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Here the Prophet gives a short account of the sermon, in which he severely reproved the people, because his labor had been useless, though he had sharply and severely reproved them. He says then, that he had a command from above to stand at the gate of the Temple. This was indeed usually done by the prophets: but God seems to have intended that this reproof should be heard by all. He says further, that he was commanded to address the whole tribe of Judeah
It is hence probable, and what may be easily concluded, that this discourse was delivered on a feast — day, when there was the usual assembly of the people. He could not indeed have made this address on other days; for then the inhabitants of the city only frequented the Temple. But on the feast — days they usually came from the neighboring towns and from the whole country to celebrate God’s rightful worship, which had been prescribed in the law. Since then Jeremiah addressed the whole tribe of Judah, we hence conclude, that he spoke not only to the inhabitants of the city, but also to the whole tribe, which came together to keep the feast — day.
Now the object of his sermon was, to exhort them seriously to repent, if they wished God to be reconciled to them. So the Prophet shews, that God did not regard their sacrifices and external rites, and that this was not the way, as they thought, of appeasing him. For after they had celebrated the feast, every one returned home, as though they all, after having made an expiation, had God propitious to them. The Prophet shews here, that the way of worshipping God was very different, which was to reform their lives.
Make good, he says, your ways and your doings, then will I dwell in this place (189) This promise contains an implied contrast; for the Prophet intimates, that the people would not long survive, unless they sought in another way to pacify God. “I will dwell, “he seems to say, — in this place, when your life is changed.” It then follows on the other hand, “God will drive you into exile, except you change your life: in vain then do you seek a quiet and happy state through offering your sacrifices. God indeed esteems as nothing this external worship, except it be preceded by inward sincerity, unless integrity of life accompanies your profession.” This is one thing.
Then the Prophet comes closer to them when he says, Trust ye not in words of falsehood. For had not this been expressly said, the Jews might, according to their usual way, have found out some evasion: “Have we then lost all our labor in celebrating our festivals with so much diligence, in leaving our homes and families to present ourselves before God? We have spared no expense, we have brought sacrifices and spent our money; and is all this of no value before God?” For hypocrites always magnify their trumperies, as we find in the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, where they expostulated with God, as though he were unkind to them, “We have from day to day sought the Lord.” To this the Lord answered, “In vain ye seek me from day to day and search for my ways.” Hence the Lord disregarded that diligence with which hypocrites sought to render him propitious without real sincerity of heart. It is for the same purpose that the Prophet now adds, Trust ye not, etc. It is an anticipation in order to prevent them from making their usual objection, “What then? Has the Temple been built in vain?” But he says, “Is not God worshipped here in vain? They are words of falsehood, when religious sincerity is absent.”
We hence see that external rites are here repudiated, when men seek in a false way to gain favor before God, and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse. This truth might be enlarged upon, but as it often occurs in the prophets, I only notice it shortly. It is enough to regard the main point, — that while the Jews were satisfied with the Temple, the ceremonies and the sacrifices, they were self — deceivers, for their boasting was fallacious: “the words of falsehood” are to be taken as meaning that false and vain glorying in which the Jews indulged, while they sought to ward off God’s vengeance by external rites, and at the same time made no effort to return into favor by ameliorating their life.
With regard to the expressions The Temple, etc., some explain them thus, — they were “words of falsehood, “when they said that they came to the Temple; and so the supplement is, “when they said that they came, “for the pronoun demonstrative is plural. (190) Hence they understand this of the people; not that the Jews called themselves the Temple of God, but that they boasted that they came to the Temple and there worshipped God. But I rather agree with others, who explain this of the three parts of the Temple. There was, we know, the court, then the Temple, and, lastly, the interior part, the Holy of holies, where was the Ark of the Covenant. The prophets often speak of the Temple only; but when they spoke distinctly of the form of the Temple, they mentioned the court, as I have said, where the people usually offered their sacrifices, and then the holy place, into which the priests entered alone; and, lastly, the secret place, which was more hidden, and was called the Holy of holies. It seems then that this passage of the Prophet is to be understood as meaning that the people said that the court, the Temple, and the interior part, were the Temples of God, as though they had a triple Temple.
But we must observe the design of the Prophet, which interpreters have omitted. The Prophet then made this repetition especially, because the Temple was as it were a triple defense to hypocrites, like a city, which, when surrounded, not by one, but by three walls, is deemed impregnable. Since, then, the Jews exalted their Temple, consisting of three parts, it was the same as they set up a triple wall or a triple rampart against God’s judgments! “We are invincible; how can enemies come to us? how can any calamity reach us? God dwells in the midst of us, and here he has his habitation, and not one and single fort, but a triple fort; he has his court, his Temple, and his Holy of holies.” We now then understand why the Prophet made this repetition, and used also the plural number.
Trust ye not in those who speak falsehood, saying, —
The Temple of Jehovah, the Temple of Jehovah, The Temple of Jehovah, are these.
The Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Arabic, have “the Temple of the Lord” only twice, and the verb is in the singular number, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord it is.” The verb is the same in the Vulgate, only the words, as in Hebrew, and also in the Targum, are repeated thrice. The paraphrase of the latter is rather singular, — “Trust not in the words of the prophets of falsehood, who say, Before the Temple of the Lord ye worship, before the Temple of the Lord ye sacrifice, before the Temple of the Lord ye offer praise; three times a year ye appear before him.”
“These” mean, as Gataker thinks, these places or buildings; and Lowth and Blayney think the same. The repetition seems to denote the frequency with which the Jews used the words: they continually boasted of having God’s Temple among them. “The Prophet,“ says Henry, “repeats it, because they repeated it upon all occasions. It was the cant of the times. If they heard an awakening sermon, they lulled themselves asleep again with this, ‘We cannot but do well, for we have the Temple of the Lord among us.’ It is common for those that are farthest from God to boast themselves most of their being near to the Church.” — Ed.
Interpreters do not agree as to the meaning of this passage. Some render כי אם, ki am, “But rather, “or, “But.” I indeed allow that it is so taken in many places; but they are mistaken who read כי אם, ki am, as one word; for the Prophet, on the contrary, repeats what he had said, and that is, that God would not be propitious to the Jews except their life proved that they had really repented. The words are sometimes taken as one in Hebrew, and mean “but;” yet in other places they are often taken as separate words, as we found in the second chapter, “Though thou washest thyself with nitre;” and for the sake of emphasis the particle “surely, “is put before “though.” But in this place the Prophet simply means, that the Jews were deceived in seeking to prescribe a law for God according to their own will, as it belongs only to him either to approve or to reject their works. And this meaning is confirmed by the latter part of the verse, for we read not there כי אם, ki am, but אם, am; “ If by doing ye shall do judgment;” and then in the same form he adds, “If ye will not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow;” and at last he adds, “Then (a copulative I allow is here, but it is to be taken as an adverb) I will make you to dwell in this place.”
The purport of the whole is, — that sacrifices are of no importance or value before God, unless those who offer them wholly devote themselves to God with a sincere heart. The Jews sought to bind God as it were by their own laws: he shews that he was thus impiously put under restraint. He therefore lays down a condition, as though he had said, “it belongs to me to prescribe to you what is right. Away, then, with your ceremonies, by which ye think to expiate your sins; for I regard them not, and esteem them as nothing.” What then is to be done? He now shews then, “If you will rightly order your life, ye shall dwell in this place.”
For yesterday the Prophet exhorted the people to repent; and he employed the sentiment which he now repeats. He commanded the people to come to God with an upright and pure mind; he afterwards added another sentence, “Trust not in words of falsehood, saying, The Temple of the Lord, “etc. He now again repeats what he had said, “If ye will make your ways good.” He shews now more clearly that no wrong was done to the people when God repudiated their ceremonies; for he required a pure heart, and external rites without repentance are vain and useless. This then is what the Prophet had in view: “Though God seems to treat you with great severity, he yet promises to be kind to you, if you order your lives according to his law: is this unjust? Can the condition which is proposed to you by God be liable to any calumnies, as though God treated you cruelly!” This then is the meaning of the Prophet.
If ye will make good your ways, that is, if your life be amended; and if ye will do judgment, etc. He now comes to particulars; and first he addresses the judges, whose duty it was to render to every one his right, to redress injuries, to pronounce what was just and right when any contention arose. If then, he says, ye will do justice between a man and his neighbor, that is, if your judgments be right, without favor or hatred, and if no bribes lead you from what is right and just, while pronouncing judgment on a case between a man and his brother.
Then he adds, if ye will not oppress the stranger and the orphan and the widow This also belonged to the judges: but God no doubt shews here generally, that injustice greatly prevailed among the people, as he condemns the cruelty and perfidy of the judges themselves.
As to strangers and orphans and widows, they are often mentioned; for strangers as well as orphans and widows were almost destitute of protection, and were subject to many wrongs, as though they were exposed as a prey. Hence, whenever a right government is referred to, God mentions strangers and orphans and widows; for it might hence be easily understood of what kind was the public administration of justice; for when others obtain their right, it is no matter of wonder, since they have advocates to defend their cause, and they have also the aid of friends. Thus every one who defends his own cause, obtains at least some portion of his right. But when strangers and orphans and widows are not unjustly dealt with, it is an evidence of real integrity; for we may hence conclude, that there is no respect of persons among the judges. But as this subject has been handled elsewhere, I only touch on it lightly here.
And if ye will not shed, he says, innocent blood in this place Here the Prophet accuses the judges of a more heinous crime, and calls them murderers. They had, however, no doubt some plausible pretences for shedding the blood of the innocent. But the Prophet, speaking here in the name of God and by the dictates of his Spirit, overlooks all these as altogether vain, though the judges might have thought them sufficient excuses. By saying, in this place, he shews how foolish was their confidence in boasting of God’s worship, sacrifices, and Temple, while yet they had polluted the Temple with their cruel murders. (191)
He then passes to the first table of the law, If ye will not walk after foreign gods to your evil By stating a part for the whole, he condemns every kind of impiety: for what is it to walk after alien gods but to depart from the pure and legitimate worship of the true God and to corrupt it with superstitions? We see then what the Prophet means: he recalls the Jews to the duty of observing the law, that they might thereby give a veritable evidence of their repentance: “Prove, “he says, “that you have repented from the heart.” He shews how they were to prove this, even by observing the law of God. And, as I have said, he refers to the first Table by stating a part for the whole. As to the second Table, he mentions some particulars which were intended to shew that they violated justice and equity, and also that cruelty and perfidiousness, frauds and rapines, prevailed greatly among them.
Then follows the latter part, Then I will make you to dwell, (192) etc. God sets this clause in opposition to the false confidence of the people, as though he had said, “Ye wish me to be propitious to you; but mock me not by offering sacrifices without sincerity of heart, without a devout feeling; be consistent; and think not that I am pacified by you, when ye come to the Temple with empty display, and pollute your sacrifices with impure hands. I therefore do not allow this state of things; but if ye come on the condition of returning into favor with me, then I will make you to dwell in this place and in the land which I gave to your fathers.” The last part of the verse, from age to age, ought to be connected with the verb, “I will make you to dwell, “ שכנתי, shekanti, “I will make you to dwell from age to age, “that is, As your fathers dwelt formerly in this land, so shall you remain quiet in the same, and there shall be to you a peaceable possession; but not in any other place. We must bear in mind the contrast which I noticed yesterday; for he indirectly denounces exile on the Jews, because they had contaminated the land by their vices, and gloried only in their sacrifices. It now follows —
He again teaches what we observed yesterday, — that the glorying of the Jews was foolish, while they boasted of the Temple and of their sacrifices to God. He calls their boastings the words of falsehood, as we have explained, because they wholly turned to a contrary end what God had instituted. It was his will that sacrifices should be offered to him in the Temple — to what purpose? To preserve unity of faith among the whole people. And sacrifices, what was their design? To shew the people that they deserved eternal death, and also that they were to flee to God for mercy, there being no other expiation but the blood of Christ. But there was no repentance, they were not sorry for their sins; nay, as we shall presently see, they took liberty to indulge more in them on account of their ceremonies, which yet ought to have been the means of leading them to repentance. They were then the words of falsehood when they separated the signs from their ends. The reality and the sign ought indeed to be distinguished the one from the other; but it is an intolerable divorce, when men lay hold on naked signs and overlook the reality. There was in the sacrifices the reality which I have now mentioned: they were reminded by the spectacle that they were worthy of eternal death; and then, they were to exercise penitence, and thus to flee to God’s mercy. As there was no account made of Christ, no care for repentance, no sorrow for sins, no fear of God, no humility, it was an impious separation of what ought to have been united.
We now then more clearly see why the Prophet designates as words of falsehood, that false glorying in which hypocrites indulge, in opposition to God, when they would have him satisfied with naked ceremonies. Hence he adds, that they were words that could not profit, as though he had said, “As ye seek to trifle with God, so he will also frustrate your design.” It is indeed certain that they dealt dishonestly with God, when they attempted to satisfy his judgment by frigid ceremonies. He therefore shews that a reward was prepared for them; for they would at length find, that no fruit would come from their false dealings. It follows —
The meaning seems to be suspended in the first verse, when he says, Whether to steal, to kill, and to commit adultery, etc.; but there is nothing ambiguous in the passage. For though there is something abrupt in the words, we yet infer this to be the meaning, “Will you steal, “etc.? Verbs in the infinitive mood, we know, are often to be considered as verbs in the future tense: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, burn incense to Baal, “etc.? The Prophet shews how foolishly the Jews sought to make an agreement with God, so that they might with impunity provoke him by their many vices. When they entered the Temple, they thought him to be under a necessity to receive them, as though that was a proper reconciliation. But the Prophet exposes this folly. For what can be more absurd than that God should allow men to commit murders, thefts, and adulteries, with impunity? Hypocrites do not in words express this; but when they make external ceremonies a sort of expiation, and seek by such means to bury their sins, do they not make God their associate? Do they not make him a partaker, as it were, with them, when they would have him to cover their adulteries? When they take sacrifices from their plunders, to expiate their crimes, do they not make him a participator in their robberies? The Prophet, therefore, plainly condemns hypocrites in this place, because they acted most contumeliously towards God, in implicating him in their own vices, as though he was the associate of thieves, murderers, and adulterers.
Will you steal, he says, and then, will you kill, commit adultery, and swear falsely? These four sins are against the Second Table, in which God forbids us to steal, to kill, to commit adultery, and to deceive our neighbors by false swearing. These four vices are mentioned, in order that the Prophet might shew that all the duties of love were wholly disregarded by the Jews. He then adds things which belong to the First Table, even the offering of incense to Baal, and the walking after alien gods, which yet were unknown to them. By these two clauses he proves their impiety. He mentions one kind of idolatry, — that they offered incense to Baal. The Prophets often refer in the plural number to Baalim, regarded by the Jews as advocates, by whose intercession, as they thought, they gained favor with God; as the case is at this day under the Papacy, whose Baalim are angels and dead men: for they regard them not as gods, but think that by employing these as advocates they conciliate God, and obtain his favor. Such was the superstition which prevailed among the Jews. But the Prophet here includes all idols under the word Baal. There is afterwards a general complaint, — that God was neglected, and that they had perfidiously departed from him, for they walked after alien gods; and he exaggerates the crime by saying that they were unknown
The Prophet, no doubt, intimates here a contrast with the sure knowledge, which is the basis of true religion: for God had given evident proofs of his glorious power by many miracles, when the Israelites were redeemed; and he had afterwards confirmed the same by many blessings; and the law had been proclaimed, accompanied with many signs and wonders. (Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 5:22.) Hence the Jews could not have pleaded involuntary error, for after so many proofs there could have been no excuse on the ground of ignorance. Now, as to alien gods, how came they to know that they were gods? There was no proof, they had no reason to believe them to be so. We hence see how grievously wicked were the Jews; for they had departed from the worship of the true God, who had made himself known to them by many miracles, and who had confirmed the authority of his law, so that it could not be questioned, and they had gone after unknown gods!
The Prophet now adds, Ye come, that is, after ye have allowed yourselves to steal, and to murder, and to commit adultery, and to corrupt the whole worship of God, — at last, Ye come and stand before me in this temple. God proceeds with the same subject; for it was not only his purpose in this place to condemn the Jews as murderers, and thieves, and adulterers, but he proceeds farther, even to shew their shameless effrontery in coming with an unblushing front and entering the Temple, as though they were the true worshippers of God. “What do you mean, “he says, “by this? Ye bring with you murders, and thefts, and adulteries, and abominable filth; ye are contaminated with the most disgraceful things: by and bye ye enter the Temple, and think that you are at liberty to do anything.” Similar is the language we find in the first chapter of Isaiah, verses 12 and 15 (Isaiah 1:12): God complains there that they trod the pavement of his Temple, and brought hands polluted with blood. So also in this place, Ye come, he says, intimating his detestation, and ye stand before me in this Temple Though God was not inclosed in that Temple, yet we know that the Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of his presence. Hence, we often meet in the law with this expression, “Ye shall stand before me.” Here then, God shews that it was a detestable and monstrous thing, that the Jews dared to rush into his presence, when polluted and contaminated with so many vices.
And he adds, In this house, on which is called my name, that is, which has been dedicated to me; for to call God’s name on the Temple, means nothing else, but that the Temple was consecrated to him, so that he was there worshipped. When God is truly worshipped, they who seek him find that he himself is present by his grace and power. As then God had commanded the Temple to be built for him, that he might there be worshipped, he says his name was there called, that is, according to its first and sacred appointment. Absurdly indeed did the Jews call on his name, for there was in them no religion, no piety: but according to God’s institution, his name was called upon in the Temple, as he had consecrated it to himself. Hence God reminds them of the first institution, which was holy and ought to have continued inviolable: “Know ye not, that this place has been chosen by me, that my name might be there invoked? Ye stand before me in the holy place, and ye stand polluted; and though polluted, not with one kind of vices, but my whole law has been violated by you, and my Tables despised, ye yet stand!” We hence see the design of the Prophet: for he condemns the effrontery and frowardness of the Jews, because they thus dared to rush into God’s presence in all their pollutions.
And ye say, he adds, that is, while standing in the Temple; ye say, O, we are freed to do all these abominations; that is, “Ye think that the Temple is a covert for you to hide all your vices; and so ye think, that you have escaped from my hand, as though no account is any more to be made of your sins, my Temple being regarded by you as an asylum, under whose shade ye take shelter.” It is indeed certain, that the Jews did not thus speak; for had they been asked whether their life was abominable, they would have denied it to be so. He speaks of the fact itself, and he speaks in the person of God, and according to his command. He therefore condemns hypocrites for thinking themselves freed, because they came to the Temple, and for thinking that all those abominations which he had mentioned, their impiety towards God and their injustice towards their neighbors, would be unpunished. (193)
8.Behold, ye trust in words of falsehood to no profit, —
9.The thief, murderer, and adulterer, And the false swearer and incense-burner to Baal, And the walker after foreign gods, Whom ye have not known;
10.And ye come and stand before me In this house, on which is called my name, And ye say, “We are freed To do all these abominations,”
And ye say, “He has made us free To do all these abominations.”
Blayney, following the Syriac, has rendered the words, —
And say, Deliver us, that we may practice all these abominations.
But what is most consistent with the passage is to consider the sentence as declarative, and not as a prayer. They considered themselves freed from guilt when they had offered their sacrifices. They thought themselves then at liberty to be immoral and also to be idolatrous. We might think such a state of blindness and infatuation impossible; but it has existed among those calling themselves Christians, and it exists now. Gataker mentions a common saying among ignorant Papists of the same import with what is said here, “We must sin to be shriven, and shriven to sin.” The turning of the grace of God into lasciviousness is the same thing. — Ed.
He afterwards adds, Is this house, which is called by my name, a den of robbers? This is the conclusion of the passage, which contains an amplification of their vices. For the Prophet had allowed the Jews to form a judgment, as though he had been discussing an obscure or doubtful subject, “Behold, be ye yourselves judges in your own case; is it right for you to steal, to murder, and to commit adultery? and then to come into this Temple, and to boast that impunity is granted to you as to all your evils?” This indeed ought to have been enough; but as the obstinacy and stupor of the Jews were so great, that they would not have given way without being most fully and in various ways proved guilty, the Prophet adds this sentence, Is this house, which is called by my name, a den of robbers? that is, “Have I chosen this place for myself, that ye might worship me, in order that ye might be more licentious than if there was no religion? For what purpose is religion? Is it not that men may by this bridle restrain themselves, that they may not be libertines? For surely the worship and fear of God are the directors of equity and justice. Now, would it not be better to have no Temple and no sacrifices, than that men should take more liberty to sin by making their ceremonies as an excuse? Away then with your ceremonies: conscience shews that it is a wretched thing to oppress or injure a neighbor; all are constrained by common sense to own that adultery is a filthy and a detestable thing; and men think the same of rapines and murders. As to superstitions, when they are seen as such, all are constrained to allow the worship of God ought to be preserved in its purity. Well then, had there been no Temple among you, this truth must have been impressed on your minds, — that God ought to be worshipped in purity. Now, because the Temple has been built at Jerusalem, because ye offer sacrifices there, ye are thieves, ye are adulterers, ye are murderers; and ye think that I am in some sort blind, that I am no longer the avenger of so many and of such atrocious evils. A den of robbers then is my house become to you.” But this sentence is to be read interrogatively, “Can it be, that this Temple, this sanctuary, is become a den of robbers?” (194)
But we must consider the import of the comparison: Robbers, though they are most audacious and wholly savage, do not yet dare openly to use their sword; they dare not kill helpless men. Why? they fear the punishment allotted to them by the laws; they are cautious. But when they seize on men in some hidden place, then they take more liberty in their robberies; they kill men, and then take their property. We hence see that dens and hidden places have in them more safety for robbers. The comparison then is most suitable, when the Prophet says that the Jews made the Temple of God the den of robbers: for had there been no Temple, some integrity might have remained, secured by the common feeling of men. But when they covered their baseness with sacrifices, they thought that they thus escaped all judgment.
And hence, Christ applied this prophecy to his time; for the Jews had even then profaned the Temple. Though they presumptuously and falsely called on God’s name, they yet sought the Temple as an asylum for impurity. This folly Christ exposed, as the Prophet had done.
He afterwards adds, Even I, behold I see, saith Jehovah Jeremiah here no doubt touches ironically on the false confidence with which the Jews deceived themselves: for hypocrites seem to themselves to know whatever is necessary. And hence also it is, that as they think themselves to be acute, they are bolder and more presumptuous in contriving deceitful schemes, by which they seek to delude God and men. And hence the Prophet here tauntingly touches them to the quick, by intimating that they wished to make God as it were blind, Even I, behold I see, he says. It would not yet be sufficiently evident how emphatical the phrase is, were it not for a similar passage in Isaiah 29:15,
“I also am wise.” The Prophet had said, “Woe to the crafty and the wise, who have dug pits for themselves.”
He there condemns ungodly men, who thought that they could somehow by their falsehoods deceive God; which seems to be and is monstrous: and yet it is an evil which commonly prevails among men. For hardly a man in a hundred can be found who does not seek coverings to hide himself from the eyes of God. This is the case especially with courtiers and clever men, who assume to themselves so much clear-sightedness, that God sees nothing in comparison with them. The Lord therefore, by Isaiah, gives this answer, “I also am wise: if ye are wise, allow me at least some portion of wisdom, and think not that I am altogether foolish.” So also in this place, “Before my eyes, this house is made a den of robbers;” that is, “If there be any sense in you, does it not appear evident that you have made a den of robbers of my Temple? and can I be yet blind? If you think that you are very clear-sighted, I also do see, saith the Lord.”
We hence see what force there is in the particle גם, gam, also, and in the pronoun אנכי, anoki, I, and in הנה , ene, behold; for these three words are heaped together, that God might shew that he was not unobservant, when the people so audaciously ran headlong into all kinds of vices, and sought by their falsehoods to cover his eyes, that he might not see anything. (195)
The words “Which is called by my name,“ are literally, “Which called is my name upon it,“ an idiomatic mode of speaking, with which the Welsh exactly corresponds, —
(lang. cy) Yr hwn y gelwir fy enw arno.
The pronoun relative without a preposition is afterwards followed by a pronoun substantive with a preposition prefixed. — Ed.
I also, behold, seen have I, saith Jehovah.
That is, He had seen all they did. If anything be put after “seen,“ it should be “these things,“ and not “it;” for the reference is to the particulars before mentioned. See Psalms 10:14; Ezekiel 8:12. — Ed.
The Prophet confirms by an example what he said yesterday, — that the Jews deceived themselves in thinking that they were covered by the shadow of the Temple, while yet they disclosed themselves, and when the whole world were witness of their impious rebellion. He therefore mentions what had before happened. The Ark of the Covenant, as it is well known, had long rested in Shiloh. Now the Temple did not excel in dignity on its own account, but on account of the Ark of the Covenant and the altar. It was indeed splendidly adorned; but the holiness of the Temple was derived from the Ark of the Covenant, the altar, and the sacrifices. This Ark had been in Shiloh. (196) Hence Jeremiah shews how foolish were the Jews in being proud, because they had among them the Ark of the Covenant and the altar, for the first place, where sacrifices had been offered to God, was not preserved in safety. This is the import of the whole.
But he did not in vain say, Even go to Shiloh The כי, ki, here, though commonly a causal particle, seems to be taken as explanatory. If yet it be viewed only as an affirmative, I do not object, “Well, go to Shiloh.” But the language in this case is ironical, “Ye glory in the Temple; forsooth! go to Shiloh.” And God calls it his place — my place, in order that the Jews might understand that it had nothing superior in itself. The Ark of the Covenant had indeed been removed into Mount Sion, and there God had chosen a perpetual habitation for himself; but the other place was superior as to antiquity. This is the reason why he calls it “my place, “and adds, Where I made my name to dwell, that is, where I designed the Ark to be: for the Ark of the Covenant and the altar, with all their furniture, were properly the name of God; nor was it by chance that all the tribes had placed the Ark in Shiloh; but it was God’s will to be there worshipped for a time. Hence he says, that the place was sacred before Jerusalem; and therefore he says at the first, בראשונה, berashune; that is, the Shilomites are not only equal with you, but antiquity brings them a greater honor: if then a comparison is made, they excel you as to what is ancient.
See, he says, what I did to that place for the iniquity of my people Israel. He calls here Israel his people, not for honor’s sake, but that he might again remind the Jews that they were only equal to the Israelites; and yet that it profited all the tribes nothing, that they were wont to assemble there to worship God. (197) For when we reason from example, we must always see that there be no material difference. Jeremiah then shews that the Israelites were equal to the Jews, and that if the Jews claimed a superiority, the claim was neither just nor right, for Israel were also the people of God, inasmuch as it was God’s will to fix there the Ark of the Covenant, that sacrifices might be there offered to him; and then antiquity was in its favor, for it was a holy place before it was known that God had chosen Mount Sion as a situation for his Temple.
Hence he draws this conclusion, Now, then, as ye have done all these works, that is, as ye have become like the Israelites, therefore, etc. But he first amplifies their crime, — that they had not only imitated the wickedness of the twelve tribes, but had also perversely despised all warnings, I spake to you, he says, and rose up early By this metaphor he intimates, that he was as solicitous for preserving the kingdom of Judah, as parents are wont to be for the safety of their children: for as a father rises early to see what is necessary for his family, so also God says, that he rose early, inasmuch as he had been assiduous in exhorting them. He appropriates to his own person what properly belonged to his prophets: but as he had roused them by his Spirit and employed them in their work, he justly claims to himself whatever he had done by them as his instruments: and it was an exaggeration of their guilt, that they were slothful, nay, stupid, when God sedulously labored for their safety.
He adds, I spoke, and ye heard not; I cried to you, and ye did not answer, he inveighs more at large against their hardness; for had he only once warned them, some pretense might have been made; but as God, by rising early every day, labored to restore them to himself, and as he had not only employed instruction, but also crying, (for by crying he doubtless means exhortations and threatenings, which ought to have produced greater effect upon them,) there appeared in this contumacy the highest degree of mad audacity. The meaning is, — that God had tried all means to restore the Jews to a sound mind, but that they were wholly irreclaimable; for he had called them not only once, but often; and he had also endued his prophets with power to labor strenuously in the discharge of their office: he had not only shewed by them what was useful and necessary, but he had cried, that is, had employed greater vehemence, in order to correct their tardiness. Since then God, in using all these means, could effect nothing, what remained for them was miserably to perish, as they willfully sought their own destruction.
Therefore, he says, I will do to this house, which is called by my name, etc. He anticipates, no doubt, all objections, as though he had said, “I know what you will say, — that this place is sacred to God, that his name is invoked here, and that sacrifices are here offered: all these things, he says, are alleged to no purpose, for in Shiloh also was his name invoked, and he dwelt there. Though then ye foolishly trust in this place, it shall not yet escape that judgment which happened to the former place.” He adds, which I gave to you and to your fathers Be it so; for this is to be considered as a concession; and at the same time objections are anticipated, in order that the Jews might understand that it availed them nothing, that God had chosen to build his sanctuary on Mount Sion; for the object was to promote religion. But as the place was converted to a wholly different purpose, and as God’s name was there shamefully profaned, he says, “Though I gave this place to you and your fathers, yet nothing better shall be its fate than the fate of Shiloh.” (198) It follows —
13.And now, as ye have done all these doings, saith Jehovah, And as I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, And ye have not hearkened, And I have called you, and ye have not answered;
14.I will also do to the house, On which my name is called, In which ye trust, and to the place, Which I gave to you and to your fathers, According to what I did to Shiloh:
“The house” was the Temple, “the place” was the city: both are threatened with destruction. Then he says in the next verse, “And I will cast you from my presence.” The Temple and the city were to be destroyed like Shiloh; and they (“you”) were to be dealt with as their brethren, the ten tribes, who had been driven into exile. — Ed.
He concludes the former verse. The Prophet had indeed sufficiently explained himself; but this confirmation was necessary for a people so refractory. He then alleges nothing new, but only shews that there would be no defense to his own people against God’s vengeance any more than to the Israelites: and hence he now calls them their brethren, as he had previously said that they were his people; for the state of the ten tribes was the same, until it had pleased God to remove the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Sion, that he might have his throne in the tribe of Judah. All the children of Abraham were indeed equal; but the Israelites were superior in number and in power. And he says, the whole seed. This is significantly added; for the Jews had with them only the half of the tribe of Manasse. The ten tribes had perished; in nothing could they exalt themselves; and they were in this respect inferior, because they were only one tribe and half, and the ten tribes were larger in number. (199)
He calls them the seed of Ephraim, because of their first king, and also because that tribe was more illustrious than the other nine tribes. And in the Prophets Ephraim is in many places named for Israel, that is, for that second kingdom, which yet flourished more in wealth and power. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
But we may hence learn this important truth, — that God had never so bound himself to any people or place, that he was not at liberty to inflict punishment on the impiety of those who had despised his favors, or profaned them by their ingratitude and their sins. And this ought to be carefully noticed; for we see that it is an evil as it were innate in us, that we become elated and proud whenever God deals bountifully with us; for we so abuse his favors as to think that more liberty is given us, because God has bestowed on us more than on others. But there is nothing more groundless than this presumption; and yet we become thus insolent whenever God honors us with peculiar favors. Let us therefore bear in mind what is taught here by the Prophet, — that God is ever at liberty to take vengeance on the ungodly and the ungrateful.
Hence also it appears how foolish is the boasting of the Papists; for whenever they bring against us the name of the apostolic throne, they think that God’s mouth is closed; they think that all authority is to be taken away from his word. In short, they harden themselves against God, as though they had a legitimate possession, because the gospel had been once preached at Rome, and because that place was the first seat of the Church in Italy as well as in Europe. But God never favored Rome with such a privilege, nor has he said that his habitation was to be there. If the Pope and his adherents had what the Jews then possessed, (which really belonged to Mount Sion,) who could bear their fury, I say not, their pride? But we see what Jeremiah says of Mount Sion, of which yet it had been said,
“This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell,
because I have chosen it.” (Psalms 132:14)
Go now, he says, to Shiloh Now, since Shiloh and Jerusalem, and so many celebrated cities, where the gospel formerly flourished, have been taken away from us, it is not to be doubted, but that a dreadful vengeance and destruction await all those who reject the doctrine of salvation, and despise the treasure of the gospel. Since then God has shewn by so many proofs and examples that he is not bound to any places, how stupid is their madness who seek, through the mere name of an apostolic seat, to subvert all truth and all fear of God, and whatever belongs to true religion. Let us now proceed —
God, in order to exonerate his servant from every ill-will, forbids him to pray for the people. This might have been done for the sake of the Prophet, as well as of the whole people; for no doubt Jeremiah regarded the ruin of his own nation with great grief and sorrow: as we shall see elsewhere, he had not divested himself of all human feelings. He was doubtless anxious for the safety of his brethren, and he condoled with the miserable, when he saw that they were already given up to destruction. But God strengthens him, that he might courageously discharge his office; for pity has often melted the hearts of men so as not to be able, as they ought, to perform their office. Jeremiah might have been more tardy or more temperate in denouncing God’s vengeance, had not all impediments, which checked his alacrity, been removed. Hence then he is bidden to divest himself of sympathy, so that he might rise above all human feelings, and remember that he was set a judge over the people, or a herald to denounce their final doom. There is yet no doubt but that God had respect to the people also, — to make it known to them that Jeremiah was constrained to perform his part, however unpleasant it might be to him. Hence, as I have said, he was thus relieved from the charge of ill-will, lest he should exasperate his own nation while treating them with so much severity.
Pray not, he says, for this people; and then, Raise not up a prayer Some read, “Take not up a prayer.” The verb נשא, nesha, properly means to raise up. We have spoken of this phrase elsewhere; for there are two different ways of speaking when prayer is the subject. The Scripture sometimes says of the faithful, that they cast a prayer before God; and thus is set forth their humility, when they come as suppliants, and dare not lift upwards their eyes, like the publican, of whom Christ speaks. (Luke 18:13.) We are then said to cast a prayer before God, when we humbly seek pardon, and stand before him with shame and self — reproach. We are also said, for another reason, to raise up a prayer; for when our hearts sink and ascend not to God in faith, it is certain that our prayers are not real: hence the faithful, on account of the fervor of their desire, are said to raise up their prayers. Even so the meaning is here, Raise not up for them a cry and a prayer
Then he says, Intercede not, for I will not hear thee (200) There is yet no doubt but that the Prophet, as we shall see, continued in his prayers; but still as one knowing that the safety of the city and kingdom would no longer be granted by God: for he might have prayed for two things, — that God would reverse his decree; and this he was forbidden to do; — and, that God would be mindful of his covenant in preserving a remnant; and this was done; for the name of the people, though the city and the Temple were destroyed, has never been obliterated. Some people then survived, though without any distinction or renown. And hence at the restoration of the Church God calls its subjects a new people, as in Psalms 102:19,
“A people who shall be created,” that is, a new people,
“shall praise the Lord,”
as though he intimated that the Babylonian exile would be the ruin of his ancient people. God has, however, preserved a remnant, as Paul says in Romans 10:0 and Romans 11:0. So for the whole body of the people, and for the kingdom, the Prophet was not to pray, because he knew that it was all over with the people. But on this subject we shall speak more at large in another place. It follows —
And thou, be not an intercessor for this people, Nor raise for them a cry and a supplication, Nor make an entreaty to me, For I will not hear thee.
That is, “Undertake not their cause as one who intercedes or mediates between a judge and a criminal, nor cry suppliantly for mercy, nor entreat me to be favorable to them.” He was not to be for them an intercessor, nor a deprecator of evils, nor a solicitor of favors. All the versions render the passage loosely. — Ed.
Here God shews first why he ought to be implacable towards the people: for the command to the Prophet not to pray for them seems at the first hearing to be very severe; and it might have been objected and said, “What if they repent? Is there no hope of pardon?” God shews that they were past remedy — How so? He says, Dost thou not see? Here he refers the examination of the cause to his servant Jeremiah; as though he had said, “There is no reason for thee to contend with me; open thine own eyes, and consider how they have fallen; for children gather wood, and fathers kindle the fire, and women knead dough.” Some render the last words, “Women are busy with the paste;” but literally, “they set the dough, “la paste God intimates here shortly, that the whole people were become corrupt, as though they had wickedly conspired together, so that men, women, and children, were all led away into idolatry as by a mad impulse; for he speaks here only of their superstitions. He had before charged them with adulteries, murders, and plunders; but he now condemns them for having wholly profaned God’s worship, and at the same time shews the fruit of their impiety — that they all strove to outdo one another by an insane rivalship.
The children, he says, gather wood He ascribes the collecting of wood to the young; for it was a more laborious work. As then that age excels in strength, they collected wood; and the fathers kindled the fire: the women, what did they do? They were busy with the meal. Thus no part was neglected. “What then is to be done? and what else can I do, but wholly to cut off a people so wicked?” Then he says, that they may make כונים, cunim, which is translated “cakes, “and this is the most common rendering. Some think that kindling is meant, deriving the word from כוה, cue, which means to kindle. But I prefer the opinion of those who derive the word from כון, cun, which is to prepare, as cakes are things prepared. I do not then doubt, but that cakes are meant here, as it appears also from other places. The second interpretation I regard as too refined. (201)
With regard to the word למלכת, lamelcath, many consider the letter א left out, and think that “works” are intended. In this case מ would be a servile: but others consider it a radical, and render the word, “Queen;” which appears to me probable; though I do not wholly reject what some hold that the workmanship of the heavens is here meant. Some understand the stars, others the sun, and others the moon: let every one enjoy his own opinion. However, I think, that if the workmanship of the heavens be meant, the whole celestial host is to be included, as the Scripture thus calls all the stars. But if “the Queen of the heavens” be adopted, then I am inclined to think that the moon is intended: and we know how much superstition has ever prevailed among most people as to the worship of the moon. Hence I approve of this meaning. Yet I readily admit that all the stars, not one only, may be here designated, and called the work or the workmanship of the heavens. And the Jews, we know, were very much given to this madness: for as the sun was considered by the Orientals as the supreme God, when the Jews became enamoured with this error, they also thought that some high and adorable divinity belonged to the sun: they turned also afterwards to the stars; and this absurdity is often referred to in the Law and also in the Prophets. (202)
It is then added, That they may pour forth libations to foreign gods, to provoke me to wrath When God complains of being provoked, it is the same as though he had said, that the Jews now openly carried on war with him, — “They sin not through ignorance, nor is it unknown to them how much they offend me by these profanations; but it is as it were their object and design to provoke me and to carry on war with me by these acts of impiety.”
In Deuteronomy 4:19, the sun, the moon, and the stars, as constituting the host of heaven, are mentioned together: these the first, as including all the rest, seems to be intended. Instead of “queen,“ we should say in our language, “the king of the heavens.” We do not read that the Jews worshipped the moon; but the worship of the sun among them is specifically referred to and mentioned. See 2 Kings 23:11; Ezekiel 8:16. The Israelites adored the sun under the name of Baal, which was the Chemosh of the Moabites, and the Moloch of the Ammonites. — Ed.
He then subjoins, Do they provoke me, and not rather to the shame of their own faces? God here intimates, that however reproachfully the Jews acted towards him, they yet brought no loss to him, for he stood in no need of their worship. Why then does he so severely threaten them? Because he had their sins in view: but yet he shews that he cared not for them nor their sacrifices, for he could without any loss be without them. Hence he says, that they sought their own ruin, and whatever they devised would fall on their own heads. They seek to provoke me; they shall know with whom they have to do.” It is like what is said by the Prophet Zechariah, “They shall know whom they have pierced: I indeed continue uninjured; and though they provoke me as much as they can, I yet despise all their wickedness, for they cannot reach me; they can neither hurt me nor take anything from me.” But he says, they provoke themselves, that is, their fury shall return on their own heads; and hence it shall be, that their faces shall be ashamed. (203)
Is it I they are annoying, saith Jehovah? Is it not themselves, to the confusion of their own faces?
They were not disturbing, as it were, the repose of God, but their own. They could do no hurt or annoyance to God, but they were annoying and injuring themselves; and this would turn out to their own shame and confusion. — Ed.
Jeremiah proceeds still with the same subject, and explains more at large what we have noticed in the preceding lecture, that the ruin of Mount Sion and of the Temple was nigh at hand, according to what God had before done to Shiloh, where the Ark had long been kept. But that his threatening might have more weight, he introduced God as the speaker, —
Behold, he says, my wrath, even mine indignation, has been poured down on this place He refers to the metaphor he had before used; and hence is confirmed what I then said, — that God spoke not of prophetic teaching, but of the punishments which he had already inflicted and was prepared to inflict. On this account he says, that his wrath, or vengeance (the cause is put for the effect) had been poured down on the city Jerusalem, so as to bring destruction on the cattle as well as men, and also on the fruit of the land. It is indeed certain that brute animals, as well as trees and the productions of the earth, were innocent; but as the whole world was created for man and for his benefit, it is nothing strange that God’s vengeance should extend to innocent animals and to things not endued with reason: for God does not inflict punishment on brute animals and on the fruits of the earth, except for the purpose of shewing, by extending the symptoms of his wrath to all the elements, how much displeased he is with men. The whole world, we know, bears at this day in some measure the punishment which Adam deserved: and hence Paul says, that all the elements labor in pain, aspiring after a deliverance; and he says also, that all creatures have been subjected to corruption, though not willingly, that is, not through their own fault, but through the sin and transgression of man. (Romans 8:20.) It is no wonder, then, that God, wishing to terrify men, should daily set before their eyes the various forms of his vengeance as manifested towards animals, as well as trees and the fruits of the earth.
The meaning then is, — that God was so angry, that he purposed to destroy, not only the Jews, but the land itself, in order that posterity might know how grievously they had sinned, against whom God’s just vengeance had thus kindled. There is therefore no need for us curiously to inquire why God shewed his displeasure towards trees and brute animals: for it is enough for us to know that God does not in a strict sense punish brute animals and trees, but that this is done on account of man, that such a sad spectacle may fill them with fear. He afterwards adds —
The Prophet here taunts the Jews for being so sedulous in their attention to sacrifices, while they had no care for piety. Hence he says by way of ridicule, “Offer your sacrifices, and accumulate burnt-offerings and victims, and eat flesh.” The last clause proves that God regarded as nothing their sacrifices, and that nothing was acceptable to him, though the Jews spent much money and spared no labors. God then shews that all these things were nothing to him; eat flesh, he says, which means, “Ye sacrifice to yourselves, not to me.” There is here a contrast implied; for when they did eat flesh, there was the legitimate service of God, provided sacrifices were duly offered; but God here excludes himself, as though he had said, “These things belong not at all to me; for when ye bring sacrifices, your object is to feast: eat, then, and stuff your stomachs; nothing of this belongs to me.” (204)
The import of the whole is, — that the feasts which the Jews celebrated were profane, though they pretended the name of God, and wished them to be deemed sacred. Eat then flesh; that is, “I repudiate your sacrifices; it is to no purpose that ye cover your iniquities by the shadow of the Temple; for your pollutions restrain me from accepting what ye pretend to offer to me.” By saying, Add sacrifices to victims, he means, that though they sacrificed every animal in the land, it would be all to no purpose; for, as I have said, in offering sacrifices to God their object was to get a feast, inasmuch as they did not regard the right end.
Your burnt-offerings sweep together To your sacrifices, and eat flesh.
The Prophet therefore adds, I spoke not to your fathers, nor commanded them, in the day I brought them forth from the land of Egypt, concerning sacrifices or burnt —offerings: but this only I commanded them, to hear my voice, and to walk in all the way which I commanded them. Jeremiah seems to have condemned sacrifices too much; for we know they were designed for certain purposes: they were intended to promote penitence; for when an animal was killed at the altar, all were reminded that they were guilty of death, which the animals underwent instead of men. Hence God did thereby represent to the Jews, as in a mirror, the dreadful judgment they deserved; and the sacrifices were also living images of Christ; they were sure pledges of that expiation through which men are reconciled to God. Jeremiah then seems here to speak too contemptibly of sacrifices; for they were seals of God’s grace, and had been instituted to lead men to repentance. But he speaks according to the ideas of those who had strangely vitiated the worship of God; for the Jews were sedulously attentive to sacrifices, and yet neglected the main things — faith and repentance. Hence the Prophet here repudiates sacrifices, because these false worshippers of God had adulterated them; for they were only intent on external rites, and overlooked their design, and even despised it.
We know that it was God’s will from the beginning to be worshipped in a spiritual manner; and he has not changed his nature in our day. As then at this day he approves of no other than a spiritual worship, as He is a Spirit, (John 4:24) so also under the Law he was to be worshipped with a sincere heart. Absurdly then did the Jews offer their sacrifices, as though they could thereby appease God: and this is the reason why the prophets inveighed so pointedly against sacrifices. God says that he nauseated them, that he was wearied with them, that his name was thereby polluted, (Isaiah 1:14) he says also, that to sacrifice was the same as though one killed a dog, an unclean animal, and as though one killed a man. (Isaiah 66:3.)
“What are your offerings and sacrifices to me.”
he says by Amos. Such declarations occur everywhere in the Prophets; we are told that sacrifices were not only of no account before God, but that they were filthy things which he abominated; that is, when the things signified were separated from the signs. This then is the reason why Jeremiah here wholly rejects sacrifices: he complains that God’s worship was violated and profaned; and it was so, because the Jews presented to God mere shadows instead of realities.
But still he seems to have exceeded due limits; as he says of God, that he gave no command respecting sacrifices: for before the law was published, God had ordered sacrifices to be offered to him; as, for instance, the passover; for the pascal lamb, as it is well known, was a sacrifice; and he had also spoken of sacrifices before the people were liberated. Moreover, after the law was given, a priesthood was established among the people, as Moses clearly shews. Further still, we see with what care regulations have been given as to sacrifices. Why then is it here said, that he spoke nothing respecting sacrifices? Even because God regards not sacrifices in themselves. He therefore makes a distinction between external signs and spiritual worship; for the Jews, as it has been already said, had by their corruptions so subverted what God had instituted, that he would not acknowledge what they did as having been commanded by him. And if we take the words as they are, they are wholly true, — that God had commanded nothing respecting mere sacrifices, or sacrifices for their own sake. This distinction solves every difficulty; that is, that God never delighted in sacrifices themselves, that it was never his will to be served with mere external rites, that burnt — offerings, victims, incense, and things of this kind, were of themselves regarded by him of no value. Since, then, sacrifices did not please God, except on account of the end designed, it remains a clear truth, that God commanded nothing respecting sacrifices: for his design only was to remind the Jews of their sin, and also to shew to them the way of reconciliation. We hence see that God had not from the beginning required mere sacrifices, for he required them for a certain end. It is the same as though we should say at this day, that God regards not fasting. We yet know that fasting is commended to us, but not on account of itself. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet. (205)
Now, this passage contains a very useful doctrine, and which ought the more to be observed by us, as the neglect of it introduces dreadful darkness. They under the Papacy think that God is duly and in the best manner worshipped, when they accumulate many pompous exhibitions of ceremonies; nor can they be persuaded that all this is altogether frivolous. How so? Because they think of God according to their own fancies and disposition. And yet all the Papal ceremonies are the inventions of men: for they derive no authority either from the Law or from the Gospel. And since God has so severely reprobated ceremonies, which yet he had appointed for a purpose which was overlooked, what can be thought at this day of the foolish inventions of men, when there is the some impiety in the people as was formerly in the Jews? For when the Papists perform their trumperies, when the monks and the sacrificing priests fill the churches with their noises, when they practice their childish mummeries, and when they delight themselves with music and incense, they think that God is satisfied, however full of obscenities and filthiness their whole life may be: they are hardened in that false confidence, by which the Jews were inebriated. We ought, therefore, with special care, to notice this doctrine, — that God so approves of spiritual worship, that he esteems all other things as nothing; that is, when unconnected with sincerity of heart.
“Labor not, “says our Savior, “for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” John 6:27.
But it may be, that the reference here is specifically to the day in which the Israelites were delivered; for on that day, or at that particular time, (for the word day is not to be taken in its strict meaning,) obedience to his voice was the only thing which God required. See Exodus 15:26.
Venema thinks that reference is here made, not to the institution of sacrifices, but to the ground of the covenant. Sacrifices were not the condition of the covenant, but obedience. God did not say, “If you sacrifice to me, I will be your God;” but, “If you obey my voice, I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” When the law was delivered on Mount Sinai, there was no mention of sacrifices. — Ed.
I spoke not then to your fathers, nor commanded them in the day I brought them forth from the land of Egypt, etc. The Prophet calls the attention of the Jews to the first condition of the Church; for though God had made his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet he then only formed or framed for himself a Church when the Law was promulgated. Hence God at that time showed what pleased him, and prescribed certain things, which were in future to be inviolably observed: and as the Jews violated the rule given them, the Prophet concludes that God was corruptly and absurdly worshipped by them. This is the reason why he expressly speaks here of the deliverance granted to the fathers. There follows afterwards a clearer explanation, which removes all ambiguity: for God subordinates sacrifices to obedience. Yet sacrifices are a part of obedience: very true; but as the people were to be subject to the whole law, it hence follows, that the worship of God was mutilated by them, when there was no care for true piety. We now then, no doubt, understand the meaning of the Prophet, and see at the same time the reason why God so expressly rejected sacrifices: for what God has connected, it is not in the power of man to separate. (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.) This rending of things is impious. As the Jews had separated sacrifices from their right and legitimate end, whatever they did was a sacrilege and a profanation.
That we may now more fully comprehend this doctrine, we must remember this principle — that the basis of true religion is obedience. For unless God shines on us with his word, there is no religion, but only hypocrisy and superstition; as the case is with heathens, who, though they busy themselves much and with great diligence, yet loose all their labor, and uselessly weary themselves, for God has not shewn to them the right way. In short, true religion may always be distinguished from superstition by this mark — If the truth of God guides us, then our religion is true; but if any one follows his own reason, or is led by the opinion and consent of men, he forms for himself superstition; and nothing that he does will please God. This is one thing.
Now, in the second place, let us see what God chiefly requires from those who are his servants. Being fully convinced of this truth — that God cannot be truly served, except we obey his voice, we must consider, as I have said, what God commands us to do. Now, as he is a Spirit, so he demands sincerity of heart. (John 4:24.) We also know that God so comes to us, that he would have us to trust wholly in his gratuitous goodness, that he would have us to depend altogether on his paternal kindness, that he would have us to call on him, and to offer him the sacrifice of praise. Since, then, God has expressly required these things in his word, it is certain, that all other modes of worship are rejected by him as vitious; that is, when there is no faith, when there is no prayer and praise: for these hold the first place in true and legitimate worship.
This one passage is sufficient to put an end to all the contentions which are now in the world. For if the Papists admitted that obedience is of more account with God than all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,) we might easily agree. They might afterwards debate every article of faith; but there would be in the main an agreement between us, were they to submit simply and unreservedly to the word of God. But we see how pertinaciously they insist on this point — that we are not to stand on God’s word, nor acquiesce in it, because there is in it nothing certain. Hence they regard the doctrine of the Fathers, and what they call the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church, as of more value than the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel. They dare not indeed to contend on this ground; and so far they act wisely: for if the disputes between us are capable of being removed, as I have said, by God’s word, we could easily overcome them. But while they, fostering their own blindness, strive to extinguish the light, and willfully envelop themselves in darkness, let us follow what God’s Spirit shews to us here, — that the main part of true and right worship and service is to hear God speaking, and to regard obedience of more account than all offerings and sacrifices, according to the passage we have quoted from 1 Samuel 15:22.
He afterwards adds, I will be to you a God, and ye shall be to me a people; and ye shall walk in all the way which I shall shew to you, that it may be well with you. The Prophet confirms what I have already said, that if we would obey God, we must consider what he commands. Now God omits no part of true worship: we shall then never go astray from true religion, if only we render ourselves teachable. Whence then is it, that men diligently labor and profit nothing, except that they are deaf to God’s voice? for as it has been already often said, God has not only spoken generally, and in various ways, of obedience, but has clearly and distinctly taught what he approves. Our obedience then will please him, if only we learn what he would have us to do.
And at the same time he adds, that this condition was mentioned to the Jews, that it would be well with them, if they only obeyed God. Hence their perverseness is more fully detected; for they willfully sought to be miserable, and procured for themselves their own destruction: for a happy life was offered to them, provided only they submitted to God. Since they refused this, who does not see that they willfully gave themselves up to misery, as though they wished to provoke God’s anger, and did so designedly? for it immediately follows —
They hearkened not nor inclined their ear Here the Prophet shews, that the Jews did not then begin to be rebellious against God and his word; for they imitated the impious contumacy of their fathers: and he dwells on this more at large. He now says, “I gave no command about sacrifices, but only this one thing I required of your fathers, to obey me.” They hearkened not, he says. What could have been a juster demand than that they should obey God? How great, then, and how base an indignity it was, to reject his authority? Nay, still more, they inclined not the ear: for by this phrase the Prophet means not only a contempt of his word and indifference, but their obstinacy and willfulness, inasmuch as they had hardened themselves against God. Hypocrites do, indeed, sometimes incline the ear, and wish to know what is said, and in some measure consider it: but the Prophet here sets forth as it were the insane contumacy of the Jews, for they inclined not, no, not even the ear to God speaking to them.
He afterwards adds, that they walked in their tortuous counsels, and also, in the wickedness of their evil heart (206) This comparison aggravates their sin, — the Jews preferred to follow their own humor rather than to obey God and his commands. Had anything been set before them, which might have deceived them and obscured the authority of the law, there would have been some excuse: but when there was nothing to prevent them from obeying the command of God, except that they followed their own foolish imaginations, they were wholly inexcusable. For what excuse could they have made? That they wished to be wiser than God! How great a madness was this, and how diabolical? But the Prophet leaves them nothing but this vain excuse, which doubled their guilt. They thought, no doubt, that their heart was well fitted for the purpose: but he does not here allow them to judge, but distinctly condemns them as they deserved.
We ought to take particular notice of this passage; for the majority of men at this day set up their own fictions against God’s word. The Papists indeed pretend antiquity; they say that they have been taught by their ancestors; and at the same time they plead councils and the ordinances of the fathers: but yet there is not one of them, who is not addicted to his own figments, and who does not take the liberty, nay, an unbridled license, to reject whatever he pleases. Moreover, if the origin of the whole Papal worship be considered, it will appear, that those who first devised so many strange superstitions, were only impelled by audacity and presumption, in order that they might trample under foot the word of God. Hence it is, that all things are become corrupt; for they brought in all the strange figments of their own brains. And we see that the Papists at this day are so perversely fixed in their own errors, that they prefer themselves and their own trumperies to God. And the same is the case also with all heretics. What then is to be done? Obedience, as I have said, is to be held as the basis of all true religion. If, then, on the other hand, we wish to render our worship approved by God, let us learn to cast aside whatever is our own, so that his authority may prevail over all our reasons.
Let us further notice how detestable a sacrilege it is, to follow the wickedness of our heart rather than to obey God, when he shews to us, as by the finger, the way of salvation. Let us also observe, that nothing will then do us good, though we may seem to ourselves to be very wise, and praise ourselves in our folly; for God declares here that our heart is evil whenever we turn aside from his pure word.
He says, that they were behind and not before By this phrase he intimates that the Jews turned the back, that they might not look at him or go forward. For when one promises to be our leader to conduct us in the way, we immediately turn our eyes to him; but when we turn our back, it is a proof of our contempt. And thus God complains of his people, that he was despised by them; for they had not only been deaf to the prophetic teaching and admonitions, but had also turned their faces another way, as a proof of a contumacy still worse, so that they forsook him, and as it were bade him to be gone. (207) This is the import of the last sentence. We shall proceed to-morrow.
And they walked in the counsels, —
In the resolutions of their evil heart.
They not only devised their own ways, but resolved to walk in them. They formed their own counsels, and made resolutions to follow them, and they were the counsels and resolutions of a disordered and perverted heart. In rendering the last word “wickedness,“ Calvin has followed the Vulgate; and our version, “imagination,“ is the Targum. It is omitted in the Septuagint, and “desires” in Syriac. See note on Jeremiah 3:17. — Ed.
And they were for behind, and not for before them;
which seem to mean, that they were bent on turning back to their own ways rather than to go on in the ways of God. The version of theSeptuagint is, “They were for things behind, and not for things before;” the Syriac and Arabic, “ They retrograded and did not advance, “or go forward. The allusion seems not to be, as Blayney thinks, to refractory oxen under the yoke; but to those travelers who, when shewn the right way, go back instead of going forward. And this was especially true of the Israelites, who, after having left Egypt, wished often to return, instead of going forward to Canaan. Hence it is said, that they were going back to their old ways, and not going forward in the way which God bad pointed out to them. The phrase in Jeremiah 2:27, is of another kind, and ought not to be confounded with this. — Ed.
God complains of the perverse wickedness of the people, — that he had lost all his labor in endeavoring to lead them to repentance, not only in one age, but that the children succeeded their fathers in their corruptions, and that thus the imitation had become perpetual. This might indeed appear as an extenuation of their fault; they might have pleaded as the Papists at this day do; who have no pretext more specious, than when they bring against us the Fathers and antiquity. But God shews in this place and elsewhere that the children are not excused by the examples of their fathers; but on the contrary, that it is an aggravation of the crime, when men thus harden themselves, and think that a continued indulgence in vices avails them for a precedent; for God does not thus permit himself to be deprived of his own right. This passage then deserves particular notice; for God not only condemned those who were then living and whom Jeremiah addressed, but also connected with them the dead, in order to prove their greater obstinacy, as impiety had been as it were handed down from one age to another.
From the day, he says, in which your fathers came forth from the land of Egypt unto this day, have I sent to you, etc. We know how intractable the people had been from the beginning; for they did all they could to reject Moses, the minister of a favor so remarkable and invaluable. And after their deliverance, they were continually either clamoring against God, or openly contending with Moses and Aaron, or running into gross idolatry, or giving loose reins to their lusts; in short, there was no end to their course of sinning: and yet Moses daily endeavored to restore them to obedience. It was this great contumacy that God now refers to; and he says, that the Israelites did not then begin to be disobedient, but that they had ever been of such a disposition as not to bear to be corrected, as he will tell us hereafter. It was not necessary here to adduce examples to shew that the people had been indomitable; for this was evident from sacred history. It was enough to remind them, that the hardness and obstinacy of the fathers had descended to their children, so that they might know that they were twofold and treblefold guilty before God, for they had imitated the perverseness which God had before severely punished; nor was it unknown to them how God had brought judgments on their fathers. It was therefore to provoke God most wantonly, when they overlooked and disregarded such dreadful vengeances as he had executed on their progenitors. We shall hereafter see similar declarations; nay, this way of speaking occurs everywhere in the prophets, that is, that their race had been from the beginning perverse and rebellious, and that they had also in all ages despised the favor of God and obstinately resisted the prophets.
But God reminds them here, that from the day they came forth from the land of Egypt he had never ceased to speak to them even to the time of Jeremiah: this his perseverance greatly aggravated the sin of the people. Had God spoken only once, it would have been sufficient for their condemnation: but inasmuch as he had borne with their perverse conduct, and never ceased from day to day kindly to call them to himself and to promise them pardon and to offer salvation to them — inasmuch then as God had thus persevered, the more fully discovered was the irreclaimable impiety of the people. We indeed know how dreadful a punishment must await those who dare thus to abuse the forbearance of God and openly to scorn his word, when he invites them a hundred or a thousand times to repentance.
He afterwards adds, that he had sent all his servants, (208) etc In the same sense is to be taken the universal particle, כל, cal, “ all.” Had God sent only one prophet, there would have remained no excuse for the Israelites; but as he had continually sent one after another, to train them up like an army, how great was their madness to despise so large a number? We indeed know that there were never wanting prophets among the people, as Moses had promised in the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy. As then God had dealt bountifully with the people, so that prophets had never ceased but continually succeeded one another, hence surely the baseness of their impious obstinacy became more evident; for they had not despised God only for one day, nor disregarded one prophet, or two or three, but resisted all the prophets, though they had been sent in great number. I sent, he says, all my servants
Then he adds, daily This is mentioned for the same purpose, even to shew that God had never been wearied, and that they had resisted as it were designedly his goodness, while he was incessant in kindly exhorting them to repentance. He says, by rising early and sending As we have said elsewhere, the verb שכם, shecam, properly means to rise early. God here commends the authority of prophetic instruction by ascribing to himself what is done by men. With him, indeed, as we all know, there is no change; hence the expression, to rise up, as applied to him, is not strictly true; but what he commanded his servants to do, he transfers, as we have said, to himself, in order that he might more sharply reprove the ingratitude of the people; as though he had said, that he had been most carefully attentive to secure their salvation, but that they had been torpid and wholly indifferent.
We may hence learn a useful doctrine, — that God rises to invite us, and also to receive us, whenever his word is proclaimed among us, by which he testifies to us his paternal love. God then not only employs men to lead us to himself, but comes forth in a manner himself to meet us, and rises early as one solicitous for our salvation. This commendation of divine truth may be of great benefit to the faithful, and induce them to recumb confidently and with tranquil minds on God’s promises; for they are the same as though God himself had spoken them to us. But here is also reproved the impiety of those who slumber and sleep, while God thus watches in order to promote their salvation, and who lend not an ear, when he rises early to come to them in order to draw them to himself.
And they went backward and not forward,
25.From the day in which your fathers came forth From the land of Egypt, to this day: And I sent to you all my servants the prophets, Every day rising early and sending;
26.Yet they hearkened not to me, Nor inclined their ear, But hardened their neck; They have been more wicked than their fathers.
Such is the connection in all the ancient versions and in the Targum. The verb, rendered “they have been more wicked,“ or “done worse,“ is omitted by the Septuagint and the Syriac; but retained by the Vulgate and the Targum, and is found wanting in no MS. — Ed.
He afterwards subjoins, And they hearkened not There is here a change of person; for he said in the last verse, “your fathers,” “I sent to you; ” but now he says, They hearkened not, nor inclined their ear It is indeed true, that the reference is to the fathers; but in the next verse God includes the people who were then living. There is then no doubt but that it was an evidence of indignation, that he changed the person, and that he was wearied in addressing them, for he saw that he spoke in vain to a stupid people: and this will appear evident from the next verse. They hearkened not, he says, nor inclined their ear The words we have already explained: the Jews are here precluded from having any excuse on the ground of error or ignorance; for they had refused to be taught, they would not attend, but on the contrary made deaf their cars. And he says also, that they hardened their neck; by which their perverseness is still more fully expressed: they designedly as it were despised God, and carried on war even with his favor and kindness. And he concludes by saying, that they had done worse than their fathers He had said, “your fathers;” but now, “their fathers.” We hence see that the sentence is changed, for God knew that he could produce no effect on them, as we find by what follows —
Here is seen more clearly what I have stated, — that the Jews were not addressed, because they had no ears. Here then God addresses his Prophet and says, “The children will be like their parents: for thou shalt indeed bear the commands which I give thee, but it will be without any advantage; for they will not hear, and when thou callest to them, they will not answer ” It was a most grievous trial to the Prophet to know that his words would pass away with the air and produce no good. What was to be expected but that God’s wrath would thus be still more kindled against the people? The Prophet then must have had his mind greatly depressed; for he doubtless labored for the good of his own nation; and we shall hereafter see how sad he was when he understood that their final ruin was at hand. But, as we have said elsewhere, the prophets were influenced by two feelings: for they did not divest themselves of all human affections, inasmuch as they loved their own nation and felt great sorrow, when God declared that he was coming to execute judgment: but this sympathy and sorrow did not prevent them from executing, in a bold manner, and with unshaken zeal, what God had committed to them. Thus then the prophets had feelings to condole with their own kindred, and at the same time were enabled to surmount whatever might check or hinder them from performing their office. Jeremiah did thus condole with his own nation, when he knew that shortly ruin would overtake them; but yet he felt bound to execute what God had bidden him to do, and to obey his call.
However bitter therefore was the declaration, Thou shalt speak to them, but they will not hear, yet Jeremiah went forth; for he knew that he must obey God’s command, whatever might be the issue. The same resolution ought to be formed at this day by all the faithful ministers of God. They ought to strive as far as they can to promote the salvation of the people; but still when they see that their doctrine succeeds not as they wish, and that it is the savor of death to the whole world, they ought nevertheless to follow their course: why? because they are always a sweet and good savor to God, whatever may be the event. God then declares to his servant what would be the issue, in order that he might not cease to execute his office with invincible courage, even if no fruit appeared. It was also his purpose to shew before the time to the people their perverseness, if there was possibly any hope, or at least, that he might doubly prove them to be unhealable. It was further his design to consult the good of those few who cherished true religion in their hearts, though the multitude were running headlong to their own ruin.
In like manner at this day it is necessary thus to sustain the souls of the faithful; for while the ungodly rave against God, and while almost the whole world is seized with this madness, what would become of the godly, had they not this fact to think of, — that it is nothing new for hypocrites, who boast that they are God’s people and his Church, to reject his grace and to regard as nothing his servants. This truth then is serviceable to us at this day, and may be applied in the same way, so that our minds may not despond nor vacillate, when we see the majority of those, whom God addresses by his servants, heedless and deaf. Thou shalt speak to them, he says, all these words
He says not without a reason, All these words; for if the Prophet had only briefly declared to them what he had heard from God’s mouth, he might have discharged his office with less weariness; but when he had often repeated what had been committed to him, it was not done without great trouble and sorrow; for as we have said at the beginning, he spent his labor on the people, not for one year or for ten years; for he preached to them for twenty, thirty, forty years, and pursued his course even beyond that time. When he saw the truth of God thus rejected by the people, how could he otherwise than feel weariness at times? It is therefore not in vain intimated, as I have said, that he was chosen, that he might try, not only for one day, or for a few months or years, whether he could recover the people to the way of salvation, but that he was to go on through all obstacles, so as not to faint, whatever might take place. They will not hear thee, he says: and further, —
Thou shalt call to them, and they will not answer thee This also, which God foretells him, is emphatical, — that if the Prophet called most loudly, (as Isaiah is bidden to do, (Isaiah 58:1,) and in his person all teachers,) and called even to hoarseness, yet he is told they would not answer. This shews still more fully their perverseness; for they were not only deaf to God’s voice and neglected plain teaching, but also disregarded the most vehement exhortations, he then adds —
God shews now that he must act in a new way. The first duty of teachers is to set forth the will of God, to shew what is right, and then to exhort, if plain teaching proves not sufficient. But God intimates here that he was under the necessity to change his manner, because they were wholly irreclaimable. Thou shalt then say this as the last thing; as though he had said, “I indeed wished to try, whether they were capable of being improved, and have employed thee for this purpose: after having long borne with them, knowing by a long trial that thy labor is useless, thou shalt say to them, “I bid you adieu at last.” For what is the meaning of these words, This is a nation which heard not the voice of its God, except that the Prophet, after long trials, knew that he was neither to teach nor exhort them? It is not to be doubted but that God referred to the Jews themselves; for it was his object to expose their impious perverseness. He yet comforted his servant; for he hence knew, that though he could do no good to his hearers, yet his labor was acceptable to God and not without its fruit: for the truth of God is not only fruitful in the salvation of men, but also in their perdition. (2 Corinthians 2:15.) God then shews, that there would be no loss to his servant, even though the Jews repented not; for he would be their judge, and denounce by the highest authority their destruction.
We now perceive the design of the Holy Spirit, in saying, Thou shalt at length say, This is a nation which has not hearkened to the voice of its God: for the Prophet is not bidden here to address the Jews, but to pronounce on them a sentence, that the whole world might know how base and detestable had been their contumacy, and how abominable their impiety; for the whole nation had refused to hear The word nation seems here to be taken in a bad sense: it is indeed in many places to be taken for “people;” but in other places Scripture sets גוים, guim, in opposition to God’s chosen people. And perhaps this word has been used, that the Jews might know that they in vain gloried in their own dignity. He shews that they did not excel other nations, for they were themselves of the same class, a nation. This is a nation, he says, which has not hearkened to the voice of Jehovah their God (209) In saying this he doubtless amplified their crime; for as God had made himself plainly known to the Jews, they could not pretend ignorance nor plead any doubt respecting what the prophets taught. As then they had designedly rejected their own God, they hence became more obviously guilty and abominable.
He afterwards adds, They have not received correction, he points out the very source of rebellion, — they were unwilling to undertake the yoke. Here then he excludes all those plausible pretences by which the Jews might cloak their impiety, as hypocrites are ever wont to do. Hence he declares that they had been unteachable, for they had refused correction. The word מוסר, musar, often means chastisement; but generally signifies every kind of training. As the subject here is teaching, the Prophet means that they were willfully blind, for they would not be taught; Now this is the extremity of wicked perverseness, that is, when men become so degenerated, that they willfully assimilate themselves to brute beasts by rejecting the yoke of God.
He then subjoins, that truth, or faith, had perished The word אמונה, amune, may be taken in two senses. Some refer it to what belongs to God, as meaning religion, or faith: or piety. But the Prophet seems to take it in a larger sense, as signifying what is sincere; for they acted perfidiously towards men as well as towards God. The word then is to be taken simply as meaning integrity, as though he had said, that nothing true or sincere remained in them, but that they were so corrupt that they mocked God and deceived men, and that nothing but dissimulation prevailed among them. This meaning is confirmed by what follows, that it is cut off from their mouth (210) We hence learn that their perfidy is condemned because they acted falsely; and as their heart was full of duplicity, so also was their tongue. He intimates, in short, that there was no hope as to their repentance; for had they promised a hundred times to God to be teachable and obedient, and shewed before the world any appearance of integrity, their promises would have passed off into mere fallacies and deceptions. He then adds —
Lost is faithfulness, yea, wholly separated from the mouth.
Here again Jeremiah exhorts his own people to lament; and he uses the feminine gender, as though he called the people, the daughter of Sion, or the daughter of Jerusalem. He then, according to a common mode of speaking, calls the whole people a woman. (211)
He first bids her to shave off the hair The word נזר, nesar, means the hair, derived from the Nazarites, who allowed their hair to grow: and there may be here a striking allusion to the Nazarites who were sacred to God; as though he had said, “This people are profane, and therefore ought to have nothing in common with the Nazarites.” Hence also is derived נזר, nesar, a crown. Though then the word means the hair, yet the allusion is not to be overlooked, — that this people, rejected by God, are bidden to cut off and to throw away the hair. After the throwing away of the hair there was to be great lamentation; Raise, he says, on high places a lamentation This may seem to be an exhortation to repentance: but as we have seen elsewhere, though the prophets often gave the people the hope of pardon and reconciliation, yet in this place the Prophet no doubt denounces a final judgment, and is a herald of lamentation, because the prevailing impiety was irreclaimable. He does not then perform here the duty of a teacher, but in a hostile manner denounces ruin: for it immediately follows —
For rejected hath Jehovah and forsaken the generation of his wrath The word דור, dur, means an age, not time, but men of the same age: as we call that our generation which now lives in the world, and that which is dead the generation of our fathers, and what succeeds us the next generation. It is indeed true, that the Israelites in every age were worthy of a similar vengeance; but God no doubt shews here, that his vengeance was at hand, for he had long borne with the perverse conduct of the people, and suspended his judgment. As then vengeance was now to be executed, the Prophet calls that age the age of God’s wrath; for we know that the genitive case in Hebrew has often such a meaning as this. Then the age of his wrath means the age or generation devoted to extreme vengeance; for their wickedness against God was extreme, as long as he treated them with forbearance. The longer then he had deferred his judgment, the heavier punishment was at hand. It afterwards follows —
Lest the Jews should murmur and complain that God was too rigorous, the Prophet adds, that they were not given up to destruction without the justest reasons. How so? They had done evil To do evil here means, that they had not offended in one thing, but had given themselves up to wickedness and evil doings. It is the same as though he had said, that they were so corrupt that they were wholly inured to the doing of evil, and had by long use contracted evil habits; for they continually provoked God. But as they flattered themselves, the Prophet reminds them here of God’s judgment: “It is enough, “he says, “that the Judge condemns you; for if ye see not your wickedness nor acknowledge your sin, yet this will not avail you; for God declares that you are guilty in his sight.”
We see that there is an implied contrast between the sight of God and the delusions by which hypocrites soothed themselves, while they made evasions or perversely excused their sins, or sought to escape by circuitous windings. God then shews that his own sight, or knowledge, is sufficient, how blind soever man may be, and however the whole world may connive at their sins.
He adds one kind of sin, that they had set up their abominations (212) in the Temple. This refers to superstitions. But as we have seen elsewhere, and shall often have to observe, the Prophets frequently reproved sins by mentioning only one sin for the whole. Then what was especially wicked in the people he states, and that was, that the Temple was polluted with superstitions. We have already said, that it was an intolerable sacrilege to pollute the Temple with abominations, which was then the only true Temple in the world: for it was God’s will that sacrifices should be offered to him in that one place; and he had carefully described everything necessary for a right worship. When, therefore, the Jews polluted that very Temple, how abominable was such a profanation? It was not then without reason that the Prophet brings forward what was especially wicked in the people, — that God’s house was polluted with superstitious and many spurious ceremonies, and that there his whole worship was vitiated. The rest to-morrow.
Jeremiah in this verse also inveighs against those superstitions by which the Jews had corrupted the true and pure worship of God. He says, that they had builded high places, which was prohibited in the law. (Leviticus 26:30.) Now God, as it has been before said, prefers obedience to all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22 :) hence the Prophet justly condemned them, that they forsook the Temple and built for themselves high places or groves, and also altars.
He then mentions one particular place, even Tophet in the valley of Hinnom The prophets, in order to render the place detestable, no doubt designated the infernal regions by תפת , Tophet, and גיא הנם, gia enom. For when Isaiah speaks, in the thirtieth chapter, of the eternal punishment of the wicked, he mentions Tophet, which is the same word as we find here. As to the valley of Hinnom, it is called in Greek Gehenna, and is taken to designate eternal death, or the torments which await all the wicked. In a similar manner the word Paradise is metaphorically taken for the blessed state and for the eternal inheritance; for God so placed man at first in that eastern garden, that he might in a manner protect him under his own wings. As then the blessing and favor of God shone on that place where Adam first dwelt, that it might be a certain image of celestial life and of true happiness, so they called the glory, prepared for all God’s children in heaven, Paradise. So also on the other hand the prophets called hell גיא הנם, gia enom, in order that the Jews might detest those impious and sacrilegious modes of worship by which their fathers had polluted themselves. And for the same reason they call hell, Tophet. The ancients also say, that it was a place in the suburbs of the city. They were not wont then to assemble afar off for the sake of these abominations, since the place was within sight of the Temple, and they knew that there was the only true altar approved by God, and that it was not lawful to offer sacrifices anywhere else. Since they knew this, and God had set such a place before their eyes, the greater was their madness, when they preferred a filthy spot in which to worship God according to their own will, or rather according to their own wantonness.
Of this so great an audacity Jeremiah now complains: They builded for themselves high places, in Tophet, even in the valley He introduces the word son; but it is called הנם גיא, gia enom, the valley of Hinnom; whence comes the word Gehenna, as we have already said.
He adds, that they might burn their sons and their daughters It was a horrible and prodigious madness for parents not to spare their own children, but to cast them into the fire; for they must have been so seized with a diabolic fury as to divest themselves of all human feelings: and yet they had a plausible reason, as they supposed; for it was a zeal worthy of all praise to prefer God to their own children. When therefore they cast their children into the fire, this kind of zeal might have deceived the simple; and to this was added a pretext derived from example, for Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his own son. But it hence appears what men will do when they are led away by an inconsiderate zeal; for from the beginning of the world the source of all superstitions has been this, — that men have devised for themselves various modes of worship, and have given themselves the liberty to seek a way of their own to pacify God.
As to the pretended example, they were so blind as not to distinguish between themselves and Abraham; for he was commanded to offer his son, (Genesis 22:2;) but they, without any command, attempted to do the same thing; this was extreme presumption. As to Abraham, he obeyed God; and he could not have been led astray, when he knew that such a sacrifice was approved by God. But when the Jews emulated his zeal, it was an extreme folly; and they were especially culpable, because they neglected God’s command and wholly disregarded it. They were, however, so far carried away by their own wantonness as to cast their own children into the fire, and under the pretense of piety: so great and so savage a cruelty prevailed among them. We hence perceive that there is no end of sinning, when men give themselves up to their own inventions; for God surrenders those to Satan, that they may be led by the spirit of giddiness and of madness and of stupidity. Let us therefore learn ever to regard what God approves: and let this be the very beginning of our inquiry, whenever we undertake anything, whether God commands it; and this course ought especially to be observed with regard to his worship; for, as it has been already stated, religion is especially founded on faith, and faith is based on the word of God: and hence it is here added —
Which I commanded them not, and which never came to my mind This reason ought to be carefully noticed, for God here cuts off from men every occasion for making evasions, since he condemns by this one phrase, “I have not commanded them,” whatever the Jews devised. There is then no other argument needed to condemn superstitions, than that they are not commanded by God: for when men allow themselves to worship God according to their own fancies, and attend not to his commands, they pervert true religion. And if this principle was adopted by the Papists, all those fictitious modes of worship, in which they absurdly exercise themselves, would fall to the ground. It is indeed a horrible thing for the Papists to seek to discharge their duties towards God by performing their own superstitions. There is an immense number of them, as it is well known, and as it manifestly appears. Were they to admit this principle, that we cannot rightly worship God except by obeying his word, they would be delivered from their deep abyss of error. The Prophet’s words then are very important, when he says, that God had commanded no such thing, and that it never came to his mind; as though he had said, that men assume too much wisdom, when they devise what he never required, nay, what he never knew. It is indeed certain, that there was nothing hid from God, even before it was done: but God here assumes the character of man, as though he had said, that what the Jews devised was unknown to him, as his own law was sufficient.
Now, as the words Tophet and Gehenna were so stigmatized by the prophets, we may hence learn how displeasing to God is every idolatry and profanation of his true and pure worship: for he compares these notorious places in which the Jews performed so sedulously their devotions, to the infernal regions. And hence at this day, when the Papists boast of what they call their devotions, we may justly say, that there are as many gates, through which they throw themselves headlong into hell, as there are modes of worship devised by them for the purpose of conciliating God. It follows —
The Prophet denounces a punishment, though the Jews thought that they deserved a reward. The case is the same with the Papists at this day, who thoughtlessly boast, when they heap together many abominations; for they think that God is bound as it were by a law, not to overlook so much diligence. But the Prophet shews how grossly deceived they are who worship God superstitiously, without the authority of his word; for he threatens them here with the heaviest judgment, — Called no more, he says, shall it be Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom; but The valley of slaughter shall it be called; for the whole land was to be filled with slaughters.
He adds, Bury shall they there, for elsewhere there will be no place (213) He intimates that so great would be the slaughters, that Jerusalem would not contain the dead: hence, he says, graves will be made in Tophet; and many also will be slain there. A dead body, we know, was unclean by the Law; and it was not lawful to offer sacrifices to God near graves. (Numbers 19:11.) The Prophet then shows, that when the Jews foolishly consecrated that place to God, they committed a dreadful profanation, for that place was to be wholly filled with dead bodies, and polluted also by the slaughter of men. We hence see what the superstitious do when they follow their own devices — that they provoke God’s wrath; for by the grievousness of the punishment we may form a judgment as to the degree in which God abominates all false modes of worship, which men devise without the warrant of his law; for we must ever remember this principle, I commanded it not, nor hath it ever come to my mind It follows —
Jeremiah threatens them with something more grievous than death itself, — that God would impress the marks of his wrath even on their dead bodies. It is indeed true what a heathen poet says,
“That the loss of a grave is not great,” ( Virgil, aeneid;)
but we must on the other hand remember that burying has been held as a sacred custom in all ages; for it was a symbol of the last resurrection. Barbarous then were the words, “Give me a stick, if you fear that birds will eat my dead body;” as the cynic, who had ordered his body to be cast into the field, derided what was said in answer to him, “The wild beasts and birds will devour thee:” “Oh,” said he, “let me have a stick, and I will drive them away;” intimating by such a saying, that he would then be without any feeling; but he shewed that he entertained no hope of immortality. But it was God’s will that the custom of burying should prevail among all nations, that in death itself there might be some evidence or intimation of the last resurrection. When therefore the Prophet declares here and in other places that the Jews would be without a burial, he doubtless enhances the vengeance of God.
We indeed know that some of the most holy men had not been buried; for the prophets were sometimes exposed to wild beasts and birds: and the whole Church complains in Psalms 79:2, that the dead bodies of the saints were exposed and became food for birds and wild beasts. This has sometimes happened; for God often mixes the good with the evil in temporal punishments, as he makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil: but yet of itself and for the most part, it is an evidence of a curse, when a man’s body is cast away without any burial.
It is this then that the Prophet means when he says, The carcase of this people shall be meat for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there will be none to terrify them; (214) that is, there will be no one to perform the humane office of driving the beasts away, the very thing which nature itself would lead one to do. If any one now objects and says, that in this case the faithful could not be distinguished from the reprobate, the answer is plainly this, — that when the honor of a burial is denied to the faithful, God will become the avenger. But this does not prove that God does not in this way inflict a visible punishment on the reprobate, and thus expose them to reproach by whom he has been despised. He afterwards adds —
And the carcase of this people shall be for meat
To the bird of heaven and to the beast of the earth,
And there will be no terrifier.
He still continues the same subject; for he denounces on the Jews the punishment which they had deserved. He more fully expresses what he mentioned in the last verse respecting the shameful and dreadful barbarity that would follow the slaughter; for the whole country would not only be harassed by the enemy, but wholly laid waste: for when sounds of joy and gladness cease, all places are filled with lamentations; and when no marriages are celebrated, it is a sign of devastation.
But by marriage, the Prophet, stating a part for the whole, understands whatever was necessary for the preservation of society; it is the same as though he had said, “There shall be now no marrying:” for without marriages the human race cannot continue. Hence this cessation would be the same, as though he had said, that they would be wholly regardless of all those things necessary to perpetuate mankind. He thus adds nothing new, but expands what we have before observed, — that the whole land would be filled with dead bodies, and that there would be such lamentation as to deter men from all their usual and ordinary habits: he afterwards shews more fully the same thing.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter