Jeremiah had already prophesied against the Jews, who had taken refuge in Egypt, as though there would be for them in that rich and almost unassailable land a safe and quiet retreat. But he now speaks against them for another reason, and denounces on them something more grievous than before, even because they had not only gone into Egypt against God’s will, but when they came there they polluted themselves with all kinds of superstition. God, no doubt, designed, in due time, to prevent this, when he forbade them to go into Egypt; for he knew how prone they were to idolatry, and to false and adulterous modes of worship. He was therefore unwilling that they should dwell in that land, where they might learn to pervert his worship. And this had happened, as it appears from the present prophecy. As then they had cast aside every shame, and given themselves up to the superstitions of the heathens, the Prophet again testified, that God would take vengeance on them. But we shall see that he had to do with refractory men; for without shewing any respect for him, they attacked him with impetuous fury. The sum of what is said then is, that the Jews who dwelt in Egypt were unworthy of any pardon, because they had, as it were, designedly rejected the favor of God, and their obstinacy had become altogether hopeless. We shall now consider the words:
A word is said to have been given to Jeremiah to all the Jews But God spoke to Jeremiah not in the same way as to the Jews; for he committed to him the words which he commanded him to deliver to others. Then the word was directly given to Jeremiah only; but as Jeremiah was God’s interpreter to the people, the word is said to be given in common to all, which yet at first, as it has been stated, was committed to Jeremiah alone. For he did not favor the Jews with such an honor as to speak to them, but he sent the Prophet as his messenger. He said then to the Jews who dwelt in Egypt, and afterwards he mentions certain places, first Migdol, then Tahpanhes, and thirdly, Noph. The first name some have rendered Magdal. That city was not so much known at the time when Egypt flourished, but it has been mentioned by heathen writers. Of Tahpanhes we spoke yesterday. Noph has been called Memphis; and it is generally agreed that what the Hebrews called Noph was that noble and celebrated city Memphis, which, as they suppose at this day, is called Cairo, Le Caire. He lastly mentions the country of Pathros, which is supposed by some to have been near Pelusia. But on such a matter as this I bestow no great labor; for even heathen writers have regarded this as an obscure country, of no importance. Pathros is elsewhere mentioned as a city, and some think it to have been Petra of Arabia. But the Prophet no doubt refers here to the country in which Memphis and other cities were situated, in which the Jews dwelt.
But he says these things for this reason, because a question might have been raised, “As the Jews dwelt in Egypt, so large was the land, that the Prophet could not have announced the commands of God to all. This, then, was the reason why he intimates that. they were not dispersed everywhere throughout Egypt, from one end to the other, but that they were in one part only, and that they were so collected that his word might come to all. This, then, was the reason why he mentioned the places where the Jews sojourned.
He now begins with reproof, because they were so stupid as not to remember the vengeance which God had executed on themselves and on the whole nation. They had been left alive for this end, that they might acknowledge God’s judgment, and thus return to a right mind. Here, then, the Prophet upbraids them with their insensibility, that they had profited nothing under the scourges of God. They commonly say that fools, when they are beaten, become wise. As then the Jews had not repented, after having been so grievously chastised, it was a proof of extreme perverseness; for if the remnant had a grain of a sound mind, they would have been humbled at least by the final destruction of their nation, and when the city and the temple were demolished. Since then they followed the same wicked courses, for which God had inflicted so grievous a punishment, it was evident that they were wholly irreclaimable and destitute of reason and judgment. This is the import of all the words of the Prophet which we have read.
He says first, Ye have seen what great evils I brought on you and the land. “Then ye know that you have justly suffered all the evils which have happened to you; for ye have not sinned through want of knowledge, but when I had sedulously warned you by my Prophets, ye continued ever obstinate; ye have therefore fully deserved such punishments. Now when God spared you, and wished that a small number should remain, to preserve as it were a seed, how is it that these evils which are still as it were before your eyes, are not remembered by you?” We now then understand the design of the Prophet.
But it may be well to examine every part; Ye have seen, he says, all the evil which I have brought (evil here means calamity) on Jerusalem, and on all the cities of Judah; and, behold, they are now a waste, and no one dwells there. There is here an emphatical comparison between Jerusalem and Memphis, between the cities of Judah and Heliopolis and the whole country of Pathros. If then God had not. spared the holy city which he had chosen, if he had not spared the cities of Judah which were under his protection, how foolish it was for the Jews to think that they would be safe in the cities of Egypt? By what privilege could these be secure, since the cities of Judah had been reduced to a waste? We now then perceive why the Prophet mentioned Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; it was, that he might expose the stupidity of the Jews, because they thought, themselves safe in Egypt, a land which God had ever held in abomination.
He afterwards adds, For the evil which they did to provoke me. He refers to the sins by which the Jews had provoked the wrath of God; for the people whom Jeremiah addressed had relapsed into those superstitions which had been the cause of their ruin. Had the Prophet spoken generally and said, that it was strange that the Jews had forgotten the punishment which had been inflicted by God on the whole nation, his doctrine would not have been so impressive. But when he now points out as by the finger how they had procured for themselves such calamities, he presses and urges them more forcibly to acknowledge their madness, because they thus continually provoked God, and sinned not through ignorance, but offended him by the same sins for which yet they had suffered punishment so grievous and dreadful. This is the reason why the Prophet says, For the evil which they did to provoke me, even to go, he says, to offer incense and to serve alien gods. To go here intimates the care and diligence they exercised in false worship. God had shewn to the Jews a certain way in his Law which they ought to have followed: had they then continued in the doctrine of the Law, they would have kept in the right way, and gone forward to the right end. But they are said to go, because they disregarded the Law and went here and there, as those who wander at random, and know not where they are going. There is then to be understood a contrast between going and remaining under the teaching of the Law. To go, in short, is to weary one’s self by an erratic course, when the word of God is neglected, and the way which it points out is forsaken. This is one thing.
Then he adds, to offer incense and to serve alien gods. In cense here is mentioned as a particular thing, then that which is general is added; for incense, as it is well known, was an evidence of worship. Then the Prophet under one thing condemns the idolatry of his own nation. But at length he shews that they were given to other abominations, that they had devoted themselves to the false worship of alien gods.
This passage, and those which are like it, are entitled to particular notice; for we hence learn that men depart from God and alienate themselves from the true worship of him, whenever they mingle with it something of their own, and dream of this and that according to their own will, the very thing intended, as we have said, by going as used by the Prophet. As soon, then, as men devise for themselves some new modes of worship, it is the same thing as though they turned backward or willfully wandered, for they keep not in the right and legitimate way. We also learn from the second clause that idolaters in vain adduce pretences to excuse themselves. For if they transfer to another what peculiarly belongs to God, and what he claims for himself, it is more than a sufficient proof of idolatry; and incense, as I have said, was a symbol of divine worship. As then they offered incense to their idols, they robbed the true God of his own honor, and chose new gods, and adorned them with the rights of the only true God.
In vain, then, and foolishly do the Papists at this day seek evasions when we object to them and say, that gross idolatries prevail among them: “He! it is not our intention to transfer the worship which peculiarly belongs to the only true God to saints, to images; but we apply all this to God.” Since they burn incense to saints, images, and pictures, since they offer incense even to the dead, there is surely no further need of disputing the point; and when they try to evade whatever they can bring forward, it is confuted by this one expression of the Prophet, for when he speaks of incense, he condemns the Jews for their idolatry.
But as I have said, he speaks afterwards generally, and says, and to serve alien gods. Then it follows, whom they knew not, neither ye nor your fathers Here the Prophet amplifies the sin of his own nation, because they had devoted their attention to unknown gods. There is here again a contrast to be understood, that is, between God, who had revealed himself by his Law, by his Prophets, by so many miracles and blessings, and the fictitious gods, who had, without thought and without judgment, been invented and contrived by the Jews. Now, it was an evidence of a base and an intolerable ingratitude, that the Jews should have forsaken the true God after he had made himself known to them. For had the Law never been given, had God suffered them, as other nations, to be entangled in their own errors, their offense would have been lighter. But God had made himself to be so familiarly known to them, that he was pleased to give them his Law, to be a certain rule of religion; he had also exercised his miraculous powers among them. As, then, the knowledge of the true God had been made so remarkably clear to them, how great and how base was their ingratitude to reject him and to depart from him, in order to run after idols! when they contrived for themselves vain gods and nothing but fictions! Had any one inquired what sort of god was Baal, or what were their Baalim, they would have said, that they had Baalim as their patrons, who obtained favor for them with the supreme God. But whence had they derived their vain notion? It was nothing but superstition founded on no reason.
This ought to be carefully observed; for at this day were any one to ask the Papists by what right they have devised for themselves so various and so many modes of worship: devotion alone they say will suffice, or a good intention. Let us then know that religion, separated from knowledge, is nothing but the sport and delusion of Satan. It is hence necessary that men should with certainty know what god they worship. And Christ thus distinguishes the true worship of God from that of vain idols,
“We know,” he says, speaking of the Jews, “whom we worship.” (John 4:22)
He then says that the Jews knew, even those who worshipped God according to what the Law prescribes, — he says that they knew whom they worshipped. He then condemns all good intentions in which the superstitious delight themselves, for they know not whom they worship. And I have said that religion ought not to be separated from knowledge; but I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, or what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets.
We now, then, understand why the Prophet says that the Jews devoted themselves to alien gods, whom they had not known, nor their fathers.
Now follows a circumstance by which their impiety was still further enhanced, that God had sent them Prophets who stretched forth their hands to them to draw them from their errors. For had they never been warned, their condemnation would have been just; for God had once shewn to them by his Law what was right. The teaching, then, of the Law ought to have been sufficient for all ages. But when God had never ceased to send Prophets, one after another, it was a sign of hopeless obstinacy to reject so many and so constant warnings. God then added this circumstance that it might appear that the Jews were wholly inexcusable, and worthy of a hundred and of a thousand deaths, because they had so perversely despised all the means of salvation.
But God says, that he had sent to them all his servants What is universal has its own peculiar importance; for if one or two Prophets had been sent, the Jews would have been proved guilty; for the law does not require more than two or three witnesses to condemn those who have done wrong. (Deuteronomy 17:6.) But God shews here that there had been a vast number of those, through whom, had they been believed, the Jews might have been preserved in safety. They might, then, have been proved guilty, not only by three or four witnesses, but even by a great number; for the Prophets had continually succeeded one another. And thus had been fulfilled what God had promised in the Law,
“A Prophet will I raise up from the midst of thy brethren, him shalt thou hear; and every one who will not hear that Prophet shall be cut off from his people.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)
For God shews in his proclaimed Law, that this would be one of his chief blessings, ever to keep the Jews in the knowledge of their duty, by never leaving them destitute of Prophets and faithful teachers, here then he shews that he had ever really performed what he had promised by Moses; for he does not say that he had only sent a few, but, as I have said, that there had been a copious abundance; for in every age there were several Prophets, and some, when it became necessary, succeeded others. But what had been the fruit? He afterwards complains that all the Prophets had been rejected.
But to render their sin still more heinous, he says, rising up early and sending Of this kind of speaking an explanation has been elsewhere given. (Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 11:7) It is a metaphorical language; for God rises not nor does he change places; but here he applies to himself what peculiarly belongs to men. For he who is attentive to business, does not wait till the sun rises, but anticipates the morning dawn. So also the Prophet says, that God had been vigilant, for he had been solicitous concerning the wellbeing of the people.
We further learn from this mode of speaking how invaluable is the benefit which God bestows when he raises up honest and faithful teachers; for it is the same as when the head of a family rises early from his bed, calls up his children, and takes care of them. Let us, then, know that teaching, when it is communicated to us, is an evidence of God’s paternal solicitude, because he would not have us to perish, but comes down to us and sees what is needful, as though he were present with us, and as a father towards his children, he takes care of us and of our affairs. This is the meaning.
He now adds the substance of his message, Do not the thing of this abomination which I hate God intimates, in short, that it had not been through him that the Jews did not return from their errors to the right way, because he had stretched forth his hand to them, and had, as it were, sup-pliantly requested them to provide better for themselves, and not knowingly and willfully to seek their own destruction, having acted as though he were a husband, who, being anxious to preserve the fidelity of his wife, might thus say to her, —“Behold, thou knowest that I cannot endure unchaste-ness; beware, then, lest thou shouldest prostitute thyself to adulterers.” So God shews here that he had testified by all his servants, that all kinds of idolatry were displeasing to him, in order that the Jews might keep themselves from idolatry.
And he adds, But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to alien gods Here God charges the Jews with irreclaimable obstinacy, for the teaching of the Law did not retain them in obedience, nor did they attend to it, though often and at different times warned and admonished by the Prophets. And their perverseness he still more clearly sets forth by the second clause, when he says that they did not incline their ear Had he said, “They have not hearkened, ” it would have been quite sufficient; but when he adds, “They have not inclined their ear,” he expresses, as I have said, something worse than contempt, even that they designedly rejected the teaching of the Prophets, that they disdained to hear the Prophets or to listen to their admonitions, but became willingly deaf, nay, closed up their ears, as rebels do, who are said elsewhere to harden their heart. We now then understand the import of this verse.
Now he adds, On this account has my wrath and my fury been poured forth, and has burned through the cities of Judah, and through the streets of Jerusalem; and this day they are a waste and a desolation The word שממה, shimme, sometimes means amazement, as it has been before stated; but when it is connected with חרבה, cherebe, as here, it means desolation. As at this day; a dreadful waste was then at that time apparent, he again refers to this truth, that the Jews ought to have been so touched by that remarkable and memorable instance of God’s displeasure, as not to abandon themselves afterwards to new idolatries; they ought to have remembered so recent an example of punishment. As, then, they still persevered in their hardness, it was an evidence of extreme impiety. The Prophet says that the perverseness of the Jews had not been unpunished, for God’s wrath had been poured forth against the cities of Judah, nay, against Jerusalem itself, the sanctuary of God, so that all things had been reduced to desolation. The Jews then ought, on the one hand, seriously to have considered how inexcusable had been their impiety in having so perversely despised God; and then they ought on the other hand, to have entertained fear and dread, since they saw that God had taken such vengeance on those who had despised his teaching and violated his worship.
He then adds, Why then do ye now this great evil against your own souls, to cut off from you man and woman, child and suckling, from the midst of Judah, that nothing may remain for you? he re at length the passage is finished; for what we have hitherto read would have kept the reader in suspense, had not this been added. He then says, “Since the sin of your fathers ought to have been detested by you, and since God’s judgment had been dreadful, and that punishment ought at this day to fill, you with fear, how is it, that ye seek to bring on yourselves again the vengeance of God?” Why then, he says, now, etc. This now is emphatical, that is, after so many and so remarkable examples, after so many admonitions, after the most grievous punishment inflicted on the obstinate. He says, against your own souls; and by this he touched them very sharply, reminding them that what they were doing would be to their ruin, as though he had said, that God would receive no loss from their wickedness, but that they would become the authors of their own destruction, he indeed intimates, as I have already said, that their impiety would not be without its punishment; but he shews at the same time that God could, if he thought proper, look down with indifference on their impieties; for he would remain perfect even if they were the worst. For when God is robbed by men of his just and legitimate worship, there is nothing taken away from his greatness; for he ever remains the same, and is neither advanced nor diminished through the will of men. Then the Prophet shews that the Jews were acting madly for their own ruin, when he says, that they did evil against their own souls
And this he explains more fully by adding, To cut off man and woman, child and suckling, from the midst of Judah He intimates that God still manifested his mercy, while there was any remnant. They might have remained in Judea, even in their own inheritance; and the country might have been inhabited till the time of seventy years had elapsed, which God had fixed for the exile. Now the Prophet shews that they fought as it were against the goodness of God, for they sought to extinguish their own name, so that nothing should remain of that people, to whom God had still left some seed, that they might not wholly perish.
I was in the last Lecture obliged to cut short the subject of the Prophet; for this verse depends on the foregoing, and is to be read together with it. The Prophet asked why the Jew’s willingly cut off from themselves every hope of safety, and were seeking their own ruin. He now expresses the matter more fully, even that they were provoking God’s wrath by their superstitions. He then points out the cause of all evils, — the pollution of God’s true worship by idolatries.
We here see that there is no end of sinning, when men despise God and allow themselves every license in doing evil: God was unwilling that the Jews should go to Egypt; for he had promised to cherish them as it were under his own wings; and thus he intended to shew them mercy, so that they might remain in safety, though in a country then miserable and desolate. But against his command they went into Egypt. When they came there, in order to gain favor with the Egyptians, they polluted themselves with vain superstitions. They might in the land of Judah have worshipped God in purity without any danger. Distrusting the favor of God they fled into Egypt; and the fear of men led them to deny their religion. We hence see how one evil proceeds from another; when the Jews coveted the favor of that heathen nation, they polluted themselves with many ungodly superstitions.
This is the sin which the Prophet now refers to, — To provoke me, he says, by the works of your hands There is here to be understood a contrast between the works which God had commanded, and those which men had devised for themselves. The altar and the whole Temple were indeed works done by the hand and art of men; but as God had commanded the altar to be made and the Temple to be built, the Temple was not, properly speaking, a human but a divine work, it having been commanded. But whatever men devise of themselves for the purpose of worshipping God, is what is called the work of their hands; for they invent things themselves, and follow only their own fancies; they attend not to what pleases God, but give license to their own imaginations, so that according to their own will they mingle together any sort of worship they please. This, then, is the reason, and according to this sense it is, that the Prophet says, that the Jews provoked God by the works of their hands: they corrupted his lawful worship and departed from true religion, when they attached themselves to heathen Actions and corruptions.
He then adds, To offer incense to alien gods Under one particular thing, as it has been already said, the Prophet includes what is general, for the Jews did not only sin by offering incense, but also through various other superstitions. But by stating a part for the whole, he clearly intimates that they denied the true God when they worshipped idols. And then he adds, in the land of Egypt, into which ye have entered, that ye might dwell there. he takes away the excuse which they might have made, that they were constrained by fear, because they were unhappy exiles, and saw that their own religion would not be tolerated by that proud nation. The Prophet says that they had come into Egypt when God commanded them to remain in the land of Judah. That plea, then, could not have been admitted, that being terrified by danger they sought to please the Egyptians, for they brought themselves into that bondage, when they might have been at liberty in the land of Judah to worship God in purity. This is the reason why he says that they came into Egypt to sojourn there.
He at length adds, to cut you off. The construction is indeed different, but the meaning is clear. He intimates, in short, as he said in the last verse, that they willingly, and as it were designedly, rushed headlong into their own ruin. He then adds, and ye shall be a curse and a reproach among all nations By which words he means that their destruction would be memorable; and this was harder than if their memory was buried with their life. But the Prophet says that their death would be such an example as that they would be deemed execrable by all. In short, he declares that they would be exposed to all kinds of reproaches even after their death. It follows, —
The Prophet now sets forth how extremely shameful was the insensibility of the Jews, in not acknowledging that God had most severely and grievously punished the superstitions to which they had previously been addicted. At the same time, if we regard the word used, he seems not to understand punishments by evils, but raffler the wicked deeds by which they had provoked God. And this ought to be observed, for some interpreters give this rendering, “Have you forgotten your evils and those of your fathers;” that is, how severely God had afflicted you? But there is no doubt but that the Prophet means by רעות, rout, their sins, by which they had exposed themselves to God’s judgment; for it immediately follows, which they did, or committed, in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem But though he means by this word the sins of the people, there is yet no doubt but that he includes also the punishments by which they ought to have known that the impiety in which they continued most obstinately had displeased God.
When therefore the Prophet says, Have ye forgotten your evils and those of your fathers? he takes it for granted that it was sufficiently known that God had taken vengeance on them for their sins; for he does not address the Jews in their prosperity, but when they were fugitives from their own land and under the curse of heaven. As, then, they were evidently condemned by God, the Prophet justly asks them, “Have ye forgotten that you have been condemned for the sins of your fathers and those of your kings, even for those which they had committed?” This he asked, because it was a horrid stupidity, that though the city had been overthrown and the temple burnt, they did not yet leave off their superstitions, especially when so singular a vengeance of God ought to have retained their posterity in fear and obedience even for ten ages. Thus we see that punishment is linked with sins.
He says, of the kings of Judah and of their wives The relative is singular, “his wives;” but no doubt it refers to the people. Some read, “of every one of them;” but there is no need, it being a singular number, referring to a collective noun, Judah. he afterwards adds, which they did This ought not to be confined to the women, (nor is it suitable,) but it refers to all the Jews as well as to kings of Judah, and also to the women, — which then they did in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem
When he mentions the streets of Jerusalem, he exaggerates their wickedness. For we know that city to have been as it were the earthly sanctuary of God. It, was then a most disgraceful impiety to pollute that place which God had consecrated for himself. The whole land of Judah was indeed under his authority and power, but he had favored the city, and especially Mount Sion, with singular privileges. Then the Prophet amplifies the greatness of their sin, when he says that Jerusalem had been polluted by their superstitions.
He afterwards mentions how great had been the perverseness of that people, They are not humbled, he says, to this day, though they had been most severely smitten by the rods of God. Even fools, when smitten, become wise, as the old proverb says. As the Jews then had been so grievously chastised by God’s hand, and had experienced extreme rigor, ought they not to have considered what they had deserved? But the Prophet shews that their wickedness was past remedy, for though broken down they were not yet humbled, like those who are of a perverse disposition, who could not be reformed were they broken down a hundred times. Then the Prophet upbraids the Jews with their obstinacy, for not even the greatest calamity had brought them to obedience.
They were not then humbled to that day, nor did they fear Fear ought also to be referred here to the calamities which they had experienced, for God had sufficiently shewn that he had been grievously offended with their impiety. As then God’s dreadful judgment had been made conspicuous to all, the Prophet here condemns their dullness, because they had not been brought back to a sound mind so as to fear God. He now adds another instance of obstinacy, that they had not walked in the Law of God and in his commandments. Then he shows that their obstinacy was twofold, that they had profited nothing by his teaching, and that they had disregarded his punishments. The Law itself was to them a rule according to which they were to worship God, nor ought they to have sought elsewhere what they were to do. As, then, they had in the Law a revelation as to true religion, it was an intolerable contempt to depart from it of their own accord, and to abandon themselves to all kinds of errors. But the Prophet shews that they had been extremely unteachable, because they had not only cast aside every regard for the Law, but they had also despised God’s hand, and refused to be corrected by any punishments.
That he might shew still further that they had sinned through sheer wickedness, he says, They have not walked in my Law nor in my statutes This second clause seems to be superfluous; but the Prophet here commends the clear teaching of the Law, as though God had said that he had not only shewn in a brief manner what was true and right, but that he had also by many statutes taught the Jews, so that they had no pretext for their ignorance. And he confirms the same thing in other words, when he says that he had put these statutes before their face; for by these words he intimates that there is nothing obscure in the Law, and that the Jews therefore had not gone astray through want of knowledge; for men always extenuate by evasions their sins, when their impiety is condemned. The Prophet then says that the Jews were inexcusable, because the rule of true religion had been set before their eyes.
Now this passage testifies that the teaching of the Law is not doubtful, as some profane men say, who hold that Scripture may be turned anyhow like a nose of wax. But God declares that he had not spoken ambiguously. Since, then, the Prophet affirms that the Law had been set before the eyes of the Jews, that they might surely know the will of God, we ought to maintain at this day, that in the Gospel, clearly discovered to us by the coming of Christ, there is nothing obscure, but that the treasures of all knowledge have been made known to us, as far as it is necessary, so that they who now go astray in vain pretend that they do so because the will of God is hid from them; for in no other way can they err than by dissembling and willfully closing their eyes, lest the brightness of the sun should reach them. Let us yet know that the more plainly God is made known to us, the more grievously we sin when we turn aside from his true worship and service; for he has omitted nothing in his word which is necessary in order to worship him acceptably. Since, then, we have before our eyes the rule of a godly life, except we follow it this reproof belongs to us, that God has set before our eyes his statutes. It now follows, —
He again denounces punishment on the obstinate; nor is it a wonder that these threatenings were so often repeated, since he had to do with men so ferocious and refractory. The reason then why he denounced on them God’s judgment, was because they boldly derided him; and it will become more evident from what follows how necessary was such vehemence.
And first, indeed, the Prophet briefly shews that all those would perish who had yet falsely imagined that they could not otherwise be safe than by fleeing into Egypt. Then Jeremiah here reproves and condemns their false and vain confidence. And then he explains the manner when he says, I will take away all the remnant of Judah, who have set their face to come to Egypt, etc. By these words and the following, God intimates that the Jews had in vain sought hiding-places in Egypt, because there he would inflict on them the punishment which they had deserved. He names the sword and the famine; the third kind he omits here, but he will mention it presently. Then he says that they were to perish, partly by the sword and partly by famine, and in order to speak more emphatically, he uses different words, They shall be consumed by famine, they shall fall by the sword, they shall all be consumed, and then he says, from the least to the greatest.
At length he adds, And they shall be a curse. We have said elsewhere that the word אלה, ale, sometimes means a curse, though it properly signifies an oath; and the reason is, because men in swearing often introduce a curse, “Let God curse me,” — “Let me perish.” Then he says, that the Jews would become an example of a curse; for in making an oath this would be the common form, “Let God destroy me as he destroyed the Jews.” He afterwards adds, an astonishment, because all would be horrified at the very sight of their calamity. It follows in the last place, a curse and a reproach, of which we have spoken before. Let us now proceed, —
He confirms in this verse what he had said in the last, that he would again take vengeance on impiety, as he had done previously. The Jews were before visited with a very grievous calamity, when inebriated with prosperity; but now, when God would have shaken from off them their torpor, the Prophet justly reminds them of the calamities which they had suffered: As, then, I visited Jerusalem, so will I visit those who dwell in Egypt But the argument is also from the greater to the less; for if God had not spared the holy city, in which he had chosen a habitation, how should he spare Egypt? for Egypt was not worthy that God should regard it. We know that it was a profane and an accursed land. It was, then, the greatest madness for the Jews to hope to be safe in Egypt, when they could not have been so in the holy land, which was God’s sanctuary, which was their heritage, which was even God’s rest.
We now see the object of the Prophet; for he set before · them the ruin of the city and of the land of Judah, that they might know that they could not escape the hand of God while they dwelt in Egypt contrary to his command, for God would be a severer judge to them there than he had been before in the land of Judah. It follows, —
The Prophet seems to be inconsistent with himself; for at the beginning of the verse he says that there would be no residue, but at the end he adds an exception, that there would be few alive, who would flee, and, by some miracle, escape from death. Some take this view, that none of the ungodly despisers would remain, but that some would yet be preserved alive, even those who had been drawn there against their own will, such as Jeremiah, Baruch, and such as were like them. But this explanation may seem forced at the first view; and yet if the Prophet is speaking of the Jews who had fled into Egypt, it is necessary so to take it; otherwise there would be a manifest inconsistency and contradiction. But we may also refer what he says at the end of the verse to the exiles in Babylon; for they who had concealed themselves in Egypt thought that it was all over with all others, because they had been led away into a distant country. As, then, a return to their country was closed up against them, they thought that they themselves would become the sole heirs of the land; for as Egypt was not far from the land of Judah, a return was easy, and also free, because they had made a treaty with the Egyptians; and further, they had gone to them as friends to partake of their hospitality. They, then, who dwelt in Egypt thought that the land of Judah would be their own.
But God says that none would return into that land except those who should escape, even those to whom permission to return would be given at the end of their captivity and exile. I take then the word פלטים, pelethim, at the end of the verse, as referring to the remnant which God would at length gather, when liberty to return was granted to the Jews by the edict of Cyrus, at the end of the seventy years, which the Prophet had before mentioned. And this seems to me a simpler meaning, that. is, that none would remain of that remnant which had gone down to Egypt, who came, as it is expressed, to sojourn in the land of Egypt and to return to the land of Judah, for this was their purpose. (132)
He then adds, To which they lift up their souls to return there The Prophet here exposes the confidence by which the Jews still deceived themselves; for the lifting up of which he speaks, means to aspire or to hope, and denotes pride and presumption. So by saying that they lifted up their souls, he reproves them, because they were still inflated with a foolish hope, and persuaded themselves that a return would soon be open for them, as the land was without any possessors. As, then, they were cherishing themselves with such delusions, they were to know that they were never to return there, They shall not return, he says. And then follows an exception, Except those who escape, even those of whom the Jews in Egypt despaired, who thought that they did well, and had taken a prudent counsel, because they had for a time a quiet hiding-place in Egypt. It now follows, —
And those who shall escape the sword
(who shall have returned from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah)
shall be few in number;
but all the remnant of Judah, who have gone to the land of Egypt to sojourn there,
shall know the word, which shall stand, what is from me or from them.
Here is more fully seen the irreclaimable obstinacy of that nation; for Jeremiah had given them more than sufficient evidences of his integrity. They ought then to have been fully convinced that he was a true Prophet of God. Though they had disregarded him for forty years and more, he had yet given full proof of his legation when he had constantly, even to the last, prophesied of the destruction of the city and the Temple. They had, then, learnt by their own calamities that Jeremiah was an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and a true interpreter of God’s will. And it hence appears how blind they were when they rejected all his admonitions, and counted his threatenings as fables. Thus, as in a mirror, the Holy Spirit of God sets before us how great the madness of men is when Satan once takes possession of their minds. But let us, at the same time, learn that this is the reward rendered to obstinacy, when God’s Prophets are despised. It was, indeed, a monstrous and most disgraceful thing, when they dared so insolently to repudiate the holy Prophet, while, at the same time, they had been reduced to the greatest extremities, and when spoiled of all things, had fled into Egypt, and lived there, as we have seen, in a servile and miserable condition. Inasmuch, then, as they were still ferocious and still arrogant towards God’s Prophet, it hence appears that they were untamable.
He then says, that all the men to whom the impiety of their wives was known, answered Jeremiah By these words the Prophet intimates that the beginning of idolatry was from the women. Things then had not as yet gone so far that all the men openly worshipped idols; but the women had taken this liberty, and the men readily indulged them. But why then did the Prophet before reprove them, as though they all made incense to idols? We doubtless learn from this passage, that they are not only guilty before God who openly do what is wicked, but also those who by connivance tolerate them; for the men ought to have interfered so as to restrain their wives from polluting themselves with ungodly superstitions; but this they patiently endured. Then their consent was the same as the deed, as we may rightly conclude from the words of the Prophet. He then says, that the men offered incense, not indeed openly and with their own hands, but that they knew of their wives, and that this impiety was done by the women with their consent. The rest I cannot now finish, I will proceed with it to-morrow.
We see, in short, that God’s Prophet was rejected; and yet there is no doubt but the Jews pretended some religion, but they did not think that they were bound to obey the command of man. And whence was this contempt? even from nothing but perverseness; for however hypocrites may dissemble and say that they do not despise God and his word, and address their words to ministers, yet their impiety betrays them when, on the one hand, they pretend that they worship God, and on the other they repudiate those furnished with his commands whom he would have them to hear. But God will not and cannot have himself separated from his word. Let us now go on —
Here they shew more openly their obstinacy; for having said that they had no faith in Jeremiah, as he had not been sent by God, they now add that they would indeed be the worshippers of God, but according to their own will. We have here discovered to us the fountain of all superstitions. This passage sufficiently proves whence these flow, and from what source proceed all the corruptions by which religion has been vitiated in all ages, even from the willfulness and pride of men. While therefore men arrogate so much to themselves as to make a law respecting the worship of God, all things must necessarily go wrong. It was for this reason I said that this is the origin of all errors. How then is religion to remain pure? even by depending on God’s mouth, by subjecting ourselves to his word, and by putting a bridle on ourselves, so as not to introduce anything except what he commands and approves. The right rule then as to the worship of God is, to adopt nothing but what he prescribes. On the other hand religion becomes vitiated and degenerates into superstition as soon as men seek to be legislators for themselves, when they say, Doing we shall do every word that cometh forth from our mouth.
This willfulness is indeed what humble men will condemn if they only consult common sense; but it is an evil innate in all, to seek to worship God as it seems good to them. But Jeremiah here paints for us as it were on a tablet the beginning of all superstitions: men set up their own will and fancies in opposition to the commands of God.
He afterwards adds, To offer incense to the frame-work of the heavens. Interpreters differ as to the meaning of this clause. We have stated some things already in the seventh chapter; but as a great part of you were not then present, it is necessary to repeat what was then said. Some derive the last word but one from מלך, melek, which means to reign; and hence they give this rendering, “to the queen of the heavens;” and this is the explanation of Jerome. But others derive the word from לאך, lak, and render it “work;” and some more rashly, “ministry;” and others, “framework,” or, fabric, (machina.) There are also those deduce the word from הלך, elek, which is to walk; and they think that all the stars or planets are included in this term; and we indeed see that walking or motion is what belongs to all the stars. But if the word comes from the verb to reign, “the queen of the heavens” must be taken for the principal star, as the Chaldee paraphrase regards it.
But some consider that the sun is intended, and some the moon. The sun in Hebrew is of the feminine gender; therefore the sun may properly be called a queen in that language. But if we take it as meaning frame-work, one of the radical letters א, aleph, is wanting, as in the seventh chapter. The Prophet, however, seems to mention here the whole machinery of the heavens, as though the unbelieving had said, that as wonderful glory appeared there, their worship was doubtless pleasing to God, when his majesty was adored in the stars and in the whole frame-work of the heavens. I do not therefore consider that one starts meant, but the very heavens or all the stars; and though the word is in the singular number, yet it means what is commonly called the hosts of heaven.
They then said, “We shall go on in our usual manner; for we have hitherto offered incense to the fabric (or the frame-work) of the heavens, and poured libations; we shall not then desist from what we have usually done: “and they further said, “So have we done, we, and our fathers, and our kings, and our princes.” Here they set up the authority of fathers in opposition to the authority of God, as it was usually done.
We see also in our day that the Papists superciliously boast of the Fathers and the Catholic Church, when the plain truth is brought forward. They think that darkness overspreads the Word of God, and that whatever is adduced from the Law, from the Prophets, and from the Gospel, is reduced to nothing when they object and say that it is otherwise, that the fathers have spoken otherwise, that it was otherwise understood in old times. We hence see that the Papists of this day fight with the same weapons as idolaters formerly employed; and though the devil transforms himself in various ways, yet superstitious men ever adopt this principle, that whatever is handed down from our forefathers ought to be held sacred; and hypocrites do especially harden themselves in this error, when they can boast of kings and princes, as was the case in this instance; for they said, that they followed what had been done, not only by the common people, but even by kings and princes. They took it as granted that kings and princes could not have fallen into ignorance. The truth is, that greatness and splendor cover the ignorance and folly of kings. So when simple men speak of kings, their eyes are blinded or dazzled by the magnificence displayed, so that they think kings to be without dispute wise and endowed with the best understanding. Hence it is that Satan is wont often to use such masks for the purpose of deceiving men. Let us therefore learn to render to God altogether the honor of prescribing by his word the law as to religion; and thus let no altitude or dignity be allowed to overshadow the authority of God; but on the contrary, let kings and princes be constrained to submit when God appears.
They afterwards added, In the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem And they mentioned these places in order to sanction their own superstitions; for the holiness of Jerusalem was to them a cover for all vices, as we see to be the case at this day with respect to Rome, which is boastfully extolled by the Papists, as though the hypocrisy which sends forth the most nauseous filth through the whole world, were the most perfect holiness. Whatever then comes from Rome, they would have to be counted as a heavenly oracle. In the same manner the wretched Jews dared to set up Jerusalem in opposition to God. Great, indeed, was the dignity of the city, not such is that of Rome at this day; for the Papists have not taken from God’s word the encomiums, by which they extol that city, which is really a foetid and an abominable brothel. Jerusalem had its dignity from God himself; but the Jews in their folly degraded Jerusalem when they corrupted the Law and instituted fictitious worship, according to their own will. And yet we see that they armed themselves with this name, as a weapon, against the Prophet, as though they brought God to fight against himself. Jerusalem had no dignity but that with which God himself had favored it; but they boasted that it was a holy city, that whatever was done in it was to be deemed holy and lawful, and not to be disputed, as though God’s Law had been lying buried under the dignity of the city. Now Jerusalem had derived its splendor and all the dignity it had from the Law only. But this, as I have said, was the wickedness of men, that they corrupted and perverted the benefits of God.
They then added, that they were satisfied with bread, when they burned incense to the work or workmanship of the heavens It has ever been a common thing with the despisers of God, that they have been inebriated with earthly things, so as to disregard God himself, and to think that all their superstitions would go unpunished. But whence comes this error? even because men deceive themselves, when God patiently bears with them. God does not immediately take vengeance on the profanation of his name, he does not immediately punish hypocrites and idolaters, he does not immediately fulminate against ungodly and spurious modes of worship: his forbearance seems to be taken as an inducement to sin, as an excitement to licentiousness. When, therefore, the Jews adduced this defense, that they were satisfied with bread, it was the same thing as though they had said, “As long as God spared us, and suspended his judgment, it was well with us.” But they ought not to have abused the forbearance of God, and thus to have heaped on themselves judgment, as Paul says. Now there was also another cause of error, for when God drew men back from error by chastising them more severely, as they deserved, after seeing they were still obstinate, they then began so to regard God’s judgment, as foolishly to think that the cause proceeded from religion being changed. So, at the beginning of the Gospel we see that there were similar complaints among all the ungodly, as the ancients have recorded, and especially Tertullian, in his apologies: “If the Tiber inundated, if any calamity happened, if hail or frost, the fault was ascribed to the name of Christ and his doctrine. From the time religion has been changed, we have not ceased to be miserable.” But they did not consider as they ought to have done, that when they were blind and sunk in errors, God for a long time bore with them, and that after the doctrine of the gospel had shone forth, they still wickedly followed their accustomed impiety, which before might have been excused on the ground of ignorance: from the time God had shewn to them the way of salvation, they had resisted it, as it were designedly and willfully, so that they deserved a heavier punishment.
Such was the impiety of the ancient people according to this answer, We were satisfied with bread when we poured out libations to the frame-work of the heavens; that is, as God did not immediately punish their impiety, they were happy and saw no evil. And yet it is certain that they said what was untrue, for God had often chastised them, and at the time they were sedulous and devoted to their false worship. They had gone astray to idolatry before Jeremiah was born; nay, before Isaiah had commenced his office as a Prophet: and we know how severely at that time God punished them for their wickedness; for in the time of Isaiah the kingdom of Israel was distressed, and then wholly destroyed. Jerusalem, as Isaiah says, became like a cottage, and the whole country was laid waste; and at this time they poured out libations to the workmanship of heaven and burnt incense. We know how great was the zeal of Ahaz, and of other wicked kings. Hezekiah, indeed, and Josiah labored to restore the pure worship of God; but Manasseh, the son and successor of Hezekiah, immediately subverted everything. While then they were so fervid in their superstitions, did all things succeed according to their wishes, as they now boasted? By no means, for God pursued them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence.
What then did this boasting mean, that they were satisfied with bread, and were happy, and saw no evil, at the time they poured out libations? The truth is, that madness so drives on headlong the ungodly, that they perceived not God’s hand, when stretched forth against them. But even had they truly said, that they were happy at the time they pro-stituted themselves to idols, yet they could not have hence inferred, that their false worship was approved by God; for when he bears with men for a time, he does not yet cease to be their judge; for he will at length, in his own time, sum-. mort to his tribunal the ungodly whom he has long spared. In short, hypocrites at first trifle with God, and thus turn his mercy to an occasion of sinning, as though there were no punishment; this is one thing: and in the second place, they are not roused by the scourges of God, but remain stupid when God chastises them. It follows, —
Here he enlarges on their ingratitude, that they attributed to God the fault of all their calamities, when yet God would have drawn them, as the Prophet will hereafter tell us, as it were out of darkness into light, had they been reclaimable. They ought to have been restored, by punishments, to their right mind. But this had been so far from being the case, that the effect of God’s scourges had been to render them more and more obstinate.
They then said, that from the time they left off to worship idols, they had been miserable, that they had labored under the want of everything, and had been consumed by famine and the sword. They had before been consumed, as it is well known, by the famine and the sword, and as we have said, they had before suffered many calamities. Why then did they not refer to these punishments which they had suffered for having so often, and for so long a time, rebelled against God? But they willfully covered over God’s judgments: and yet they said that they had been in every way miserable, since they had ceased from false worship. But was it for this reason they became miserable, because they no longer poured out libations to stars and idols? Nay, the reason was very different, as the Prophet will presently answer them. But we must repeat all their words; we shall come afterwards to the refutation given by the Prophet.
They brought forward another argument, that they were not a small portion, but the whole people, who then flourished in prosperity, when they offered incense to idols. We know that but a few remained of that large multitude, which lived when the kingdom as yet existed. They said then that they were not the sole authors of this superstition, but that it was practiced by a large number of men, even the whole people, when Jerusalem was full of inhabitants, and the whole country.
Some explain this of the women, but improperly, as I think. The masculine gender is sometimes applied to women, but seldom, and it is harsh, and then it agrees not with this passage, where the whole context shews that men are spoken of; but one reason only leads them to think so, and that is frivolous. It is said, Have we done this without our men? When, therefore, they said that they had not acted without the men, it has immediately occurred to inter-prefers that the women spoke; but the word is in the masculine gender. It is well known that אנשים, anushim, mean sometimes the aged, and also the princes who bear rule, as it is evident from other passages. But here that small band which remained brought forward the consent of a large multitude, as though they had said, “We here are many against thee who standest alone; but if thou comparest the ancient condition of the city and of the land with our miserable state, when the kingdom flourished, when the city remained in safety, when the whole country was full of inhabitants, did they not all then, with one consent, worship the stars and the workmanship of the heavens? Since, then, this religion has been approved by the consent of so many, what meanest thou in attempting to take it away from us?”
We now, then, perceive the design of the Prophet, or rather we understand the meaning of those whom he has introduced as the speakers. They then said that they did not offer incense and pour out libations without their men, that is, without that large multitude, which afterwards perished or was consumed; and thus they set up against him, as a cloud, a large number of men, as the Papists do at this day, who, by means of consent, only fight against the truth, of God for the purpose of overwhelming it. In like manner did these wretched men contend with Jeremiah; and this pretext was their shield, that the whole people, before the city was demolished, followed these superstitions: We have, then, not done this without our men, pouring out libations and offering incense. It now follows, —
The Prophet refutes the impious objections by which the Jews had attempted to subvert and to render contemptible his doctrine, he then turns against them all that they had falsely boasted. They had at the beginning said, “Our kings, our princes, and our fathers, had before used these rites; and they have been delivered to us, as it were, by their hands.” To this Jeremiah answers, “This is certainly true, and for this reason it was that God became so severe a judge of their impiety, when he took away your fathers from the world, when he wholly destroyed the kingdom itself, when he demolished the city, and when at length he afflicted you with all kinds of evils: for except your kings, and your fathers, and your princes, had been impious towards God, he would have never treated them with so much severity; for he has promised to be a Father to the children of Abraham. God, then, must have been grievously offended with you, and your fathers, and your kings, when his wrath thus burned against them.”
There is, then, here a retort; for as we see that the Prophet turns against them what they had adduced against him. This is the sum of what is said.
He says that he spoke to the whole people, both men and women, and he repeats the whole people, because all had subscribed to the impious calumny. Then God says, “For this reason have I destroyed your city and you, even because ye burnt incense to-your idols.” The truth of what they had boasted is allowed, but it is turned to a meaning different from what they thought. For, as their fathers and their kings had imbibed superstitions, they supposed that they were doing right in following them; for, as we have said, hypocrites consider use and custom as sufficient reasons for disregarding the Law. Then, as to the fact itself, the Prophet admits that what they said was quite true, that this had been the cause of all their evils; for had not the kings and the whole people provoked the wrath of God, the temple would not have been demolished, nor the kingdom destroyed; God, in short, would not have alienated himself from his own people whom he had adopted. This is the meaning.
The incense, he says, which ye have burnt in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, ye and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the whole people of the land, has not Jehovah remembered them? Whence, he says, has this dreadful calamity proceeded, which has destroyed all your race? Even from the wrath of God, for it has not happened to you by chance, for God had by his servants predicted what afterwards has been really fulfilled. It then follows, that your city has been destroyed through the righteous judgment of God. And what has been the cause of so great and so grievous a vengeance? Even your incense.
And hence he adds, Jehovah could not endure the wickedness of your works and the abominations which ye have done: therefore, he says, your land has been reduced to a waste The Prophet, in short, shews that had they not been justly exposed to God’s judgment, they would not have been destroyed. For he assumes this principle, that God is not angry without reason; and then he assumes another principle, that as God had chosen the seed of Abraham, and had been always propitious even to the unworthy, they would have been made partakers of his kindness, had not God been wholly alienated from them. It then follows, that God’s vengeance had not been thus kindled by some slight offense, but by many and daily offenses, so that it could no longer be deferred: for the atrocity of punishment shews the atrocity of sin; and hence he says, Jehovah could not endure the wickedness of your works, and the abominations which ye have done: therefore, he adds, your land has been made a waste, an astonishment, and a curse, or execration, so that there is no inhabitant
He at length explains more clearly, in other words, the same thing, on account of your incense, he says, and because ye have done wickedly, etc. By naming incense especially, stating a part for the whole, he refers to all false and corrupt modes of worship, as it was stated yesterday; but he declares all of them to have been abominable. Then he says, Ye have acted impiously against God He now exaggerates their sin, for they had despised all godly admonitions, ye have not hearkened, he says, to the voice of Jehovah I apply this to the discourses of the Prophets, by which God continued to exhort them to repentance; for he daily and constantly addressed them, in order to restore them to the way of salvation. Then the Prophet condemns them, because they hearkened not to the words of the Prophets.
Then he adds, Nor walked in his Law, nor in his statutes, nor in his testimonies, he shews by these words, that even if Prophets had not been sent, one after the other, the Law ought to have been sufficient for them. But he was not content with mentioning the Law only, but added, statutes and testimonies: by which words he intimates, as we said yesterday, that the doctrine of the Law was clear and plain.
he at length adds, Therefore has all this evil happened to you, as it appears at this day. The Prophet, in short, intimates that their guilt was sufficiently proved, because God had been so angry with them, and they had been so severely afflicted; for if his judgments are right, it follows that the punishment he inflicted on the Jews was right. It may also be hence inferred, that they had been rebellious, because they had perverted and corrupted his true worship.
Jeremiah pursues the same subject, and not only bitterly reproves the ungodly men who so pertinaciously despised his doctrine, but also shews that they could gain nothing by their audacity, because they would at length be violently broken down, as they could not bear to be corrected, he says at the beginning, Ye and your wives have spoken; the men are also included, Ye have spoken both men and women, and with your hands have fulfilled it; that is, your obstinacy is complete, for, as you have spoken insolently against God, so there has been a performance; for by hands he designates the work done. he then shews that they had advanced to the highest pitch of impiety, for they hesitated not to vomit forth these impious words, We will not obey God, and they joined their hands to their mouth, for they strenuously executed what they had said. The thought itself was sufficient to condemn them; but when they thus spoke with their tongues, and then employed their hands against God, it was a proof of desperate audacity, as though they willfully designed to provoke him.
But he shews what issue awaited these impious men, who so presumptuously rebelled against God. When he bids them to hear what God on the other hand had sworn, he compares God with themselves, as though he had said, “You may a hundred times increase in your madness, yet God will be the conqueror; for he is an adversary who will surely subvert all schemes and efforts.” But before he comes to this, he mentions what they said, Doing we shall do our vows which we have vowed, to burn incense, etc. Here Jeremiah relates what we have before seen, that the Jews, under the pretext of doing what had been before done, continued thus rebellious against God. We perceive this by the word vows; and the superstitious, when they are pressed, are wont always to flee to this pretext, that to persevere in one’s resolution is a great virtue. While, then, they avoid the charge of fickleness, they harden themselves against God.
The same thing we see at this day under the Papacy: The older any one is, the more obstinate he is. “What! have I not learned during forty or fifty years what religion is, and how to worship God? I have been thus taught from a child, and have by a long habit followed this way: it would be now a disgraceful thing for me to change my course and to relinquish the faith which I have professed for so many years.”
There is, then, no doubt but the Jews made a pretense of this kind against Jeremiah, when they said that they had vowed. For hypocrites make no distinction when they vow anything, but indiscriminately obtrude on God whatever comes to their minds; they afterwards stand fixed in their foolish fancies, and say that a. vow is inviolable, a sacred thing. Such was the excuse of the people. But we see from the Prophet’s answer how vainly they did bring forward in opposition to God their vows, which had been made without judgment and without reason.
And this passage ought to be carefully noticed; so that we may especially know, that it is a folly in no way pleasing to God, when men indiscriminately vow whatever they may dream according to their own fancies. God then would have sobriety and regard to his will to be observed as to vows. But when any one has made an inconsiderate vow, pertinaciously to persist in it is no less displeasing to God than the vow itself. The Jews had vowed; the warning of the Prophet ought to have constrained them to change their resolution. But while they avoided every kind of fickleness, we see that instead of constancy they set up their own perverseness and diabolical obstinacy in opposition to God. When, therefore, we rashly make vows, disapproved by God, nothing is better than immediately to retract them; for we have already sinned more than enough in having abused the holy name of God. For this reason the Prophet says, that the Jews spoke thus, Doing we shall do the vows we have vowed; and what were these? To offer incense to the stars and to hosts of Heaven. Had they vowed anything to God, they ought not to have broken their pledged faith; but they had made vows to the devil; then they ought to have immediately changed their purpose. When I say that vows made to God ought to be performed, I mean lawful vows; for he who makes a vow without judgment, does not vow to God; but those vows which God sanctions ought to be deemed sacred; and whatever vows God repudiates, ought to be counted as nothing. We hence see that the Jews were justly condemned, for they pertinaciously paid their vows to their own idols.
He adds by way of irony, Confirming ye will confirm your vows, doing ye will do your vows Here the Prophet sharply checks their insolence, because they thus set up themselves against God, as though it were a great virtue to persevere in their wicked purpose; ye cannot change, he says, but confirming ye will confirm your vows!
Hear ye now, he says, the word of Jehovah, etc. By these words, as I have already hinted, he intimates, that they could gain nothing by their insolence, except that they would thereby provoke God, who on the other hand did set up his own power against them. Thus, then, saith Jehovah, Behold, I have sworn by my great name, etc. As they had so often disregarded God speaking to them, he confirmed by an oath what he was going to say. Had he only threatened, they might have as usual disregarded him, as though the Prophet spoke what was vain. This is the reason why he now introduces God as making an oath. And it ought to be observed, that whenever God confirms his words by an oath, this he does, either because he sees that he has to do with men who are like stones, who cannot be made to feel by simple truth; or when he is pleased to give aid to our infirmity and sloth: for God confirms threatenings as well as promises by an oath. When he thus confirms threatenings, then he indirectly condemns the obstinate wickedness of those whom he addresses. But when he promises anything by an oath, he shews how great our propensity is to indulge doubts, and what weakness there is in our faith; for were such faith in us as ought to be, we should be contented with one little word. As, then, God interposes his own name as a pledge, it hence appears, that we are naturally unbelieving, or that the weakness of our faith is such that it wants this support. But here, as God threatens, he shews that the Jews were so obstinate in their wickedness, that it was necessary to shake them by terror.
Now, God makes an oath byhis own great name Men, as the Apostle says, swear by God, (Hebrews 6:16;) because he is called as a witness and a judge when his name is interposed. But it is no superfluous addition, when God not only swears by himself, but by his own great name For he thus intimated, that the Jews were greatly deceived, if they thought that God would not execute vengeance on them, because they indulged themselves. For it is a common thing with hypocrites to measure God by their own judgment; and when they extenuate his power, they think of him as of a child. In order, then, to divest the Jews of this false imagination, he says, by his own great name There is, then, implied here a contrast between the greatness of God’s name, which cannot be diminished at the will of man, and the presumption of the ancient people, who rendered God’s name contemptible.
He afterwards adds, If my name, etc. It is an imperfect sentence, which, as we have often said, was frequently used in order that a greater reverence may be observed by us, when we swear by God’s name. We must now come to what is said, There shall not be a Jew, who is to swear any more in my name God himself makes an oath, and what is the oath which he makes? that no one was to profane his name; for they thought that it was some evidence of religion when they swore by Jehovah. It was yet nothing but an awful profanation of God’s name. They contaminated themselves, as it appears, with Egyptian superstitions; but that they might differ from the Egyptians themselves and possess something special, that they, in short, might seem to be a holy nation, they still retained a form of swearing, distinct from what was common among the Gentiles. God declares that he would not suffer his name to be any more irreverently used in Egypt. Not invoked, he says, shall be my name any more by the mouth of a Jew And that he speaks of oaths we gather from the next verse, when he says, Live doth Jehovah in all the land of Egypt For, as it has been said, the Jews as yet boasted that they kept the Law, because God’s name was still in their mouth and on their tongue. But God says that it was to be taken away from them, because it was a disgraceful pollution of his name, when they mingled themselves with the Egyptians in all kinds of superstitions, and yet boasted that they were God’s people. It follows, —
Here he more dearly expresses what he had said in the last verse, that none of the Jews would remain alive in Egypt. He now then points out the manner, even because he would not cease to consume them until they wholly perished and were brought to final ruin. He had said, No more shall my name be called, nor shall the Jews in Egypt swear, Live doth Jehovah; and why? because I will destroy them all, so that there will be none remaining in Egypt to pollute under a false pretense my name.
I will watch over them, he says, for evil and not for good This mode of speaking we have observed elsewhere, and explained why the Prophets spoke thus, even because hypocrites, though they think God cares not for human affairs, and imagine that he sleeps in heaven, and hence audaciously provoke him, as though they were fugitives and their purpose hid from God, yet boast of God’s providence, and pretend that they acquiesce confidently in him. For this reason the Prophet answered, that God watched indeed, but not for good We then perceive the object of the Prophet; he derided the presumption of the people, who thought that God had a care for their safety. He then says, that God indeed does not sleep, but that this would bring no benefit to hypocrites; for though God watches as a father to preserve his own people, he yet watches as a judge to destroy all the ungodly. It follows, —
He at length adds that a few would escape. He had said before, (Jeremiah 44:14) that there would be none, but added at the end of the verse, “but such as shall escape.” We said that this second clause is to be explained of the Jews who had been driven into exile in Babylon. But if it be applied to exiles in Egypt the meaning will be different. For the Prophet then said that none would escape, that none would remain alive: he thus doubtless took away every hope of deliverance with regard to those in Egypt. But he added, “but such as shall escape,” that is, such as should stealthily escape from the sword, as though they had never migrated into Egypt. And then in this different sense must necessarily be taken what the Prophet adds now, They who escape shall return But we must bear in mind that those remaining alive would not be numbered among the exiles, for they must have withdrawn themselves so as no longer to form a part of that people. They had before become fugitives, but when they departed from Egypt, that second flight made them to be no longer a residue in that land.
When, therefore, the Prophet declares that none of the residue would escape, we must understand the words as meaning, that there would be Jews no more in Egypt, as their memory would be obliterated. But when, in the second place, he mentions evaders, פליטים, pelithim, (the word which we have rendered, “They who shall escape,”) he means that those who escaped had now ceased to be counted among the residue, having in a manner of their own accord separated themselves from them, so that they were no longer to be reckoned among the fugitive exiles in Egypt. Then he says, that those who escape from the sword would return into the land of Judah; an event wholly different from what they looked for, for they expected to return to their own country in a triumphant manner. They intended indeed to dwell in Egypt only for a time; and they hoped to come afterwards into a free possession of the land, when the Chaldeans had gone far away. Thus they had promised to themselves a new kingdom, and were not disposed to return except in great pomp. As, then, such a restoration had been imagined by them, the Prophet says, that a few only would return into the land of Judah; and then that they would return, not to possess the land and enjoy it as their own inheritance, but that they would return, because there would be no safe corner where they might hide themselves. We hence see that this return is set up in opposition to the false imagination in which the Jews indulged; and he says that a few only would return.
And at length he adds, All the remnant of Judah who had entered into the land of Egypt, shall know whose word shall stand, mine, or theirs Here at length the sentence is completed, for I have said that it was the Prophet’s object to convince the Jews of their foolish and impious presumption, when in their perverseness they contended against God, as though he had said, “What do you mean, ye wretched beings? Is the truth of God to give way, or can you frustrate his purpose by your madness and obstinacy? And surely God will prove stronger than you.” He now then fully explains his meaning. By saying, all shall know, he does not refer to true and sincere knowledge, but to experience, that is, they shall at length really find out whose word is firm, mine or theirs.
This passage deserves special attention; we hence learn that we ought to acquiesce in God’s word, and wholly to receive it, and especially to beware of that diabolical obstinacy which the Prophet here condemns; for when we fight to the last, we must at the end necessarily fall; though we may a hundred times complain and clamor, yet God’s word will stand firm and will never yield to us. It follows, —
Jeremiah seals his prophecy by adding a sign which yet was to be coincident with it. It was not then, as they say, a premonstrative sign. And doubtless the Jews were wholly unworthy that God should shew them anything extraordinary; but this sign was only added, that they might know that they in vain trusted in the protection of Egypt, and also that every excuse might be taken away.
This brief notice may perhaps be obscure. We shall therefore refer to a distinction that exists: some signs precede the time and order of things, but others are connected with the events themselves. The signs which precede events avail to prepare the minds of the faithful, so that they may not doubt but that God will do what he has promised, as when Gideon sought a sign from God, and it was granted to him; the ground was wet with dew, while the fleece remained dry; and then the fleece remained dry when the ground was wet. (Jude 6:36.) By this sign Gideon was encouraged to proceed in his course, when before doubt made him inert Gideon was torpid, but when he saw by this miracle that victory would be given him, he boldly undertook the work assigned to him. The greatest portion of signs are of this kind. But there are other signs which do not precede events, but shew that when the time is fulfilled the events have been truly predicted, as when God said to Moses,
“This sign I give thee, that after ye have come out of Egypt ye shall sacrifice to me in this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)
Neither Moses nor the people could know anything by that sign before they had departed from Egypt. But after they were delivered they there gave thanks on the third day to God their Redeemer.
Hence signs refer sometimes to past time, and sometimes to what is future. Those which refer to the future are such as we call premonstrative, as the case was with Gideon, who took up arms with alacrity, because he knew that he was fighting under God’s banner; and he was fully persuaded of a victory when he understood that God would be his leader.
This sign then had a reference to what was future. But the sign given to Moses was retrospective, for the people more clearly saw that God had been their deliverer, because it had been predicted to Moses when yet in the desert that the Israelites would come there; and that place, even Mount Sinai, had been already destined for that worship which afterwards was presented to God. The people at the time considered this, and by calling to mind what had been predicted, they were more and more confirmed as to their faith in God’s favor. Such was also the sign mentioned here, This shall be a sign, says Jeremiah, even that God would deliver Pharaoh-hophrah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar his enemy
Had any one then asked the Prophet why he spoke of the king of Egypt, he would have said, “Now indeed this sign remains as it were buried, its use is not seen; but God will in due time shew that I have been entrusted with his commands, for whatever I predict of the king of Egypt shall be fulfilled.” This sign was also added, for the thing seemed incredible, that is, that Egypt could be conquered, which was strongly fortified on every side. As, then, there was no entrance open for enemies, especially from Pelusium, the Jews thought that they dwelt, as they say, within the circle of the moon, and that they were placed beyond the reach of danger. Since, then, they confided in the protection of Egypt, and thought the land unassailable, this their confidence was laughed to scorn.
And the Prophet expressly mentions the surname of Pharaoh, which was Hophra, the meaning of which is not known to me; and it is probably an Egyptic word, for there is no such word in Hebrew: and it is not known whence the word Pharaoh has come. We know that all the kings of Egypt had this name, as the emperors of Rome were called Caesars, in memory of Julius Caesar. The kings of Egypt were in the same manner called Pharaohs. But each had his own name to distinguish him from the rest; and this king was called Hophra.
Now what the Prophet predicted, if we believe Josephus, was fulfilled about the fourth year after they had departed into Egypt. For Nebuchadnezzar went down again into Egypt, after having spoiled the Moabites and the Ammonites, and at length took possession of that kingdom. But it was a hateful message, when Jeremiah predicted the ruin of the kingdom. Nor is there a doubt, but that danger appeared before his eyes, when he saw that he addressed ungodly men, who a hundred times wished him to be destroyed. When therefore he dared to prophesy against the king, the whole people, and the land, we hence see how great must have been his firmness and his courage, still boldly to discharge his office; for he was not terrified by danger, but promulgated whatever God had committed to him. We then have here a singular example of magnanimity; for the Prophet hesitated not to risk his own life while obeying God.
By saying, I will deliver the king of Egypt into the hands of his enemies, and of them who seek his life, he intimates that there would be fatal enemies, though he speaks only of one enemy, but he connects the army with its head: I will deliver Pharaoh then into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as I have delivered Zedekiah into the hand of his enemy and of him who sought his life; as though he had said, “The condition of the king of Egypt will not be better than that of Zedekiah.”: For Zedekiah occupied that sacred throne of which God had testified, “Here will I dwell;” and further, “On the throne of David shall one of his posterity ever continue.”
We hence see, that the Prophet reasons from the greater to the less; for if God had not spared King Zedekiah, who was, as it were, a sacred person, nothing better could be hoped for as to the king of Egypt, who reigned only in a manner usual and common. The sum of what is said then is, that the Jews had been already sufficiently taught by facts how true his prophecies were; for he had predicted what at length happened to Zedekiah; but his word was not believed. “It is now the time,” he says, “when the Jews must know that I am God’s faithful servant, as God had added a proof in the case of Zedekiah, which ought to have remained fixed in their memory.” Now, if they thought that the king of Egypt was beyond danger, they ascribed great injustice to God, who had not delivered Zedekiah, who had been anointed in his name, and by his command. This then is the import of the passage.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 44". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent