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The Prophet again exclaims in wonder, that an incredible thing had happened, which was like a prodigy; for at the first sight it seemed very unreasonable, that a people whom God had not only received into favor, but with whom he had made a perpetual covenant, should thus be forsaken by him. For though men were a hundred times perfidious, yet God never changes, but remains unchangeable in his faithfulness; and we know that his covenant was not made to depend on the merits of men. Whatsoever, then, the people might be, yet it behooved God to continue in his purpose, and not to annul the promise made to Abraham. Now, when Jerusalem was reduced to desolation, there was as it were all abolition of God’s covenant. There is, then, no wonder that the Prophet here exclaims, as on account of some prodigy, How can it be that God hath clouded or darkened, etc.
We must, however, observe at the same time, that the Prophet did not mean here to invalidate the fidelity or constancy of God, but thus to rouse the attention of his own nation, who had become torpid in their sloth; for though they were pressed down under a load of evils, yet they had become hardened in their perverseness. But it was impossible that any one should really call on God, except he was humbled in mind, and brought the sacrifice of which we have spoken, even a humble and contrite spirit. (Psalms 51:19.) It was, then, the Prophet’s object to soften the hardness which he knew prevailed in almost the whole people. This was the reason why he exclaimed, in a kind of astonishment, How has God clouded, etc. (148)
Some render the words, “How has God raised up,” etc., which may be allowed, provided it be not taken in a good sense, for it is said, in his wrath; but in this case the words to raise up and to cast down ought to be read conjointly; for when one wishes to break in pieces an earthen vessel, he not only casts it on the ground, but he raises it up, that it may be thrown down with greater force. We may, then, take this meaning, that God, in order that he might with greater violence break in pieces his people, had raised them up, not to honor them, but in order to dash them more violently on the ground. However, as this sense seems perhaps too refined, I am content with the first explanation, that God had clouded the daughter of Zion in his wrath; and then follows an explanation, that he had cast her from heaven to the earth. So then God covered with darkness his people, when he drew them down from the high dignity which they had for a time enjoyed. He had, then, cast on the earth all the glory of Israel, and remembered not his footstool
The Prophet seems here indirectly to contend with God, because he had not spared his own sanctuary; for God, as it has been just stated, had chosen Mount Sion for himself, where he designed to be prayed to, because he had placed there the memorial of his name. As, then, he had not spared his own sanctuary, it did not appear consistent with his constancy, and he also seemed thus to have disregarded his own glory. But the design of the Prophet is rather to shew to the people how much God’s wrath had been kindled, when he spared not even his own sanctuary. For he takes this principle as granted, that God is never without reason angry, and never exceeds the due measure of punishment. As, then, God’s wrath was so great that he destroyed his own Temple, it was a token of dreadful wrath; and what was the cause but the sins of men? for God, as I have said, always preserves moderation in his judgments. He, then, could not have better expressed to the people the heinousness of their sins, than by laying before them this fact, that God remembered not his footstool
And the Temple, by a very suitable metaphor, is called the footstool of God. It is, indeed, called his habitation; for in Scripture the Temple is often said to be the house of God. It was then the house, the habitation, and the rest of God. But as men are ever inclined to superstition, in order to raise up their thoughts above earthly elements, we are reminded, on the other hand, in Scripture, that the Temple was the footstool of God. So in the Psalms,“
Adore ye before his footstool,” (Psalms 99:5;)
We shall adore in the place where his feet stand.” (Psalms 132:7.)
We, then, see that the two expressions, apparently different, do yet well agree, that the Temple was the house of God and his habitation, and that yet it was only his footstool. It was the house of God, because the faithful found by experience that he was there present; as, then, God gave tokens of his presence, the Temple was rightly called the house; of God, his rest and habitation. But that the faithful might not fix their minds on the visible sanctuary, and thus by indulging a gross imagination, fall into superstition, and put an idol in the place of God, the Temple was called the footstool of God. For as it was a footstool, it behooved the faithful to rise up higher and to know that God was really sought, only when they raised their thoughts above the world. We now perceive what was the purpose of this mode of speaking.
God is said not to have remembered his Temple, not because he had wholly disregarded it, but because the destruction of the Temple could produce no other opinion in men. All, then, who saw that the Temple had been burnt by profane hands, and pulled down after it had been plundered, thought that the Temple was forsaken by God; and so also he speaks by Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 10:18.) Then this oblivion, or not remembering, refers to the thoughts of men; for however God may have remembered the Temple, yet he seemed for a time to have disregarded it. We must, at the same time, bear in mind what I have said, that the Prophet here did not intend to dispute with God, or to contend with him, but, on the contrary, to shew what the people deserved; for God was so indignant on account of their sins, that he suffered his own Temple to be profaned. The same thing also follows respecting the kingdom, —
(148) The verb here is in the future tense, and the clause might be thus rendered, —
Why should the Lord in his wrath becloud the daughter of Sion?
And if ישבה, in Lamentations 1:1, be in the future tense, as it may be, that clause may be rendered in the same way, —
Why should sit alone the city that was full of people?
Then follows here, as in the former instance, a description of what had happened to Sion, —
He hath cast from heaven to earth the glory of Israel, And not remembered his footstool in the day of his wrath.
At the same time, the clauses may both be rendered as proposed in a note on Lamentations 1:1, and the tenses of the verbs be preserved. The verb here is clearly in the future tense, and the verb in the former instance may be so; and the future in Hebrew is often to be taken as the present, as the case is in Welsh.
How this! in his wrath becloud does the Lord the daughter of Sion!—
He pursues the same subject, but in other words. He first says, that God had without pardon destroyed all the habitations of Jacob; some read, “all the beauty (or the ornament) of Jacob.” But the other rendering is more suitable, that he had destroyed all the habitations of Jacob; and then that he had demolished in his indignation, etc. The word is derived from what means excess; but we know that all words signifying wrath are transferred to God, but they do not properly belong to him. God, then, in his violent wrath had demolished all fortresses, and cast them to the ground; and afterwards, that he had profaned, etc.
This profanation of the kingdom, and of the princes, corresponds with the former verse, where he said that God had not remembered his footstool for we know that the kingdom was sacerdotal and consecrated to God. When, therefore, it was polluted, it follows that God in a manner exposed his name to reproach, because the mouth of all the ungodly was thus opened, so that they insolently poured forth their slanders. That God, then, spared not the kingdom nor the Temple, it hence followed that his wrath against the Jews was dreadful. Now, as he is a righteous judge, it follows, that such was the greatness of the sins of the Jews, that they sustained the blame for this extreme sacrilege; for it was through their sins that God’s name was exposed to reproach both as to the Temple and the kingdom.
Jeremiah expresses the same thing in various ways; but all that he says tends to shew that it was an evidence of God’s extreme vengeance, when the people, the city, and the Temple, were destroyed. But it ought to be observed, that God is here represented as the author of that calamity: the Prophet would have otherwise lamented in vain over the ruin of his own country; but as in all adversities he acknowledged the hand of God, he afterwards added, that God had a just reason why he was so grievously displeased with his own people.
He then says, that every horn had been broken by God. We know that by horn is meant strength as well as excellency or dignity and I am disposed to include both here, though the word breaking seems rather to refer to strength or power. But the whole clause must be noticed, that God had broken every horn of Israel in the indignation of his wrath. The Prophet intimates that God had not been angry with his people as though he had been offended by slight transgressions, but that the measure of his wrath had been unusual, even because the impiety of the people had so burst forth, that the offense given to God could not have been slight. Then, by indignation of wrath the Prophet does not mean an excess, as though God had through a violent impulse rushed forth to take vengeance; but he rather intimates that the people had become so wicked, that it did not behoove God to punish in an ordinary way an impiety so inveterate.
He then adds, that God had withdrawn, his right hand from before the enemy, and that at the same time he had burned like a fire, the flame of which had devoured all around. The Prophet here refers to two things; the first is, that though God had been accustomed to help his people, and to oppose their enemies, as they had experienced his aid in the greatest dangers, yet now his people were forsaken and left destitute of all hope. The first clause, then, declares, that God would not be the deliverer of his people as formerly, because they had forsaken him. But he speaks figuratively, that God had drawn back his right hand; and God’s right hand means his protection, as it is well known. But the Prophet’s meaning is by no means obscure, even that there was hereafter no hope that God would meet the enemies of his people, and thus preserve them in safety, for he had drawn back his hand. (149) But there is a second thing added, even that God’s hand burned like fire. Now it was in itself a grievous thing that the people had been so rejected by God, that no help could be expected from him; but it was still a harder thing, that he went forth armed to destroy his people. And the metaphor of fire ought to be noticed; for had he said that God’s right hand was against his people, the expression would not have been so forcible; but when he compared God’s right hand to fire which burned, and whose flame consumed all Israel, it was a much more dreadful thing. (150)
Moreover, by these words the Israelites were reminded that they were not to lament their calamities in an ordinary way, but ought, on the contrary, to have seriously considered the cause of all their evils, even the provoking of God’s wrath against themselves; and not only so, but that God was angry with them in an unusual degree, and yet justly, so that they had no reason to complain. It follows, —
(149) Gataker, Henry, Blayney, and Henderson, consider “the right hand” as that of Israel — that God drew back or restrained the right hand of Israel, so that he had no power to face his enemies. But Scott agrees with Calvin; and favorable to the same view are the early versions, except the Syr. , for they render the pronoun, “his own — suam :” the Targ. also takes the same view. Had the word been “hand,” it might have been applied to Israel; but it is “the right hand,” which commonly means protection, or rather God’s power, as put forth to defend his people and to resist enemies. This is farther confirmed by what is said in the following verse, that God “stood with his right hand as an adversary.” See Psalms 74:11 — Ed.
(150) The last clause may be literally rendered thus, —
And he burned in Jacob as fire, the flame devoured around.—
He employs now another metaphor, that God, who was wont to defend his people, now took up arms against them; for stating a part for the whole, he includes in the bow every other weapon. When, therefore, he says that God had bent his bow, it is the same as though he said that he was fully armed. The bow, then, as we have before seen, means every kind of weapon. He then adds, that his right hand stood as an adversary. Here he more plainly describes what he had before touched upon, even that God had not only given up his people to the will of their enemies, but that he himself had held up a banner to their enemies, and went before them with an armed hand. Nor is there a doubt but that by the right hand of God he means all their enemies; for it was necessary carefully to impress this fact on the minds of the people, that the war had not been brought by the Chaldeans, but that God had resolved thereby to punish the wickedness of the people, and especially their desperate obstinacy, for he had omitted nothing to restore the people to the right way.
Whenever, then, there is mention made here of God, let us know that the people are reminded, as I have already said, that they had to do with God, lest. they should forget this, or think that it was adverse fortune, or dream of some other causes of evils, as men are wont in this respect to be very ingenious in deceiving themselves. And we shall see this more clearly hereafter, where it is said, that God had thought to destroy the wall of Jerusalem; but this thought was the same as his decree. Then the Prophet explains there more fully what is yet here substantially found, even that God was brought forward thus before the people, that they might learn to humble themselves under his mighty hand. The hand of God was not indeed visible, but the Prophet shews that the Chaldeans were not alone to be regarded, but rather that the hidden hand of God, by which they were guided, ought to have been seen by the eyes of faith. It was, then, this hand of God that stood against the people.
It then follows, He slew all the chosen men; some read, “all things desirable;” but it seems more suitable to consider men as intended, as though he had said, that the flower of the people perished by the hand of God in the tabernacle of the daughter of Sion; though the last clause would unite better with the end of the verse, that on the tabernacle of the daughter of Sion God had poured forth his wrath, or his anger, as fire
He repeats the metaphor which he had used in the last verse; and this is what we ought carefully to notice; for God threatens by Isaiah that he would be a fire to devour his enemies:“
The light of Israel shall be a fire, and his Holy One a flame of fire, and it shall devour all briers and all kinds of wood.” (Isaiah 10:7.)
There God threatened the Chaldeans, as though he had said that his vengeance would be dreadful, when as a patron and defender of his people he would contend with the Chaldeans. He there calls himself the light of Israel and the Holy One; and hence he said that he would be a fire and a flame as to the Chaldeans. But what does he say here? even that God had poured forth lt is wrath as fire, that its flame had devoured all around whatever was fair to be seen in Israel. We hence see that the people had provoked against themselves the vengeance of God, which would have been otherwise poured forth on their enemies; and thus the sin of the people was doubled. It follows, —
These words might seem superfluous, since the Prophet has often repeated, that God was become an enemy to his own people; but we shall hereafter see, that though they were extremely afflicted, they yet did not rightly consider whence their calamity arose. As, then, they had become so stupified by their evils, that they did not turn their eyes to God, they were on this account often urged and stimulated, that they might at length understand by their evils that God was a judge. Now, as it was difficult to convince them of this truth, the Prophet did not think it enough briefly to touch on it, but found it necessary to dwell on it at large, so that the people might at length be roused from their insensibility.
He then says that God himself was to them as an enemy, lest the Israelites should fix their eyes on the Chaldeans, and thus think that they had been the chief movers of the war. He therefore says, that they had undertaken that war through the secret influence of God, and had carried it on successfully, because God endued them with his own power. And hence the faithful ought to have concluded, that nothing could have been more grievous than to have God as their adversary; for as long as they had suffered themselves to be defended by the hand of God, they were victorious, we know, over all their enemies, so that they could then brave all dangers with impunity. The Prophet now reminds them, that as they had been successful and prosperous under the defense and protection of God, so now they were miserable, for no other reason but that God fought against them. But we ought at the same time to bear in mind the truth, which we have noticed, that God is never angry with men without reason; and since he was especially inclined to shew favor to his people, we must understand that he would not have been thus indignant, had not necessity constrained him.
He has destroyed Israel, he says; he has destroyed all his palaces; and afterwards, he has dissipated or demolished all his fortresses; and finally, he has increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation; תאניה ואניה tanie veanie, words derived from the same root, but joined together for the sake of amplifying, not only in this place, but also in the twenty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, and in other places. The meaning is, that God had not put an end to his vengeance, because the people had not resolved to put an end to their obstinate wickedness. He afterwards adds, —
Then he says first, that his tabernacle had been overthrown by God. They who render it “cottage” extenuate too much what is spoken of; nor does the Prophet simply compare the sanctuary of God to a cottage. Then I take tabernacle in a good sense. With regard to the verb חמם, chemes, as it means to migrate, they properly render it, as I think, who give this version, that God had removed his tabernacle; nor do I disapprove of repeating the word tabernacle. God, then, had removed his tabernacle, as though it were a cottage in a garden. Watchmen, as it appears from the first chapter of Isaiah, had then cottages in their gardens, but only for a time, as is the case at this day with those who watch over their vineyards; they have, until the time of vintage, small chests in which they conceal themselves. The Prophet then says, that though God’s tabernacle was honorable, and of high dignity, it was yet like a cottage in a garden. It is not, however, a simple comparison, as before stated, and therefore I reject the opinion of those who render it cottage, for it is not suitable, and it would be unmeaning. God, then, hath removed his tabernacle as a garden, that is, the sanctuary where he dwelt. And how did he remove it? even as a garden-cottage. And as watchers of gardens were wont to construct their little cots of leaves of trees and slight materials, so the Prophet, in order to increase commiseration, says, that the sacred habitation of God was like a cottage in a garden, because it was removed from one place to another; and thus he intimates that God regarded as nothing what he had previously adorned with singular excellencies. (151)
He then adds, that God had destroyed his testimony. By the word, מועד, muod, he means the same throughout; but some confine it to the ark of the covenant, and of this I do not disapprove. We must yet bear in mind the design of the Prophet, which was to shew that by the entire ruin of the Temple the covenant of God was in a manner abolished. It is, indeed, certain, that God had not forgotten his faithfulness and constancy, but this abolition of his covenant refers to what appeared to men. He then says, that the sanctuary which was, as it were, the testimony of God’s favor, had been overthrown. Now, as he repeats again the word מועד, muod, it may be that he thus refers to the Tabernacle, either because the holy assemblies met there, or because it had been solemnly dedicated, that God might there hold intercourse with his people. For מועד, muod, means a fixed time, it means an assembly, it means a festival, and sometimes it means a sacrifice; and all these signification’s are not unsuitable: yet when he says that God had destroyed his testimony, I apply this to the Tabernacle itself, or, if it seems to any preferable, to the ark of the covenant; though the former is the most suitable, because it was a place consecrated, as it has been stated, for mutual intercourse.
He afterwards says, that God had forgotten the assembly, the sacrifice, or the tabernacle; for it is the same word again, but it seems not to be taken in the same sense. Then I think that מועד, muod, is to be taken here for the assembly. As he had previously said, that the place where the holy assemblies met had been overthrown or destroyed, so now he says, that God had no care for all those assemblies, as though they had been buried in perpetual oblivion; for he mentions also the Sabbath, which corresponds with the subject. God, then, had forgotten all the assemblies as well as the Sabbath. There is, again, as to this last word, a part stated for the whole, for this word was no doubt intended to include all the festivals. The meaning of the passage then is, that the impiety of the people had been so great, that God, having, as it were, forgotten his covenant, had inflicted such a dreadful punishment, that religion, for a time, was in a manner trodden under foot.
He says, in the last place, that the king and the priest had been rejected by God. We have already said, that these were as two pledges of God’s paternal favor; for, on the one hand, he who reigned from the posterity of David was a living image of Christ; and on the other hand, there was always a high-priest from the posterity of Aaron to reconcile men to God. It was then the same as though God shewed himself in every way propitious to the chosen people. Then their true happiness was founded on the kingdom and the priesthood; for the kingdom was, as it were, a mark of God’s favor for their defense, and the priesthood was to them the means by which reconciliation with God was obtained. When, therefore, God wholly disregarded the king and the priest, it became hence evident, that he was greatly displeased with his people, having thus, in a manner, obliterated his favors. It follows, —
(151) The word שכו is rendered by the versions in the sense of סכו, “his tabernacle;” but by so doing they make it the same in effect with מועדו, “his place of meeting,” in the following clause. The verb חמס never means what Calvin says, to migrate or to remove, but to cast off, or to throw down, that is, with force or violence. Then שר, a fence or enclosure, is what suits the verb, —
6. And he has thrown down as that of a garden his enclosure, He has destroyed his assembling-place; Forgotten hath Jehovah in Sion the assembly and the Sabbath; And has cast off, in the foaming of his wrath, the king and the priest.
The “enclosure,” or fence, refers to the courts which surrounded the Temple; hence the place where the people assembled was destroyed. God had regarded it no more than the fence of a common garden. There is “fence” understood after כ, no uncommon thing in Hebrew. — Ed.
He proceeds with the same subject, and adopts similar words. He says first, that God had abominated his altar; (152) an expression not strictly proper, but the Prophet could not otherwise fully shew to the Jews what they deserved; for had he only spoken of the city, of the lands, of the palaces, of the vineyards, and, in short, of all their possessions, it would have been a much lighter matter; but when he says that God had counted as nothing all their sacred things, — the altar, the Temple, the ark of the covenant, and festive days, — when, therefore, he says, that God had not only disregarded, but had also cast away from him these things, which yet especially availed to conciliate his favor, the people must have hence perceived, except they were beyond measure stupid, how grievously they had provoked God’s wrath against themselves; for this was the same as though heaven and earth were blended together. Had there been an upsetting of all things, had the sun left its place and sunk into darkness, had the earth heaved upwards, the confusion would have hardly been more dreadful, than when God put forth thus his hand against the sanctuary, the altar, the festal days, and all their sacred things. But we must refer to the reason why this was done, even because the Temple had been long polluted by the iniquities of the people, and because all sacred things had been wickedly and disgracefully profaned. We now, then, understand the reason why the Prophet enlarged so much on a subject in itself sufficiently plain.
He afterwards adds, He hath delivered all the palaces, etc.; as though he had said, that the city had not been taken by the valor of enemies, but that the Chaldeans had fought under the authority and banner of God. He, in short, intimates that the Jews had miserably perished, because they perished through their own fault; and that the Chaldeans had proved victorious in battle, and had taken the city, not through their own courage or skill, but because God had resolved to punish that ungodly and wicked people.
It follows in the last place, that the enemies had made a noise in the temple of God as in the day of solemnity. Here also the Prophet shews, that God would have never suffered the enemies insolently to exult and to revel in the very Temple, had not the Israelites deserved all this; for the insolence of their enemies was not unknown to God, and he might have easily checked it if he pleased. Why, then, did he grant so much license to these profane enemies? even because the Jews themselves had previously polluted the Temple, so that he abhorred all their solemn assemblies, as also he declares by Isaiah, that he detested their festivals, Sabbaths, and new moons. (Isaiah 1:13.) But it was a shocking change, when enemies entered the place which God had consecrated for himself, and there insolently boasted and uttered base and wicked calumnies against God! But the sadder the spectacle, the more detestable appeared the impiety of the people, which had been the cause of so great evils. For we ought ever to remember what I have often stated, that these circumstances were noticed by the Prophet, that the people might at length acknowledge themselves guilty as to all these evils, which they would have otherwise ascribed to the Chaldeans. That, then, the Chaldeans polluted the Temple, that they trod under foot all sacred things, all this the Prophet shews was to be ascribed to the Jews themselves, who had, through their own conduct, opened the Temple to the Chaldeans, who had exposed all sacred things to their will and pleasure. It follows, —
(152) Our version, “cast off,” gives the real meaning of the verb. — Ed.
The verb to think, has more force than what is commonly assigned to it; for it would be very flat to say, that God thought to destroy; but to think here means to resolve or to decree. (153) This is one thing. And then we must bear in mind the contrast between this and those false imaginations, by which men are wont to be drawn away, so as not to believe that God is present in adversities as well as prosperity. As, therefore, men go willfully astray through various false thoughts, and thus withdraw themselves, as it were, designedly from God, the Prophet says here that the walls of Jerusalem had not fallen by chance, but had been overthrown through a divine decree, because God had so determined, according to what we have seen in many places throughout the book of Jeremiah: “See, these are the thoughts which God has thought respecting Jerusalem, which he has thought respecting Babylon.” The Prophet, then, in these instances, taught what he now confirms in this place, that when the city Jerusalem was destroyed, it was not what happened by chance; but because God had brought there the Chaldeans, and employed them as his instruments in taking and destroying the city: God, then, has thought to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. It is, indeed, true, that the Chaldeans had actively carried on the war, and omitted nothing as to military skill, in order to take the city: but the Prophet calls here the attention of the Jews to a different thought, so that they might acknowledge that they suffered justly for their sins, and that God was the chief author of that war, and that the Chaldeans were to be viewed as hired soldiers.
He afterwards adds, that God had extended a line or a rule, as it is usually done in separating buildings. (154) And then he says, He hath not drawn back his hand from scattering; and so it was, that the ramparts and the walls mourned, and fell down together (155) We now see that what the Prophet had in view was to lead the Jews fully to believe that the destruction was not to be ascribed to the Chaldeans, but, on the contrary, to God. Added at the same time must be another part of what is here taught, that God would not have been so displeased with the holy city which he had chosen, had not the people extremely provoked him with their sins. It now follows, —
(153) The verb is often used in this secondary sense, to purpose or resolve or determine, as the result of thinking. The Vulg. and the Targ. very improperly retain its primary meaning, but the Syr. gives that of resolving or determining. — Ed.
(154) It was the line of destruction as mentioned in Isaiah 34:11, designed to point out what was to be destroyed. — Ed.
(155) The verbs אבל, to mourn, and אסל, to be faint, to fail, when applied to inanimate things, mean to be desolate and to decay. This clause then ought to be thus rendered, —
So that he has made desolate the rampart and the wall, They are become wholly decayed together.
The connection shows that the where must be rendered, “so that;” and as the last verb has the last letter doubled, the word “wholly” ought to be introduced. — Ed.
He again relates in other words what he had said, that the walls of Jerusalem had fallen. But he now speaks of the gates and says, that they had sunk into the ground, or had become fixed in the ground; for it may be explained in both ways; as though he had said, that the gates had been no hindrance to the enemies so as to prevent them to enter the city. He thus derides the foolish confidence of the people, who relied on their defenses and thought the city impregnable. He then says that the gates had sunk, or had become fixed in the ground
He then says that God had destroyed and broken her bars; for no doubt the gates had firm and strong bars. He then says that neither the gates nor the bars were found sufficient, when God stretched forth his hand to the Chaldeans, to lead them into the city. He afterwards adds, that both the king and the princes had been driven into exile; for when he says, among the nations, or to the nations, he intimates that there was no more a king, for he and the royal seed and the princes were gone into banishment. The rest I defer until tomorrow.
The Prophet here strikingly represents the grievousness of the people’s calamity, when he says, that the elders, as in hopeless despair, were lying on the ground, that they cast dust on their heads, that they were clad in sackcloth, as it was usually done in very grievous sorrow, and that the virgins bent their heads down to the ground. The meaning is, that the elders knew not what to do, and led others. to join them in acts of fruitless and abject lamentation. We indeed know that young women are over-careful as to their form and beauty, and indulge themselves in pleasures; and that when they roll themselves with their face and hair on the ground, it is a token of extreme mourning. This is what the Prophet means.
They were wont indeed to put on sackcloth as a token of repentance, and to cast dust on their heads; but their minds were often so confused, that they only thus set forth their mourning and sorrow, and had no regard to God; and hypocrites, when they put on sackcloth, pretended to repent, but it was a false pretense. Now in this place the Prophet does not mean that the elders by adopting these rites professed to repent and humbly to solicit pardon; but refers to them only as tokens of sorrow; as though he had said, that the elders had no resources, and that the young women had no hope nor joy. For the elders did lie down on the ground, as it is usual with those who have no remedy. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet. (157) It follows, —
(157) The verse may be thus rendered, —
10. They sit on the ground, they are silent, the elders of the daughter of Sion; They have cast dust on their head, they have girded on sackcloth; They have bent to the ground their head, the daughters of Jerusalem.—
The Prophet himself now speaks, and says that his eyes were consumed with tears, while weeping on account of the calamities of the people: even in the deepest grief tears at length dry up; but when there is no end of weeping, the sorrow, which as it were never ripens, must necessarily be very bitter. Jeremiah then expresses now the vehemence of his grief when he says that his eyes failed through shedding tears. He said in Jeremiah 9:0, “Who will give me eyes for fountains?” that is, who will make my eyes to turn into fountains, that they may continually flow? and this he said, because he saw how dreadful a vengeance of God impended over the obstinate. But now, when he sees accomplished what he had dreaded, he says, that his eyes were consumed with weeping.
To the same purpose is what he adds, that his bowels were disturbed. It is the same verb as we have seen before, חמרמרו, chemermeru; which some render “bound,” as we also said then. I know not why one expositor has changed what he had elsewhere said rightly; he puts here, “swollen have my bowels.” But I see no reason why the verb should be taken here in a different sense, for it immediately follows, my liver is poured forth on the ground. He may, indeed, have included other parts of the intestines by stating a part for the whole. The word here properly means the liver, as when Solomon says,“
He hath pierced my liver.” (Proverbs 7:23.)
But Jeremiah, in short, shews that all his faculties were so seized with grief, that no part was exempt. He then says that his liver was poured forth, but in the same sense in which he said that his bowels were disturbed. They are indeed hyperbolical expressions; but as to the meaning, Jeremiah simply expresses his feelings; for there is no doubt but that he was incredibly anxious and sorrowful on account of so great a calamity; for he not only lamented the adversity in no ordinary way, but he also considered how wicked was that obstinacy in which the people had hardened themselves for almost fifty years; for he had spent himself in vain, not for a short time, but for nearly fifty years he never ceased to speak to them. He then, no doubt, thought within himself what the people had deserved, so that he had no common dread of God’s vengeance. This, then, was the reason why he said that his bowels were disturbed and his liver poured forth. (158) He, however, mentions the cause of his sorrow, even the breach or destruction of the daughter of his people; and he mentions one thing in particular, because the little one and he who sucked the breasts vanished away in the streets of the city; for so I render the verb עתף, otheph, which properly means to cover; but its secondary meaning is to vanish away, as we shall again presently see. It was, indeed, a miserable sight, when not only men and women were everywhere slain, but when, through famine, little children also fainted. We, indeed, know that infants move our pity, for the tears of a child in hunger penetrate into our inmost souls. When, therefore, little children and those who hung on their mothers’ breasts, cried through the streets of the city, it must have touched the most iron hearts. It was then not without reason that Jeremiah referred to this in particular, that little children and sucklings vanished away, not in a deserted and barren land, but in the very streets of the city. It follows, —
(158) The verbs here are all in the past tense, and the versions so render them. Our version is wrong, as well as that of Blayney and Henderson, in rendering them in the present tense; for the Prophet is describing how he felt when he witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, —
11. Consume with tears did my eyes, agitated were my bowels, Poured out on the ground was my liver, for the breach of the daughter of my people, When faint did the child and the suckling in the streets of the city.—
There is either a personification in the words of the Prophet, or he speaks now of another party, for he cannot refer now to children sucking their mothers’ breasts, for they could not have expressly said, Where is corn and wine? and the use of wine is not allowed to infants. Then the words of the Prophets extend further, for not infants, but children somewhat grown up, could have thus spoken. And in this view there is nothing unreasonable or forced, for he spoke of little children, and to little children he joined infants. (159) And now he refers only to one party, even that children, who could now speak, complained to their mothers that there was no bread nor wine, that is, no means of support, no food.
If, however, any one prefers a personification, I do not object; and this view would not be unsuitable, that even infants by their silence cried for food; for the tears of children speak more efficaciously than when one gives utterance to words.
However this may be, the Prophet intimates that such was the scarcity, that children died in the bosom of their mothers, and in vain sought food and cried that they were without support. He then says that they said to their mothers; (160) by which expression he means that their complaints were the more pitiable, because their mothers could afford them no help. And we know how tender and affectionate are the feelings of mothers, for a mother would willingly nourish her own child, not only with her own milk, but even, if possible, with her life. When, therefore, the Prophet says that children cried to their mothers, he means to represent a sad spectacle, and which ought justly to produce horror in the minds of all. Where is bread and wine? he says, even when they vanished away (some say “fainted,” but I prefer, as I have said, this rendering) as a dead man in the streets; and further, when they poured out, a sadder thing still, — when they poured out their souls into the bosom of their mothers. It now follows, —
(159) That young children and infants are spoken of, is evident from the end of the verse; the one died in the streets, and the other in the mother’s bosom. The question, “Where is corn,” &c., is to be understood of the children, young boys and girls. — Ed.
(160) To correspond with the former verse, the versions render this, “They said to their mothers.” The verb is, indeed, in the future tense, and it might be rendered, “To their mothers would they say;” for the Hebrew future may be thus rendered, —
12. To their mothers would they say,” Where is corn and wine?” When they fainted as one wounded in the streets of the city, When they poured out their life into the bosom of their mothers.—
When we wish to alleviate grief, we are wont to bring examples which have some likeness to the case before us. For when any one seeks to comfort one in illness, he will say, “Thou art not the first nor the last, thou hast many like thee; why shouldest thou so much torment thyself; for this is a condition almost common to mortals.” As, then, it is an ordinary way of alleviating grief to bring forward examples, the Prophet says, “What examples shall I set before thee? that is, why or to what purpose should I mention to thee this or that man who is like thee? or, What then shall I call thee to witness, or testify to thee?,” But I prefer this rendering, “To what purpose should I bring witnesses to thee, who may say that they have seen something of a like kind? for these things will avail thee nothing.” (161)
The Prophet, then, means that comforts commonly administered to those in misery, would be of no benefit, because the calamity of Jerusalem exceeded all other examples, as though he had said, “No such thing had ever happened in the world; God had never before thundered so tremendously against any people; were I, then, to seek to bring examples to thee, I should be utterly at a loss; for when I compare thee with others in misery, I find that thou exceedest them all. “We now, then, perceive the meaning of the Prophet: he wished by this mode of speaking to exaggerate the grievousness of Jerusalem’s calamity, for she had been afflicted in a manner unusual and unheard of before; as though he had said that the Jews had become miserable beyond all other nations. Why then should I bring witnesses before thee? and why should I make any one like thee? why should I make other miserable people equal to thee? He adds the reason or the end (for the ו, vau, here ought to be so rendered) that I might comfort thee, that is, after the usual manner of men. He afterwards adds, because great as the sea is thy breach or breaking; that is, “Thy calamity is the deepest abyss: I cannot then find any in the whole world whom I can compare to thee, for thy calamity exceeds all calamities; nor is there anything like it that can be set before thee, so that thou art become a memorable example for all ages.”
But when we hear the Prophet speaking thus, we ought to remember that we have succeeded in the place of the ancient people. As, then, God had formerly punished with so much severity the sins of his chosen people, we ought to beware lest we in the present day provoke him to an extremity by our perverseness, for he remains ever like himself. But whenever it may happen that we are severely afflicted and broken down by his hand, let us still know that there is yet some comfort remaining for us, even when sunk down in the lowest depth. The Prophet, indeed, exaggerates in this place the evils of the people; but he had previously begun to encourage the faithful to entertain hope; and he will again repeat the same doctrine. But it was necessary for the Prophet to use such words until those who were as yet torpid in their sins, and did not sufficiently consider the design of God’s vengeance, were really humbled. He adds, —
(161) The simpler rendering would be, “What shall I testify (or declare) to thee?” So the Sept: or, “What shall I call thee to witness?” — Ed.
Here the Prophet condemns the Jews for that wantonness by which they had, as it were, designedly destroyed themselves, as though they had willfully drunk sweet poison. They had been inebriated with those fallacies which we have seen, when impostors promised them a prosperous condition; for we have seen that false prophets often boldly declared that whatever Jeremiah threatened was of no account. Since, then, the Jews were inebriated with such flatteries, and disregarded God’s judgment, and freely indulged themselves in their vices, the effect was, that God’s wrath had been always and continually kindled by them. Now, then, Jeremiah reproves them for such wantonness, even because they willfully sought to be deceived, and with avidity cast themselves into snares, by seeking for themselves flatterers as teachers. Micah also reproves them for the same thing, that they sought prophets who promised them a fruitful vintage and an abundant harvest. (Micah 2:10.) The meaning of Jeremiah is the same.
He says that prophets had prophesied, or had seen vanity for them; but the verb refers to prophecies, as prophets are called seers. He then says that the prophets had seen vanity and insipidity (162) This availed not to extenuate the fault of the people; and Jeremiah does not here flatter the people, as though they had perished through the fault of others; and yet this was a common excuse, for most, when they had been deceived, complained that they had fallen through being led astray, and also that they had not been sufficiently cautious when subtle men were laying snares for them. But the Prophet here condemns the Jews, because they had been deceived by false prophets, as it was a just reward for their vainglory and ambition. For they had very delicate ears, and free reproofs could not be endured by them; in a word, when they rejected all sound doctrine, the devil must have necessarily succeeded in the place of God, as also Paul says,“
that those were justly punished who were blinded by God so as to believe a lie, because they received not the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:11.)
We now perceive the design of the Prophet: he says that the Jews had indeed been deceived by the false prophets; but this had happened through their own fault, because they had not submitted to obey God, because they had rejected sound doctrine, because they had been rebellious against all his counsels. At the same time, not only their crime seems to have been thus exaggerated, but also their shame was brought before them, — because they had dared to set up these impostors against Jeremiah as well as other servants of God; for they had boasted greatly of these their false prophets whenever they sought to exult against God. How great was this presumption! When the false prophets had promised them security, they immediately triumphed in an insolent manner over Jeremiah, as though they were victorious. As, then, their wickedness and arrogance had been such against God, the Prophet justly retorts upon them, “Behold now as to your false prophets; for when they lately promised to you prosperity of every kind, I was inhumanly treated, and my calling was disdainfully repudiated by you; let now your false prophets come forward: be wise at length through your evils, and acknowledge what it is to have acted so haughtily against God and against his servants.” We now understand why the Prophet says, “They have seen for you vanity and insipidity.”
He adds, they have not opened, or revealed, &c. The preposition על, ol, is here redundant; the words are, “they have not revealed upon thine iniquity.” There is, indeed, a suitableness in the words in that language, that they had not applied their revelations to the iniquities of the people, for they would have been thus restored to the right way, and would have thus obviated the vengeance of God.
Now, this passage ought to be carefully noticed: Jeremiah spoke of the fallacies of the false prophets, which he said were insipid: he now expresses how they had deceived the people, even because they disclosed not their iniquities. Let us then know that there is nothing more necessary than to be warned, that being conscious of our iniquities we may repent. And this was the chief benefit to be derived from the teaching of the prophets. For the other part, the foretelling of future things would have had but little effect had not the prophets preached respecting the vengeance of God, — had they not exhorted the people to repentance, — had they not bidden them by faith to embrace the mercy of God. Then Jeremiah in a manner detects the false doctrines of those who had corrupted the prophetic doctrine, by saying that they had not disclosed iniquities. Let us then learn by this mark how to distinguish between the faithful servants of God and impostors. For the Lord by his word summons us before his tribunal, and would have our iniquities discovered, that we may loathe ourselves, and thus open an entrance for mercy. But when what is brought before us only tickles our ears and feeds our curiosity, and, at the same time, buries all our iniquities, let us then know that the refined things which vastly please men are insipid and useless. Let, then, the doctrine of repentance be approved by us, the doctrine which leads us to God’s tribunal, so that being cast down in ourselves we may flee to his mercy.
He afterwards adds, that they might turn back thy captivity; some prefer, “thy defection” — and this meaning is not unsuitable; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, refers to punishment rather than to a crime. Then the captivity of the people would have been reversed had the people in time repented; for we obviate God’s wrath by repentance: “If we judge ourselves,” says Paul, “we shall not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31.) As, then, miserable men anticipate God’s judgment when they become judges of themselves, the Prophet does not without reason say that the false prophets had not disclosed their iniquities, so that they might remain quiet in their own country, and never be driven into exile. How so? for God would have been thus pacified, that is, had the people willingly turned to him, as it is said in Isaiah,“
And be converted, and I should heal them.” (Isaiah 6:10.)
Conversion, then, is said there to lead to healing; for as fire when fuel is withdrawn is extinguished, so also when we cease to sin fuel is not supplied to God’s wrath. We now, then, perceive the meaning of the Prophet; he, in short, intimates that people had been destroyed because they sought falsehoods, while the false prophets vainly flattered them; for they would have in due time escaped so great evils, had the prophets boldly exhorted the people to repentance. (163)
He then adds, And they saw for thee prophecies of vanity and expulsions. Though the word משאת, meshat, is often taken in a bad sense for a burden, that is, a hard prophecy which shews that God’s vengeance is nigh, yet it is doubtful whether the Prophet takes it now in this sense, since he speaks of prophecies which gave hope of impunity to the people; and these were not משאות, meshaut, that is, they were not grievous and dreadful prophecies. But when all things are well considered, it will be evident that Jeremiah did not without reason adopt this word; for he afterwards adds an explanation. The word, משאה, meshae, is indeed taken sometimes as meaning any kind of prophecy, but it properly means what is comminatory. But now, what does Jeremiah say? They saw for thee burdens which thou hast escaped. For to render odious the doctrine of the holy man, they called whatever he taught, according to a proverbial saying, a burden. Thus, then, they created a prejudice against the holy man by saying that all his prophecies contained nothing but terror and trouble. Now, by way of concession, the Prophet says, “They themselves have indeed been prophets to you, and they saw, but saw at length burdens.”
While, then, the false prophets promised impunity to the people, they were flatterers, and no burden appeared, that is, no trouble; but these prophecies became at length much more grievous than all the threatenings with which Jeremiah had terrified them; and corresponding with this view is what immediately follows, expulsions. For the Prophet, I doubt not, shews here what fruit the vain flatteries by which the people had chosen to be deluded had produced: for hence it happened, that they had been expelled from their country and driven into exile. For if the reason was asked, why the people had been deprived of their own inheritance, the obvious answer would have been this, because they had chosen to be deceived, because they had hardened themselves in obstinacy by means of falsehoods and vain promises. Since, then, their exile was the fruit of false doctrine, Jeremiah says now that these impostors saw burdens of vanity, but which at length brought burdens; and then they saw, מדוחים meduchim, (164) expulsions, even those things which had been the causes of expulsion or exile.
(162) So it means when applied to eatables, but folly or absurdity when applied to words. It comes from נפל, to fall, in the sense of decaying or degenerating. It is what is neither wise nor true. Hence it is rendered “foolishness” by the Sept. ; “foolish” by the Vulg. ; and “without substance” by the Targ. —
Thy prophets, they have seen vanity and folly.
What they had seen were both “vain,” useless, and “foolish,” absurd. — Ed.
(163) The verb rendered “turn back,” means also to turn away or aside, and this is the meaning given it here by the Syr., and most suitable to the passage, —
And they discovered not thine iniquity, to turn aside thy captivity.
That is, as the Syr. Expresses it, to avert it. — Ed.
(164) There seems to be a mistake in this word of a ד for an ר, two letters very similar; for the Targ., the Syr., and the Arab. , must have so read the word, as they render it in the sense of what is deceptive, fallacious, or imaginary. It is in the last rendered “phantasms.” The word occurs in Jeremiah 22:14, and is applied to chambers through which air or wind passed freely. It may be rendered here winds or airy things. Such was the character of their prophecies. This is far more suitable to the passage than expulsions or rejections, as given by the Sept. and Vulg. — Ed
The Prophet here reminds the Jews of the miseries by which they had been already in an extreme measure afflicted, so that these words seem redundant and somewhat unkind; for unseasonable is reproof when one lies down, as it were, worn out with evils. As this was the condition of the people, the Prophet ought not to have made more bitter their grief. But we have already referred to the reason for this, even because the Jews, though they mourned and were extremely sorrowful in their calamities, did not yet consider whence their evils came. It was therefore necessary that they should be more and more awakened; for it is but of little profit for any one to suffer evils, except he has regard to God’s judgment. We hence perceive the design of the Prophet, why he so much at large speaks of the miseries which were seen by all, and could not escape the notice of the Jews, who were almost overwhelmed with them; for it was not enough for them to feel their miseries, except they also considered the cause of them.
He then says, All who have passed by clapped their hands and hissed and moved the head, either in token of mockery, or of abhorrence, which is more probable. He then says, that they moved or shook the head at the daughter of Jerusalem, (165) Is this the city of which they said, It is perfect in beauty, and the joy of the whole earth? I know not why some render כלילת, calibat, a crown; it comes, as it is well known, from כלל calal, which means fullness, or anything solid. He then says, that Jerusalem had been perfect in beauty, because God had adorned it with singular gifts; he had especially favored it with the incomparable honor of being called by his name. Hence Jerusalem was in a manner the earthly palace of God, that is, on account of the Temple; and further, it was there that the doctrine of salvation was to be found; and remarkable was this promise,“
From Sion shall go forth the law, and rite word of God from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3.)
God had also promised to Ezekiel, that this city would be the fountain and origin of salvation to the whole world. (Ezekiel 47:1.) As, then, Jerusalem had been adorned with so remarkable gifts, the Prophet introduces here strangers, who ask, “Could it be that a city so celebrated for beauty had become a desolation?”
He calls it also the joy of the whole earth; for God had poured there his gifts so liberally, that it was a cause of joy to all. For we delight in beautiful things; and wherever God’s gifts appear, we ought to have our hearts filled with joy. Some give a more refined explanation — that Jerusalem had been the joy of the whole earth, because men have no peace except God be propitious to them; and there God had deposited the testimony and pledge of his favor: and thus Jerusalem made glad the whole world, because it invited all nations to God. This, at the first view, is plausible; but it seems to me more refined than solid. I am, therefore, content with this simple view, that Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth, because God had designed that his favor should appear there, which might justly excite the whole world to rejoice. (166) It afterwards follows, —
(165) Jeremiah relates what had taken place, the verbs being in the past tense. Our version is not correct in rendering the verbs in the present tense. The old versions follow the Hebrew. — Ed.
(166) The words may be rendered, “the joy of the whole land,” i.e., the land of Israel; which was strictly true. — Ed.
Here, also, the Prophet introduces enemies as insolently exulting over the miseries of the people. He first says, that they had opened the mouth, even that they might loudly upbraid them; for he is not said to open the mouth who only speaks, but who insolently and freely utters his calumnies. God is, indeed, sometimes said emphatically to open his mouth, when he announces something that deserves special notice; and so Matthew says, that Christ opened his mouth when he spoke of true happiness. (Matthew 5:2.) But in this place and in others the enemy is said to open his mouth, who, with a full mouth, so to speak, taunts him whom he sees worn out with evils. Hence, he refers to petulance or insolence, when he says, that enemies had opened their mouth
He then adds, that they had hissed. By hissing he no doubt means scoffing or taunting; for it immediately follows, that they had gnashed with their teeth, as though he had said, that enemies not only blamed and condemned them, but had also given tokens of extreme hatred; for he who gnashes with his teeth thus shews the bitterness of his mind, and even fury; for to gnash the teeth is what belongs to a wild beast. The Prophet then says, that enemies had not only harassed the people with taunts and scoffs, but had also cruelly and even furiously treated them. Now we know that to men of ingenuous minds, such a treatment is harder than death itself: for it is deemed by many a hard thing to fall in battle — and we see how men of war expose themselves to the greatest danger; but a disgraceful death is far more bitter. The Prophet, then, no doubt, amplifies the miseries of the people by this circumstance, that they had been harassed on every side by taunts. And he mentions this on purpose, because reproofs by the prophets had not been received by them; for we know how perversely the Jews had rebelled against the prophets, when they reproved them in God’s name. As, then, they would not have borne the paternal reproofs of God, they were thus constrained to bear the reproaches of enemies, and to receive the just reward of their pride and presumption. Nor is there a doubt, as I have said, but that the Prophet related reproaches of this kind, and the scoffs of enemies, that the people might at length know that they had been exposed to such evils, because they had proudly rejected the reproofs given them by the prophets.
He says, that enemies spoke thus, We have devoured; surely this is the day which we have expected; as though they triumphed when they saw that they got the victory, and that they could do with the people as they pleased. And as I have said, this in itself was a very bitter thing to the people; but. when the Prophet related, as in the person of the enemies, what was already sufficiently known to them, the people ought to have called to mind the reason why they had been so severely afflicted; and this is what the Prophet clearly sets forth in the next verse; for he, adds, —
Had the Prophet related only the boastings of enemies, the people would have probably become more hardened in their sorrow. But now, on the other hand, he assumes a different character. After having represented how insolently the enemies conducted themselves, he now says, Jehovah hath done what he had determined; and thus from the taunts of enemies he calls the attention of the people to the judgment of God. For when enemies insult us, we: indeed feel hurt, but afterwards grief in a manner blunts our feelings. Our best remedy then is, not to have our thoughts fixed on the insolence of men, but to know what the Scripture often reminds us, that the wicked are the scourges of God by which he chastises us. This, then, is the subject which the Prophet now handles. He says that God had done, etc.; as though he had said, that however enemies might exceed moderation, yet if the people attended to God there was a just cause why they should humble themselves.
He says, first, that Jehovah had done what he had determined: for the word to think is improperly applied to God, but yet it is often done, as we have before seen. He then says, that he had fulfilled the word which he had formerly commanded; for had the Prophet touched only on the secret counsel of God, the Jews might have been in doubt as to what it was. And certainly, as our minds cannot penetrate into that deep abyss, in vain would he have spoken of the hidden judgments of God. It was therefore necessary to come down to the doctrine, by which God, as far as it is expedient, manifests to us what would otherwise be not only hidden, but also incomprehensible; for were we to inquire into God’s judgments, we should sink into the deep. But when we direct our minds to what God has taught us, we find that he reveals to us whatever is necessary to be known; and though even by his word, we cannot perfectly know his hidden judgments. yet we may know them in part, and as I have said, as far as it is expedient for us. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet, after having spoken of God’s counsels and decrees, adds the word
Let us then hold to this rule, even to seek from the Law and the Prophets, and the Gospel, whatever we desire to know respecting the secret judgments of God; for, were we to turn aside, even in the smallest degree, from what is taught us, the immensity of God’s glory would immediately swallow up all our thoughts; and experience sufficiently teaches us, that nothing is more dangerous and even fatal than to allow ourselves more liberty in this respect than what behooves us. Let us then learn to bridle all curiosity when we speak of God’s secret judgments, and instantly to direct our minds to the word itself, that they may be in a manner enclosed there. Moreover, the Prophet was also able, in this manner, more easily to check whatever the Jews might have been otherwise ready to object: for we know that they were always wont to murmur, and that as soon as the prophets spake, they brought forward many exceptions, by which they attempted to confute their doctrine.
As, then, they were an unteachable people, Jeremiah did not only speak of God’s hidden judgments, of which some doubt might have been alleged; but, in order to cut off every occasion for disputes and contentions, he mentioned the word itself; and thus he held the Jews as it were convicted; for, as it is said by Moses, they could not have objected and said,“
Who shall ascend into heaven? who shall descend into the deep? who shall pass over the sea?” (Deuteronomy 30:12;)
for in their mouth was God’s word, that is, God had sufficiently made known his judgments, so that they could not complain of obscurity. We now then perceive another reason why the Prophet joined the word to God’s judgments and decrees or counsel.
But he says that this word had been published from ancient days; and here he touches on the untameable obstinacy of the people; for had they been admonished a few days or a short time before, they might have expostulated with God; and there might have been some specious appearance that God had as it were made too great haste in his rigor. But as prophets had been sent, one after another, and as he had not ceased for many years, nay, for many ages, to exhort them to repentance, and to threaten them also that they might repent, hence their inveterate impiety more fully betrayed itself. This is the reason why the Prophet now mentions the ancient days, in which God had published his word.
He at length adds, he hath subverted and not spared. He does not here charge God with too much rigor, but rather he reproves the Jews, so that from the grievousness of their punishment they might know how intolerable had been their iniquity. He would then have them to judge of their sins by their punishment, for God does not act unjustly towards men. It hence follows, that when we are severely afflicted by his hand, it is a proof that we have been very wicked.
He then concludes that it was God who had exhilarated their enemies, and raised up their horn (168) By these words he confirms the doctrine, on which I have already touched, that we ought to turn our eyes to God, when men are insolent to us, and exult over our miseries; for such a reproach might otherwise wholly overwhelm us. But when we consider that we are chastised by God, and that the wicked, however petulantly they may treat us, are yet God’s scourges, then we resolve with calm and resigned minds to bear what would otherwise wear us out by its acerbity. It follows, —
(168) Literally it is, —
And he hath made to rejoice over thee the enemy, He hath exalted the horn of thine oppressors.—
He means not that their heart really cried to God, for there was no cry in their heart; but by this expression he sets forth the vehemence of their grief, as though he had said, that the heart of the people was oppressed with so much sorrow, that their feelings burst forth into crying; for crying arises from extreme grief, and when any one cries or weeps, he has no control over himself. Silence is a token of patience; but when grief overcomes one, he, as though forgetting himself, necessarily bursts out into crying. This is the reason why he says that their heart cried to Jehovah
But we must observe, that the piety of the people is not here commended, as though they complained of their evils to God in sincerity and with an honest heart: on the contrary, the Prophet means that it was a common cry, often uttered even by the reprobate; for nature in a manner teaches this, that we ought to flee to God when oppressed by evils; and even those who have no fear of God exclaim in their extreme miseries, “God be merciful to us.” And, as I have said, such a cry does not flow from a right feeling or from the true fear of God, but from the strong and turbid impulse of nature: and thus God has from the beginning rendered all mortals inexcusable. So, then, now the Prophet says, that the Jews cried to God, or that their heart cried; not that they looked to God as they ought to have done, or that they deposited with him their sorrows and cast them into his bosom, as the Prophet encourages us to do; but because they found no remedy in the world — for as long as men find any comfort or help in the world, with that they are satisfied. Whence, then, was this crying to God? even because the world offered them nothing in which they could acquiesce; for it is indigenous, as it were, in our nature (that is, corrupt nature) to look around here and there, when any evil oppresses us. Now, when we find, as I have said, anything as a help, even an empty specter, to that we cleave, and never raise up our eyes to God. But when necessity forces us, then we begin to cry to God. Then the Prophet means that the people had been reduced to the greatest straits, when he says that their heart cried to God
He afterwards turns to the wall of Jerusalem, and ascribes understanding to an inanimate thing. O wall of Jerusalem, he says, draw down tears as though thou wert a river; or, as a river; for both meanings may be admitted. But by stating a part for the whole, he includes under the word wall, the whole city, as it is well known. And yet there is still a personification, for neither houses, nor walls, nor gates, nor streets, could shed tears; but Jeremiah could not, except by this hyperbolical language, sufficiently express the extent of their cry. This was the reason why he addressed the very wall of the city, and bade it to shed tears like a river (169)
There seems to be some allusion to the ruins; for the walls of the city had been broken down as though they were melted. And then the Prophet seems to allude to the previous hardness of the people, for their hearts had been extremely stupified. As, then, they never had been flexible, whether addressed by doctrine, or exhortations, or threatenings, he now by implication brings forward in contrast with them the walls of the city, as though he had said, “Hitherto no one of God’s servants could draw even one tear from your eyes, so great was your hardness; but now the very walls weep, for they dissolve, as though they would send forth rivers of waters. Therefore the very stones turn to tears, because ye have hitherto been hardened against God and all prophetic instruction.”
He afterwards adds, Spare not thyself, give not thyself rest day or night, and let not the daughter of thine eye, or the pupil of thine eye, cease, literally, be silent; but to be silent is metaphorically taken in the sense of ceasing or resting. He intimates that there would be, nay, that there was now, an occasion of continual lamentation; and hence he exhorted them to weep day and night; as though he had said, that sorrow would continue without intermission, as there would be no relaxation as to their evils. But we must bear in mind what we have before said, that the Prophet did not speak thus to embitter the sorrow of the people. We indeed know that the minds of men are very tender and delicate while under evils, and then that they rush headlong into impatience; but as they were not as yet led to true repentance, he sets before them the punishment which God had inflicted, that they might thereby be turned to consider their own sins. It follows, —
(169) The meaning suggested by the Vulgate is the most appropriate. The words may be rendered thus, —
Cried has their heart to the Lord, “O the wall of the daughter of Sion!” — Bring down like a torrent the tear, day and night; Give no rest to thyself. Let not cease the daughter of thine eye.
Their exclamation was, “O the wall,” etc. Then follow the words of Jeremiah to the end of the chapter; but the daughter of Sion, not the wall, is exhorted to weep and repent. “The daughter of the eye,” may be the tear, as suggested by Blayney and approved by Horsley; and it would be more suitable here. — Ed.
The Prophet now explains himself more clearly, and confirms what I have lately said, that he mentioned not the calamities of the people except for this end, that those who were almost stupid might begin to raise up their eyes to God, and also to examine their life, and willingly to condemn themselves, that thus they might escape from the wrath of God.
The Prophet then bids them to rise and to cry. Doubtless they had been by force constrained by their enemies to undertake a long journey: why then does he bid them to rise, who had become fugitives from their own country, and had been driven away like sheep? He regards, as I have said, the slothfulness of their minds, because they were still lying torpid in their sins. It was then necessary to rouse them from this insensibility; and this is what the Prophet had in view by saying, Rise (170) And then he bids them to cry at the beginning of the watches, even when sleep begins to creep on, and the time is quieter; for when men go to bed, then sleep comes on, and that is the main rest. But the Prophet bids here the Jews to cry, and in their uneasiness to utter their complaints at the very time when others take their rest. et he did not wish them heedlessly to pour forth into the air their wailings, but bade them to present their prayers to God. Then as to the circumstances of that time, he repeats what we have already seen, that so great was their mass of evils, that it allowed the people no relaxation; in short, he intimates that it was a continual sorrow.
But, as I have said, he would have the Jews not simply to cry, but after having exhorted them to pour out their hearts like waters, he adds, before the face of Jehovah. For the unbelieving make themselves almost hoarse by crying, but they are only like brute beasts; or if they call on God’s name, they do this, as it has been said, through a rash and indiscriminate impulse. Hence the Prophet here makes a difference between the elect of God and the reprobate, when he bids them to pour forth their hearts and their cries before God, so as to seek alleviation from him, which could not have been done, were they not convinced that he was the author of all their calamities; and hence, also, arises repentance, for there is a mutual relation between God’s judgment and men’s sins. Whosoever, then, acknowledges God as a judge, is at the same time compelled to examine himself and to inquire as to his own sins. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet’s words.
For the same purpose he adds, Raise up to him thy hands. This practice of itself is, indeed, not sufficient; but the Scripture often points out the real thing by external signs. Then the elevation of the hands, in this place and others, means the same thing as prayer; and it has been usual in all ages to raise up the hands to heaven, and the expression often occurs in the Psalms, (Psalms 28:2; Psalms 134:2;) and when Paul bids prayers to be made everywhere, he says,“
I would have men to raise up pure hands without contention.” (1 Timothy 2:8.)
God has no doubt suggested this practice to men, that they may first go beyond the whole world when they seek him; and, secondly, that they may thus stimulate themselves to entertain confidence, and also to divest themselves of all earthly desires; for except this practice were to raise up our minds, (as we are by nature inclined to superstition,) every one would seek God either at his feet or by his side. Then God has planted in men this feeling, even to raise upwards their hands, in order that they may go, as I have said, beyond the whole world, and that having thus divested themselves of all vain superstition, they may ascend above the heavens. This custom, I allow, is indeed common among the unbelieving; and thus all excuse has been taken away from them. Though, then, the unbelieving have been imbued with gross and delirious fantasies, so as to connect God with statues and pictures, yet this habit of raising up the hands to heaven ought to have been sufficient to confute all their erroneous notions. But it would not be enough to seek God beyond this world, so that no superstition should possess our minds, except our minds were also freed from all worldly desires. For we are held entangled in our lusts, and then we seek what pleases the flesh, and thus, for the most part, men strive, to subject God to themselves. Then the elevation of the hands does also shew that we are to deny ourselves, and to go forth, as it were, out of ourselves whenever we call on God. These are briefly the things which may be said of the use of this ceremony or practice.
But we must remember what I have referred to, that the Prophet designates the thing itself by an outward sign, when he bids them to raise up the hands to God. He afterwards shews the necessity of this, because of the soul of thy little ones, who faint in famine; (171) but the ב, beth, is redundant here, — who, then, through famine faint or fail, and that openly. For it might have happened that those who had no food pined away at home, and thus fainted because no one gave them aid, because their want was not known. But when infants in public places breathed out their souls through famine, hence was evident that extreme state of despair, which the Prophet intended here to set forth by mentioning at the head of all the streets. It follows, —
(170) The simpler meaning, as stated by Gataker, is, “Rise” from thy bed; for she is exhorted to cry in the night. — Ed.
(171) Rather, “who fainted through famine;” for he refers to what had taken place. — Ed.
Here, also, Jeremiah dictates words, or a form of prayer to the Jews. And this complaint availed to excite pity, that God had thus afflicted, not strangers, but the people whom he had adopted. Interpreters do, indeed, give another explanation, “See, Jehovah, To whom hast thou done this?” that is, Has any people been ever so severely afflicted? But I do not think that the comparison is made here, which they seek to make, but that the people only set before God the covenant which he had made with their fathers, as though they said, “O Lord, hadst thou thus cruelly raged against strangers, there would have been nothing so wonderful; but since we are thine heritage, and the blessed seed of Abraham, since thou hast been pleased to choose us as thy peculiar people, what can this mean, that, thou treatest us with so much severity?”
We now, then, perceive the real meaning of the Prophet, when, in the person of the people, he speaks thus, See, and look on, Jehovah, to whom thou hast done this; for thou hast had to do with thy children: not that the Jews could allege any worthiness; but the gratuitous election of God must have been abundantly sufficient to draw forth mercy. Nor do the faithful here simply ask God to see, but they add another word, Look on. By the two words they more fully express the indignity of what had happened, as though they said, that it was like a prodigy that God’s people should be so severely afflicted, who had been chosen by him: see, then, to whom thou hast done this
And this mode of praying was very common, as we find it said in the Psalms,“
Pour forth thy wrath on the nations which know not thee, and on the kingdoms which call not on thy name.” (Psalms 79:6.)
And a similar passage we have before observed in our Prophet. (Jeremiah 10:25.) The sum of what is said is, that there was a just reason why God should turn to mercy, and be thus reconciled to his people, because he had not to do with aliens, but with his own family, whom he had been pleased to adopt. But the rest I shall defer until tomorrow.
Here he relates in the person of the Church another calamity, that the young and the aged were lying prostrate in the streets; and he joins children to the old men, to shew that there was no difference as to age. Then he says that dead bodies were lying promiscuously in public places. He adds, that virgins and young men had fallen by the sword; by which he confirms the previous clause, for there is nothing new said here, but only the manner is shewn by which they had been slain; for slain by the sword had been the young men and young women without any distinction; the enemies at the same time had not spared the old, while they killed the very flower of the people.
But the Prophet at the same time shews that all this was to be ascribed to God, not. that the Jews might expostulate with him, but that they might cease vainly to lament their calamities, and in order that they might on the contrary turn to God. Hence he does not say that the young and the old had been slain by the enemies, but by God himself. But it was difficult to convince the Jews of this, for they were so filled with rage against their enemies, that they could not turn their thoughts to the consideration of God’s judgments. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet makes God the author of all their calamities; Thou, he says, hast slain in the day of thy wrath; thou hast killed and not spared. And though the people seem here in a manner to contend with God, we must yet bear in mind the design of the Prophet, even to teach the people to look to God himself, so that they might know that they had to do with him. For there ought to be a passing from one truth to another, so that men, conscious of their sins, should first give glory to God, and then humbly deprecate the wrath which they have deserved. It follows at length, —
Here he uses a most appropriate metaphor, to show that the people had been brought to the narrowest straits; for he says that terrors had on every side surrounded them, as when a solemn assembly is called. They sounded the trumpets when a festival was at hand, that all might come up to the Temple. As, then, many companies were wont to come to Jerusalem on feast-days — for when the trumpets were sounded all were called — so the Prophet says that terrors had been sent by God from every part to straiten the miserable people: thou hast, then, called my terrors all around, — how? as to a feast-day, the day of the assembly; for מועד, muod, means the assembly as well as the place and the appointed time. (173)
But we must ever bear in mind what I have already referred to, that though enemies terrified the Jews, yet this was to be ascribed to God, so that every one might acknowledge for himself, that the Chaldeans had not come by chance, but through the secret impulse of God. He afterwards adds, in the day of Jehovah’s wrath (he changes the person) there was none alive, or remaining; nay, he says the enemy has consumed those whom I had nursed and brought up. Here he transfers to enemies what he had before said was done by God, but in this sense, that he understood God as the chief author, and the Chaldeans as the ministers; of his vengeance. Now follows, —
(173) The verb for calling or summoning is in the future tense, and must, be so, to preserve the alphabetical character of the elegy, but it is rendered as in the past tense by all the versions, but the reason why does not appear. The future in Hebrew is often to be rendered as a subjunctive, potential, or optative: so here, —
Shouldest thou summon, as on a festival day, My terrors all around! — And there was not, in the day of Jehovah’s wrath, A fugitive or a survivor; Whom I dandled and brought up, My enemy has consumed them.
The first two lines are a kind of expostulation: “My terrors” mean my terrifiers, according to the Vulg., the abstract for the concrete. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26