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In this verse, as in those which follow, God shews that he was not too rigid or too severe in denouncing utter ruin on his people, because their wickedness was wholly incurable, and no other mode of treating them could be found. We, indeed, know that it is often testified in Scripture, that God is patient and waits until sinners repent. Since then God everywhere extols his kindness, and promises to be merciful even to the worst if they repent, and since he of his own accord anticipates sinners, it may appear strange that he rises with so much severity against his own Church. But we know how refractory the ungodly are; and hence they hesitate not to expostulate with God, and willfully accuse him, as though he treated them with cruelty. It is then for this reason, that God now shews that he was not, as it were, at liberty to forgive the people; “Even if I would, “he says, “I could not.” He speaks, indeed, after the manner of men; but in this way, as I have said, he shews that he tried all expedients, before he had recourse to extreme severity, but that there was no remedy, on account of the desperate wickedness of the people. And this is what the words fully express.
Go round, (128) he says, through the streets of Jerusalem, and see, I pray, and know; inquire through all the cross-ways Jeremiah might have said in one sentence, “If one man be found in the city, I am ready to forgive: “but God here permits the whole world to inquire diligently and carefully what was the state of the holy city, which ever gloried in that title. But he now, as also in the next verse, speaks of Jerusalem. He had spoken also of the neighboring cities; but as the holiness of the whole land seemed then to have its seat and habitation at Jerusalem, God here addresses that city, which as yet retained some appearance of sanctity, and excelled other cities. He then says, Inquire, see, know, look, whether there is a man, etc. He allows here all men to form a judgment, as though he had said, “Let all be present, since the Jews seek to create an ill-will towards me, and complain of too much rigor, as though I treated them unhumanly; let all who wish come as judges, let them inquire, ask, make a thorough search; and when it shall be found out that there is not in it even one just man, what else can be done, but that the city must be destroyed? for what can be done to the abandoned and irreclaimable, except I execute my judgment on them?”
We now understand the Prophet’s object; for he intended here to shut the mouths of the Jews, and to expose their slanders, that they might not clamor against God or blame his judgment, as though it exceeded the limits of moderation: and he shews also, that though God was disposed to pardon, there was yet no place for pardon, and that his mercy was excluded by their untamable obstinacy, since there was not one man in Jerusalem who had any regard for uprightness.
Here, however, a question may be started, Why does Jeremiah say that no good man could be found, since he himself was at Jerusalem, and his friend Baruch, and some others, an account of whom we shall hereafter find? There were then in the city some true servants of God, and some as yet remained who had true religion, though the number was small. It appears then that the language is hyperbolical.
But we must observe, that the Prophet here speaks of the people to the exclusion of the faithful. That this may appear more evident, we must remember a passage in the eighth chapter of Isaiah,“
Seal the law and bind the testimony for my disciples,” (Isaiah 8:16;)
where it appears that God saw that he sent his Prophet in vain, and that his labors were spent in vain among a people wholly irreclaimable. Hence he says, “Bind the testimony and seal the law among the disciples.” We see that God gathered as it were together the few in whom remained any seed of true religion, yea, in whose hearts any religion was found. They were not then numbered with the people. So now Jeremiah did not consider Baruch and a few others as forming a part of that reprobate people; and he speaks, as it has been stated, of the community in general; for there were some separated from the rest, not only by the secret counsel of God, but according to the judgment that had been pronounced. He hence truly declares, that there was not one just man.
We ought also to consider with whom he was then contending. On the one side were the king and his counselors, who, inflated with the promises, which they perverted, did not think it possible that the throne of David would fall.“
This is my rest for ever — As long as the sun and moon shall be, they shall be my witnesses in heaven, that thy seed shall never fail.” (Psalms 132:14; Psalms 89:37.)
With such words were they armed. But as hypocrites falsely claim God’s promises, so these unprincipled men boasted that God was on their side. Jeremiah had also to fight with another party, as we shall hereafter see, that is, with a host of false prophets; for there was a greater number of them, as is ever to be found in the world. The whole priestly order was corrupt, and openly carrying on war with God; and the people were nothing better. Jeremiah then had to contend with the king and his counselors, with the false prophets, with the ungodly priests, and with the wicked people. So he says, that there was not one man among them who engaged himself in appeasing God’s wrath.
To seek judgment is the same thing as to labor for uprightness: for the word משפט, meshephet means rectitude, or equity, or the rule of acting justly. He says then, that there was no one who practiced what was just; that there was no one who sought the truth Truth, as in a verse that follows, is to be taken for integrity, honesty; as though he had said, that all were given to falsehoods and frauds and crafts. It was therefore impossible that God should have been propitious to the city; for the relative ה after ל, being of the feminine gender, cannot be otherwise applied than to Jerusalem. God then says, that he would be merciful to it, if there could be found a just man among the king’s counselors, or among the priests, or among the prophets: but they had all united together in opposition to everything just and right. It follows —
(128) Our version is, “Run ye to and fro,” which has been taken from the Septuagint- περιδρύμετε; but this is a more correct rendering. The Vulgate is “ circuite — go round;” the Syriac is the same. “Streets” were the narrow ones, the lanes; and what Calvin renders “the cross-ways,“ and our version “broad places,“ were the wide streets, or the squares. In the former the poor people lived, and in the latter the great people, the chief men of the city. The examination was to extend to all the inhabitants. First, it takes place as to the poor in the lanes, and afterwards among the higher orders in the wide streets. The whole verse might be thus rendered, —
1. Go ye round through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, And see, I pray, and know; Yea, seek in the broad streets; If ye can find a man, if there be any, Who doeth justice, who seeks faithfulness, Then will I spare it.
The ו after אם may be often rendered “Then;” and this passage requires it to be so rendered. “That I may pardon her” is Blayney’s version; but this hardly corresponds with the former part; “If,” and “that,” form no connection. — Ed
This is added by way of anticipation; for the Jews, as it is well known, thought that they had a cover for all their vices, inasmuch as they had God’s name continually in their mouths. Since then they professed to worship the God of Abraham, they thought that this pretext was sufficient to cover all their wickedness. The Prophet obviates this objection, and shews that this disguise was of no avail, because in thus using God’s name, they profaned it: and he goes still further; for he shews that the Jews, not only in common practice, were wholly destitute of the fear of God, but that when anything of a religious kind appeared among them, it was sacrilegious; and this is far worse than when God’s name is forgotten, and wretched men allow themselves a full license in sinning, as though they could not conceal their wickedness: for when they openly provoke God, and as it were dishonor him to his face, how detestable and how monstrous is their impiety! This then is what Jeremiah sets forth, Though they say, Live does Jehovah, yet in this they swear falsely
We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning: In the first place, he takes away from hypocrites their vain confidence in thinking that God would be propitious to them, provided they avowed his name, without considering how precious God’s name is, but regarding it as nothing to swear carelessly by his name: but the Prophet not only condemns the hypocrisy of the Jews, but, as I have said, he enhances their wickedness; for they hesitated not to profane God’s sacred name, and to carry on, as it were, an open war with him, by abusing his name in swearing.
By mentioning, Live does Jehovah, he refers to the words which the godly also use when they make an oath; for when they appeal to the living God, it is the same thing as though they stood before his tribunal; and at the same time said, that they knew that though God may defer his vengeance, yet an account must be given, because he ever lives. Thus the godly acknowledge that there is nothing gained by delay, in case God suspends his vengeance, if they swear falsely. But the Prophet, as I have already said, applies this to hypocrites, who seemed to ascribe great honor to God, for nothing is more specious than their words: gall indeed was in their heart, while honey was on their lips. Hence the Prophet derides this false pretense, and says, “Even when they swear most solemnly as to the words used, and shew a high concern for religion, nevertheless they swear falsely.” Some render לכן, lacen, surely, or certainly; but the meaning will be plainer, if we render it “nevertheless.” (129) It follows —
(129) There are many MSS. which have אכן, “surely, “but לכן may also be so rendered; yet, as “nevertheless” is its meaning, in Jeremiah 16:14, and other places, it may be so taken here. The Septuagint must have read לא כן, and the sentence is a question, “Do they not thus swear falsely?” But the early versions favor the present reading; and it gives a suitable meaning, —
And though “Live does Jehovah, “they say, Nevertheless falsely do they swear.
The verbs are in the future tense, but used to express present acts, as is the case often in Hebrew, and also very commonly in Welsh. The words in the latter language might be expressed exactly as in the former, and be understood as speaking of what is present, —
(lang. cy) Ac er “Byw yw Jehova” a ddywedant, Etto yn gelwyddog y tyngant.—
Some give a strained exposition of the beginning of the verse, or rather pervert it, as though the Prophet had said, that God would not turn his eyes from what was right, because he would rigidly execute his vengeance on his people. But Jeremiah goes on here with the same subject, for there is no importance to be attached to the division of the verses. They who have divided them have often unknowingly perverted the meaning. The divisions then are not to be heeded, only the number is to be retained as a help to the memory; but as to the context, they often are a hindrance to readers; for it is preposterous to blend things which are separate, and to divide what is connected. This remark has just now occurred to me, and it is necessary, as this place calls for it; for the Prophet, after having said that the Jews were perfidious and guilty of duplicity, and destitute of all integrity, immediately adds, But the eyes of God regard fidelity; as though he had said, that they in vain pretended to avow God’s name, and made a shew of religion by ceremonies and by an outward display; for God searches the heart, and cares nothing for those external masks by which men’s eyes are captivated.
The Prophet very significantly turns his discourse to God, to shew that he was wearied in addressing the people, for he saw that he prevailed nothing with the obstinate; for had there been any teachable spirit in the Jews, he would no doubt have exhorted them to practice integrity. He might have said, “They are mistaken who swear falsely in God’s name, and persuade themselves that he will be their Father; for his eyes regard fidelity and uprightness of heart.” This would have been a regular way of proceeding, and this mode of teaching would have been most suitable: but Jeremiah abruptly breaks off his address, and leaves his own people; “O God, “he says, “thy eyes look on fidelity;” as though he had said, “What more can I have to do with this wretched people? I address words to rocks and stones: therefore I bid you adieu, and shall have no more to do with you; I will now turn to God.” We now see how much more forcible and striking is this turning from the people to God, than if the Prophet continued his address to the Jews, and sought to instruct them: for he now shews that he was broken down with weariness; for he saw that his labor was useless, and that all whom he had addressed were altogether refractory: nor did he, at the same time, intend to speak these words at random, and to no purpose; nay, his object was more sharply to touch those who were stupid, by letting them know that he left off addressing them, because he had no hope respecting them.
But what I have said elsewhere ought to be borne in mind, — that the Prophets did not write all that they preached, but collected the substance of what they had delivered to the people; and this collection now forms the prophetic books. There is therefore no doubt but that Jeremiah had spoken at large on repentance, — that he had exposed the sins of hypocrites, — that he had denuded the fallacious pretences of the people, — and that he had severely reproved their obstinacy. But after having done all these things, he found it necessary to desist from pursuing his course, for he saw that no fruit could be hoped from his labors and his preaching. Now, when the Jews knew this, they ought to have been deeply affected; and this ought to be the case with us now, when we see that God’s Spirit is provoked by our perverseness; and as this is a dreadful thing, it is what ought more than anything else to touch our hearts. Consider what it is: God daily invites us most kindly to himself; but when he sees that our hearts and heads are so extremely hard, he leaves us, because we grieve his Spirit, as it is said by Isaiah. (Isaiah 63:10.) It was not, then, an usual or common mode of teaching which the Prophet adopted; but it was calculated to have more effect than plain instruction; for he shews that the wickedness of the people could no longer be endured.
Jehovah, he says, thine eyes, are they not on the truth? In this address to God there is an implied contrast between God and men. The most wicked, we know, flatter themselves while they can retain the good opinion and applause of the world; and as long as they continue in honor, they slumber in their vices. This foolish confidence is what the Prophet evidently exposes; for he intimates that the eyes of God are different from those of mortals: men can see a very little way, hardly three fingers before them; but God penetrates into the inmost and the most hidden recesses of the heart: and the Prophet speaks thus of God’s eyes, in order to shew how worthless are the opinions of men, who regard only a splendid outward appearance. By truth, the Prophet means, as in the first verse, integrity of heart. Hence without reason do they philosophize here, who seek to prove from this passage that we are made acceptable to God by faith only; for the Prophet does not speak of the faith by which we embrace free reconciliation with God, and become members of Christ. The meaning indeed is in no way obscure, which is this — that God cares not for that external splendor by which men are captivated, according to what is said in 1 Samuel 16:7,“
Man sees what appears outwardly; but God looks on the heart.”
There the Holy Spirit expresses the same thing by “heart” as he does here by fidelity or “truth.” For Samuel shews that David’s father was mistaken, because he brought forward his sons who excelled in their outward appearance: “Man sees, “he says, “what appears outwardly; but God looks on the heart.”
We now understand the true meaning of the Prophet, — that though hypocrites flatter themselves, and the whole world encourage them by their adulations, all this will not avail them; for they must at last come before the tribunal of God, and that before God truth only will be approved and honored.
He afterwards adds, Thou hast smitten them, and they have not grieved The Prophet reproves here the hardness of the people; for they had been smitten, but they repented not. Experience, as they say, is the teacher of fools; and it is an old proverb, that fools, when corrected, become wise. Both poets and historians have uttered such sayings. Since, then, the Jews had such a perverse disposition, that even scourges did not lead them to repentance, it was an evidence of extreme wickedness. And thus the Prophet here confirms what he had said before, that God would be merciful to them, if one just man could be found in the city: he confirms that declaration when he says, “Thou hast smitten them, but they have not grieved.” The Jews, no doubt, groaned under their scourges; yea, they howled and poured forth grievous complaints: for we know how petulantly they spoke evil of God. They then had grieved; but grief here is to be taken in a special sense, according to what Paul says of repentance, that its beginning is grief or sorrow. (2 Corinthians 7:9.) In this sense it is that the Prophet says here, that they who had disturbed minds grieved not, for they did not feel that they had to do with God. He then means by this word what another Prophet means, when he says, that they did not regard the hand of him who smote them. (Isaiah 9:13.) For he does not say that they were so senseless as not to feel the strokes; but that the hand of God was not seen by them; and yet this is the principal thing in our sorrow. For if we blindly and violently cry out in our troubles, and cry, Wo, a hundred times, what is it all? our lamentations are only those of brute animals: but when we regard the hand of him who smites us, our grief then is of the right kind. Jeremiah says, that the Jews did not grieve in this manner, for they did not perceive that they were justly chastened by God’s hand.
He afterwards enlarges on the subject, Thou hast consumed them he says, and they refused to receive correction By saying that they had been consumed, he proves them guilty of extreme perverseness; for when God lightly chides us, it is no great wonder if, through our tardiness and sloth, we are not immediately roused; but when God doubles his strokes, yea, when he not only smites us with his rods, but draws his sword to consume us entirely; yea, when he thus deals with us, and executes his vengeance by terrible judgments, if then we are still torpid in our sins, and feel not how dreadful it is to endure his judgments, must we not be indeed wholly blinded by the devil? This is then the stupor which the Prophet now deplores in the Jews; for not only were they without a right feeling of grief when God smote them, but when they were even consumed, they did not receive or admit correction. And in this second clause he shews what we have already said, — that the grief he speaks of is not to be taken for any sort of grief, but of that which regards God’s judgment, and proves that we fear him.
He adds, They have hardened their faces as a rock, and lastly, they have refused to return The Prophet means, that the Jews were not only refractory, but that they were also without any shame. If, indeed, they had given every evidence of being ashamed, it would have been still useless, except there was, as we have said, an integrity of heart. But it often happens, that even the worst, though inwardly full of impiety and of contempt towards God, and of perverseness, do yet retain some measure of shame. In order to shew that the Jews had arrived to extreme impiety, the Prophet says, that they had hardened their faces, that is, that they were wholly without shame; for they had cast away everything like reason, and made no difference between right and wrong, between honesty and baseness. As, then, they had put off every human feeling, he says that nothing remained to be done, but that God, as he had previously declared, should execute on them extreme vengeance. And he repeats what he had said, — that they refused to turn He means, that they sinned and went astray, not through mistake or want of knowledge, but that they disregarded their own safety through willful and deliberate wickedness, and that they knowingly and avowedly rejected God, so that they would not endure either his teaching or his corrections. (130)
(130) The literal rendering of this verse is as follows, —
Jehovah! thine eyes, are they not on faithfulness? Smitten them hast thou, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, — they have refused to receive correction; Harder have they made their faces than a rock; They have refused to return.
The “truth” here, and in the first verse, is regarded by Calvin and most commentators, as faithfulness towards men. But a right view of the context will shew that it refers to fidelity towards God. Of what does the preceding verse speak? Of unfaithfulness towards God — swearing falsely in his name; that is, making a false and hypocritical profession of him; and in this verse they are described as refusing to return to him. In the fifth and sixth verses they are represented as having “broken the yoke,“ and as having apostatized from him; and in the seventh their going after other gods is expressly mentioned.
The word “judgment” has been taken in the same way, but not, in my view, agreeably to the context. To do judgment, is to do what is just and right; and “the way of Jehovah,“ and “the judgment of God,“ in the next verse, are the same, and hence put in apposition; the word “nor,“ in our version, being improperly introduced. The way of the Lord is the way he has prescribed in his word; and it is called his judgment, because it is what he has determined and ordained, or what is just and right. God had not only revealed his law, but had also appointed and ordained it for the people of Israel. His law is called a way, because it points out the course which we are to take; and it is his judgment, because it is what God has determined, fixed, and appointed. Hence in the fifth verse they are said to have broken the yoke and burst the bonds. The yoke was the law, and the bonds were those of loyalty and obedience; or they were the bonds of justice, such as were justly ordained and imposed on them. — Ed.
Some think that the Prophet here makes an excuse for the people, and, as far as he could, extenuates their fault; but they are greatly mistaken. For there is no doubt but that he, by this comparison, more clearly shews how past remedy was then the state of things. The sum, then, of what he says is, — that corruptions so prevailed, not only among the multitude, but also among the chief men, that there remained no soundness, as they say, from the head to the sole of the foot. Nearly the same thing, only in other words, is stated by Isaiah in the twenty-eighth chapter; for after having spoken generally against the people, he assails the leading men, and says that they were inebriated no less than the common people, that they were inebriated with wine and strong drink. But the meaning is, that they were like drunken men, because they felt no shame, while they abandoned themselves to deeds the most disgraceful.
To the same purpose is what Jeremiah says here, when he declares, that he thought that they were the poor who had thus sinned, and obscure men and of no repute; but that he had found the same thing among the chief men as among the common people. He might, indeed, have only said, “Not only the lowest orders, the multitude, are become corrupt, but also the chief men, who ought to have excelled the rest.” But much more striking is the comparison, when he says, “It may be, that these miserable men have thus sinned because they understood not the law of God, nor is it a matter of wonder; but greater integrity will be found in the chief men.” By speaking thus the Prophet brings the reader into the midst of the scene, and shews to him that not only all the people were guilty, but also the priests and the prophets, and the chief men in the state. The design of the Prophet is thus evident.
I said, he says, not that he thought so; for he saw that all things were in such a disorder, that nothing better could be hoped from the chief men than from the common people. This was clearly seen by the Prophet: but, as I have said, he wished to shew here, by a striking representation, how wretched was the condition of the whole people. He says, Surely The particle אך , ak, is an affirmative, or, as in the next verse, an adversative. Some, indeed, take it here in the sense of אולי, auli, perhaps, or, it may be; and regard it as signifying a concession, “Let us grant this,” he says; “they are the poor, they are of no account, they are as it were the offscourings, who have thus sinned: it is nothing strange, if they conduct themselves thus foolishly, for they know not the way of Jehovah, nor the judgment of their God ” (131)
The law was, indeed, given to all without any difference; so that the common people had no excuse. But this evil has prevailed almost in all ages, — that few attend to the teaching of the law; for there is no one who is not inclined to shake off this yoke. The common people, indeed, think that they have some excuse for neglecting it, because they have no leisure, and are not born for high stations. The Prophet then speaks according to this prevailing opinion; but he does not extenuate their fault who pleaded ignorance as an excuse, because they had not been taught in schools; for, as it has been said, God intended his law for the whole people without exception.
By the way of Jehovah and the judgment of God, the Prophet means the same thing: such a repetition is very common in Hebrew. God, in prescribing to us the rule of life, shews to us the way in which we are to walk: our life, indeed, is like to a course; and it is not God’s will that we should run at random, but he sets before us the goal to which we are to proceed, and also directs us in the only way that leads to it. For it is the office of the law to call us back from our wandering, and to lead us to the mark set before us. Hence the law is called the way of Jehovah; and judgment, משפת, meshephet, as it was said yesterday, means rectitude, or a rule of life. What he calls in the first clause the law of Jehovah, he calls in the second the judgment of God And thus he shews that they were inexcusable, who made the objection that they were miserably ignorant, and knew nothing; for it was God’s purpose to shew to them, no less than to the most learned, how they were to live.
(131) It is better to take אך here and in the next verse as an affirmative, Truly, surely, doubtless. Blayney, as well as Calvin, render נואלו, “have acted foolishly.” The verb occurs in three other places, Numbers 12:11; Isaiah 19:13; Jeremiah 50:36. To be, or to become, foolish, or rather stupid, sottish, or stupidly ignorant, seems to be its meaning. It is here opposed to knowledge; and evidently refers to the state of the mind, and not to the conduct. Their sottishness was their idolatry. This is the special sin referred to throughout the passage, —
Then I said, Doubtless, the poor are these, they have become stupid, For they have not known the way of Jehovah, The judgment of their God.—
He now adds, I will go to the great By the great he meant the priests and the prophets, as well as the king’s counselors, and the king himself. I will go, (132) then, he says, to the great, and will speak to them It is the same as though he had said, that everywhere his labor was in vain, for not only he spoke to the deaf when addressing the illiterate vulgar, but also when addressing the chief men. I have said, that the Prophet did not make the inquiry as one doubtful, but his purpose was to make the chief men ashamed of themselves, and also to confirm what he had said before, — that not one just and upright man could be found in Jerusalem.
For they know, he says, etc. He declares the same thing in the same words. But we must ever remember, that the Prophet did not believe this; but he speaks of it as a thing that appeared probable: for who could have then thought that there was so much ignorance in the chief men? for they were in great esteem among the people. Since then the opinion prevailed, that all those who were rulers were well acquainted with the law, Jeremiah speaks according to what was commonly thought, and says, that they knew the way of Jehovah
He afterwards adds, But (for אך, ak, is to be taken here adversatively, and its proper meaning is, nay or but) they have alike broken the yoke, they have burst the bonds; that is, “If any one thinks that the rulers are better than the common people, he is much deceived; for I have proofs enough to shew that their conduct is the same; they have broken the yoke of God no less than the most ignorant.” By this repetition he more fully confirmed their defection, and at the same time reminded them how shameful it was, that prophets, priests, and rulers, who occupied the first places in the state, had become so unbridled in their vices. It follows —
(132) Literally it is, “I will go for myself,” — an idiomatic form of speech. The Welsh is exactly the same, (lang. cy) af rhagof ; which means, I will go forth; but it cannot be literally expressed in another language. After the verb, as in Hebrew, there is a preposition prefixed to “me.” — Ed.
Here, at length, God shews that he was moderate in his judgments, so that the wicked in vain charged him, as it is usual with them, with too much rigor.
Some render the words in the past tense, and think the sense to be, that the Prophet reminds the Jews that they had not been afflicted without reason by so many evils, as they had deserved heavier punishments. But another view may be taken; for we know that in Hebrew the tenses often change; and I am inclined to regard the future tense as intended; for the Prophet seems not here to record what they had already suffered, but to remind them of the heavy punishment that was awaiting them. Smite them shall the lion from the forest
The wolf is called the wolf of solitudes, because of his coming forth from the desert. Some render the words, “the wolf of the evening;” and this may be allowed. We indeed know, that in other places hungry wolves are called the wolves of the evening; for after having sought their prey in the day — time, and finding none, they become in the evening almost mad, and their hunger causes them to run furiously in all directions. This explanation, then, may be admitted. But as he says first, that the lion would come from the forest, it is more probable that the wolf is described as coming from the desert. (133) As to the general import of the passage there is not much difference.
He mentions here three wild beasts — the lion, the wolf, and the leopard. By these wild beasts he understands no doubt the enemies, who would shortly attack them with the greatest cruelty. It is indeed true that the Jews, before the time in which Jeremiah spoke to them, had been afflicted with many evils; for God had not punished them only once, but had given them frequent warnings; and had there been any hope of repentance, they might have still continued in safety, though considerably reduced. But Jeremiah seems to predict future punishment: he therefore refers, not only to the Egyptians and the Assyrians, but also to other enemies. For that people, we know, were hated by all their neighbors, and had suffered grievous wrongs even from their own kindred. Since, then, many nations were hostile to the Jews, it is nothing strange that the Prophet enumerates here three sorts of wild beasts; as though he had said, that enemies would come from every quarter, who would, like lions, wolves, and leopards, vent their fury on them, because they had so often, and for so long a time, provoked God’s wrath. At the same time, God does here check those false complaints which are wont to be often alleged by the wicked, and shews that he is a righteous Judge, and that the punishments he inflicted could not be blamed by the Jews: and it was for this purpose that he used the particle, Wherefore — על כז, ol-kan.
He also adds, A leopard shall watch, that he may tear all who shall go out of the cities This language is no doubt metaphorical; and what he means is, that when the enemies would occupy the land, the Jews would be shut up in their cities, and would not venture to go forth, for dangers would await them everywhere.
At the end of the verse he repeats again, and speaks more fully of what he meant by “ Wherefore — על כז, “at the beginning of the verse; (134) for he says, Because multiplied have their transgressions, and increased have their defections By these words he further proves what he had said, that God is a righteous judge, even when he seems to be too severe: for it could not have been otherwise, but that he must have visited with extreme vengeance a people so abandoned and irreclaimable. Nor does he only call them wicked, and apostates, but he says that their iniquities, (135) or evil deeds, were many, and that their defections had increased And by the last expression he amplifies their guilt: for though פשע , pesho, does not mean simply to offend, but to act wickedly; yet to fall away from God is a baser and a more atrocious sin. We hence learn, that such was the wickedness of the Jews, that it could not be corrected by common means or moderate punishment. He afterwards adds —
(133) The word, as found here, is never used for the evening; it ever means the desert, or uncultivated plains. The plural termination of the word, when it means the evening, is -ים, and not -ות, as here. See Numbers 22:1; Joshua 5:10; Jeremiah 39:5. In these verses it is rendered “plains;” they were evidently uncultivated, and might properly be called deserts. The Vulgate and the Targum have led commentators astray as to this word. The Septuagint have completely misunderstood it, and have rendered the sentence, “The wolf even to the houses ( ἕως τῶν οἰκιῶν) has destroyed them.” The version of Blayney is, “The wolf of the plains:“ and he says in a note, that they were “unenclosed commons.” used for sheepwalks, which were commonly “infested with wolves.” — Ed
(134) This illative, “wherefore,” or therefore, or, for this cause, is both retrospective and anticipative. It is a reason given for what is contained in the latter part of the last verse, and for what is contained in the last words of this verse; it anticipates the particle “because” before “multiplied.” — Ed.
(135) It is rendered “ ἀσεβείας — impieties, “ by the Septuagint; “prevarications” by the Vulgate; “ rebellions” by the Targum. It does not mean “iniquities,“ but willful violations of the law in matters connected with God’s worship and service. The other word means apostasies, defections from God, rendered by the Septuagint, “ ἀποστρόφαις — turnings away, “and so by the Vulgate and the Targum. They were defections to various forms of idolatry. Their idols increased in number. The Septuagint render the last sentence thus, “They have become strong ( ἴσχυσας) in their turnings away.” The Vulgate and the Targum are the same. The Verb עצם means an increase in quality or in quantity. But both verbs may be rendered here as transitives, —
Because they have multiplied their transgressions, They have strengthened (or increased) their apostasies.—
There is here what rhetoricians call a conference: for God seems here to seek the judgment of the adverse party, with whom he contends, on the cause between them, though it was sufficiently clear; and this is a proof of confidence. When advocates wish to shew that there is nothing doubtful or obscure, they thus deliberate with the opposite party, — “Why, I will propose the matter privately to yourself; have you anything to say? Even if you were at liberty to determine the question, would not reason compel you to pronounce such a judgment as this?” So now God shews that he was constrained, as it were, by necessity to inflict on the Jews a most severe punishment, and intimates that he was not, as it were, at liberty to do otherwise. “If I am, “he says, “the judge of the world, is it possible that they can escape unpunished, who thus openly provoke me? Should I not expose to ridicule my glory? and should I not also divest myself of my own power? I should cease to be what I am, and in a manner deny myself, were I not to punish a people so wicked and irreclaimable.” We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning.
Some consider ו, vau, to be understood, and take אי, ai, for אין , ain, and read thus, “I will not spare thee for this.” But as there is no reason to make any change, and many agree in the view that has been given, I prefer to follow what has been most commonly received. The meaning of אי , ai, in Hebrew is “where;” but it also means “how: “and here it is to be understood, not of place, but of manner, “How could I for this be propitious to you?”
We see how God, as it were, deliberates with the opposite party, and even appeals to them for judgment, “Say now, were I to allow you so much liberty and power as to decide the question, could I, who am the judge of the world, spare you who are guilty of such vices?”
Thy sons have forsaken me This was the first sin: and when God complained that he was forsaken, he intimated that the people had willfully, and from deliberate wickedness, cast off the yoke; for the same thing could not have been said of heathens. It is indeed true, if we have regard to the beginning, that all may be charged with defection, for God had revealed himself to the sons of Adam and of Noah; and when they fell away into superstitions, they became apostates. But the defection of the Jewish people was much more recent, and less to be borne: nay, when they boasted that they were God’s people, who could have alleged the pretense of ignorance? We now then see what the Prophet means when he says, that God had been forsaken by the people.
He then adds, They have sworn by a no- god He means, by stating a part for the whole, that the worship of God was become corrupt and vitiated: for swearing, as it was stated yesterday, is a part of God’s worship. Whenever we swear by God’s name, we profess that we are under his power, and that we cannot escape if we swear falsely: we also ascribe to him his glory as the God of truth; and we further testify that nothing escapes him, or is hid from his view. Hence, by saying here that the Israelites swore by a no- god, he means that God was deprived of his own right. They were indeed guilty of other sins; but, as it has been stated, the Prophet includes under one kind all the superstitions which then prevailed among the people. It was then the same as though he had said, that they worshipped idols and gods, whom they had devised for themselves.
He adds a circumstance which enhanced their guilt, I have filled them, he says, and they have committed adultery There is here a striking alliteration, which must not be omitted, he had said, ישבען, ishbon, “ they have sworn;” and now he says, אשבע, ashbo, “ I have filled them.” The only difference is in a point; when placed on the left side of ש, shin, the word means to fill, and when on the right, to swear. (136) The Prophet then says, that they had sworn to another God, and yet had been filled God shews here how base and disgraceful had been the ingratitude of the people; for they had been filled to the full with all blessings, and yet they did not acknowledge their own God, who had been to them a Father, so kind and bountiful: I have filled them, he says, and they have committed adultery
Now this passage teaches us, that they who go astray, when allured by God’s paternal kindness and bounty, are on that account the more unworthy of pardon. When men grow wanton against God, while he is kindly indulging them, they no doubt treasure up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath, as Paul tells us in Romans 2:5. Let us then take heed, lest we indulge ourselves, while God is, as it were, indulging us; and lest prosperity should lead us to wantonness: but let us learn to submit ourselves willingly to him, even because he thus kindly and sweetly invites us to himself; and when he shews himself so loving, let us learn to love him.
He says, that they committed adultery This may be taken metaphorically: but as in the next verse he inveighs against their vagrant lusts and adulteries, this phrase may be taken in its literal sense. I yet think that adultery here is to be understood figuratively, as meaning that they had no spiritual chastity, inasmuch as they did not give God his own glory. He further says, And at the house of the harlot have they assembled together The word “house” may be taken in the nominative case, as the Jews might have been called the house of the harlot; as though the Prophet had said, that all Jerusalem and Judea were like brothels. But some consider ב, beth, to be understood, so that they assembled themselves, as it were, at the house of a harlot; and that he thus alludes to the temple. And it is a mark of great shamelessness, when many adulterers or wanton men assemble in one house; for most are ashamed of their adulteries, so that they endeavor to hide their baseness: but when they come together in troops, as though under an uplifted banner, it is a proof that there is no shame, but that they thus disregard all decency, like brute beasts. The most suitable meaning then is, that they are said to have assembled together in brothels, because they gloried in their own superstitions and sacrileges. (137) It follows —
(136) This has been done by the Punctuists, and is no part of the language. — Ed.
(137) The last line may be rendered thus, —
And the house of the harlot they crowd.
The verb for “crowd” seems here to be transitive, though it be intransitive in Micah 5:1. — Ed.
Jeremiah comes now, I think, to the second table, and mentions one kind of evil; but his object was to shew that there was no chastity, no faithfulness, no honesty in that people. He therefore compares them to wanton and lustful horses, and thus exposes their infamous conduct. Had he said that every one did lie in wait for the bed of his neighbor, it would have been a heinous crime; but when he calls their lust neighing, and calls them horses, and those well fed, and who rise early after they are filled, he doubtless shews that such was their incontinence, that they were not only wanton and adulterous, but that they were worse and more base, for they differed nothing from lustful horses, and horses well fed. Some read the last word “armed, “deducing it from יון izan, which means to be armed; and others derive it from זון, zun, which signifies to eat, and hence they take מוזן, muzan, for food. There is indeed no doubt but that it means here “fed, “or fat; for why should he call them armed horses? What some say, that they rose early after having committed adultery, in order to exhibit their disgrace, and to boast of their vices, is too far-fetched. What is meant is, that they were strong horses, and active, and that they rose up early after having been well fed. (138)
We now then understand the Prophet’s object: the sum of the whole is, — that there was no chastity among the Jews, for they gave themselves up to wanton lusts, not only like adulterers and whoremongers, but like lascivious horses. Nevertheless, as we have said, he includes here, under incontinency, thefts, frauds, rapines, and all vices of this kind; for he no doubt charges the Jews as guilty of transgressing against the second table of the law. He afterwards adds —
(138) The literal rendering of this verse, and countenanced by ancient versions, is as follows, —
Horses well fed! libidinous have they become; They neigh, every one at the wife of his neighbor.
Both Venema and Blayney agree in giving this meaning.
It does not seem, when the whole context is viewed, that adultery here is to be taken in its literal sense. It is spiritual adultery, that is, idolatry, that is referred to throughout the chapter. Besides, the comparison in this verse is such, that its application is more suitable to idolatrous acts than to those which are adulterous. The same may be said of what is found in the preceding verse, — that they crowded the house of the harlot. This is not so much the case in adultery as in idolatry, when people fill their idolatrous temples. A simile is sometimes carried beyond what is actually the case, in order to convey a right idea of what it is intended to illustrate. When they are said to be like well-fed stallions, and neighing at the wives of their neighbors, the purpose was to shew with what intense ardor they were devoted to idolatry: and the degrading comparison was no doubt made in order to pour contempt on their mad propensity: it was like the impetuous instinct of an animal, uncontrolled by any reason, persuasion, or remonstrance. — Ed.
God again holds, as it were, a conference with them, and for this purpose, — that he might check all their complaints and close their mouths, lest they should object and say, that they were too severely treated. That this objection then might be removed, God repeats that he could not pardon such atrocious sins. And this principle is adopted, that it was impossible not to punish such wicked men who would not repent. For since God is the Judge of the world, he can no more surrender his judgment than his essence. As, then, the majesty of God and his office of a Judge are inseparably connected, the Prophet concludes, that what the Jews thought was impossible, that is, that they could escape unpunished, and yet continue to provoke God, as it were, by open war, with their dreadful sins: Should I not then visit for this, saith Jehovah?
Here is introduced the name of Jehovah. An earthly judge may pardon the ungodly and the worst of men; but this cannot be done by God; for whenever God pardons, he leads sinners to repentance: so that he never suffers sins to be unpunished. For he who repents becomes his own judge, and thus anticipates God’s judgment. Where then there is true conversion, God shews no indulgence to sins. But when persistency in sins is such, that they who are warned despise all instruction, it is impossible that God should forgive; as in that case he would renounce his own glory, which can never be. Should I not then visit for this, saith Jehovah?
And on such a nation as this should not vengeance my soul take? God speaks here after the manner of men, for he seeks no vengeance; and when he speaks of his soul, even this is not strictly suitable to him; but there is here nothing obscure; for what is meant is, that he is at enmity with wickedness, as it is said in Psalms 5:5, that he cannot bear iniquity. Since it is so, it follows that he must either be thrust from his celestial throne, or punishment must be inflicted on the wicked, who remain perverse and set no end nor bounds to their sins. Whenever then delusion creeps over us and Satan seeks by his allurements to lead us to forget God’s judgment, let this come to our minds — that God would not be God, except he were to punish sins. It is then necessary that he should punish sins or be displeased with us: but, as it has been said, he cannot be inconsistent with himself or dissimilar in his nature, since no change can take place in him. Either then his hand is stretched out to punish our sins, or his judgment must be anticipated by us. And how can this be done? By learning to bring sentence against ourselves, by becoming displeased with our sins.
When therefore our conversion will be of this kind, then God will be merciful to us; and thus he will not pardon our sins, as though he approved of them, or as though he did not exercise his office as a judge. But as I have said, what is here taught is rightly addressed to those who are either refractory, or whom Satan renders so stupid and forgetful, that they call not themselves to an account; in short, what is here said will render the ungodly, who go on in their perverseness, inexcusable, or it will awake those who are healable, that they may judge themselves, and not wait until God stretches forth his hand to execute extreme punishment.
Here God by the mouth of his Prophet addresses the enemies of his people, whom he had appointed to be the ministers of his vengeance: and this was usual with the prophets, when they sought more effectually to rouse and more sharply to touch the hearts of men; for we know how great is their indifference when God summons them to judgment. As then Jeremiah saw that simple instruction availed but little, he used this mode of speaking. He then in the person of God addresses the Chaldeans, and bids them to come to attack Jerusalem. The prophets often speak thus, — “Hiss will God for the Egyptians,” or, “Sound shall the trumpet, and he will send for the Chaldeans.” (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18.) But the representation is more effectual to penetrate into the hearts of men, when the Prophet at God’s command assembles enemies as a celestial herald and bids them what to do, even to destroy the whole city.
He says first, Ascend ye her walls By which words he intimates, that the Jews in vain boasted of the height of their walls, for God would make their enemies to ascend them, so that the entrance would not be difficult. They hoped indeed that they were safe, because the city was well fortified. Hence he says, that they were deceived; and he exposes their folly, for their walls would not protect them.
He afterwards adds, An end do not make This sentence is explained in two ways. Some take it in a good sense, as though God mitigated the extremity of their punishment, according to the meaning which some attach to the words in the last chapter; for though God in that passage terrified the Jews, yet they consider that by way of mitigation this was added, “I will not yet make a consummation,” that is, there will be some remaining. And the prophets are wont thus to speak, when they intend to shew that some seed will ever remain, so that the Church shall not wholly be destroyed. Thus also do the same interpreters explain this passage, as though God had said, that the ruin of Jerusalem would be such that the Church would still continue, for there would be no consummation. But others take כלה, cale, as signifying an end: and this meaning is more suitable; for God in this verse severely threatens the Jews with destruction. It is no objection, that it is said elsewhere, that the consummation would not be complete; for it is quite evident that the prophets do not always adopt the same mode in speaking: when they denounce vengeance on the reprobate, they leave no hope; and so this mode of speaking often occurs, “I will make an end:” but when they address the faithful, they moderate the severity of their threatenings by saying, “God will not make a consummation.” I am therefore disposed to take their view, whom regard consummation here as signifying an end; and כלל, calal, means to finish. The meaning then is, “Demolish the city, and let there be no end,“ that is, destroy it entirely. (139)
To the same purpose is what immediately follows, Take away her shoots, or her branches, or the teeth of her walls, as some render the word. I think, however, that the Prophet refers to the width of the walls in their foundations; for we know that walls are so built, that the foundation is wider than the upper structure. The word which the Prophet uses, means shoots, which spread far and wide. They who render it, the wings of the walls, seem not to me to understand what the Prophet means; for he speaks not here of the top of the walls, but of the foundations, as though he had said, “Overthrow or demolish from the foundation the walls of the city: “and why? They are not Jehovah’s, he adds. The Jews were inflated with this empty confidence, — that they were safe under the protection of God; for they imagined that God was the guardian of the city, because the sanctuary and the altar were there. Hence the Prophet declares, that the walls or the foundations were not God’s. (140) Nor could it have been objected, that it is said elsewhere, that the city had been founded by the Lord: God had indeed chosen his habitation and his throne there; but on this condition — that the people should faithfully worship him. When Jerusalem was made a den of thieves, God departed thence, according to what is said by Ezekiel in chapter 14 (Ezekiel 14:0). Here then the Prophet reproves that foolish confidence, by which the Jews deceived themselves, when they thought that God was in a manner bound never to forsake the defense of the city. He denies that their walls and foundations were God’s; for the Jews by their sins had so polluted the whole place, that God could not dwell in such filth. It follows —
(139) See Note on Jeremiah 4:27.
(140) It is true the word means shoots or branches; but as the root means to spread, it evidently signifies here battlements, bulwarks, or ramparts. It is rendered “ ὑποστηρίγματα — props, pillars,” by the Septuagint; “ propagines — shoots,” by the Vulgate; “ foundations,” by the Syriac and Arabic; and “palaces, or towers,” by the Targum. Our version has the most suitable word — “battlements.” Blayney has “branches,“ and thinks that the cities of Judea are meant; but this is not suitable to the context. — Ed.
The verb בגד, begad, means to deceive, to act perfidiously. God then charges the Jews here with perfidy, because they had revolted from him: for he does not only complain that they had in some measure sinned against him, and that he was therefore offended with them, but he charges them with general defection. Hence he says, that both the Israelites and the Jews had become perfidious and apostates. The people, we knew, were now divided into two kingdoms: and though Jeremiah had been given especially as a teacher to the tribe of Judah, it was yet his duty to labor also for the Israelites. The kingdom of Israel was now in some measure fallen, for four tribes had been driven into exile, and the kingdom was dismembered and feeble. He yet wished to do all the good he could to the remnant. Hence he says here, that they were wicked apostates, for they had acted perfidiously towards God. (141) And as this charge was heinous, and might have deeply wounded their minds, he ascribes to God what the Jews would have hardly endured as coming from him; and says, thus saith Jehovah, as though he had said, “There is no reason for you to contend with me, as though I had dealt severely with you: contend with God himself, since he it is who declares that you are all perfidious.” He afterwards adds —
(141) The verb בגד, when followed by ב as here, means to deal deceitfully, perfidiously, or treacherously, with one. See Exodus 21:8; Jude 9:23; Lamentations 1:2. It may be rendered here to dissemble, —
For they dissembling have dissembled with me, The house of Israel and the house of Judah, saith Jehovah.
As the verb is repeated, if we render it “to act perfidiously,“ instead of repeating the words, to give them their force and meaning, we must say,
For they have dealt most perfidiously with me.
To “deal unfaithfully,” as rendered by Blayney, is too feeble an expression. To “prevaricate” is the word used by the Vulgate, and the same by the Septuagint and the Targum. — Ed.
He expresses more clearly and fully what he had previously said. Their perfidy was, that they had denied God I do not wholly reject what others have said, that they lied to God: but as ב is here used after כחש, I cannot see that it means to lie. It ought to have been in that case, כחשו ליהוה cacheshu La-Jeve: but as it is ביהוה, Be-Jeve, I doubt not but that he simply declares that they denied God; and the context seems to require this meaning; for he immediately adds, that they said there was no God (142) This certainly was not to lie to God, but to reject him as one who did not exist. As then the sense would be less significant, were we to say, that they lied to God, I am inclined to take the other meaning, that they denied God; that is, that they wholly disregarded him or sought to erase the remembrance of him.
The reason which follow requires special notice: They have said, He is not To render this more clear, he says, that they boasted of impunity. It seemed, no doubt, to exceed credibility, when the Prophet said that God was denied by the Jews; but that they might not evade the charge, he continued it, they have said, He is not We are further to consider why he brought against them so grievous and so atrocious a charge: it was, because they boasted that they should be free from the punishments which the prophets had threatened.
We then see what Jeremiah alleges against them, even their contempt and also their perverseness. They felt themselves safe notwithstanding the prophetic threatenings. The Prophet says, this is nothing less than wholly to deny God. Were we judges, this declaration might appear too severe: but let us pause, and acquiesce in what the Holy Spirit has pronounced.
And this is a remarkable passage, whence we may learn how abhorred by God is their indifference, who harden themselves against his threatenings, and wholly disregard his judgment. For if we acknowledge him as God, his power as a judge ought not to be taken away. What does God’s name mean? Doubtless they who imagine that God remains quiet in heaven and enjoys his leisure and his rest, though they may not in words deny God, yet treat him with mockery: there is in them at the same time no religion and no thought of a divine being. Let us then carefully notice this passage, in which the Prophet testifies that God is denied by us, except we be moved by his threatenings; for the torpidity in which we indulge ourselves, when God denounces his judgment on us, is the same as the denial of him; nor is there anything by which they can extenuate their sin who thus despise the vengeance of God. For the Holy Spirit has once for all declared, that all who trifle with the prophets do in their hearts say, that there is no God, inasmuch as they deprive him of his power and of his office, and leave him only a naked essence; nay, they make him only a creature of the imagination or a mere phantom.
We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet: he more fully explains the perfidy with which he had charged the Jews; for he says that they denied God, and said, He is not; and they proved that they did all this, for they did not believe the evil to be at hand which the prophets had announced. It afterwards follows —
(142) According to all the instances in which the verb occurs, followed by ב, its meaning is what Calvin states, though not so rendered uniformly in our version. The verb, followed by ב, occurs elsewhere five times, — Leviticus, 6:2, 3; Joshua 24:27; Job 8:18; Isaiah 59:13; Hosea 9:2. In Leviticus 6:3, וכחש בה, ought to be rendered, “and denieth it;” and so the verb ought to be, rendered in the previous verse, “and deny to his neighbor his deposit,” etc. It is rendered here “lied to the Lord” by the Septuagint and the Targum; and “denied the Lord” by the Vulgate and the Syriac, and so also by Piscator, Venema, and Blayney. The denial seems to have been as to the Lord speaking in his prophets. Calvin appears to have gone too far in saying that they denied his existence. The expression which follows, “Not he,“ means that he was not in the prophets. The import is correctly given in our version, “It is not he,“ that is, who speaks in the prophets. The verse might be literally given thus, —
12. And they deny Jehovah, And say, “ It is not he, And come upon us shall not evil, And the sword and the famine we shall not see.”
Then the following verse, which is a continuation of what they said, proves clearly what the meaning of this is, —
13. “And the prophets shall be wind, For the word is not in them: Thus shall it happen to them,”
Thus shall it be done to them.
That is, they shall be found out to be like the wind, having spoken nothing real, such as shall be accomplished. Indeed the last line may be translated thus, —
Thus shall he do to (or, deal with) them.
The reference in this case is to God, who, they thought, would render abortive, or turn as it were into wind, what the prophets had threatened. Their blindness and presumption appear to us to have been extreme. — Ed.
The Prophet goes on with the same subject; and this passage is worthy of especial notice, as it commends to us in no common way the public preaching of the truth. For what can be imagined more abominable than to deny God? yet if his word is not allowed to have authority, it is the same as though its despisers attempted to thrust God from heaven, or denied his existence. We hence see how the majesty of God is, as it were, indissolubly connected with the public preaching of his truth. The design of this verse is the same, in which Jeremiah refers to the contempt manifested by the people.
He introduces the Jews as saying, The prophets shall become wind, there is not in them the word, and the evil with which they have threatened us, shall come upon their own heads It may have been, that the Jews did not openly give vent to such a blasphemous language; but so gross was the contempt they shewed towards the prophets, that this impiety was sufficiently conspicuous in their whole life. It was not then without reason that the Prophet charged them with so base an impiety, that they said, that the prophets would become wind. The same is the case now; the greater part, when God thunders and gives proofs of his vengeance by his servants, ridicule everything, and heedlessly cast away every fear, — “Oh, they are mere words; for the preachers fulminate boldly and terribly in the pulpit; but the whole vanishes, and whatever they denounce on us will fall on their own heads.” We see at this day that many ungodly and profane men use such a bantering language as this. Though it might not have been, as I have said, that the Jews dared thus openly to shew their contempt towards God; yet the Holy Spirit, who extends his authority over the hearts, minds, and feelings of men, justly charged them with this gross impiety. It may also be learnt from other places, that they made such advances in audacity, that they hesitated not to treat with scoffs the threatenings announced by the prophets. However this may have been, the Prophet sets forth by a striking representation how great was the contemptuous perverseness of the people towards God: for there is here a vivid description, by which he sets as it were before our eyes how impious the Jews had become; inasmuch as they dared openly to assault the prophets and willfully to charge them with declaring what was vain, The prophets, they said, shall become wind; and farther, There is not in them the word
By these words the Jews denied that the prophets were to be believed, however they might pretend God’s name, for they boasted falsely that this or that was committed to them from above. Thus it was, as we see, that every instruction was trodden under foot, and the same we find to be the case in the present day; for what reverence is manifested anywhere for God’s word? This passage then ought to be especially noticed by us; for it shews as in a mirror to what extent of audacity and madness men will break forth when they begin to discredit God’s word.
They afterwards add, Thus shall it be done to them; or, “May it be thus done to them;” for some regard the words as an imprecation, as though the wicked had said, “Let the prophets find to their own destruction what the sword, the famine, and the pestilence are; as they cease not continually to stun our ears with these terrible things, may they themselves experience these scourges of God.” But we may retain the form of the verb, Thus shall it be done to them; (143) as though they set themselves in opposition to God’s servants, and pretended that they were God’s prophets, “Oh! we have a prophecy too: they terrify us by announcing the sword, the famine, and the pestilence; we can in our turn retaliate on them, and declare that the pestilence, the war, and the famine are nigh them; for what authority have they thus to assail us? Have we not authority to do the same to them?” We now then perceive what is meant in this last clause. It now follows —
(143) This sentence is left out in the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Arabic, but retained by the Vulgate, — “ Haec ergo evenient illis — These things shall therefore come to them.” This meaning the original will hardly bear. The reference seems to be to the Prophets becoming wind, being so proved by the event. — Ed
God shews here how intolerable to him was their wantonness in despising the prophets, through whom he would have himself attended to. Though Christ did not refer to this passage, when he said,“
He who hears you hears me, and he who despises you despises me,” (Luke 10:16)
yet it contains an eternal law; for God’s will from the beginning has been, that his servants should be obeyed, as though he himself had come down from heaven. Hence the Jews dealt no less contumeliously with God in despising his prophets, than if they had dared to treat God himself with contempt. God then now shews how much he abhorred that madness, through which they rendered void all the labors of his servants.
Therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts Jeremiah made this preface, that he might more effectually rouse the Jews; for if he had omitted Thus saith Jehovah, and had begun thus, “Because ye have announced this word, behold, as fire shall be the word of God, “his doctrine would have been objected to, and treated with contempt. But now, by alleging the name of God, and that not simply, but by adorning it with a high attribute, and calling him “the God of hosts, “he makes known his power in order to strike them with fear. He then says, “Thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, Because ye have spoken this word, “ etc. Here he changes the persons often; and it behooved him to do so, that there might be more force and point in what he said. He ought to have said in the third person, “Because they have spoken thus, Behold, I will make my words in thy mouth, “etc.: but he now addresses the people, and then he turns to his servant Jeremiah. He therefore says, “Ye have indeed spoken thus;” that is, “Ye have scoffingly spoken, as though my prophets had nothing but the empty sound of words;” Behold, he says, I will make my words in thy mouth like fire, (he thus addresses the Prophet,) and this people shall be wood, and the fire shall devour them
God compares his own word to fire, not as in other places, nor for the same reason; but this similitude has a particular meaning, — that the prophetic word would consume the people as fire consumes dry wood or straw. In other places the word of God is called fire, because it kindles the hearts of men, because it cleanses or burns the filth within. But he treats not here of the benefit or the fruit which the faithful derive from God’s word: but God declares only that the doctrine of the Prophet would prove fatal to the people; and hence he expressly says, “I make my words in thy mouth like fire.” Had he said, “Behold, my words shall be like fire, and this people shall be stubble, “it would not have been sufficiently expressive. But as the people had been accustomed to scoff and say, “Ah! what are these prophets, and what are their words? they beat the air only;” as then the Jews had been wont to speak in this manner, he now replies to them, and says, “I will make my words in thy mouth like fire;” that is, Thy tongue alone shall be more than sufficient to destroy the whole people. Jeremiah teaches here the same thing with Paul, when he said,“
We have vengeance in readiness against all altitude which rises against the gospel.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)
For it has ever been an evil, common to all ages, either to neglect, or wholly to despise the servants of God. When Paul saw that the gospel was despised by many, he said that he and other ministers had vengeance in readiness; as though he had said, “As many words as we speak shall be so many swords to slay all the ungodly; and though their hardness now reject the judgment of God, their perverseness shall avail them nothing. Let them now then know that there is so much power in my word, as though God were openly to put forth his hand from heaven, as though he were to dart forth his lightnings.” The same thing is what Jeremiah means here, Behold, he says, I will make my words in thy mouth fire; that is, there will be so much power in thy words, that the ungodly shall know to their own loss that thou art the executioner of my vengeance.
This passage ought to be carefully observed by us, lest by our ingratitude we shall so provoke God’s wrath against us, as that his word, which is destined for our food, shall be turned to be a fire to us. For why has God appointed the ministers of his gospel, except to invite us to become partakers of his salvation, and thus sweetly to restore and refresh our souls? And thus the word of God is to us like water to revive our hearts: it is also a fire, but for our good, a cleansing, and not a consuming fire: but if we obstinately reject this fire, it will surely turn to answer another end, even to devour us, and wholly to consume us.
But he says that this people would be wood: as the ungodly set up an iron front against God, they think they can thus drive to a distance his vengeance; the Prophet now laughs to scorn this madness, and says that they would be like wood or straw. It follows —
The Prophet shews here how the people would become like straw or dry wood; for God would bring a sure calamity which they did not fear. But the context is to be here observed: the Prophet had said, that the word in his mouth would be like fire; he now transfers this to the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Now these things have the appearance of being inconsistent; but we have already shewn that all the scourges of God depended on the power of his word: when, therefore, the city was cut off by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, then the fire from the mouth of Jeremiah broke forth to destroy the city and the people.
In short, Jeremiah intimates, that when the enemies came, no account was to be made of their strength nor of their forces, and that they would not bring with them any aids for the war, but that there would be the execution of what he had said, of what had proceeded from his mouth; for we shall elsewhere see that he was sent by God to besiege the city; but with what forces? He was alone and unarmed; this is true; but this siege was not understood by the wicked and reprobate, yet it was not without its effect; for as the Prophet spoke, so God executed what had proceeded from his mouth. We hence see that the Chaldeans proceeded as it were from the mouth of the Prophet, like willing enemies, who throw darts to demolish the walls of a city, who east stones and upset the walls by warlike engines, or like those who at this day use other warlike machines, by which they demolish cities. What then are all these instruments of war? They are the fire which God casts forth by the mouth of his servants; and the truth which had been declared by them, has accompanying it all those engines of war which can destroy not only one city and one people, but the whole world, when it shall so please him.
I bring then upon you a nation from far We have said elsewhere why the Prophet refers to long distance, even because the Jews thought that there was no danger nigh them from nations so remote, as though we were to speak of the Turks at this day, “Oh! they have to fight with other nations: let those who are near them contend with the Turks, for we may live three or four ages in quietness.” We see such indifference prevailing in the present day. Hence the Prophet, in order to deprive the Jews of this vain confidence, says that this nation was near at hand, though coming from remote quarters.
He says that they were a hard, or a strong nation, and a nation from antiquity He means not simply that it was brave through age, but that it was hard and ferocious; for he says afterwards that they were all גברים, geberim, that is, valiant. He then calls it a hard nation, because it was cruel, and he afterwards mentions the barbarity of that nation. But he says first that it was from antiquity: for it generates spirits more ferocious, when a nation has ruled for a long time, and from a period out of memory: this very antiquity is wont to inflate the minds of men with pride, and to render them more ferocious. He says then, that it was from antiquity
He afterwards speaks of its barbarity: Thou wilt not, he says, understand its language, nor wilt thou hear what it speaks (144) By language, we know, not only words, but also feelings are communicated. Language is the expression of the mind, as it is commonly said, and it is therefore the bond of society. Had there been no language, in what would men differ from brute beasts? One would barbarously treat another; there would indeed be no humanity among them. As then language conciliates men one towards another, the Prophet, in order to terrify the Jews, says that that nation would be barbarous, for there would be no communication made with it by means of a language. Hence it followed that there would be no pity to spare the conquered, no, not if they implored a hundred times; nor could they be heard, who were miserable, and such as might obtain some favor, if they were understood.
(144) The verb שמע here is not merely to hear, but to hear effectually, that is, so as to understand. It has this meaning in other places; see Deuteronomy 38:49; Genesis 18:26. The whole verse may be thus rendered, —
15. Behold, I am bringing upon you a nation from far, O house of Israel, saith Jehovah, — A nation, strong it is, A nation, from antiquity it is, A nation, thou wilt not know its language, Nor understand what it speaks.
The third, fourth, and fifth lines, as well as the first of the next verse, are left out in the Septuagint, but retained by the Vulgate, Syriac, and the Targum. The two first render the word for “strong,“ “ robustam,“ and the last by “ fortis — brave.” Blayney renders it “strong,“ which is no doubt its meaning. — Ed.
The Prophet had already threatened the Jews with the vengeance of God, and had said that the ministers and executioners of it would be the Chaldeans: he now continues the same subject, and says that their quiver would be like an open sepulcher The nations of the East, we know, made much use of arrows and darts, for they had no pitched battles; but they pretended a flight, and then suddenly turning, they hurled their darts and arrows against their enemies. The Prophet then had a regard to this mode of fighting, when he says that their quivers would be like open sepulchres. It may seem at first sight an unnatural comparison; but it is the same as though he had said, that they would be so skillful in throwing arrows as to destroy all who met them. (145)
And he adds, that they would be all strong, that the people might know that it would not be a slight conflict: in short, it is the same as though he had said, that this war would be a certain ruin to the Jews, in which they should all perish. He afterwards adds —
(145) The idea intended is capaciousness. The grave is represented as never satisfied, ready to receive any number. See Proverbs 27:20. The Chaldean quiver would be so large as to contain a vast quantity of arrows, as though it was an open grave. — Ed.
He continues to speak in a similar way of the cruelty of their enemies; as though he said that victory was already in their hand, for they were the scourges of God. He does not then set before the Jews the troubles of war, but speaks of them as conquered; and he only shews that the Chaldeans would be cruel in the use they would make of their victory. He takes it as granted that the Chaldeans would be conquerors, for they would come armed from above: and he makes this addition, — that they would act cruelly and in an unusual manner towards the vanquished Jews.
Hence he says, They will eat (it will eat, for he changes the number, though the sense remains the same (146)) thine harvest and thy bread; that is, all that thou gatherest shall become a prey to thine enemies; for by harvest and bread he means every kind of provision. Then he adds, thy sons and thy daughters, which was still worse; it is indeed hard to be deprived of food, but it is still more dreadful for parents to see their children slain before them. The Prophet however says, that such would be the barbarity of their enemies, that they would not spare even boys and girls. He further mentions herds and flocks; and then he adds the vine and the fig-tree; as though he said, nothing would be safe among the Jews, for their enemies would plunder everything, and that being not content with meat and drink, they would kill their very infants. And further, as the Jews had fortified cities, and were on that account insolent towards the prophets, their vain pride is here brought down; for he says, that their fortified cities would be reduced to poverty; and he adds, in which thou trustest All these, he says, shall fall by the sword; for this last word, בחרב, becherab, applies to the whole verse, and to each part of it; as though he had said, “By the right of the sword shall the conquerors lay waste thy whole country, even all thy possessions; yea, and they shall slay thy sons and thy daughters.” It follows —
(146) According to the Hebrew, the verbs, except the second, are all in the singular number. The Septuagint have pluralized them, but the singular is retained by the Vulgate, the Targum, and the Syriac. It is the “nation” described in the 15 verse. The second verb may be rendered in a passive sense, and the meaning will be more appropriate, —
And it will devour thy harvest and thy food, Devoured shall be thy sons and thy daughters; It will devour thy sheep and thy ox, It will devour thy wine and thy fig-tree; It will wholly desolate thy fortified cities, In which thou trustest, by the sword.
The language used here, and in the 15 verse, is remarkably like that of Moses in Deuteronomy 28:48. The second line may be deemed parenthetic. It is better to preserve the poetic singular in sheep, ox, vine, and fig-tree. As it is a reduplicate verb, entire desolation is intended, and that by the “sword” in destroying all the occupants of fortified cities. Venema, and others, as well as Calvin, connect the “sword” with all the preceding clauses; but this is not necessary, nor is it indeed suitable. — Ed.
Different views may be taken as to the meaning of this verse; but the greater part of interpreters think that a hope is here given to the faithful; yea, nearly all are of this opinion; indeed I know not any one who takes another view. They then think that God moderates here what he had previously said, and that he gives some ground of hope to his servants, lest they should imagine that the Church would be so reduced as to have no seed remaining: and כלה, cale, as it was said yesterday, is often taken in this sense. But when I now carefully consider the context, I feel constrained to take another view, even this — that God here enhances the severity of his vengeance. And the particle גם, gam, “also, “or even, favors this view; as though he had said, “Think not that it will be all over when your enemies shall thus plunder you of all your possessions, deprive you of your children, and reduce you to extreme want; for ye shall not by any means be thus freed from all evils, as I shall pursue my vengeance still further.” There will hereafter follow promises to moderate threatenings, that the hearts of the faithful may not despond: but in this place the Prophet, I have no doubt, introduces God as a Judge, executing vengeance, as though there was no place for mercy.
Then also, he says; for the particle גם, gam, is inhansive and emphatic; Then also, in those days; that is, “When your enemies shall strip your land of its produce, and of all its animals, and of its inhabitants, I shall not even then cease to pursue you: I will not make an end with you, for there will still remain scourges, when ye shall think that rest is given to you, and that the end of evils and of all calamities had come.” In this manner is God wont to deal with the impenitent; for such is their perverseness, that being smitten they become more and more hardened, and champ the bit, according to the old proverb. And hence is their hardness, because they think that God is, as it were, disarmed when he has punished them for their sins. He therefore declares that he has in his power different kinds of punishment and different ways of punishing. (147) And to the same purpose is what follows —
(147) See note on Jeremiah 4:27. Even if the design pleaded for by Calvin be admitted, there is no necessity to give the expression a meaning different from what it has in other places, —
Yet even in those days, saith Jehovah, I will not make with you a completion,
I will not wholly destroy you.
It depends on the context what the bearing of this may be, while the sentence itself retains the same meaning. “I will not wholly destroy you, for I intend to preserve a Church for myself,” he might also say, “I will not wholly destroy you, for I have other punishments in reserve for you:“ and the latter, as Calvin maintains, seems to be the purport of the expression in this passage. Still the words themselves have the same meaning. — Ed.
It hence appears that what I have said is true, — that the Prophet did not soften what was severe in the threatenings which we have noticed, but that he treated the Jews according to their perverseness; for he saw that they were untamable; and the Spirit had taught him that such would be their obstinacy, that until they were wholly broken down, they would not bend their necks to receive the yoke. He further assigns the cause here, that they might not contend with God, as hypocrites are wont to do, whenever God sharply chastises them; for they murmur against him, and complain and demand reasons why he treats them so severely, as though they were wholly innocent. As, then, hypocrites made such complaints, the Prophet here replies to them.
It shall be, he says, when ye shall say: he addresses the Jews in the person of God. He then immediately turns God’s address to himself, Why has Jehovah our God done to us all these things? He ascribes here to hypocrites what is ever in their mouths whenever they are summoned to judgment; for they are so well prepared to contend, as though their cause was the best that could be; and, could God be constrained to render an account, they would prove him guilty of cruelty and of immoderate rigor. We hence see how graphically the Prophet describes refractory men, who will not yield nor acknowledge their fault, but with an iron front rise up against God: and the same thing we find in other passages in the prophets, especially in the first chapter of Malachi; for there the Prophet often repeats the words of the people, “In what? In what? What means this?” So also here Jeremiah says, When ye shall say, Why has Jehovah done all these things to us? as though they were innocent: for the reprobate, as though they had washed away all their sins by having wiped their mouths, boldly come forth and demand a reason why God chastises them. So also in this place they hesitate not to call God their God, as though they had not denied God, according to what we have seen yesterday. For so gross an impiety prevailed among them, that they imagined that all things were ruled by chance, and that God unjustly punished them. Though then they had perfidiously forsaken God, yet the Prophet here, in order to expose their petulancy, introduces them here as saying that they regarded God as connected with them.
Then, he says, thou shalt say God one while addresses the people, and at another time the Prophet. When, therefore, they shall begin thus to murmur, then thou mayest reply, Because ye have forsaken me That what was said might have more weight, God would have the Prophet to speak in his name, “because ye have forsaken me, “as though Jeremiah did not himself say the words, but God by his mouth; and have served the gods of the alien, that is, of aliens, in your land God shews here briefly what the Jews deserved; and he thought it sufficient to mention one kind of sin only. We shall see elsewhere, as we have often seen, that they were in other respects wicked and guilty before God. But the Prophet observes brevity here, and charges them only with one sort of sin. Ye shall serve tyrants, he says, in a strange land, who shall cruelly oppress you, because ye have served their gods in your own land
God reproves them here for having abused his kindness; for he had expelled the heathen nations from Canaan, and gave that land, which was so pleasant and fruitful, as an inheritance to them, so as to be to them a perpetual rest. God called the land his own rest, because he protected the Jews there, and appointed them as the legitimate heirs of the land even to the end of the world. Hence he says now, your land The reminding them of this kindness was doubtless intended to amplify their guilt; for they possessed the land by the best title, though they had not acquired it themselves.
In your land, he says, ye worshipped gods; he does not say, “strange gods, “but “the gods of the stranger, “or of strangers. The prophets often speak thus; they call them the gods of the strangers, or of strange people: but the expression is emphatical; for it was very base and less excusable for the Jews, while they had God dwelling among them, to seek gods here and there, and as it were to entreat heathens for gods, and say, “Give us your gods.” It was then this base conduct that the Prophet now points out as with the finger, Because ye have served the gods of strangers.
He afterwards adds, Ye shall serve strangers; he does not mean, as I think, strange gods; and it seems to me that those who introduce “gods” here, pervert the meaning. (148) He speaks of tyrants, according to what is said elsewhere,“
I had given you my good laws, which if any one keeps he shall live in them; and ye would not obey: I will therefore give you laws which are not good,” (Ezekiel 20:21 :)
that is, “I will lay on you a tyrannical yoke, and conquerors, and those barbarians whose language shall be unknown to you, shall plunder you and your possessions, because ye have been disobedient and unteachable.” It follows —
(148) The last clause has been improperly omitted in the Arabic: it is found in the other versions. The word for “strangers” is different from that connected with “gods.” They served “the gods of the alien,“ or, of the heathen: they would have to serve “strangers,“ or, foreigners, in a land not their own. As they had adopted the religion of heathens, they would have to submit to the dominion and tyranny of heathens: and as they did the former in their own land, they would have to do the latter in a foreign land. Thus their idolatry would expel them from their own country, and subject them to the tyranny of those from whom they derived their idolatry. Thus God often makes the tempters of his people (if they succeed) to be their tormentors. — Ed.
The Prophet confirms what he had said, lest the Jews should think that they were only terrified by words, and not dread the consequences. Hence he says, Declare this The Prophet, no doubt, alludes to a custom which prevailed; for wars were usually proclaimed by heralds. Enemies did not immediately march forth, but they proclaimed war that the cause might appear just. Hence God here declares, that he had spoken in earnest by the mouth of Jeremiah, as though war had been in the usual manner proclaimed, and armed enemies were already nigh at hand.
Declare ye then this; and what is it? Hear, O foolish people, etc. Here he first reproves the Jews and Israelites for their stupidity, because they were even without common sense; for the heart in Hebrew means the mind or understanding, as we have seen elsewhere. He then says, that this people were destitute of all understanding. He first calls them fatuous or foolish; but as many are slow and heavy and yet not without common sense, he adds that they were a people without heart or understanding. He seems indeed to add by way of correction, that they had eyes and ears: but his object was ironically to enhance what he had said, and to shew that they were stupid, and no less so than blocks of wood or stones. How so? “Ye have ears and eyes, “he says, “but ye neither see nor hear.” (149)
He no doubt alludes to the idols to which they had become devoted: for it is said in Psalms 115:8, that those who made idols were like them, as well as those who trusted in them; for it had been previously said, that idols had ears but heard not, and eyes but saw not. Jeremiah then indirectly condemns the Jews here for having become so stupid in their superstitions as to be like dead idols: for there is in an idol some likeness to man; it has various members but no understanding. So also he says, the Jews had eyes and ears and the external form of men; but they were at the same time no less stupid than if they were stones or blocks of wood. Now follows the proclamation —
(149) It is better to retain the future tense, as their obstinacy is thereby more fully expressed; the whole verse may be thus literally rendered, —
Hear, I pray, this, Ye perverse people and without understanding, — Eyes they have, but they will not see, Ears they have, but they will not hear.
The “this” which they were to hear is contained in the next verse. The two last lines are only explanatory of the preceding. They were “without understanding,“ for they would not see, though they had eyes; and they were “perverse,“ or perversely foolish, for they would not hear, though they had ears. When two things are mentioned and afterwards referred to, the prophets usually explain the last, and then the first, as the case is here. The two last lines may be included in a parenthesis. — Ed.
God shews here why he had said that the people were foolish and without understanding. It was indeed a monstrous stupidity, not to fear at the presence of God, since even inanimate elements obey his bidding: and he takes the sea especially as an example; for there is nothing more terrific than a tempestuous sea. It appears as if it would overwhelm the whole world, when its waves swell with so much violence. No one can in this case do otherwise than tremble. But the sea itself, which makes the stoutest to tremble, quietly obeys God; for however furious may be its tossings, they are yet under restraint. Now, if any inquires how this is, it must be confessed to be a miracle which cannot be accounted for; for the sea, we know, as other elements, is spherical. As the earth is round, so also is the element of water, as well as the air and fire. Since then the form of this element is spherical, we must know that it is not lower than the earth: but it being lighter than the earth shews that it stands above it. How then comes it that the sea does not overflow the whole earth? for it is a liquid, and cannot stand in one place, except retained by some secret power of God. It hence follows, that the sea is confined to its own place, because of God’s appointment, according to what is said by Moses,“
Let the dry land,” said God, “appear,” (Genesis 1:9 :)
for he intimates that the earth was covered with water, and no part of it appeared, until God formed the sea. Now the word of God, though it is not heard by us, nor resounds in the air, is yet heard by the sea; for the sea is confined within its own limits. Were the sea tranquil, it would still be a wonderful work of God, as he has given the earth to be the habitation of men: but when it is moved, as I have said, by a tempest, and heaven and earth seem to blend together, there is no one, being nigh such a sight, who does not feel dread. Hence then the power of God, and his dread might, appear more evident when he calms the turbulent sea.
We now see the scope of the Prophet’s words: He shews that the Jews were monsters, and unworthy not only to be counted men, but even to be classed with brute animals; for there was more sense and understanding in the tempestuous and raging sea than in men, who seemed endued with reason and understanding. This is the design of the comparison.
But as it was a heavy complaint, the Prophet asks a question, Will ye not fear me? As though God had said, “What do you mean? How is it that I am not feared by you? The sea obeys me, and its fury is checked by my secret bidding; for I have once for all commanded the sea to remain within its own limits, and though it may be violently agitated by storms and tempests, it does not yet exceed my orders. Will not you men, endowed with reason, fear me? will you not tremble at my presence?” And he says, that he had set the sand to be the boundary of the sea: and this is much more expressive than if he had said that he had set boundaries to the sea; for the sand is movable and driven by a small breath of wind, and the sand is also penetrable. Were there rocks along all the shores of the sea, it would not be so wonderful. Had God then restrained the violence of the sea by firm and strong mounds, the keeping of it within its limits might be ascribed to nature; but what firmness is there in sand? for a little water thrown on it will soon penetrate through it. How then is it, that the sea, when tossed by violent storms, does not remove the sand, which is so easily shifted? We hence see that this word is not in vain introduced. And there is a similar passage in Job 38:11, where God, speaking of his infinite power, says among other things,“
Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:”
for doubtless no storm arises, except when it pleases God. He might indeed keep the sea in the same quiet state; but he does not do so: on the contrary, he gives it as it were loose reins, but he says, “Hitherto shall it come.” When therefore high mountains seem to threaten all mortals, and the earth seems nigh an overthrow, then suddenly the impetuous waves are repressed and become calm.
And he adds, A perpetual ordinance It is indeed true that the sea sometimes overflows its limits; for many cities, we know, have been swallowed up by a flood; but still it is rightly said, that it is a perpetual ordinance or decree, that God confines the sea within its own limits. For whenever the sea overflows a small portion of land, we hence learn what it might do without that restraint, mentioned here by Jeremiah and in the book of Job. We hence learn, that there is nothing to hinder the sea from overflowing the whole earth, but the command of God which it obeys. In the mean time the perpetuity of which the Prophet speaks remains generally the same: for though many storms arise every year, yet the fury of the sea is still quieted, but not otherwise than by the command of God. True then is this — that the sea has prescribed limits, over which its waves are not permitted to pass. And hence he says, Move themselves and not prevail shall its waves; and again, Resound, or tumultuate shall they, and shall not pass over (150)
We now apprehend the design of this verse: God complains, that there was so much madness and stupidity in the people, that they did not obey him as much as the sea, even the stormy sea. He then condemns here the Jews, as though they were monsters; for nothing can be more contrary to nature than for the tempestuous sea to have more understanding than man, created in God’s image and endued with reason. He then adds —
(150) The reference seems to be to the decree or ordinance, and not to the boundary: therefore “transgress” is the most suitable word. I would render the verse thus, —
22. Should you not fear me? saith Jehovah; Ought you not at my presence to tremble? Who have set the sand a boundary to the sea. — An ordinance perpetual, and it transgresses it not; Though toss themselves and prevail not, and roar do its waves, Yet it does not transgress it.
The future tense in Hebrew may be often rendered subjunctively or potentially, and especially in questions. The non-transgressor is the sea — the non-transgressor of the decree, notwithstanding the tumult of its waves. “An ordinance perpetual” is rendered “ πρόσταγμα αἰώνιον — an everlasting command,” by the Septuagint, — “ praeceptum sempiternum — a sempiternal precept,“ by the Vulgate and the Targum, — and “ lege perpetua — by a perpetual law,“ by the Syriac. A perpetual ordinance is the version of Blayney. — Ed.
Here the previous verse is completed; for what is said here is connected with the question which we have noticed. But God now proves more clearly why he adduced what he said of the sea. The copulative ו , vau, is to be taken here as an adversative, and to be thus rendered, But this people have a perverse heart: for סורר , surer, means “ perverse; ” some render it “ revolting, “ but improperly; for it appears from many other passages that it is something more: besides, the other meaning is more suitable to the context here; for he says first, that the people had a perverse heart; (151) and then, that they had a rebellious or an untamable heart. He no doubt compares the obstinacy with the obedience of the sea, or sets one in contrast with the other, and conveys simply this truth, that there was more fury and stupidity in that people than in the raging sea.
And he proves that the people had a perverse heart by the effect; for they had fallen away and departed Had he said only that they had fallen away, the proof would not have been so complete; but by adding “departed, “he points out their obstinacy; as though he had said, that their corruption was permanent, like settled diseases, which can be healed by no remedies. They have then fallen away and departed; that is, “I could not bring them back.” God had indeed often tried by his servants to restore them to a right course; but their perverseness only discovered itself more and more, and shewed itself to be irreclaimable; for they departed, so that there was no prospect of repentance. It follows —
(151) It is true that the idea of perverseness is conveyed by this word; but it means one bent on turning away from God. To turn away, or to apostatize, is its primary meaning, as in the latter clause of this verse; but here it is a participle in a reduplicate form, which has ever an expansive meaning. It means here either a heart continually turning away from God, or a heart resolutely determined to turn away from him. The last seems to be the meaning, as it appears to correspond with the next line, —
But in this people has been a heart, Thoroughly revolting and disobedient; They have revolted and gone away.
When they turned away from God or revolted, they were remonstrated with and exhorted to return; but they disobeyed; hence their thorough revolt and their going away. — Ed.
The Prophet in other words proves here that the Jews had been justly charged with perverseness: he says, that it did not come to their minds, that they did not think, to fear God. We hence see that all that is said is designed to shew, that the people were no less senseless and stupid, than if they were lifeless elements; nay, that there was more stupidity and more furious madness in their hearts than in any created thing.
To say in the heart means in Hebrew to weigh, to consider. We should say in Latin, “It did not come to their minds,” ( non venit illis in mentem;) that is, “Have they not been so void of common sense, that this thought did not come to their minds, or did not occur to them, Let us fear the Lord? ” And here he takes away every pretense of ignorance, that they might not object and say, that they did not worship God through error or want of knowledge: “But ye had eyes,” he says, and ye had ears, and all the faculties belonging to men; God gave you rain; there has been no year in which the earth did not bring forth its fruit for you; when ye eat bread, does not the bounty of God occur to your minds? and yet ye consider not that he ought to be worshipped.” We hence see that he takes away every excuse for their ingratitude by saying, that they had been inattentive to those blessings, which were seen by the eyes, and felt by the hands, and touched by every part of the body. But of the rest we must speak to-morrow.
Inasmuch as hypocrites, according to what has been said before, often reply to God, and bring this and that objection, the Prophet here checks what they might have alleged; for he says that God’s beneficence had been restrained by them, and that it was indeed their fault that it did not flow to them. For they might have thus objected, “Thou indeed preachest well respecting God’s paternal bounty, because he supplies us with food; but the heat at one time burns our corn, the unseasonable rains at another time destroy our provisions: in a word, there is nothing certain, but all things are in a state of disorder.” That he might therefore obviate this objection, he says, that it was on account of their wickedness and depravity, that God did not so regulate every part of the year as to allow them to see with their eyes his continued bounty.
This passage is worthy of special notice: for God’s paternal favor does not so continually shine forth in our daily sustenance, but that many clouds intercept our view. Hence it is, that ungodly men think that the years are now barren and then fruitful through mere chance. We indeed see nothing so regulated in every respect in the world, that the goodness of God can be seen without clouds and obstructions: but we do not consider whence this confusion proceeds, even because we obstruct God’s access to us, so that his beneficence does not reach us. We throw heaven and earth into confusion by our sins. For were we in right order as to our obedience to God, doubtless all the elements would be conformable, and we should thus observe in the world an angelic harmony. But as our lusts tumultuate against God; nay, as we stir up war daily, and provoke him by our pride, perverseness, and obstinacy, it must needs be, that all things, above and below, should be in disorder, that the heavens should at one time appear cloudy, and that continuous rains should at another time destroy the produce of the earth, and that nothing should be unmixed and unstained in the world. This confusion then, in all the elements, is to be ascribed to our sins: and this is what is meant by the Prophet. Though indeed the reproof was then addressed to the Jews, we may yet gather hence a lesson of general instruction.
These two things are then both true, — that God is not without a testimony as to his beneficence, for he gives rain, he gives suitable seasons, he renders the earth fruitful, so as to supply us with food, — and also, that heaven and earth are often in great disorder, that many things happen unseasonably, as though God had no care for us, because we provoke him by our sins, and thus confound and subvert the order of nature. These two things then ought to be viewed as connected together: for in the ordinary course of nature we may see the inconceivable bounty of God towards mankind; but as to accidental evils, the cause ought to be considered, even this — because we do not allow God to govern the world in a regular and consistent order, but as far as we can we disturb and confound his providence. We hence see how suitably the Prophet has added this truth — that the iniquities of the people had turned away the beneficence of God. (153) It afterwards follows —
(153) There is a correspondence between the terms here used, and those in the last verse. Their iniquities had turned aside, or diverted from their right course, the appointed seasons; and their sins had restrained the good, the seasonable rain which had been given them. As it is commonly the case in the prophets, the last thing mentioned in the previous verse, is the first thing referred to here, and then what is antecedently mentioned. — Ed.
What the previous verse contains is here confirmed, — that the Jews, through their own fault, had deprived themselves of God’s favor. It was necessary to do this; for otherwise they would have had some answer to give, inasmuch as hypocrites, being so perverse, do not easily yield. Hence the Prophet confirms what he had said, — that there were wicked men among God’s people. But this ought not to be confined to some among them, as it is done by interpreters, who seem not to explain quite correctly what the Prophet meant. For he does not reprove or condemn some only; but he says that the people, whom God had chosen, were wicked It is then a general condemnation of the whole people, when he says, that there were found wicked men among God’s people; as though he had said, “The wicked are not to be sought among heathens, but iniquity so reigns among the elect people, that there is in them nothing sound, nothing pure.”
When he says found, I understand his meaning to be, found guilty, or convicted: for he means that their sins were not secret, so that they could escape by evasions; but he says that they were found, as thieves are found, according to a common saying, in the very act of stealing. The Prophet then intimates that there was no need of long dispute, as though the Jews could find out some excuse, for they were manifestly guilty. But it was much more disgraceful that they should be found wicked, than that the blind and unbelieving should be found so; for God had adopted them as his people on this condition — that holiness and purity of life should prevail among them. Since then they were not only sinners, but רשעים, reshoim, wholly impious and wicked, it was, as I have said, a far more atrocious thing. And thus he takes away from them every pretense for evasion.
He afterwards urges still farther his charge, and says, that every one looked, or espied, for this is the meaning of the verb שור, shur. He indeed changes the number, but the sense is not rendered thereby more obscure: and to look here, is to lie in wait. Then look, or lie in wait, did every one, as though they were laying snares as fowlers do. He then says, that they were furnished with snares, by which they dragged men into destruction, after having caught them. (154) What is particular is here mentioned for what is general: for the Prophet meant to shew that there was then no faithfulness nor integrity among the people, for every one by frauds and wicked crafts oppressed the simple. Since then they were so perfidious one towards another, he fitly compares them to fowlers, who by their snares entrap the simple birds: but he explains this more clearly in what follows —
(154) There is a grammatical difficulty connected with the word ישור The Septuagint, and the Syriac and the Arabic, omit the word, and the Vulgate renders it in the plural number, as if it was ישורו, which Blayney adopts. Venema renders it “upright” or just, and considers the root to be ישר and refers to Micah 7:4, when the upright is said to be “sharper than a thorn hedge,“ that is, such as were counted or ought to have been “upright.” The reference here is evidently to the judge, who assumed the office of an upright one. See Jeremiah 5:28. The literal version would then be as follows, —
For found among my people are the unjust; The upright is like the setter of snares; They have set up entrapping, Men they catch.
Thus all the parts correspond, and what is said corresponds with Jeremiah 5:28. The verb rendered “set up, “means to settle, to constitute, to establish; the office of the upright, that is, of the judge, was set up as an office for entrapping, he being like a setter of snares. The “unjust” among the people, as stated here, were the judges; the word, רשע is the perverter of justice, and stands in contrast with צדק, who acts justly. — Ed
Jeremiah goes on with the same subject. He made use, as we have said, of a similitude taken from fowling: he now applies this similitude to the Jews, — that their houses were full of fraud, as the cage (some render it basket (155)) is full of birds: for fowlers, when they go for game, carry with them either bags or cages or baskets. So then Jeremiah says, that they collected plunder on every side, so that their houses were full of frauds: but by fraud he means spoils, which they acquired by unjust means. It may at the first view seem an obscure language; but if we take the word מרמה, mereme, in a passive sense, there will be nothing ambiguous. The Prophet then does not use a language strictly correct when he says, that their houses were full of deceit or fraud; but they were full of spoils which they had acquired by deceit and fraud. Hence, what he means by fraud were the plunders by which they had become rich, as he afterwards explains.
We now perceive, that the meaning of the Prophet is, — that there was no longer a proof required, that the Jews circumvented the helpless and the poor, for their houses were filled with such spoils as made evident their wickedness: they had scraped together their riches by depriving the helpless and the poor of their substance. And hence he adds, By this have they increased and become rich It is probable that they gloried in their wealth, like thieves, whose trade is to plunder: for when they increased, they thought themselves raised above all danger. They were like courtiers, who by rapines and frauds and tyrannical violence, draw to themselves from all quarters the possessions of others, so that one got annually sixty thousands and another a hundred thousands; and then they became the more ferocious, because they thought that they could not be called to an account, being blinded by the splendor of their riches. But the Prophet here derides this besotted glorying, and says, “Behold, they are become great in the world, and they would have themselves to be on this account exalted;” increased have they, he says, and become rich; that is, “If any one will now search their houses, he will indeed find many things by which they make a display before the eyes of the simple; but they are nothing but rapines, plunders, frauds, spoils, thefts, and, in a word, robberies.” This is what he simply means. He afterwards adds —
(155) It is so rendered in Amos 8:1. This was no doubt a wicker-basket or cage for birds, to keep them, and not a trap-cage, as suggested by the Septuagint and Vulgate versions. The Targum is, “the house of feeding.” The comparison is between a cage full of birds, which had been caught by snares, nets, or traps, and houses filled with spoils, which had been procured by frauds. And were “full” rendered “filled, “as it might be, there would be no need of the metonymy supposed to be in the word “fraud,“ —
As the cage is filled with birds, So their houses are filled by means of fraud: Hence they have become great and grown rich.—
Here the Prophet reproves those who were high in dignity, station, and wealth, and who wished at the same time to be deemed inviolable, because they were the rulers of the people. He had spoken before generally, but now he assails the higher orders, the king’s counselors, the priests, the judges, and all endowed with authority. He says, that they were swoln with fatness, that they were shining, though they had exceeded, etc We see how he confirms what he had briefly referred to; for as they protected themselves under the pretense of being rich, that they might not be called to an account, he says, by way of concession, “I allow that ye are bright and splendid, and indeed that ye are all over gold; but whence is this splendor? whence is this specious appearance, which dazzles the eyes of the simple? Ye are bright, ye are fat, though ye have surpassed the words of the impious, that is, the ways, the doings, and the designs of the impious.” He means, in short, that it was of no avail to the wicked, that by their aspect they terrified people, that they gained great respect by their riches, and made men afraid of them: the Prophet admits that they had honors, wealth, splendor, repute, dignity, and such things; but he says, at the same time, Ye have surpassed all the doings of the wicked (156) And then he brings this charge against them, that they did not judge judgment
It hence appears that the Prophet was not dealing with the common people nor with private individuals; but that he openly and avowedly reproved the king’s court and the judges. “They judge not judgment, “he says; which means, that they had no care for executing justice, but suffered thefts and robberies to go unpunished: and he still enhances their guilt and says, They judge not the judgment of the fatherless Pity towards young orphans is often found in those who are otherwise cruel; for that age, especially when deprived of all protection, touches our feelings in a peculiar manner. Since then young orphans were plundered with impunity, and found no defense from the judges, their dishonesty appeared most glaringly.
And he says, that they yet prospered. He again repeats, by way of concession, what he had before intimated, — that it was a foolish and vain pretense, that they openly boasted of their wealth, honors, and fortunes. How is this, he says? They prosper; but yet they judge not the judgment of the poor, that is, they help not the poor, but dissemble and connive at all the wrongs done to them. We now then see that he exposes to view the wickedness of the people, so that not even the principal men should be able to hide themselves; for the Lord shews that they had wholly neglected their duties, and were even destitute of all humanity. It afterwards follows —
(156) Expounders differ as to the meaning of these words. They are partly omitted by the Septuagint and Syriac. The Vulgate is, “ et praeterierunt sermones meos pessime — and they have passed by my words very haughtily.” The Targum is a loose version, “They have also transgressed the words of the law, they have done what is evil.” Such meanings do not correspond with the context. The words literally are, “They have passed over (or, by) the words of wrong;” but as the term for “words” often means things, affairs, matters, the version may be, “matters of wrong,“ or wrong things. These “matters of wrong” are afterwards specified, as will be seen in the following version, —
28. They have become fat, they have shined: Moreover, they have passed by matters of wrong; The cause they have not defended — The cause of the orphan, yet have they prospered; And the right of the meek have they not pleaded.
The word “moreover,“ may be rendered “though,“ as Blayney does, (see Nehemiah 6:1 :) but the rest of the sentence is not so well rendered, —
Though they have gone beyond the claims of the wicked.
He conceived that the meaning is, that they granted to the wicked man more than he claimed, while they denied justice to the orphan and the poor. But what is more accordant with the words is, that he states here what he afterward specifies. It is not properly the “poor” who are meant, but the quiet, the humble: for the poor, strictly speaking, had not much to lose; hence the judges were not bribed to allow them to become a prey to dishonest men. — Ed.
He repeats what we have before noticed, so there is no need of an explanation. But the repetition is not without its use; for the Jews had become so torpid, that all reproofs and threatenings were regarded with indifference. Hence God rouses them with great vehemence, Shall I not, he says, visit for these things? He takes it for granted, that we ought to be fully persuaded, that he is the judge of the world. It is the proper office of a judge to punish the wicked, and also to relieve the helpless and the oppressed, and to check the audacity of those who allow themselves every liberty. God then reasons here from his own nature and office, as though he had said, “Since I am God, can I suffer so much impiety and wantonness to prevail unpunished among my people?” Then he adds —
On such a nation as this, shall not avenged be my soul?
God transfers here to himself, as we have said elsewhere, what does not strictly belong to him; but it is the same as though he had said, “There is no one among earthly judges so void of feeling as to bear such indignities; for when the judge sees that he is treated with contempt by the wicked, is he not provoked?” Avenged then shall be my soul; as though he said, that he is not so soft, or so slothful, or so careless, as not to take vengeance on such wanton contempt. It follows —
The Prophet, being not satisfied with the reproof which we have observed, speaks still more strongly against the wickedness of the people. He then says, that so deplorable was their state as to make all to feel amazed. A stupendous thing, he says, has happened, which exceeds all human conception, and cannot be comprehended. By the two words he uses, he intimates that the impiety of the people could not be expressed in words or could not be conceived by the mind; for it was a monstrous thing. This is the meaning. (157)
(157) The words literally are, —
Amazement and horribleness has been done in the land.
That is, what occasioned both had been done, or what ought to have filled all with the feeling of amazement and horror. — Ed.
Let us now see what was this monstrous thing which the Prophet here refers to, and which he abhorred. The prophets, he says, prophesy falsely It was no doubt enough to make all astonished, when these impostors assumed the name of prophets at Jerusalem, where God had chosen his habitation and his sanctuary: how great and how base a profanation was it of God’s name? There were indeed at that time impostors everywhere, who boasted that they were God’s prophets, who in many places passed as oracles the delusions of Satan; but to see the ministers of the devil in the very sanctuary of God, (which was then the only one in the world,) even in the very city where he had, as it has been said, his habitation and dwelling, was a monstrous thing, which ought to have made all men astonished. It is indeed a detestable thing under the Papacy, when monks and similar unprincipled men ascend the pulpit, and there most shamefully pretend that they are the true prophets of God, and faithful teachers; but still it would be doubly monstrous, were any among us to corrupt pure doctrine with their errors and infect the people with their superstitions. It was not then without reason that Jeremiah introduced his subject by saying, that it was an astonishing thing and hardly to be conceived, when prophets prophesied falsely
He then adds, Priests receive into their hands; so some render the words: but there may be a twofold meaning. Sampson is said in Jude 14:9, to have received into his hands honey from the lion, and the same verb is found there: but as it means also to rule, to govern, the exposition most suitable to this place is, — that the priests ruled by the means of the false prophets. At the same time, if any one takes the other view, — that the priests received into their hands, that is, that they gathered and accumulated gifts from all quarters, the meaning would not be unsuitable. (158)
However this may be, the Prophet evidently shews that there was a mutual collusion between the false prophets and the priests. The false prophets, he says, deceive the people by their flatteries, and what do the priests? It was their duty to oppose them: they receive, he says, into their hands; that is, they are satisfied, for they see that these fallacies bring gain to them, and therefore they easily assent to what is taught by the false prophets. The same thing is to be seen at this day under the Papacy: the monks flatter the people and prop up the whole system of Popery; and hence these unprincipled men call themselves the chariots of the Pope; for the Pope is carried as it were on four wheels — the four mendicant orders. And this they boast, when they wish to shew what adepts they are in lying. The Pope then is carried by the four wheels of the mendicants. We see how he has honored and daily honors these mendicants with privileges, and why? Because they prop up his tyranny. Such was at that time the state of the people; the priests took their prey, and the false prophets snatched also a part of it, like these hungry dogs at this day; who yet do not act so oppressively as the Pope: they lick as it were his seat, like dogs; while he and his mitered bishops devour the fattest spoils. The meaning then, that they received into their hands, is not unsuitable.
But when we consider the main drift of the passage, it is more in harmony with it to say, that the priests ruled by their means; for without the false prophets they could not have retained their influence over the people; they must have been repudiated by them all. Since then they ruled by their means, there was a mutual collusion between them.
He then adds, And my people have wished it to be so The common people, no doubt, exculpated themselves, as they do at this day, who hold forth this excuse as their shield, “O, we are not learned, we have never been in school, and what can we do but to follow our bishops?” Thus, then, at this day, the lower orders, the multitude, seek to cast off every blame from themselves. But the Prophet says here, that the people loved to have things so. And, doubtless, we shall find that to be ever true which is said in Deuteronomy 13:3, that when false prophets come, it is for the purpose of trying God’s people, whether they from the heart love God. It is then his object to try our religion, whenever he gives loose reins to impostors and false prophets: for every one who truly loves God will be preserved by his Spirit from being led away by such deceivers. When, therefore, ignorant men are deluded, it is certain that they are justly punished for their neglect and contempt of God, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to his service; yea, because they have wished for impostors, according to what has been also often said by the monks, “The world wishes to be deceived, let it be deceived in the name of the devil.” These impostors have become so shameless, as to boast that they are the ministers of Satan to deceive men. However, that common saying has been found true; for the world is never deceived except with its own consent, and willingly; for those who are the most ignorant close their eyes against clear light, and shun God as much as they can, and seek to hide themselves in darkness, according to what Christ says,“
Whosoever committeth sin hateth the light.” (John 3:20)
The Prophet adds in the last place, And what will ye do at last, or at the end of it? Some omit the pronoun ה, he; and others apply it to the false prophets and the priests; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, refers to Jerusalem, What will ye do at the end of it? For we know that as Jerusalem had been founded by God’s hand, and while it had him as its protector and guardian, it was safe; but this was a false confidence, when they despised God and gloried in their wickedness. What, then, he says, will ye do at the end of it? as though he had said, “You deceive yourselves, if you think that this city will be perpetual; for its overthrow is nigh at hand: what then will ye do, when the city itself shall bc destroyed, except that you shall be all destroyed together with it?” (159)
(158) The Septuagint and the Vulgate have, “And the priests have applauded with their own hands;” and the Targum, “ And the priests have helped their hands.” Both mean the same thing, though the words are different: and Blayney gives the same meaning, “And the priests have concurred with them.” Horsley says that the words literally are, “And the priests go down according to their hands;” that is, he adds, “the priests go which way their bands permit; i.e., the priests are directed by them.” Though the points lead us to regard ירדו as future from רדה, to bear rule; yet the context requires it to be in the past tense, as the previous verb is so, and that which follows: and therefore it must be ירד, to come down, to descend. When followed by על, as here, the preposition never means “according to,“ as Horsley renders it, but ever, upon, toward or against, and mostly “upon.” See Exodus 9:19; Numbers 11:9; Psalms 7:16; Psalms 72:6. Therefore the literal rendering is this, —
And the priests have descended upon their hands.
An idiomatic expression, which seems to mean, that the priests assisted the prophets, according to what is expressed by the Targum. “ Hand” signify labor, efforts; the priests joined their efforts to those of the prophets. To “concur with them” is too feeble: the line may be rendered, —
And the priests have aided them.—
(159) The “it” refers rather to the “strange and horrible thing” which had been done in the land, —
But what will ye do at the end of it?
That is, when this dreadful thing shall come to an end, when the prophets, encouraged by the priests and approved by the people, shall be found liars, what then shall you do? The Septuagint render the last words by “ μετὰ ταῦτα — after these things,“ referring evidently to the particulars just mentioned, the acts of the prophets, priests, and people: but the same thing is meant. Then in the next chapter he reminds them of the approaching destruction, which the false prophets denied. — Ed
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12