the chaff, but to consume everything among the people. Hence he adds (for the two verses are connected together) a fuller wind, or one more complete, shall come to them. Some read, “from these places, “so they render מ; but it is rather to be taken as noting the comparative degree, — that this wind would be much rougher and more violent than other winds which usually clear the land or scatter away the chaff, and separate it from the corn: come, then, shall a much more violent wind

Verse 12

And come, he says, unto me God, I doubt not, speaks here. Some think that the Prophet here represents the whole body of the people; and they consider them as saying, that there would come a wind which would rush on themselves. But this is too strained; and further, this explanation is disproved by the context: nor can what follows be applied to the Prophet, I will now pronounce judgments against them Here then God, in his office as a judge, declares that a wind was nigh, by which he would dissipate and overthrow the whole of Judea, and would no more cleanse it. And thus he shews, that the Chaldeans would not of themselves come, but would be sent to execute his orders; as though he had said, — that he would be the author of those calamities which were impending over the Jews: come, then, shall wind unto me; that is, it will be ready to obey my orders.

And he adds at last, by way of an exposition, I will then speak judgments with them To speak judgments is to execute the office of a judge, or to call to judgment, or to summon men to declare their cause, as kings are said to speak judgments when they constrain the guilty to render an account, of themselves. God briefly intimates, that he had hitherto exercised great forbearance towards the Jews; but that as he found that his indulgence availed nothing, except that they became more and more ferocious, he declares, that he would now become their judge to punish their wickedness. (108) He afterwards adds —

(108) The Septuagint version of these two verses is as foreign to the original as it can well be; and the Syriac and Arabic are nearly the same. The Vulgate gives a fair version; and the meaning, as given by the Targum, is nearly the same. The latter part of the 11th and 12th are thus rendered by Blayney,

A wind that scorcheth the plains in the wilderness, [Shall come] toward the daughter of my people, Not to winnow, nor to cleanse;

12.A full wind for a curse shall come at my bidding; Now even I will proceed judicially with them.

Horsley differs as to the 11th verse, and renders it thus, —

The wind that scorcheth the craggy rocks of the wilderness Taketh its course against the daughter of my people, Not for winnowing or cleansing.

The reason assigned for rendering מאלה for “a curse,” and not “from those places, “ as in our version, is, because the enemy did not come from that quarter. But this may be avoided, if we consider “as” or “like” to be understood before wind, which is no uncommon thing in Hebrew. To refer “those” or these to the winds implied in winnowing and cleansing, as Calvin does, and also Gataker and others, is not satisfactory, I would propose the following version, —

The dry wind of the cliffs in the wilderness Is advancing against the daughter of my people, Not to winnow, nor to cleanse;

12.As a full wind from these, it shall come for me: Then will I myself pronounce judgments on them.

The word דרך, as Horsley takes it, is a verb, or rather a participle; and it is usual in Hebrew to put a participle in the first clause, and in the second a verb, as here, in the future tense. The verb means to come upon, so as to tread down or subdue, Judges 5:21; Judges 20:43; Psalms 91:13. “The effect of this wind is not only to render the air extremely hot and scorching, but to fill it with poisonous and suffocating vapors.” — Blayney.Ed.

Verse 13

The Prophet here concludes the prediction which referred to the dreadful vengeance that was coming; and he mentions here several similitudes, such as might rouse the Jews and constrain them to fear. He says, that the chariots of God would come as clouds and as a whirlwind; and then that his horses would be swifter than eagles

As to the clouds, the whirlwind, and the eagles, (for the import of the three similitudes is the same,) the Prophet no doubt intended thus to set forth the quickness of God’s vengeance; but yet there is some difference. We see how clouds suddenly arise and spread over the whole heaven; and thus it happens when a whirlwind is in the air. Hence when he compares God’s chariots to clouds and the whirlwind, it is the same as if he had said, that the beginning of the calamity would be sudden, because God would unexpectedly arise, after having been apparently asleep for a long time. But when he says, that God’s horses would be swifter than eagles, he means, that it would be easy for God, when once he had begun, to destroy the whole of Judea, as it were in a moment, or at least in a very short time; for we know how swift is the flying of the eagle; but he says, that the horses of God would be swifter than the eagles.

We now understand the Prophet’s meaning: for when the Jews derided the threatenings of the Prophets, they tauntingly used such a language as this, — “O! we shall, at least in the meantime, feast cheerfully and joyfully; these Prophets will not allow us a truce for one hour; but yet many years will pass away before the evil overtakes us.” We find profane men in our day, who in like manner trifle with God: and when they cannot wholly despise what God threatens, they yet delay the time, and think that they gain something by putting off the day of vengeance. This, then, was the reason why the Prophet said, that God’s chariots would ascend, as clouds arise suddenly, and then as a whirlwind in clear sky, and lastly, in a manner swifter than the eagles, even in their swiftest course.

The Prophet, in the last place, exclaims, in the name of the whole people, Woe to us! for we are lost (109) He speaks here concisely, that he might shew that the false prophets, as well as the people, were going astray to their own ruin, while they were asleep in their vices, and thought their insensibility would escape punishment. He hence exclaims, that though all were then seized with stupor, the people themselves were yet lost. It at length follows —

(109) Rather, “We have been wholly wasted,“ or desolated. The verb is in a reduplicate form, and signifies an entire waste or desolation, —

13.Behold, like clouds will he ascend, And like a whirlwind will be his chariots, Swifter than eagles his horses: “Woe to us! for we have been wholly wasted.”

The mixture of the tenses is intended to shew the certainty of the event. Or we may consider the last line as containing what would be said after the coming of the enemy. What they would have to say was to acknowledge their entire desolation. — Ed.

Verse 14

Here now the Prophet expressly and avowedly exhorts the people to repent. By bidding Jerusalem to wash from wickedness her heart, that she might be saved, he shews that there was no remedy, except the Jews were reconciled to God; and that this could not be, except they repented of their sins. He had said before, that while God was angry they could not but perish; he now confirms the same thing, — that thou mayest be saved, wash thine heart from wickedness; as though he had said, that there was war between the Jews and God, and that salvation could by no means be hoped for, since God was armed for their destruction, and shewed himself a judge to punish their vices: he at the same time reminds them of the true way of repentance; it was by washing their heart from wickedness. For hypocrites ever seek to appease God by external rites and observances; but the Prophet shows that God cannot be pacified, except they from the heart return to him. He then means that the beginning of true repentance is an inward feeling. We now perceive what the Prophet means.

But they reason foolishly who maintain that repentance is the cause of salvation, because it is said, “That thou mayest be saved, wash thy heart from wickedness:” and the Papists lay hold on such passages to set up free — will; and they hold that sins are abolished and punishment remitted through satisfactions made by us. But this is extremely absurd and frivolous. For the Prophet is not speaking of the cause of salvation; but, as I have said, he simply shows that men are extremely thoughtless when they expect a peaceable condition, while they carry on war with God, and when he is armed to execute vengeance on them. We are not then to inquire here, whether a sinner delivers himself from God’s hand by his repentance: but the Prophet had only this one thing in view — that we cannot be safe and secure, except God be reconciled to us. He further shews, that God will not be propitious to us, except we repent, and that from the heart or from a genuine feeling within.

He then adds, How long shall remain within thee the thoughts of thy vanity? He here touches on the hypocrisy of his own nation; and he in effect says, that whatever excuses they might make, they were yet proved guilty before God, and that their evasions were frivolous, because God penetrated into the inmost recesses of their hearts. He indeed speaks most suitably, for he had to do with hypocrites who thought that their outward performances pacified God; and they also thought that when they alleged their evasions they ought to be forgiven, as they could not be condemned by earthly judges. The Prophet derides these delusive thoughts, How long shall thoughts of vanity remain within thee? that is, “Though the whole world were to absolve thee, what yet would it avail thee? For vain thoughts remain in the midst of thee, that is, in the recesses of thy heart; and God knows them, for nothing is hid from him. There is then no reason for you to think that ye will gain anything by your outward display or your excuses; for God is the searcher of hearts. Let not these thoughts continue within thee.”

He calls them the thoughts of vanity The word, און, aun, means sometimes substance, but, it also means power, and sometimes grief, and sometimes vanity or trouble. The Prophet means here, I have no doubt, trouble or vanity. But some expound it as signifying lust; but I know not whether it can be so taken. Either of the two foregoing meanings may suit the passage, though vanity seems the best, How long, then, shall thoughts of vanity remain within thee? that is, by which thou deceivest thyself: for when God suspended his vengeance, the Jews thought that they had escaped from his hand. (110) They might, at the same time, have been called the thoughts of trouble or sorrow from the effect; for how could it have been otherwise, but they must have found that they had procured a heavier judgment for themselves, by trifling with the indulgence and forbearance of God? Too strained is the explanation given by some, who render the words, “thoughts of grief, “because the Jews had done many wrongs to their neighbors, and caused them unjust vexations. I therefore doubt not but that the Prophet refers to those deceptive hopes, by which the Jews grew more perverse against God, so as not to fear any punishment.

(110) The word means also iniquity, wickedness: and this is the sense in which the Vulgate and the Targum have taken it, and also Blayney, “ the devices of thine iniquity:“ and this corresponds more with the former part of the verse. The whole is as follows, —

14.Wash from evil thine heart, O Jerusalem, that thou mayest be saved: How long shall lodge within thee The thoughts of thy wickedness,


Thy wicked thoughts.

The word for “wash” here, according to Parkhurst, is ever applied to express a thorough washing, the washing away of what is inherent, such as the dirt of linen and of clothes: and he says, that there is another word, רחף, which is used when the washing of the surface of anything is intended, such as the washing of hands. “Shall lodge,” — it is no objection that this is singular, and the “thoughts” plural. It is an idiom: the same exists in Welsh: and in no other form would this sentence be rendered in that language. The present translation is incorrect, as the verb is taken to be in the second person, and applied to Jerusalem; which cannot be, as in that case it must have been in the feminine gender. The correct rendering would be, —

(lang. cy) Pa hyd y hetya o’th fewn Dy feddyliau drygionus !

If the verb had followed its nominative case, it would have been in the same number; but as it precedes it, it is singular while the noun is plural. — Ed.

Verse 15

The Prophet again repeats what he had said, — that the Jews were given up, on account of their perverseness, to final ruin; for they had so often and for so long a time provoked God, and had not attended to pious admonitions, when God by his servants the prophets offered pardon to them on their repentance. But the whole passage, which I shall now explain, gives a lively representation of the ruin that was at hand; for we see that in this verse there is a scene presented to us, as the Prophet sets before our eyes what could not be fully expressed in words.

A voice, he says, declares from Daniel This was the extreme border on the north He had before said, that an evil was coming from that quarter, that is, from the north; for God had chosen the Chaldeans as the executors of his vengeance: hence he says, “a voice is heard from Dan;” not that there was an army already prepared to attack the Jews, but Jeremiah speaks here by the prophetic spirit; and he sets the event as present before the Jews, who thought not that so grievous an evil was nigh. For we said yesterday, that when God for a time spares hypocrites, they become more hardened, and with haughty contempt deride his prophets. When, therefore, Jeremiah saw that he had to do with blocks, he deemed it necessary to use figurative language, which exhibited to them more clearly that the judgment, which the Jews imagined they had no reason to fear, was near at hand: hence he says, a voice is heard from Dan

And proclaims און, aun, that is, trouble, or punishment, or ruin. The other rendering, to which I have referred, is not suitable. The word און, aun, does indeed properly signify iniquity; but it is to be taken here for punishment. (111) But whenever the Prophets use this term, they intimate that evil is not inflicted by God except for just causes; and they remind us that its source or fountain is to be found in the wickedness of men. Ruin then was coming from Mount Ephraim which was near the tribe of Judah and also Jerusalem. But it was the same as though Jeremiah had said, that God was now thundering from heaven, and that it would be of no avail to the Jews to close their ears: for though they were even deaf, yet God’s vengeance would soon come to light, accompanied with dreadful noise. It follows —

(111) The first meaning of the word is iniquity, wickedness; and as the fruit or the effect of wickedness is affliction, distress, misery, it is sometimes taken to express the latter idea. It may be rendered here, distress. — Ed.

Verse 16

The beginning of this verse is variously explained. Some read, “Remember ye the nations, “and think that the Prophet says this, because many of the nations were heralds of that vengeance of God, which the Jews despised, as they thought that what the true heralds of God declared were mere fables. They therefore take the meaning of this passage, as though Jeremiah sent the Jews to the nations, intimating that they were unworthy that God should send them his usual teachers. But as the verb is in Hiphil, we ought rather to read, Rehearse it: and some give this explanation, “Rehearse, “or tell, “of the nations;” that is, “Announce that the Chaldeans are hastening to lay waste the land, to pull down the cities of Judah and to destroy the people.” But there is a third meaning which, in my judgment, comports better with the passage. He literally says, Rehearse it to the nations; behold, proclaim against Jerusalem: for as the Prophet saw that he spent his labor in vain on that stupid people, who had become so hardened in their perverseness, that they were wholly inattentive and unteachable, he turned his address to the nations, and said, “Rehearse it to the Gentiles;” as though he had said, “I have long ago reminded this people, that God had other teachers; but what have we gained by our labor, except that the people become continually worse: since then it is so, now he says, ‘Declare it to the nations concerning Jerusalem;’ let the Jews hear nothing more of their ruin, but let God’s vengeance on them be made known to the heathens.” There is nothing strained or obscure in this explanation; and it is wholly consonant with the prophetic style. (112)

He then deigned no longer to favor his own nation with heavenly truth; because this would have cast what was holy to the dogs; but he directs his discourse to the heathens, as though he had said, “There is more knowledge in the blind and unbelieving than in the chosen people of God.” This does not shew but that he afterwards continued a long time in the discharge of his office; for the prophets, inflamed with zeal for God, often threatened the people with utter ruin, and afterwards performed their charge and tried whether they, of whom they seemed to despair, were healable.

He says that besiegers would come from a far country. Some render נצרים, netserim, keepers; and they think that Jeremiah alludes to Nebuchadnezzar, because his captains would come to destroy Jerusalem and to demolish the cities of Judah. But I prefer to render the word “besiegers.” Though some think that נצר, netser, sometimes means to destroy or lay waste; yet the other meaning seems more suitable, as it appears evident from the next verse. To render it keepers, seems to be frigid; though this is what is done almost by all. I render it “besiegers,” — Come then shall besiegers; for נצר, netser, means not only to keep, but also to shut up in a strait place. Come, he says, shall besiegers from a far country. He used these expressions, that the people might not promise themselves impunity, as it has been before stated, through the forbearance of God: for when God deferred his vengeance, they thought themselves relieved from all fear. Hence he says, that though the enemy was not as yet present, though they did not as yet hear the sound of the coming enemy, God at the same time did not threaten them in vain; for he would in an instant send for those from a distant land, who would execute his vengeance.

What follows, they shall send forth their voice against the cities of Judah, is added, in order that the Jews might know that they could by no hindrances prevent God from bringing quickly the Chaldeans to terrify their cities by their sound. What he indeed means is the shout by which soldiers rouse one another to fight: but as this is commonly done as a sign of victory, he intimates that it was all over with the Jews; for the soldiers had as it were already uttered their triumphant shoutings. (113) It follows —

(112) The verb in the first sentence followed by ל is found in Amos 6:10; where it clearly means “to make mention of,“ or simply, to mention. So it may be rendered here, “Make ye mention of the nations,“ or, Mention the nations, that is, for the sake of frightening the Jews. He had before referred to the voice from Dan, etc.; he now commands the invading nations to be proclaimed as approaching. The meaning is not, as Blayney, as well as Calvin, renders the phrase, “Proclaim ye unto the nations,“ but, “Proclaim the nations,“ as approaching, according to what is afterwards stated. — Ed

(113) To make this verse consistent with the context, I render it as follows, —

Mention ye the nations, (and say,) “Behold them !” Repeat at Jerusalem, “The watchers are coming from a distant land, And shall raise against the cities of Judah their voice.”

It is not improbable that על here means “over,” and that the “voice” means a triumphant shout, as Calvin seems to have thought. Then we may give this rendering, —

And shall raise over the cities of Judah their shout.


Verse 17

He intimates here that there would be no escape to the Jews when God brought the Chaldeans, for every egress, all the ways, would be closed up, so that they could not migrate to another land. It is the same as though he had said, that such a calamity was nigh them that they could not escape it by exile, it is indeed a sad thing when men flee away naked as from the fire, and seek a place among strangers, and live there in misery and want; but the Prophet declares here, that so grievous was the punishment prepared for the Jews, that it would not indeed be possible for them to save themselves by expatriation and flight, for God would close up every avenue, and would as it were set guards to prevent any to depart.

He afterwards assigns a reason for this, Because they have made me angry (114) The Prophet again shews that God dealt not cruelly with the Jews, nor that they were visited by chance with so many and so grievous calamities, but that they suffered justly, for they had provoked the wrath of God. It would indeed have availed the Jews but little that they dreaded an approaching evil, except they acknowledged that God was punishing them for their perverseness. Hence the reason is stated: it was mentioned, that the Jews might know that these calamities were brought on them by God’s hand. And for the same purpose is what follows —

(114) Calvin has followed the Vulgate and the Syriac. The Septuagint and Arabic have, “thou hast neglected me,“ which is very wide from the original. “Rebel” is the rendering of the Targum, which is the Hebrew, and there is no other reading. Literally it is,

For against me hath she rebelled, saith Jehovah.

And this is the rendering of Blayney. — Ed.

Verse 18

As I have just said, the Prophet confirms what he had declared, — that the Jews would not have to suffer, according to what is commonly said, an adverse fortune, but would be summoned by God to judgment, in order that being touched with the fear of God, they might repent, or at least, though destroyed as to the flesh, they might yet, being humbled, obtain pardon and be saved as to the Spirit.

He therefore says, that their deeds had done this for them; as though he had said, “There is no reason for you to blame God, or your adverse fortune, as ye are wont to do, and as all the heathens also do; for your own deeds have procured for you these calamities. Thus God will perform his office of a judge; and whatever may happen to you is to be ascribed to your own wickedness.” And to the same purpose is what he adds, This is thy wickedness. In short, the Prophet shews, that the Jews in vain transferred their calamities to this or that cause, for the whole blame was in themselves; they procured for themselves their own ruin by their impiety and evil deeds.

In the second clause of the verse, כי מר כי נגע, ki mer, ki nego, etc., the Prophet intimates, that however bitter might be to them what they were to endure, and however it might penetrate into the inmost heart, it was yet to be ascribed to themselves. For hypocrites are wont in their lamentations to cast the blame on God, or at least to complain of fortune. The Prophet anticipates these evasions, by shewing that however bitter might be what the Jews had to endure, and that though God should pierce them through and penetrate to their very bowels and hearts, yet they themselves were the authors of all their calamities. (115) He then adds —

(115) Blayney, contrary to all the early versions, renders אלה, “a curse,“ instead of “these,“ but there is no sufficient reason for the change. It is difficult to see what is the precise idea intended in our version as to the latter part of the verse. The meaning given by Calvin seems to be this, — that though the visitation was bitter and reached to the heart, it was yet to be ascribed to their wickedness. Blayney’s version is this, —

Such is thy calamity; for it is bitterness;
for it is a plague even unto thy heart.

The latter words are taken as explanatory of the calamity. The word רעה does indeed mean sometimes a calamity; but all the early versions, as well as the Targum, render it here “wickedness.” Hence the most suitable rendering would be, —

Such is thy wickedness!
Though bitter, though reaching to thy heart.

That כי may be rendered “though” is evident from Joshua 17:18; and it ought to be so rendered in Exodus 34:9; and in other places. But we may take the first כי in its primary sense, surely, certainly, truly, and the second as a causative, for, because; an instance of a similar kind we meet in Exodus 13:17: the first כי precedes an adjective, and is rendered “Although;” and the second כי, a verb, and is rendered “for.” Then our version would be, —

Such is thy wickedness (that is, its effect)!
Surely, bitter; for it reaches to thy heart.


Verse 19

Some interpreters think that the Prophet is here affected with grief, because he saw that his own nation would soon perish; but I know not whether this is a right view. It is indeed true, that the prophets, though severe when denouncing God’s vengeance, did not yet put off the feelings of humanity. Hence they often bewailed the evils which they predicted; and this we shall see more clearly in its proper place. The prophets then had two feelings: when they were the heralds of God’s vengeance, they necessarily forgot their own sensibilities; but this courage did not prevent them from feeling sorrow for others; for they could not but sympathize with their brethren, when they saw them, even their own flesh, doomed to ruin. But in this place the Prophet seems not so much to mourn the calamities of the people, but employs figurative terms in order to awaken their stupor, for he saw that they were torpid, and that they neither feared God nor were touched with any shame. Since then there was so much insensibility in the people, it was necessary for Jeremiah and other servants of God to embellish their discourses, so as not simply to teach, but also forcibly and strongly to rouse their dormant minds.

He therefore says, My bowels, my bowels! We shall see that the Prophet in other places thus laments, when he speaks of Babylon, of Edom, and of other enemies of his people, and why? The Prophet was not indeed affected with grief when he heard that the Chaldeans would perish, and when God declared to him the same thing respecting other heathen nations, who had cruelly persecuted the holy people; but since thoughtless men, as I have said, take no notice of what God from heaven threatens them with, it is necessary to use such expressions as may rouse them from their torpor. So I interpret this place: the Prophet does not express his own grief for the calamities of his people, but by the prophetic spirit enlarges on what he had previously said; for he saw that what he had stated had no effect, or was not sufficient to rouse their minds. My bowels! he says. He had indeed grief in his bowels, for he was a member of the community; but we now speak of his object or the purpose he had in view in speaking thus. It is not then the expression of his own grief, but an affecting description, in order that what he had said might thoroughly rouse the minds of those who heedlessly laughed at the judgment of God.

He then adds, My heart tumultuates, or makes a noise: the verb means to resound, and hence it is metaphorically taken for tumultuating. He speaks of the palpitation of the heart, which takes place when there is great fear. But he calls it noise or tumult, as though he had said, that he was not now master of himself, so as to retain a calm and tranquil mind, for God smote his heart with horrible dread. He afterwards adds, I will not be silent, for the sound of the trumpet has my soul heard, or thou, my soul, hast heard, and the clamor of battle; for the word מלחמה chme, is to be thus taken here. He says that he would not be silent because this clamor made a noise in his heart. We hence conclude that he grieved not from a feeling of human sorrow, but he did that which he had been bidden to do by God; for he had been chosen to be the herald of God’s vengeance, which was nigh, though not dreaded by the Jews. (116)

Some think that soul is here to be taken for the prophetic spirit, for trumpets had not yet sounded, nor was yet heard the clamor of battle. They therefore suppose that there is to be understood here a contrast, that Jeremiah did not perceive the noise by his ears, but in his heart. But I know not whether this refinement may be fitly applied to the Prophet’s words. I therefore think that Jeremiah means, that he spoke in earnest, because he saw God’s vengeance as though it were already made evident. And this availed not a little to gain credit to what he had stated, so that the Jews might know that he did not speak of himself, nor act a part as players do on the stage. They were then to know that he did not relate what God had pronounced, but that he was God’s herald in such a way, that he heard in his soul or heart, to his great terror, the tumult of war and the sound of the trumpet. It follows —

(116) Remarkably concise and striking are the words of this verse, —

My bowels! my bowels! I am in pain! O the enclosures of my heart! Turbulent is my heart within me; I will not be silent; for the sound of the trumpet Have I heard; my soul, the shout of battle.

To change the person of the verb, “I am in pain,” or in labor, as it literally means, as Blayney does, destroys the force and the vehemence of the passage; and all the early versions retain the first person. “The enclosures,” literally “the walls,” that is, what encloses or surrounds the heart, he mentions first the bowels, then what surrounds the heart, and afterwards the heart itself: and his pain was like that of a woman in travail. Being in this state, he resolved not to be silent but to declare their danger to the people. — Ed.

Verse 20

He pursues the same subject, but amplifies the dread by a new circumstance, — that God would heap evils on evils, so that the Jews would in vain hope for an immediate relief. By saying, A calamity upon a calamity, he means that the end of one evil would be the beginning of another. For it is what especially distresses miserable men, when they think that their evils will continue long. They indeed imagined that God would be satisfied with an evil that would be soon over, like a storm or a tempest: and when an alleviation appeared, they would have thought that they had suffered enough and would have returned again to their old ways and derided God as though they had escaped from his hands. For this reason the Prophet declares, that their calamities would for a long time continue, so that no end to them could be hoped for, until the Jews were wholly destroyed. By saying that calamities were called, or summoned, he briefly reminds them, that God would sit on his tribunal, and that after inflicting light punishment on men for their sins, he would add heavier punishment, and that when he found their wickedness incurable, he would proceed to extremities, so as wholly to destroy those who could not be reclaimed. Called then has been distress upon distress: and how was this? Perished has the whole land; and then, my tabernacles have been suddenly destroyed, in an instant destroyed has been my curtains. (117)

It is thought that the Prophet here compares strongly fortified cities to tents and curtains, in order to expose the foolish confidence with which the Jews were proudly filled, thinking that their cities were a sufficient protection from enemies. It is then supposed that the Prophet here deprives them of their vain confidence by calling these cities tents. There are also those who think that he alludes to his own city Anathoth, or to his own manner of life. It is indeed true that Jeremiah speaks often in other places as a shepherd; that is, he uses common and free modes of speaking. It would not then be unnatural to suppose, that he put on the character of a shepherd when he spoke of tents. Both these views may however be combined, — that he used a language common among shepherds, — and that he shews that it was a mere mockery for the Jews to think that they could easily escape, as they had on their borders many fortified cities capable of resisting the attacks of their enemies. But no less suitable view would be this, — That no corner would be safe; for their enemies would penetrate into the most retired places and destroy the smallest cottages, which might be resorted to as hiding — places.

He says suddenly, and in an instant, in order that the Jews might not promise themselves any time for negotiating, and thus procrastinate, and think that they would have time enough to make their peace with God. It follows —

(117) The literal reading may be thus, —

Breach upon breach has happened; For laid waste has been the whole land; Suddenly laid waste have been my tents, In a moment my curtains.

He relates what he had seen in a vision, and therefore represents the whole as past. The verb קרא in Niphal as here, as well as in Kal, means sometimes to happen, to befall, to take place. The Syriac and the Targum give it here this meaning; and Blayney has adopted the same. — Ed

Verse 21

He concludes that part of his discourse, which, as we have said, he embellished with figurative terms, in order more fully to rouse slow and torpid minds: but he confirms what he said at the beginning of the last verse

(Jeremiah 4:20)
“Distress has been summoned upon distress.”

He indeed repeats in other words the same thing, How long shall I see the standard, he says, and hear the sound of the trumpet? that is, “You are greatly deceived, if ye think that your enemies, after having for a short time marched through the land, will return home: for the evil of war will for a long time afflict you, and God will protract your calamities, so that the sound of trumpets will continue, and the standard will often, and even every day, be exhibited.”

We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning: He first shews, that though their enemies were afar off, they would yet come suddenly, and that the horses of God would be, according to what he said yesterday, swifter than eagles. He afterwards refers to the continued progress of the war; for it was necessary to shew to the Jews, that as they had long heedlessly despised God, so his vengeance would not be momentary, but would lie on them, so as to be without end.

Now we ought to know that at this day there is no less dullness than among the Jews. It is therefore not enough to summon the ungodly and the wicked before God’s tribunal, but such metaphorical language ought to be employed as may strike terror, and constrain them to fear, though they may endeavor in every way to harden their own consciences and stupefy themselves, so as to be capable of easily despising God. It is then necessary, that at the present day the servants of God should also speak more strongly and vehemently, that they may rouse hypocrites and the obstinate from their torpor. It then follows —

Verse 22

The Prophet again teaches us, that the cause of these evils arose from the people themselves, and was to be found in them, so that they could not transfer it to anybody else. Hence he says, My people are foolish. He speaks here in the person of God; for it immediately follows, Me have they not known: this could not have been said by Jeremiah. God then complains here of the folly of his people; whom he so calls, not by way of honor, but that he might double their reproach; for nothing could have been more disgraceful than that the people, whom God had chosen as his peculiar inheritance, should be thus demented: for why had God chosen the seed of Abraham as his adopted children, but that they might be as lamps, carrying through the world the light of salvation?

“What people in the world, “says Moses, “are so noble, who have gods so near them?” He says also, “This is thy knowledge and wisdom.” (Deuteronomy 4:6.)

God then shews here that it was a monstrous thing, which all should regard with abhorrence, that his people should be foolish; as though he had said, “Can it be that a people whom I have chosen for myself, and with whom I have deposited the covenant of eternal salvation, whom I have instructed by my word — that this people should so madly ruin themselves?”

The people, then, are foolish, because they have not known me. He here expresses what was the cause of the foolishness or blindness of the people, even because they did not know God; for the knowledge of him is true wisdom. Now God thus shews that the madness of the people was inexcusable. How so? because he had made himself so familiarly known to them, that the Israelites had no occasion to ask, as Moses says, Who shall ascend into heaven, or who shall descend into the deep? for the word was set before them. (Deuteronomy 30:12.) As, then, God had so kindly manifested himself to the Jews, he justly complains that he was not known by them.

There are then here two things to be noticed; first, the kind of madness that is here mentioned, — the people did not know God. And we hence learn that then only are we wise when we fear God, and that we are always mad and senseless when we regard him not. This is one thing. Secondly, we must know that no excuse of ignorance or mistake was allowed to that people, for God had made himself known to them. And this may be applied to us: God will justly upbraid us at the last day, that we have been foolish and mad, if we are without the knowledge of him; for we have the means, as I have said, of knowing him; and there is no excuse that we can plead for our ignorance, since God has not spoken to us in an obscure manner. God in these words accused the Jews of ingratitude, and of deliberate wickedness, because they knew him not. But since God has at this day made himself more fully known to us, it is, as I have said, a heavier condemnation to us, and our punishment will thus be doubled, if we know not God, who is so kind to us, and deals with us so graciously.

Then he adds, that they were foolish children, and not intelligent. The antithesis in Hebrew is more emphatical than in Greek and Latin; for to say, “He is foolish, and not wise, “would be in Greek and Latin frigid, as the last clause would be weaker than the former. But in Hebrew it is different; for in this way is conveyed the idea, that they were so foolish that not even the least portion of a sound mind remained in them. Even those who are foolish and senseless do yet retain some knowledge, however small it may be: hence they say, that the foolish often speak what is suitable. But the Prophet means another thing, — that the Jews were not only senseless and stupid, but that they were so destitute of all knowledge, that they were like stones or brute animals, and that they had not a particle of sound mind or of rational knowledge remaining in them. (118) The rest we shall defer to another time.

(118) The specific meaning of the terms used in this verse is not given in our version, nor by Calvin, nor by Blayney. The following, as I apprehend, is a literal version, —

For stupid are my people, Me they do not know; Foolish children are they, And undiscerning are they; Wise are they to do evil, But how to do good they know not.

“Stupid,” אויל, is one grossly ignorant, so as to be without knowledge, and not capable of knowing how to do good, or what is the good to be done. The last line explains the two first. Then “foolish,” סכלים, are the perverse, or the perverted, who are foolish through a perverted mind, who are said in the next line to be undiscerning, and who, as in the line which follows, had wisdom enough to do evil. They were stupidly ignorant, and perversely foolish. They were ignorant as to good, and wise as to evil; but this their wisdom was folly. — Ed

Verse 23

The Prophet in this passage enlarges in a language highly metaphorical on the terror of God’s vengeance, that he might rouse the Jews, who were stupid and careless: nor is the repetition in vain, when he says four times, that he looked. He might have spoken of the earth, heaven, men, and fertile places in one sentence: but it is the same as though he had turned his eyes to four different quarters, and said, that wherever he looked, there appeared to him dreadful tokens of God’s wrath, and which threatened the Jews with utter ruin. Nor is it a wonder that the Prophet is so vehement; for we know that men would have heedlessly received all threatenings, except they were violently roused. And this mode of teaching ought to be well known to us; for all in any degree acquainted with the writings of the prophets, must know that they especially pursued this course, in order to rouse hypocrites, and the despisers of God, who, with a stiff neck and a hardened heart, were not moved by any apprehension of punishment. But this passage is remarkable above most others: we ought therefore to consider the import of the Prophet’s words.

He says first, that he looked on the earth, and that it was תהו, teu, and בהו, beu. He employs the very words which Moses adopted in his history of the creation; for before any order was introduced, he says that the earth was תהו, teu, and בהו, beu, that is, waste and unformed chaos; and it had no beauty pleasing to the eye. (119) It is the same as though He had said, that the order, which had been so beautifully arranged, had now disappeared through God’s wrath, and that there was nothing but confusion everywhere. Thus he amplifies the atrocity of their sins; as though he had said, that men had become so fallen, that they had changed the whole form of the world, and blended heaven and earth together, so that now there was no distinction between things. As to the heavens, he says, that there was no light in them: he intimates that the light of the sun, moon, and stars, was in a manner extinguished, because men were unworthy to enjoy such a kindness from God; and as though the sun and moon were ashamed to be witnesses of so many sins and vices.

We now then apprehend what Jeremiah chiefly means in the first verse: He says, that he looked on the earth, and that nothing appeared in it but dreadful chaos and waste, there being no form nor beauty; for the Jews had by their sins subverted the order of nature and the creation of God. And he says, that he looked on the heavens, and that they had no light; for the Jews had deserved to be deprived of that benefit which God had designed the sun and the moon to convey: and it is indeed a singular instance of God’s kindness, that he has made such noble objects to be of such service to us. The Prophet, in short, means that such awful tokens of God’s wrath appeared in heaven and on earth, as though the whole world had been thrown into confusion. This mode of speaking often occurs in the other prophets, especially in Joel 2:2. Though the words are hyperbolical, yet they do not exceed what is suitable, if we take to the account the extreme insensibility of men: for except God arms heaven and earth, and shews himself ready to take away all the blessings with which he favors mankind, they will, as we have lately said, laugh to scorn all his threatenings.

(119) These two words are viewed as synonymous by some, and the versions render them often by the same terms. As to the first, תהו, there can be no doubt as to its meaning, for it occurs about twenty times, and in all these places the idea of emptiness is chiefly conveyed: hence it is most commonly rendered in our version, vain, vanity, in vain, nought, etc., 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 49:4. It is improperly rendered “without form,“ in Genesis 1:2, and “confusion” in Isaiah 34:11. When applied to the earth, as in Genesis 1:2, it imports emptiness, as it was then unfurnished either with productions or with any inhabitants. This appears evident from Isaiah 45:18, “He created it not in vain,“ rather, “not empty did he create it — לא-תהו בראה;” “he formed it to be inhabited,“ or more literally, “for a habitation he formed it.” As to the other word, בוו, it only occurs three times, Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 34:11; and here. As the former evidently means emptiness, this may be taken to mean confusion or chaos, according to Symmachus, “συγκεχυμένη, — confused.” Then the right rendering here would be, —

23.I looked on the land, And behold emptiness and confusion; And towards the heavens, And they were without their light.

It is not the earth, but the land of Judea is what is meant. The whole passage being so striking, shall be here given, —

24.I looked at the mountains, And, behold, they were shaking, And all the hills made quick motions:

25.I looked, and, behold, there was no man; And every bird of heaven had fled away:

26.I looked, and, behold, Carmel a desert; And all its cities had been demolished By the presence of Jehovah, By the indignation of his wrath.

The whole is represented as already done. The Prophet speaks of what he had seen in the vision. — Ed.

Verse 24

Jeremiah descends afterwards from heaven to mountains, and says that they trembled, and that all the hills moved or shook; some say, destroyed, but I know not for what reason, for the Prophet no doubt confirms the same thing by another phrase: and as he had said, that mountains trembled, so he also adds, that hills shook; and this is the proper meaning of the verb. Now the reason why he speaks of mountains and hills is evident; for a greater stability seems to belong to them than to level grounds, inasmuch as mountains are for the most part stony, and have their roots most firmly fixed in rocks. Were indeed the whole world to be thrown into confusion, the mountains seem to be so firmly based that no commotion could affect them: but the Prophet says, that they trembled, and that the hills shook

Verse 25

What he saw the third time was solitude; for he says that there were no men, and that all birds had fled away. The principal ornament of the world, we know, consists of men and of living creatures. For why was the earth made so productive, that it brings forth fruits, so many and so various, except for the sake of men and of animals? Though, then, the earth appears very beautiful on account of its trees, herbs, and every kind of fruit, yet its principal ornaments are men and animals. By stating a part for the whole, the Prophet, by mentioning birds, includes all earthly animals: he says then, that the earth was emptied of its inhabitants.

Verse 26

What he saw the fourth time was this — that the fertile land was turned into a desert. I indeed think that Carmel is to be taken here as meaning the place. That part of the holy land, we know, received its name from its fertility: Carmel means any rich and fruitful spot of ground. But, as I have just said, the mount was so called because it abounded in all kinds of produce; for there were on it fruitful pastures and fertile fields, and every part of it was remarkably pleasant and delightful. I am therefore inclined to consider Carmel itself to be meant here; and my reason is, because he immediately adds, that its cities were destroyed; and this can be more fitly applied to Carmel than generally to all fruitful regions. As to myself, I think that the Prophet speaks of Carmel; and yet he alludes to what the word means. (120) Even in this verse he mentions a part for the whole, as though he had said, that Carmel, which excelled in fertility, had become like a desert. When Isaiah speaks of the renovation of the Church, he says,

“The desert shall be as Carmel,“ (Isaiah 32:15)

as though he had said, that the blessing of God would be so abundant through the whole world, that deserts would bear fruit like Carmel, or those regions which are remarkable for their fertility. But Jeremiah, speaking here of a curse, says, that Carmel would be like the desert; and that all its cities would be demolished, even at the presence of Jehovah, and by the great heat of his wrath

Some render חרון, charun, fury: and this kind of language is not without its use; for men, as we have said, except God terrifies them as it were by thunders, will sleep and will not perceive his judgment, so that all threatenings become useless to them. This is the reason why Scripture speaks so often of the fury or of the great heat of God’s wrath. Either of the two words might indeed be sufficient; either חרון, charun, which means fury or great heat; or אף aph, which signifies anger or wrath. Why then are both mentioned? because it is necessary, as I have said, to tear in pieces our hardness as with hammers; for otherwise God could never turn us to fear him. This repetition then ought to avail for the purpose of subduing the perverseness of our nature; not that these turbulent feelings belong to God, as it is well known; but as we cannot otherwise conceive how dreadful his vengeance is, it is necessary that he should be set before us as one who is angry and burning with wrath: in a like manner, eternal death is described to us under the metaphor of fire.

Now, as to the sum of what is here said, the Jews at that time no doubt enjoyed great abundance and indulged their pleasures; in short, they were fully pleased with their condition. But the Prophet here declares that he saw at a distance what these blind Jews did not see, even God’s vengeance approaching, which would deprive them of that abundance, on account of which they were so swollen with pride, and which would reduce them all into such a state of desolation that nothing would remain above or below, but a disordered confusion, such as existed before nature was brought to order, when the earth was not separated from the heavens, and there was only a confused mass, including all the elements, and without any light. He afterwards adds —

(120) All the early versions, as well as the Targum, retain the word “Carmel.” Blayney renders it “the fruitful field.” — Ed.

Verse 27

The Prophet briefly explains here what he understood by the four things which he had seen and of which he had spoken. He then declares, as it were in the person of God, that there would be a dreadful desolation throughout Judea; Wasted, he says, shall be the whole land, or, in the whole land there shall be desolation. Some explain what afterwards follows, as though he mitigated the severity of his language. Hence, as they think, a mitigation is added, which was to relieve the faithful with some hope of mercy, lest they should wholly despond. And indeed were he to threaten only he might fill a hundred worlds with terror. Lest then despair should so overwhelm the faithful as to restrain them from fleeing to God for mercy, it is often added by way of mitigation, that God would not consume the whole land.

The word כלה, cale, sometimes means perfection, but in most places, consummation; for the verb signifies to perfect and to consume, and for the same reason. Though these two things seem inconsistent, yet what is consumed is said to be perfected, for it comes to an end. If this explanation is approved, we now see the reason why he declares that he would not make a consummation, with whatever severity he might punish the sins of his people; it was, that some hope might remain for the faithful, so that they might not be wholly discouraged; which would have been the case had not God promised to be propitious and mindful of his covenant.

Some perhaps may approve of reading the sentence as a question, and think that the object is to beat down the pride of the ungodly, and to dissipate the boasting of those who relied on the hope of impunity; as though he had said, “Do ye still deny that I shall make a consummation?”

Now, though the former exposition contains a richer truth, yet I prefer to take כלה, cale, as signifying an end, as though he had declared that he would observe no moderation in executing his vengeance: (121) and a similar language occurs in the next chapter. The real meaning then is, — that God would to the end carry on his work of desolation. The prophets indeed do not always speak alike when they announce God’s judgments. Sometimes they denounce ruin where none seems to be safe; yet God ever preserves some hidden seed, as it is said in Isaiah 1:9; where also it appears evident what the prophets understood by making a consummation. For God there threatens and says,

“Behold I will make a consummation;” yet he afterwards adds, “The consummation shall bring forth fruit,”

that is, what remained of the consummation. The prophets elsewhere compare the Church of God to olive — trees when shaken, or to vines after vintage, (Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13;) for some grapes ever remain which escape the eyes of the gatherers; so also, when the olive — trees are shaken, some fruit remain on the highest branches. Thus God says, that the consummation he makes in his Church is like the vintage or the shaking of olive — trees, when some fruit remain and escape the eyes of the gatherers. We now perceive what the Prophet means, — that there would be the ruin of the whole people, so that they would have neither a name nor existence as a body; which thing also happened, when they were driven as exiles into Babylon; for the people, as a civil community, then ceased to exist, so that there was an end made of them.

I indeed allow that God’s threatenings cannot avail for our salvation, unless connected with the promise of pardon, so that being raised up by the hope of salvation we may flee to him: for as long as we deem God inexorable, we shun every access to him; and thus despair drives us into a rage like that of fiends. Hence it is that the reprobate rage so much against God, and make a great clamor: and they would willingly thrust him from his throne. It is therefore necessary that a hope of salvation should be set before us, so that we may be touched with repentance: and as this promise is perpetual, whatever may happen, even if earth and heaven were mixed together, and ruin on every side were filling us with dread, we must still remember that there will be ever some remnant according to the passages we have referred to in the first and tenth chapters of Isaiah. But as the people were not prepared to receive consolation, the design of the Prophet here is different, for he only mentions punishment. He afterwards adds —

(121) All the early versions and the Targum favor the former view, as they all render the sentence, “Yet a consummation I will not make.” Gataker mentions another explanation, “I will not yet make a full end” with you; that is, I will punish you yet farther: and reference is made to Jeremiah 5:18. This view is adopted by Blayney and Scott. But the former view is no doubt the right one; for this is the meaning of the phrase as found in other places; see Jeremiah 30:11; where it is clear that כלה עשה is wholly to destroy. See also Nehemiah 9:31; Ezekiel 11:13; Ezekiel 20:17; Nahum 1:9. The meaning then is, “Yet I will not make an entire destruction.” Henry takes this view, and Lowth seems to prefer it. Indeed the phrase has no other meaning wherever it is used. — Ed

Verse 28

Jeremiah proceeds here with the same subject, and still introduces God as the speaker, that what is said might produce a greater effect. For this, he says, the land shall mourn. The mourning of the land is to be taken for its desolation; but he refers to what he had said before. He does not speak of the inhabitants of the land; for they who thus explain the passage, diminish much the force of the expression; for the Prophet here ascribes terror and sorrow to the very elements, which is much more striking than if he said, that all men would be in sorrow and grief. The same also must be thought of the heavens. Indeed, the latter clause proves that he does not speak of the inhabitants, but of the land itself, which, though without reason, seems yet to dread God’s vengeance. And thus the Prophet upbraids men with their insensibility; for when God appeared as judge from heaven, they were not touched with any fear. Mourn then shall the land, and covered shall be the heaven with darkness; that is, though men remain stupid, yet both heaven and earth shall feel how dreadful God’s judgment will be.

He afterwards adds, Because I have spoken. Some consider אשר, asher, what, to be understood between this sentence and the following verb: “Because I have spoken what I have purposed, and I have not repented.” But the concise phrase is not unsuitable: God first intimates, that he had pronounced the sentence, which would remain firm and unchangeable; as though he had said, “I have once for all declared by my servants what I will do.” For the prophets, we know, were the heralds of God’s vengeance: and as their doctrine was often despised, so at this day also the world obstinately rejects it; and as it often now derides all threatenings, so it happened then. But Jeremiah introduces here God as the speaker, as though he had said, “My servants have been despised by you; but they have said nothing but what I have commanded them: I am therefore the author of that sentence by which you ought to have been moved and roused.” In this sense it is that God testifies that he had spoken; for he transfers to himself what the Jews thought proceeded from the prophets, and hence supposed that they were at liberty to regard as nothing what the prophets pronounced against them: “I myself am He,” says God, “who has spoken.” So that we must understand a contrast here between God and the prophets; as though he had said, that the Jews in vain slumbered in their sins, because they thought they had to do only with mortals, since God himself had commanded his servants to denounce the ruin that was despised.

But that they might not think that God had thus spoken to cause a false alarm, (for hypocrites flatter themselves with this pretense, that God does not speak seriously, but that he frightens them with bugbears, as children are wont to be,) he says, that he had purposed. He had said before that he had spoken, that is, by his prophets; but what he means now by this word is, that the predictions which he had made known as to their destruction proceeded from his own secret counsel: “This,” he says, “has been decreed by me.”

He then adds, It has not repented me, and I will not turn from it. He briefly shews, that the Jews were now given up to death, that they might not think that God could be pacified as long as they followed their vices; for God had decreed to destroy them; and he had not only declared this by his prophets, but had also resolved within himself to do so. By the term repent, is to be understood a change; for God cannot, strictly speaking, repent, as nothing is hid from him; but he speaks, as I have lately stated, after a human manner: and every ambiguity is removed by the next phrase, when he says, I will not turn from it, that is, “I will not retract my sentence.” (122) It follows —

(122) The latter part is very concise, —

Because I have said, I have purposed, And have not repented, And I will not turn from it.

The turning refers to what he had said, and repentance to the purpose. Blayney followed the Septuagint, and changed the order of the words, and thus destroyed the right connection of the passage, and the common parallelism of the language. We may also notice this passage as an instance of what is often found both in the Old Testament, and also in the New, — that when two or more things are consecutively stated, the most obvious, the most apparent, is mentioned first, and then the most hidden, or what is in order previous. Purpose is first in order, but speaking is first mentioned. — Ed.

Verse 29

By saying, that at the voice or sound of horsemen and bowmen, there would be an universal flight, he means, that the enemies would come with such impetuosity, that the Jews would not dare to wait for their presence, but would flee here and there before they were attacked: for the word voice or sound, no doubt, is set here in opposition to wounds. They did swell, we know, with amazing pride; hence the Prophet ridicules that false confidence by which they were so inebriated as not to dread God’s judgment: “The sound alone of enemies,” he says, “will frighten you; so that all the cities, being left by their inhabitants, will easily fall into their hands, for walls will not defend themselves; nay, the gates will be open.” Flee then will every city; that is, all the cities will have recourse to flight. Then it follows, Ascend will they into the clouds, or into thicknesses: this may be applied to the enemies, to shew that they would be so nimble and active as to fly, as it were, to the clouds, and climb the highest rocks. But I prefer to connect this sentence with the former, as intimating, that to ascend the clouds would not be too arduous for the Jews in their anxious flight. Inasmuch as the tops of mountains were often covered with thick trees, in order to form a dark shade, this passage may mean, that they fled to such places. However this may have been, the Prophet here, no doubt, refers to such high situations. Hence, the meaning would be more evident if we retain the word, clouds. As to what is intended, we see that that is clear; which is, that the enemies of the Jews would in swiftness be equal to the eagles while pursuing them; or, what is more commonly thought, that the terror felt by the Jews would be so great, that in their flight they would not seek recesses nigh at hand, but would flee to the highest tops of mountains, and hide themselves there among the trees, as though they had climbed into the clouds. They would ascend into craggy rocks, as they could not think themselves otherwise safe from the attacks of their enemies. (123)

He then adds, that every city would be forsaken, so that no one would dwell in them. We see that the Prophet had ever this in view — to rouse the Jews, who had deaf ears and stony hearts, so that they felt no concern for their own calamities, and even boldly despised God, as though they had made a covenant with death, according to what is said in another place. (Isaiah 28:15.) He afterwards subjoins —

(123) The verbs in this are all in the past tense, as in some former instances. The Prophet had already seen in a vision what he here states, —

At the voice (or sound) of the rider and of the handler of the bow, Flee did every city; They went into thickets, and into cliffs they climbed; Every city was forsaken, And dwell in them did no man.

The word for “thickets” means sometimes “clouds.” The verb signifies to be dense, thick, gross, bulky: but the plural noun means a thick wood, as well as a thick or dense mass of vapors, which form clouds. It is rendered “ἄλση, — forests,“ by the Septuagint and Syriac; and “sylvas — woods,” by the Targum. — Ed

Verse 30

The Prophet boldly ridicules the Jews, in order to cast down their pride and haughtiness. It was indeed his object to check that pride with which they were elated against God. The Prophet could not have done this without assuming a higher strain than usual, and by rendering his discourse more striking by using metaphorical words. It is indeed the language of derision; he exclaims, What wilt thou do, thou wretched one? The Jews had hitherto been inflated with contempt towards God, and their high spirits had not been subdued. Since, then, their haughtiness continued untamed, the Prophet cries out and says, “Thou wretched, what wilt thou do?” as though he had said, “In vain do they flatter themselves and promise themselves aid from this and from that quarter, for their condition is past any remedy.” (124)

He afterwards adds, Though, etc.; for so I consider the connection of the verse; and they seem right to me who do not separate the words of the Prophet. But the view which others take appears frigid, “Who now adornest thyself, who now clothest thyself in scarlet, who adornest thyself with ornaments of gold, who paintest thy eyes black.” To no purpose do they introduce the relative, for it renders the meaning of the Prophet different from what it really is.

These parts follow one another, and the principal verb is found in these words, In vain dost thou adorn thyself; and the particle כי is to be rendered “though.”

There are those who consider ceremonies to be intended, as hypocrites think that they are by these protected against God’s judgment: but this view is unsuitable and wholly alien to what is here set forth. It is indeed true, that ceremonies are to hypocrites dens of thieves, as we shall hereafter see, (Jeremiah 7:11;) but the Prophet in this place refers to meretricious ornaments; for the people, as it had before appeared, were become like an adulterous woman. God had formed with them as it were a marriage — contract; they had violated it; and this perfidy was like the defection of an adulteress, who leaves her husband and wanders here and there, and lives as a prostitute. As then harlots, for the purpose of enticement, are wont to dress themselves elegantly, to paint their faces, and to use other allurements, the Prophet says, “In vain wilt thou adorn thyself; though thou puttest on scarlet, though thou shinest with gold even from the head to the feet, yet all this will be superfluous and useless; and though, in addition to all this, thou paintest thy face, (125) it will yet avail thee nothing.”

Now, we know whom he understands by lovers, even the Egyptians and the Assyrians. For the Jews, when oppressed by the Egyptians, were wont to seek help from the Assyrians; and again, when attacked by the Assyrians, they became suppliants to the Egyptians. The prophets compared this sort of conduct to that of strumpets; for whenever they courted the aid of either of these parties, they broke the bond of marriage, by which they were connected with God, and perfidiously violated their pledged faith. Hence, the Prophet says, “Even if the Egyptians promise wonderful things to thee, as a lover allured by thy beauty and by thy meretricious ornaments, yet they will deceive thee; and if the Assyrians shew themselves ready to bring aid, they also will disappoint thy hope: so that thou shalt be like a destitute strumpet, reduced to extreme want.” I cannot finish today: I must therefore defer the rest until to-morrow.

(124) The words “thou wretched,“ or, more commonly, “thou spoiled,“ are left out in the Septuagint and Arabic, and are retained in this sense by the Vulgate, Syriac, and the Targum. But, as Blayney justly says, it is a rendering that is not correct. “Thou,“ as in the received text, is feminine, and “spoiled” is masculine. The Keri and many MSS. have את instead of אתי; and שדוד, as Blayney supposes, is not a passive participle, but a verb in the infinitive mood, used as a noun. So he gives this version, —

And against spoiling what wilt thou do?

The word “spoiled,” or wasted, may indeed refer to “every city,” mentioned in the former verse, and the word for city is masculine. We may then render thus, —

And the city being wasted, what wilt thou do?

“The city ” may be deemed as the poetical singular for the plural. — Ed.

(125) The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Targum give this rendering, —

“Though thou paintest with stibium thine eyes.”

The Hebrew literally is, as it is rendered by Blayney, —

Though thou distendest with paint thy eyes.

The verb קרע, means first to rend, to divide, and then to divide in the sense of distending or enlarging. Large eyes were considered a beauty, and women used a sort of paint, or rather powder, for the purpose of enlarging them. See Lowth’s note on Isaiah 3:16, and Parkhurst under the word פך. — Ed

Verse 31

By these words Jeremiah confirms what the latter part of the preceding verse contains: nor was it for the sake of elucidating his subject that he enlarged on it; but when he saw his own nation so hard and almost like stones, he employed many words and set forth in various ways what he might have expressed in one sentence: and what he taught would have been often coldly received, had he not added exhortations and threatenings. It was on this account that he now expresses in other words what he had previously said, I have heard, he says, the voice as of one in labor This hearing, no doubt, is to be taken consistently with the representation which had been made to him; for Jeremiah could not hear in a way different from others; but he speaks according to the discovery made to him of the approaching judgment of God, which was then unheeded by the people; and he had this discovery, that he might by such a representation as this make it known to them. He then says, that he had heard, as though he had witnessed already all that was to come. He then exaggerates the evil; for he puts distress, צרה , tsere, instead of “voice,” קול, kul; and then he mentions, as an instance of greater pain, a woman bringing forth her first — born, instead of a woman in labor. Then Jeremiah means, that final ruin was nigh that people who could not then be restored from their sinful courses; but he intimates, as also the Spirit speaks in other places, that their destruction would be sudden; while they would be saying, Peace and security, sudden destruction would come upon them. (1 Thessalonians 5:3.) And so the Prophet now declares, that the Jews in vain hardened themselves against God, as though their ruin was not approaching, for their sorrow would come suddenly. As a woman may be cheerful at meat or at her leisure, and may be suddenly seized with the pain of labor, so also the Prophet shews, that the Jews had no reason to think that they could escape God’s vengeance by a false confidence, for their destruction would come upon them unexpectedly.

He sets forth at the same time, as already said, the greatness or the extremity of their grief by this similitude, The voice of the daughter of Sion, who complains, etc.; for the relative may be here added. Some take the verb to be in the second person, “Thou wilt lament and extend, “or rend, “thy hands;” but this is not suitable, because the third person is immediately used, “thy hands.” Then what he says is, that the voice of the daughter of Sion would be an evidence of her extreme grief, for she would lament; and he adds, at the same time, the smiting of the hands. This verb is variously rendered; but as פרש, peresh, means properly to rend or to divide, I think the Prophet expresses the posture of a woman in grief; for she usually smites her hands together and as it were divides them by putting the fingers between one another. Some render the word “expand, “for the hands are divided when raised up. As to what is meant, there is nothing ambiguous in the Prophet’s words; for his object is to shew, that God’s vengeance would be so dreadful, that the Jews would lament, not in an ordinary measure, but like women, when in the extreme pain of labor.

He then concludes by saying, Woe to me, for failed has my soul on account of murderers Here the Prophet intimates, that all the rest were blind in the midst of light, yet God’s judgment, which the ungodly and wicked laughed at, or at least disregarded, was seen clearly by him. His soul, he says, fainted for the slain; and yet no one had hitherto been slain: but by this mode of speaking, he shews, that he had as it were before his eyes what was hid from others, and hence their hearts were not affected. (127) Now follows —

(127) This latter part is differently taken by most. It is considered to be the confession of the daughter of Sion. The whole verse is remarkably striking, —

For the voice as of one in travail have I heard, The distress as of one giving birth to a first-born, The voice of the daughter of Sion; Who pants for breath, who spreads her hands, — “Wo now to me, For melted has my soul because of murderers.”

It is a common thing in Hebrew to omit the relative “who,“ before a verb in a future tense, especially when it means the present time. The scene is described as present. The passage might be expressed in Welsh without the relative. “Who pants for breath,” is rendered by Horsley, “ that draweth her breath short;” and he adds, “The passage is a most affecting picture of the last struggles of a woman expiring in labor.” — Ed.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/jeremiah-4.html. 1840-57.
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