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The minds of the faithful, we know, have often been greatly tried and even shaken, on seeing all things happening successfully and prosperously to the despisers of God. We find this complaint expressed at large in Psalms 73:0. The Prophet there confesses that he had well — nigh fallen, as he had been treading in a slippery place; he saw that God favored the wicked; at least, from the appearance of things, he could form no other judgment, but that they were loved and cherished by God. We know also that the ungodly become thus hardened, according to what is related of Dionysius, who said that God favored the sacrilegious; for he had sailed in safety after having plundered temples, and committed robberies in many places; thus he laughed to scorn the forbearance of God. And hence Solomon says, That when all things are in a state of confusion in the world, men’s minds are led to despise God, as they think that all things happen on the earth by chance, and that God has no care for mankind. (Ecclesiastes 9:0) But with regard to the faithful, as I have already said, when they see the ungodly proceeding in all wickedness and evil deeds with impunity, and claiming the world to themselves, while God is, as it were, conniving at them, their minds cannot be otherwise than grievously distressed. And this is the view which interpreters take of this passage; that is, that he was disturbed with the prosperous condition of the wicked, and expostulated with God, as Habakkuk seems to have done at the beginning of the first chapter; but he appears to me to have something higher in view.
We have said elsewhere, that when the Prophets saw that they spent their labor in vain on the deaf and the intractable, they turned their addresses to God as in despair. I hence doubt not but that it was a sign of indignation when the Prophet addressed God, having as it were given up men, inasmuch as he saw that he spoke to the deaf without any benefit. Here then he rouses the minds of the people, that they might know at length that he could not convince them that they were doomed to ruin by God. For when Jeremiah spoke to them, all his threatenlugs were scorned and laughed at; hence he now addresses God himself, as though he had said, that he would have nothing more to do with them, as he had labored wholly in vain. This then seems to have been the object of the Prophet.
But lest the ungodly should have an occasion for calumniating, he intended so to regulate his discourse as to give them no ground for cavining. Hence he makes this preface, — that God is, or would be just, though he contended with him This order ought to be carefully observed; for when we give way in the least to our passions, we are immediately carried away, and we cannot restrain ourselves within proper limits and continue in a right course. As soon then as those thoughts, which may draw us away frc, in the fear of God, and lessen the reverence due to him, creep in, we ought to fortify our minds and to set up mounds, lest the devil should draw us on farther than we wish to go. For instance, when any one in the present day sees things in disorder in the world, he begins to reason thus freely with himself, “What does this mean? How is it that God suffers licentiousness to prevail so long? Why is it thathe thus conceals himself?” As soon then as these thoughts creep in, if we possess the true principle of religion, we shall try to restrain these wanderings, and to bring ourselves to the right way; but this will be no easy matter; for as soon as we pass over the boundaries, there is no restraint, no limitation. Hence the Prophet wisely begins by saying, Thou art just, though I contend with thee It is not only for the sake of others he speaks thus, but also to restrain in time his own feelings and not to allow himself more than what is right. We must still remember what I have said, — that the Prophet here directs his words to God, in order that the Jews might know that they were left as it were without hope, and were unworthy that he should spend any more labor on them.
He says, And yet I will speak judgments with thee; that is, I will dispute according to the limits of what is right and just. Some indeed take judgments for punishments, as though the Prophet wished the people to be punished; but of this I do not approve, for it is a strained view. To speak judgments, means nothing else than to discuss a point in law, to plead according to law, as it is commonly said. By saying, “I will legally contend,” he does not throw off the restraint which he has before put on himself, but asks it as a matter of indulgence to set before God what might seem just and right to all. ‘David, or the Prophet who was the author of that psalm which we have already quoted, (Psalms 73:0) even when he expressed his own feelings and ingenuously confessed his own infirmity, yet made a preface similar to what is found here. But he there speaks as it were abruptly, “Yet thou art just;” he uses the same word
By saying then, Yet will I plead with thee, he doubtless intended to touch the Jews to the quick, as they were so extremely stupid. “Behold,” he says, “I will yet contend with God, whether he will forgive you?” We now see the real meaning of the Prophet; for the Jews in vain brought forward their own prosperity as a proof that God was propitious to them; for this was nothing else than to abuse his forbearance. Jeremiah intended in short to shew, that though God might pass by them for a time, yet the wicked ought not on this account to flatter themselves, for his indulgence is no proof of his love; but, on the contrary, as we shall see, a heavier vengeance is accumulated, when the ungodly increasingly harden themselves while God is treating them with indulgence. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, that he would plead with God; he had regard more to men than to God. He yet does not set up the judgments of men against the absolute power of God, as the sophists under the Papacy do, who ascribe such absolute power to God as perverts all judgment and all order; this is nothing less than sacrilege.
Now the Prophet does not call God to an account, as though there was no rule by which he regulated his works and governed the world. But by judgments he means, as I have said, what God had declared in his law; for it is written,
“Cursed is every one who continueth not,” etc.,
(Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10)
Now then as the Jews were transgressors of the law, nay, as they ceased not to provoke God to wrath by their vices, they ought surely, according to the ordinary course of justice, to have been immediately destroyed. Hence the Prophet says here, I will plead with thee; that is, “Hadstthou dealt with this people as they deserved, they must have been often reduced to nothing.” At the same time he had no doubt, as we have said, respecting the rectitude of the divine judgment; only he had regard to those men who flattered themselves, and securely indulged themselves in their vices, because God diid not immediately execute those punishments with which he threatens the transgressors of his law. (52)
Hence he says, How long shall the way of the wicked prosper? for secure are all they who by transgression transgress; that is, who are not only tainted with small vices, but who are extremely wicked. They then who openly rejected all religion and all care for righteousness, how was it that they were secure and that their way prospered? We now then more clearly understand what I have stated, — that the Prophet turned his words to God, that he might more effectually rouse the stupid, so that they might know that they were in a manner summoned by this expostulation before the celestial tribunal. It now follows, —
(52) “Emboldened,” says Blayney, “as it should seem, by the success of his prayers against the men of Anathoth, the Prophet ventures freely, though with professions of confidence in the divine justice, to expostulate with God concerning the prosperity of wicked men in general, whose punishment he solicits, attesting the mischiefs that were continually brought on the land by their unrestrained wickedness.”
I would render the verse thus, —
Righteous art thou, Jehovah; Though I should dispute with thee; Yet of judgments will I speak to thee, — How is it.? the way of the wicked, it prospers; Secure are all the dissemblers of dissimulation.
Perhaps the fourth line might be rendered thus, —
Why; the way of the wicked, it prospers.
The order of the words will not admit it to be rendered otherwise. Blayney renders the last line as follows: —
At ease are all they who deal very perfidiously.
The last words literally are, “all the cloakers of cloaking,” or, “all the coverers of covering.” But according to the secondary meaning of the word
When the happiness of the wicked disturbs our minds, two false thoughts occur to us, — either that this world is ruled by chance and not governed by God’s providence, or that God does not perform the office of a good and righteous judge when he suffers light to be so blended with darkness. But the Prophet here takes it as granted, that the world is governed by God’s providence; he therefore does not touch the false notion, which yet harasses pious minds, that fortune governs the world. Well known are these words, “I am disposed to think that there are no gods.” (53) It was thought there were no gods who ruled the world, because he died who deserved a longer life. And the wisest heathens have thus spoken, “I see fortune, which yet no reason governs; I see fortune, which prevails more than reason in these matters.” (54) But the Prophet, who was far removed from these profane notions, held this truth, that the world is governed by God; and he now asks, How it was that God exercised so long a forbearance? The ungodly, the thoughtless, and inconsiderate might have said that this forbearance was far too scanty. But the Prophet, as I have said, clearly describes what the Jews deserved.
Then he says, that they had been planted by God; for they could not have prospered had not God blessed them. The metaphor of planting, as we have before seen, often occurs, but in a different sense. When the celestial life is the subject, God is said to have planted his own elect, because their salvation is sure. He is said also to have planted his people in the land which he had given to them as an heritage. Now, when he speaks of the reprobate, the Prophet says that they had been planted by God, and for these reasons, because they flourished, because they produced leaves, and because they brought forth some fruit. In short, as Scripture, for various reasons, compares men to trees, so it employs the word planting in a corresponding sense. The Prophet indeed says that the ungodly are supported by God, and this is certain; for were not God to deal kindly with them for a time, they could not but instantly perish. Hence their prosperity is a proof of God’s indulgence. But the Prophet expresses his wonder at this, not so much through his own private feeling, as for the purpose of shewing to the Jews that it was a strange thing that they were tolerated so long by God, as they had a hundred times deserved to be wholly destroyed.
Yea, he says, they have taken root By this metaphor he means their continued happiness. He says also, that they had advanced aloft; that is, were raised high and increased. (55) He then adds, that they had brought forth fruit The fruit of which he speaks was nothing else than their offspring; as though he had said, that the ungodly were not only prosperous to the end of life, but that they also propagated their kind, so that they had children surviving them, so that their families became celebrated. But the import of the whole is this, — that God not only endured the ungodly for a time, but extended his indulgence to many ages, so that their descendants continued in the same wealth, dignity, and power, with their dead fathers.
He afterwards adds, Thou indeed art nigh in their mouth, but thou art far from their reins Jeremiah no doubt intended to anticipate them; for he knew that the Jews would have objections in readiness, — “What art thou, who summonest us here before God’s tribunal, and who pleadest with God that he may not too patiently bear with us? Are not we his servants? Do we not daily offer sacrifices in the Temple? Are we not circumcised? Do we not bear in our bodies the sign of our adoption? Do we not possess a kingdom and a priesthood? Now, these are pledges of God’s paternal love towards us, But thou wouldest have thyself to be more just than God himself. Can God deny himself? He has bound his faithfulness to us by the sign of circumcision, by the Temple, by the kingdom, by the priesthood, and by the sacrifices; and when we do anything amiss, then our sins are expiated by sacrifices and washings, and other rites.”
As then the Prophet knew that the Jews were wont thus loquaciously and perversely to defend their own cause, he says, “O, I see what they will say to me, even that which they are wont to say; for the common burden of their song is, that they are the children of Abraham, that they sacrifice, and have other ways of pacifying God, and then that they possess a priesthood and a kingdom. These things,” he says, “are well known to me: but, O Lord, thou knowest that they are mere words; thou knowest that they act fallaciously, and that they do nothing but declare what is false when they pretend these vain shifts and evasions; for thou knowest the heart, (
(53) Ovid, Eleg. 8.
(54) Ovid, Eleg. 8.
(55) The verb is
Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root; They thrive, yea, they have produced fruit: Nigh art thou to their mouth, But far from their reins.
“They thrive,” is literally “they go on,” that is, after having rooted, or taken root. The “reins” stand for the affections — fear, reverence, love,etc. — Ed.
The Prophet is not here solicitous about himself, but, on the contrary, undertakes the defense of his own office, as though he had said that, he faithfully discharged the office committed to him by God. Though then the Jews, and even the citizens of Anathoth, his own people, unjustly persecuted him, yet he was not excited by private wrongs; and though he disregarded these entirely, he yet could not give up the defense of his office. He then does not speak here of his own private feelings, but only claims for himself faithfulness and sincerity before God in performing his office as a teacher; as though he had said that he executed what God had commanded him to do, and that therefore the Jews contended not with a mortal being, but with God himself.
Hence he says, But thou, Jehovah, knowest me and seest me, and triest my heart towards thee; that is, thou knowest how sincerely I serve thee, and endeavor to fulfin my vocation, and thus to obey thy command. He afterwards glories over them as a conqueror, and says, Draw them forth as sheep for the day of sacrificing, prepare them for slaughter Here no doubt the Prophet intended not only to touch, but sharply to wound the Jews, in order that they might know that they had been hitherto secure to no purpose, and to their own ruin, because God had spared them. They who consider that the Prophet was himself troubled, because he saw that God was propitious and kind to the ungodly, think that, with reference to himself, he took comfort from this, — that the judgment of God was nigh at hand; but I doubt not but that the Prophet had regard to the Jews, as I have already reminded you. When, therefore, he saw that they were torpid in their delusions, he intended to rouse their sensibilities by saying, “I see how it is, O Lord; thou dost indeed concede thyself; but what else is thy purpose but that they should be fattened for the day of slaughter?”
He says, first, Thou wilt draw them out: others read, “Thou wilt lead them forth,” and quote a passage in Judges 20:32, where
The last expression ought especially to be noticed. The Prophet indeed seems here in an excited feeling to imprecate ruin on the people; but there is no doubt but that he was here discharging the duty of his office, for he was the herald of God’s vengeance. IIe therefore asks God to execute what he had commanded him to denounce on the people. He had often promulgated what God had resolved to do to them, but he had moved no one: he now then asks God to fulfin what he had foretold the Jews — that they should shortly perish, because they refused to repent.
We may also learn from this passage, — that when the ungodly accumulate wealth, they are in a manner fattened. When oxen plough, and sheep are fed that they may bear wool and bring forth young, they are not fed that they may grow fat, and a moderate quantity of food will suffice them; but when any one intends to prepare sheep or oxen for the slaughter, he fattens them. So then the feeding of them is nothing else than the fattening of them; and the fattening of them is a preparation for their slaughter. I have therefore said that a very useful doctrine is included in this form of speaking; for when we see that plenty of wealth and power abound with the ungodly and the despisers of God, we see that they are in a manner thus fined with good things, that they may grow fat: — it is fattening or cramming. Let us then not bear it in that they are thus covered with their own fatness, for they are prepared for the day of slaughter. It follows —
(56) This verse, according to the tenses of the verbs, is as follows: —
But thou, Jehovah, thou hast known me; Thou seest me, and triest my heart towards thee: Pull them out as sheep for the sacrifice, And set them apart for the day of slaughter.
It is evident that “seest,” which is here in the future tense, is to be taken as expressing a present act. It would be so rendered in Welsh, —
(lang. cy) Ond ti Jehova, adwaenaist vi;
Gweli vi, a phrovi, vy nghalon tuag atat.
God had known him, he was still seeing him, and approved of his heart before him, as the Septuagint express the words. To prove here, or to “try,” means a trial by which a thing is found to be genuine. Blayney gives the meaning by a paraphrase, —
Thou canst discern by trial my heart to be with thee.
Jeremiah confirms the former sentence and more strongly reproves the Jews, who still continued obstinately to despise what he had said: “What do you mean, he says? for God’s judgment appears as to brute beasts and birds; and what have birds and sheep and oxen deserved? Ye know that there is no fault in miserable animals, and yet the curse of God is through them set before you; ye see that God is offended with brute animals, but the fault is doubtless in you. And will God spare you, when he has already begun, and long ago begun to inflict punishment on innocent animals? how can he hear with you to the end, who are full of so many and the most atrocious sins?” This then is a confirmation of his former doctrine.
And hence we also learn that he did not speak for his own sake, nor express his own private feelings, but that he defended the doctrine which he had announced, that the Jews might know that God was angry with them, and that they were not to expect that he would always conceal himself, though he for a time connived at them.
How long, he says, shall the land mourn? or, How long should the land mourn? for thus it ought to be rendered; and should every herb become dry? “What!” he says, “is not God’s judgment visible in herbs and flocks and beasts and birds? Since it is so, and the whole fault is in you, shall ye be spared? Will God pour forth his whole wrath on herbs, on sheep, and on cattle? and shall you be at the same time exempted from his judgment?”
And more clearly still does he express his meaning, when he says, Because they have said, He shall not see our end Here the Prophet briefly shews that the wrath of God was seen in herbs as well as in brute animals, because he was despised by the people. Since then evil proceeded from them, should it not return on their own heads? It could not surely be otherwise. But he speaks expressly of the end; for the Jews were so stupified by their prosperity, that they thought that God was no longer adverse to them: “Ha! what have we to do with God? we are already beyond the reach of danger.” As then they thus perversely rejected God, he upbraids them with the thought, that they were to give no account to God. It is not indeed probable that they openly, or with a full mouth, as they say, vomited forth such a blasphemy; but we know that Scripture often speaks in this manner, “God shall not see;” “God will not look on Jacob.” Though the ungodly did not speak so insolently, yet they no doubt thought thati they could set up many hinderances to prevent God’s hand from reaching them. Hence Jeremiah, according to the usual manner of Scripture, justly lays this to their charge, — that they thought that they were now as it were unknown to God and beyond the reach of his care, so that he would not see their end; in other words, that they had no concern with God, because they were on all sides so well fortified, that the hand of God could not reach them. (57)
(57) Both Gataker and Venema regard the meaning of the last clause differently. Here ends the expostulation of Jeremiah; and they consider that he mentions here what his persecutors said of him, that he would not see their end, or their ruin, which he had foretold. Were
How long shall mourn the land And the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it, Swept away has been the beast and the bird, Though they have said, “Hewill not see our end.”
The third line connects better with what follows than with what precedes it; and it is so rendered in the Syriac. The word for “beast,” though in a plural form, is used elsewhere as a singular, Psalms 73:22; and so it is here, and so rendered by the Vulgate and the Targum. — Ed.
Many think that God here checks the boldness of Jeremiah, as though he had exceeded the limits of moderation when he contended with God, as we have seen, because he patiently endured the reprobate and did not immediately punish them. Hence they elicit this meaning from rite words, “Thou hast hitherto been contending with mortals, and hast confessed that thou didst maintain an unequal contest; dost thou dare now to assail me, who am far greater than the whole world? Footmen have wearied thee, who walk on earth; but thou engagest now with horsemen, that is, with me.”
But I have already shewn that the Prophet did not undertake this cause presumptuously, nor was he carried away by blind zeal when he disputed with God, but that he thus spoke through a divine fervor: he was indeed influenced by God, in order that he might by this mode of speaking more fully rouse an obstinate people. There was therefore no need to check hint; for his object was no other than to shew by a lively representation, that God would be the Judge of the Jews, who had despised his teaching and esteemed it as nothing.
Some think that a comparison is made between the citizens of Anathoth and the citizens of Jerusalem: they hence suppose that Jeremiah is encouraged, lest he should succumb under the temptations which awaited him; as though it was said, “Thy citizens or thy people are like footmen; thou seest now how much they have wearied thee, for thou canst not bear their insolence: what then will become of thee, when thou comest to Jerusalem? for as there is more power there, so there is more arrogance; thou wilt have to contend with the king and his court, with the priests and with the people, who are blinded by their own splendor: horsemen will be there, and thou wilt have all equestrian contest. Thou mayest hence see how thou art to prepare thyself; for these things are only the beginnings, and yet thou complainest of them.”
But when I maturely weigh all things, I come to another opinion, which both Jerome snd Jonathan (58) have suggested, and yet obscurely, and so confusedly that the meaning cannot be correctly understood, and especially for this reason, because they did not state the exposition which we have hitherto given; hence the meaning of what they have said does not seem suitable. But the Prophet, I doubt not, here reproves the people and condemns their presumption, because they thought themselves furnished with so many defences that they despised the judgment of God. I regard then this verse as spoken in the person of God, for hitherto Jeremiah has been the accuser, and arraigned the whole people as guilty before God, and was also the herald of his judgment. Now that what he says might have more weight, God himself comes forth and says, Thou hast hitherto run with footmen, and thou hast been wearied, how will it be when thou comest to an equestrian contest? he intimates by these words that a much greater outrage was at hand than what the Jews had already experienced. Their country had been oppressed, their city had been exposed to extreme peril, there had been as it were a pedestrian conflict; but God now intimates that a heavier storm was nigh at hand, for horsemen would assail them, because the Chaldeans and the Assyrians were to come with much greater violence to lay waste the whole country and to destroy the city itself.
This then is not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people; as though it was said, that the Jews had but a slight contest with the Assyrians, and yet were conquered and oppressed by many calamities; but that they would have now to fight more seriously, as a greater violence was impending over them: how then, he says, canst thou contend with horsemen? (59)
He then adds, In the land of peace thou trustest, and how wilt thou do in the rising of Jordan? The land of peace is commonly taken for the town of Anathoth, where the Prophet ought to have enjoyed a quiet life, as he lived there among his relations and friends. The rising of Jordan is also taken as signifying violent waves; but this has nothing to do with the subject. Were I to approve of this view, I would rather take the rising of Jordan as meaning its fountain, for we know that Jordan rose from Mount Lebanon, north of Jerusalem: so then would I interpret the words, and the explanation would be plausible. But as I feel assured that the words are not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people, I doubt not but that the land of peace is the land open to plunder, that is, not protected. As that is called the land of war, which is surrounded by alefences, and fortified by towers, moats, and ramparts; so that is called the land of peace, which is not capable of repelling enemies. The Prophet derided the Jews, because they swelled with so much arrogance, though they possessed no fortresses: “Ye are,” he says, “in the land of peace, having no means to carry on war, and possessing no forces to resist your enemies: as then ye swell with so much pride in your penury and want, what would become of you, were you in the rising of Jordan? that is, were your cities on the banks of Jordan, where it widely spreads, so as to prevent any access?” Rising here means height or largeness: for
(58) The author of the Targum — the Chaldee Paraphrase. — Ed.
(59) Most commentators agree in the previous exposition, — that a comparison is made between the persecution which Jeremiah experienced from his countrymen at Anathoth, and the persecution he was to expect at Jerusalem. So thought the Jewish commentators, Grotius, Venema, Gataker, Henry, Scott, Adam Clarke, and Blayney. It must however, be added, that Jerome and Horsley were of the same opinion with Calvin: but the most obvious and natural meaning seems to be the former.
The rendering of Blayney is as follows, —
If thou hast run with footmen, and they have wearied thee,
Then how wilt thou chafe thyself with horses?
More literally, —
If with footmen thou hast run, and they have tired thee,
Then how wilt thou heat thyself with horses?
“Horses” may indeed be rendered horsemen, as “feet” in the previous line is rendered footmen. As to the verb “heat thyself,” the versions and the Targum differ, but the word in Hebrew is plain enough; it is
(60) As in the previous clause, so in this, most interpreters are opposed to Calvin. The contrast here is between a quiet state and great troubles. If Jeremiah complained, when among his connections at Anathoth, what could he do when troubles, like the swelling of Jordan, overflowed the land? And this view is confirmed by the verse which follows, —
Blayney, following the Vulgate, renders the passage thus, —
And though in the land of peace thou mayest have confidence,
Yet how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
But rather as follows, —
And in the land of peace thou art secure;
But how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
That is, “Thou complainest though living secure in a land which enjoys peace and is not harassed with war: what then wilt thou do when the troubles of war shall come over the land like the overflowings of Jordan?” or, according to some, “Thou complainest though living in retirement among thine own people, where thou didst expect rest and peace, what wilt thou do when exposed to the violent persecutions of the great and powerful?” the swelling of Jordan being considered a proverbial expression, designating great and overwhelming troubles. — Ed.
Here God addresses his Prophet, in order to confirm the whole of what we have observed. Jeremiah’s object was, as we have said, to set forth the judgment of God: he therefore undertook the part of art accuser, and shewed how intolerable was the impiety of the whole people. He afterwards shewed that he was a conqueror in the cause. And now God himself speaks: he first indeed reproves the people and condemns their insane presumption; and then he addresses the Prophet himself, as though he had said, “Thou hast faithfully pleaded my cause, and as thine own people are all perfidious, there is no reason for thee to doubt but that I will be thy defender.”
The Prophet no doubt was commanded to preach and to write in God’s name; and yet he had regard to the people, who would have hardened themselves against his preaching, had he not more fully set forth the dreadful judgment of God. Hence he says, Surely even thy brethren and the house of thy father, etc.: it is an amplification, when he says, that not only the citizens of Jerusalem and the whole people had conspired against the Prophet, but also his own relations and friends; Even thy brethren, he says, and the house of thy father, even these, etc. We see how emphatically God speaks; and there is an implied comparison between the citizens of Anathoth and the rest of the Jews, for they dealt not with a brother and one of themselves with any more courtesy than those not related to him. He repeats for the third time, Even these have cried after thee; that is, “They have so inimically persecuted thee, that even when thou hast yielded to their fury they were not pacified.” For to cry after one is all evidence of settled hatred; for when an enemy stands his ground and offers resistance, it is no wonder that we assail him; but when he turns his back and allows that he is conquered, and declines fighting, it seems that we are burning with a furious hatred, when we follow him and draw him to figlit against his will, even when he of his own accord avoids a contest. It was to set forth this blind fury that God said that they cried after Jeremiah. (61)
He adds the word
He afterwards subjoins, Even though they speak to thee good things, that is, though they pretend to be friends and profess peace, yet trust them not God intimates by these words, that though the citizens of Anathoth did not openly rage against Jeremiah, they were yet full of perfidy: in short, he means that they were either wolves or foxes, for they fought against the Prophet, now by fraud, then openly. We hence see that God here condemns the people, and shews his approbation of what had been previously said by Jeremiah. He afterwards subjoins —
(61) It is necessary to understand
For even thy brethren and thy father’s house, Even they have dissembled with thee; Yea, they have cried behind thee vehemently Believe them not when they speak to thee kind things.
“Vehemently,” or more literally, “fully; ”
He confirms what I have already stated; he testifies that the people were either openly furious or acting perfidiously and deceitfully; nor has it been the object hitherto merely to say that wrong had been done to the Prophet, but regard has been had to what he taught.
He now adds, Forsaken have I my house and left my heritage God here declares that it was all over with the people. They were inebriated with vain confidence, relying on the covenant which God had made. with their fathers, and thought that God was bound to them. Thus they wished to treat God with contempt according to their own humor, and at the same time to allow themselves every kind of licentiousness. The Prophet makes here many concessions, as though he had said, “Ye are the house of God; ye are his heritage, ye are his beloved, ye are his portion and his richest portion; but all this will not prevent him to become your Judge, and at length to treat you with rigorous justice, and to vindicate himself.” We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet. But as I have before said, the words have more weight having been spoken by God, than if Jeremiah himself had said them. God then, as though sitting for judgment, declares thus to the Jews, Forsaken have I my house The Temple was indeed commended in high terms; but the whole country also was on account of the Temple regarded as the habitation of God; for Judah was overshadowed by the Temple, and was secure and safe under its shadow. This word then is to be extended to the whole land and people, when God says, “Forsaken have I nay house;” that is, “Though I have hitherto chosen for myself an habitation among the Jews, yet I now leave them.” He then adds, Left have I my heritage (The verbs
He then says, Given have I the desire or the love of my soul, (62) etc. The word
We hence see that the sin of the people is greatly amplified by these distinctions, on account of which they yet fostered their pride; as though he had said, “These words indeed are ready on your tongues, — that ye are God’s heritage, and sanctuary, and his love; but ye are for this very reason the more abominable, because ye respond not to God’s love and bountiful dealings: He has favored you with incredible love, he has raised you to very great honor, and yet ye despise him and perversely resist his teaching, nor can ye bear him to governyou.” We now then see what instruction may be gathered from these words. It follows —
(62) “My beloved soul” is the version of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Arabic, but very improperly; the Syriac is “the beloved of my soul.” The three first versions betoken an ignorance of the construction of the Hebrew language. To express their idea, “beloved” must have followed “soul,” and not preceded it. Besides, the word for “beloved” is in the plural number, but used as
God now shews the reason why he resolved to cast away the people; for it might appear at the first view very inconsistent, that God’s covenant, which he had made with Abraham and his seed, should become void. Hence he shews here that he was not too rigid in heavily punishing the Jews, and that he could not be accused of levity or inconstancy in rejecting or repudiating them.
Mine heritage, he says, has become like a lion in the forest; that is, they have not only acted insolently towards me, but they have even dared furiously to attack me, like a lion who roars against men in the forest. God then here complains of their contempt, and then he declares how furious was their impiety: for the Jews, as though seized by the rage of a wild beast, dared to make a violent attack on him. And the words, as they are connected, render the sin the more atrocious, My heritage, he says, has become to me as a lion in the forest: one’s heritage and patrimony, we know, is his delight; and then, they who possess small tenements live much more quietly than those who occupy large ones. God now shews that he was in his own heritage as though he was in a vast and wild forest, and also, that the fields which ought to have been his delight, and also his vineyards and meadows, were become places of the greatest horror, as though a lion were roaring and raging against unhappy men.
He says further, that it had sent forth its voice By these words he accuses the people of extreme wantonness; and such is to be found in the world at this day; for how audaciously do the Papists vomit forth their blasphemies against God? The unprincipled and the dregs of society hesitate not with a full mouth to be insolent towards God; and courtiers also and epicures, and those who admire themselves for their splendor and wealth, with what haughtiness do they rise up against; him; and how disdainfully do they reject every truth that is set before them! We therefore in this miserable age experience the very same thing which the Prophet deplores in the men of his own time, — that they raised their voices against God himself.
He therefore comes to this conclusion, — that he hated his own heritage. “Since then,” he says, “the Jews are become to me as lions in a forest, since they have rendered themselves a horror instead of a delight to me, what am I to do with them? Can I treat them as my patrimony and heritage? But they have put me to flight by their treachery, yea, by their diabolical fury. It is therefore nothing strange that I hate them, though they have been my heritage.” Thus the Prophet shews, that it availed the Jews nothing that they had been of old adopted, since they had repudiated themselves and had become alienated from God their Father.
Let us also hence learn, that whatever honor hypocrites at this day possess in the Church, they yet boast in vain; for though they may for a time be counted as the heritage of God, they are at the same time hated by God, inasmuch as they are within full of wickedness and of perverseness towards him; and then, when urged and pressed, they hesitate not to vomit forth their insolence. It follows: —
The beginning of this verse is variously explained, Some think that a kind of bird is here meant, which has various colors, one variegated, which excites all other birds against itself; but this is without meaning. Others are of the opinion, and the greater part too, that birds tinged with blood were against his heritage. They hence thus explain the words, “Is a bird, tinged,” that is; with blood, “my heritage,” that is, about my heritage; “is there a bird around it? They consider both clauses to be of the same meaning; and hence they think that the same thing is repeated in different words, that birds were flying against the Jews, like those which are drawn by the smell of carcases, and which come in great numbers, that each may have a part; and then, wild beasts follow them. But I approve of neither of these explanations; nor indeed have they even the appearance of being correct.
I therefore think that the people are now compared to foreign birds, as they were before to lions; as though he had said, — “I had chosen this people for myself, that they might be my friends, as birds which are wont to be gathered into their own cages, as sheep into their own folds, and as oxen, and other animals which are tamed, keep within their own enclosures. So when I gathered this people, I thought that they would be to me like domesticated sheep; but now they are like speckled birds; that is, like wild birds, or birds of the wood.” For I have no doubt but that by a speckled or colored bird is to be understood a strange bird, which by its novel appearance excites the attention of men. Is then a variegated bird, or a bird of the wood, become mine heritage? Questions, we know, were often used by the Hebrews; and the Prophet here simply affirms the fact; and as God had said before, that his heritage was become like a lion in the forest, so he adds now, that his heritage was like a speckled bird. A question has much more power and force than a simple declaration; for God assumes here the character of one in astonishment, — “What does this mean, that my heritage should become to me like some bird from the wood, or a foreign bird?” He then adds, All birds then shall be around and all beasts of the field (63)
We now see how fitly the words of the Prophet run; God had complained that his heritage was like a lion in the forest, and also like a wild and foreign bird; and now he says, Then all birds wiIl fly to the prey and all the beasts of the field; as though he had said, — “Since they have dared to act thus wantonly, and have dared to assail my servants like wild beasts, and have also become wild birds which cannot be tamed, I will shew what they will gain by their ferocity; for I will now send for all the birds of the air, and the wild beasts of the wood:, that they may fly together quickly, and that they may come together to the prey.” That we must thus understand the Prophet’s meaning, we learn from the very words; for God not only says, “A speckled bird has mine heritage become,” but he adds, to me, as he had before said, that his heritage had become to him as a lion, so he says now, Is not mine heritage become to me? etc This pronoun then ought to be carefully noticed; for we hence learn, as I have said already, that the intractable disposition of the people is here condemned, for they could by no means be tamed.
But the latter clause ought also to be especially observed; for it imports as much as though God had said, “As then your wickedness is such that ye are to me lions and wild birds, take your course; but I will yet check this your barbarous and untameable ferocity; for I have under my command all the birds of the air and all the wild beasts of the field; let them then come together to this one bird, and to this one beast. Ye are but one bird; ye are indeed terrible at the first view, for ye are worse than all the hawks; but ye are only one bird, and around you shall come all birds, which shall make war on you. Ye are as one lion in a forest, or one boar, or one wolf; but all the savage beasts of the wood shall come together against you, and shall come together to devour you.”
This place deserves special notice; for we hence learn how foolishly men deceive themselves when they oppose God and perversely shake off his yoke, and suffer not, themselves to be corrected by his word; they are lions, they are savage birds; but the Lord can easily destroy them, for all birds and all wild beasts are ready to obey him; and hence it follows: —
(63) The most literal rendering of the verse is as follows, —
9.Is not my heritage to me a stripped bird of prey? Is there not a bird of prey around against it? Come, assemble, every beast of the field; Hasten ye to devour.
The versions and the Targum all differ, and are wholly unsatisfactory. Some, as Venema, agreeably with our version, retain not the questionary form in the two first lines, and render them thus, —
A stripped bird of prey is my heritage to me; A bird of prey is around against it.
The meaning is the same; but the
He explains by another comparison what we have just observed; he calls those pastors or shepherds whom he had before compared to wild beasts; for by saying, “Come ye, all the wild beasts of the wood,” he doubtless meant the same as those of whom he now speaks; and yet he calls them pastors. But he touched the Jews to the quick, for they could not bear him to discharge the office of a pastor towards them. God ought to have been the pastor of his chosen people; but they were wild beasts. “Forsaken them have I,” he says, “for they were wholly unworthy. What now then? Other pastors shall come, but those of a very different character, being fiercer and more cruel than wolves or any savage wild beasts.” Though then the Prophet blends various comparisons, we yet see that he handles the same subject; we also see why he thus changes his expressions, for there is a meaning in every word he uses. It is indeed certain that those also are called pastors who would come as leaders or chiefs from Assyria and Chaldea; but there is no doubt here an implied antithesis, such as I have referred to, as though he had said, “I have hitherto been a shepherd to you, and was wining to continue to be so perpetually; but as ye can no longer bear me, other shepherds shall come, who will treat you according to their own will and disposition.”
There is a change of number in the verb
He then adds that the land was in mourning before him. The Prophet seems to me to touch here the torpor of his own nation, because there was no one who had any regard for God; nay, they laughed at the judgments which were nigh at hand, and of which he had often spoken. Hence God says, that they would at length come to him when calamities oppressed them and caused them to mourn. “As then in peaceable times,” he says, “they are unwining to come to me, but are so refractory and untameable, that I can effect nothing by so many warnings, they shall come,” he says, “but in another state of mind, even in extreme mourning.”
He afterwards adds, No one lays on the heart What this means we have elsewhere explained. But the particle
(64) The Septuagint and Arabic render the verb as passive in the singular number, “It has been set a desolation.” We may take
11.Set it is an utter desolation; It has mourned before me (or, to me) being utterly desolate: Desolate has been the whole land, Though no man lays it to heart.
“Utter desolation” is the meaning, for it is a reduplicate noun. Both the Vulgate and the Targum connect “being utterly desolate” with the next line, though not rightly: but both, as well as the Syriac, render the first verb, as though it were
It has mourned on account of desolation.
Jeremiah here proceeds farther — that no corner of the land would be exempt from the attacks of enemies. Desert is not put here for solitude not inhabited, but for high places; and as such places fbr the most part are fit for pastures, there is no doubt but that he means here secluded places. It is, however, sufficient for our present purpose to consider, that the desert; here is put in opposition to the level parts of the country. When, therefore, the enemies had rambled through the plains, the Prophet says, that no recesses, however hidden, would be safe; for there also the violence of the enemies would penetrate. And this is what he states more clearly at the end of the verse when he says that there would be no peace to any flesh: for he intimates, no doubt, that all, from the least to the greatest, would be rendered miserablei as God’s vengeance would reach every one without exception; and he says this, because those who sought hiding — places might have hoped to escape, thinking that the enemy would be satisfied with a limited victory; but the Prophet declares, that God’s wrath would so burn as to consume all, and to leave no part of the land without involving in ruin the rich and the poor, the country people and the citizens.
After having then threatened the plains, which were more open and accessible, he now adds, that neither the mountains nor the hins would escape the outrage of their enemies; and at the same time he reminds them that God would be the author of all their calamities; for had he only spoken of the Chaldeans, the Jews would not have thought that they were given up to punishment by God on account of their sins: it would have therefore been without any good effect had they thought that they had a contest only with the Chaldeans. Hence he calls their attention to God’s judgment, and shews, that though ambition, avarice, and cruelty instigated and influenced their enemies, they were yet conducted by a divine power, because the Jews had for a long time provoked against themselves the vengeance of God. He, in short, intimates that the Chaldeans would fight for God and do his work, as he would be the chief commander in the war; and this he intimates lest the Jews should think that such great calamities happened to them by chance: hence he says, The sword of Jehovah hath devoured, etc. He indeed speaks of future things; but he uses the past tense, which is commonly done by the prophets. (65) It now follows —
(65) The versions and the Targum render the first verb in the past tense, but the second, incorrectly, in the future. The verse is as follows, —
12.On all heights in the wilderness have wasters come, For the sword has for Jehovah devoured; From one end of the land to the other end of the land No peace has been to any flesh.
The third line reads better with the last. No doubt, the past, as Calvin says, is used for the future. The same is the case in the next verse. — Ed.
Most interpreters understand this of the prophets, that they had been disappointed, after having faithfully cultivated the field of God and sown good seed, that thorns only had sprung up, and briars only had grown: but this is a strained exposition. The Prophet, I doubt not, sets forth the curse of God, which the people were soon to experience. I indeed readily admit, that when he speaks of sowing and reaping, the expression is metaphorical; but I have no doubt but that the Jews are said to sow in seeking aids here and there, in strengthening themselves by confederacies, and in devising means to repel dangers.
Hence he says, by way of concession, that they had sown wheat; for they had recourse to false counsels: but he speaks according to what they themselves thought; for they imagined that they were safe when they found that the Egyptians were ready to help them; and when they procured assistance from various quarters, they considered that they were acting wisely, and. thus they flattered themselves with a prosperous issue. The Prophet now laughs to scorn this vain confidence: but yet in words he allows that they were going on successfully: as a husbandman, while sowing, expects that he will have a good harvest, so also the Jews thought that they would have good fruit after having thus sown. But the Prophet says that they would be disappointed; for instead of wheat briars and thorns would grow, so that the issue would not answer their expectations. Thus the words of the Prophet would well harmonize: but to explain the passage of the prophets would by no means be suitable, as it will hereafter appear more clearly.
He then says that they had sown wheat (he uses the plural number) and reaped thorns He intimates that they hoped for a good harvest, for they sowed wheat, as they thought; that is, they wisely, or rather astutely, provided for themselves, as they left undone nothing that was necessary for their safety; but they reaped, or shall reap thorns; for he speaks of what was future. He means that God would frustrate their expectation; for their sowing, from which they promised themselves so much, would prove fruitless.
He then adds, that they had obtained an inheritance, or had endured grief, but were not enriched Some render the first clause a little more harshly, that “theywere riJeremiah” But I readily excuse its harshness, if it suits the place: then the meaning would be, — that they tormented themselves with continual labors, and thus became rich; for we know that they who are extremely anxious about anything wear out themselves, and become in a manner their own executioners; and this would not be unsuitable to this place. However, a different view may be taken, — that the Prophet uses the expression, that they had obtained an heritage, not in its ordinary sense, as signifying, not that God gave them the land of Canaan as their hereditary possession, or that they had accumulated wealth, but that they had thus increased in their own esteem, because they had the Egyptians as their friends, and looked for help to the neighboring nations, and because they thought that they could by various stratagems prevent the Chaldeans from coming nigh them. Their heritage then was, that they were able to collect from various quarters such assistance as would render them safe, and repel all dangers. God then allows that they had obtained an heritage; but what then, he says? All this will not avail them, nor shall they be thereby enriched. He, in short, intimates that they would be thus deceived by trusting in helps so laboriously and sedulously acquired; for the aids in which they proudly trusted would vanish away, as well as all their counsels and designs; in a word, the vain attempts by which they thought to secure everything for themselves are laughed to scorn.
He adds, for the same purpose, that they were confounded on account of their produce They who understand this of the prophets read thus, “they were ashamed,” that is, “of their own labors;” but this is wholly foreign to the subject. He then continues in the same strain, — that the Jews were ashamed when they found the issue contrary to what they expected. He mentions “produce:” the noun conms from
But we must at the same time consider what the Prophet had in view. Doubtless he intended to shake off from the Jews that arrogance by which they blinded themselves, as though he had said, — “I see that I effect but little; for the Egyptians, who are to come to your aid, are as yet strong; ye think that they are prepared to oppose the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and ye have also other confederacies As then ye are thus well fortified, ye consider yourselves to be cut of the reach of danger; but the Lord will make you ashamed of this your presumption, for all your produce or provision will come to nothing.” The produce, we know, was the successful issue with which they flattered themselves, so that they thought that nothing would do them harm. This then is the meaning of the Prophet. (66)
He adds, Through the burning of the wrath of Jehovah They could not have been otherwise awakened, except they were made to think that God was angry with them. The Prophet then says, though the whole world might laugh him to scorn, that nothing would avail them, inasmuch as God fought against them. We must at the same time notice the change of person, They have been ashamed of your produce Some have on this account applied the verb,
(66) The Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Arabic, render all the verbs in the second person plural, and in the present tense, “Ye sow,” etc.; but the Vulgate and Targum retain the Hebrew third person and the past tense, except in the third line, “Ye (not they) are ashamed,” etc., which seems to be the correct reading, though not found in any MS., for it is what “your fruits,” or produce, require.
The meaning of being “wearied,” or sick with labor, is given only by the Syriac to the verb
13.They have sown wheats, but thorns have they reaped; They have got an heritage, but have not succeeded: Yea, ashamed have you been of your produce, Through the burnlung of the wrath of Jehovah.
A conversive vau before “succeeded” is supplied by many MSS., and by the Vulgate and Syriac. The way in which Calvin accounts for the change of person in the third line is ingenious; but an instance of what he says can hardly be found in one and the same clause. All the versions and the Targum regard the verb as
Venema takes the verb to be an imperative in the second person plural, and gives this version, —
Therefore be ye ashamed of your fruits, By reason of the heat of the wrath of Jehovah.
But what the early versions warrant is more consistent with the context, and gives a better meaning. — Ed.
The Prophet now begins to mitigate what might have beyond measure exasperated the minds of the people; and this he did, not so much for the sake of the people in general, as for the sake of the elect, a few of whom still remained. We have indeed seen that it was all over with the body of the people; for it had been said to Jeremiah,
“Pray not for them, for I will not hear them,”
The Prophet then knew the immutable purpose of God as to the mass of the people. Nor did he intend here to soften what might have appeared grievous in what he had taught. But as we have said elsewhere, and indeed often repeated, the prophets used reproofs only as to the whole community, and then spoke as it were apart to the elect; for there ever was a remnant among that people, inasmuch as God never suffered his covenant to be made void. As then the Church was still existing, the Prophet had regard to the hidden seed, and therefore blended consolation with those grievous and dreadful predictions which we have noticed.
This is the reason why he now says that God would be the avenger of that cruelty which their neighbors had exercised towards the Jews. For this temptation might have greatly disturbed the minds of the godly, — “What means this, that God rages so violently against us, while he spares the heathens? Have the Moabites, or the Ammonites, or the Idumeans, deserved nothing? Why then does God bear with them, while he deals so severely with us?” The Prophet then meets this objection, and says, that punishment was nigh those nations, and such as they deserved, and that for the sake of the chosen people. If indeed he had only said that the Moabites and the Idumeans, and the rest, would be summoned before God’s tribunal, that they in their turn might be punished, it would have given no relief to the miserable Jews; for it would have been a very empty consolation to have only so many associates in their misery: but the Prophet also adds, that God would be thus propitious to his elect; for it was a sign of his paternal favor, when he inflicted punishment on all those neighhors by whom they had been so cruelly treated.
He begins by saying, Thus saith Jehovah; and he says, against all my evil neighbors, etc. He speaks here in the person of God, who calls the Moabites and the Idumeans, as well as others, his neighbors, because he had chosen the land of Canaan as an habitation for himself; for it was, as it appears often from the prophets, an evidence above all other things of God’s favor, that he dwelt among that people. He was not indeed confined either to the Temple or to the land of Canaan; but he had taken the people under his safeguard and protection, as though he had his hands extended for the purpose of defending them all. We now see why he calls the nations near to the Jews his evil neighbors: for though the Jews deserved extreme evils, yet that promise remained valid,
“He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)
Then he adds, who touch my heritage Here he speaks not ironically as before, but regards simply his own election, as though he had said, — “Whatever the Jews may be, I will yet be consistent with myself, and my covenant shall not fall to the ground; for my faithfulness shall surpass their perfidy.” We must yet bear in mind what I have already stated, — that the whole of this is to be confined to the elect, who were few in number and were hid like twenty or a hundred grains in a large heap of chaff As then the Prophet addresses here especially the elect of God, it is no wonder that he calls them God’s heritage, not for the sake of upbraiding them., as he had done before, but because God really loved them and would have them to be saved. There is another thing to be noticed, — that God had in view the Idumeans as well as the Ammonites, Sidonians, and Tyrians, who had unjustly oppressed his people. The Ammonites and the Moabites were by kindred connected, for they both derived their origin from Lot, the nephew of Abraham. As to the Idumeans, they were the descendants of Esau, all of the same family; and they knew that the Jews had been chosen by God. Hence God here shews that he himself was injured, when such wrongs were done to his people.
We hence see why God calls here Israel his heritage; which, he says, by heritage I have possessed Here he takes away from the neighboring nations every handle for evasion; as though he had said, — “Though the Jews have sinned, yet these are not their judges; nor have they any right to punish them for their unfaithfulness: it has been my will to choose them for mine heritage.” We thus see that these words are emphatical, their import being, that God would punish the wrongs done to his people, because his own majesty was insulted, inasmuch as no regard was shewn to his adoption: nor had the heathells any right to inquire whether the Jews were worthy or not; for it had pleased God to take them under his protection. (67)
He then adds, Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and the house of Judah will I pluck up from the midst of them He mentions here two kinds of plucking up. He says first, that he would by force expel the Idumeans and drive them far into exile; for this is the meaning, when he says, I will pluck them up, as
“I have planted and will pluck up,” (Jeremiah 45:4:)
We have also seen the following,
“I have set thee to plant and to pluck up,” (Jeremiah 1:10)
this was to shew the power of prophetic truth. And he says here, “I will pluck up,” or eradicate them, as some render it; but as this word (eradicabo) is not Latin, let us retain evellam — I will pluck up; only you must understand that what it properly means is, to draw up by the roots, and that by force: I will pluck up, he says, the Idumeans, the Ammonites, the Moabites, and all other neighboring nations, from their land, because they have violated mine heritage, even the people chosen by me: therefore they themselves shall be driven into remote exile and into captivity, according to what is said elsewhere,
“Remember the children of Edom, who said in the day of Jerusalem,”etc., (Psalms 137:7)
and we shall hereafter see that this was fulfined; for the Prophet will presently speak of all these nations, in order that the Jews might perceive that God’s judgment would extend to all parts of the earth. But here the Prophet briefly threatens these nations with vengeance, that he might alleviate the sorrow of the small portion which remained. For as we have said, the body of the people was without hope, as God had given them up, according to what they deserved, to final destruction.
But as God ever reserved a remnant, the Prophet says in this place, The house of Judah will I pluck up from the midst of them: for some had fled to the Moabites and to others, and some had indeed been taken captives and were held in bondage. The Jews, as we know, had been miserably plundered, and some of them had been exposed to sale by these nations. Hence God here promises that he would be at length entreated by his people, so as to gather the remnant from the Moabites as well as from the Idumeans and other heathen nations. This second plucking up is therefore to be taken in a good sense; for the Prophet promises deliverance here to God’s elect: and yet he suitably employs the same word, in order to set forth the cruelty of these nations, who would have never winingly given them up, had not God by force rescued from their tyranny the innocent Israelites — that is, innocent with regard to them. “I will,” he says, “draw them out by force;” as though he had said, — “However obstinate may be the cruelty of all these nations, by whom my people shall be taken captive, I will yet be stronger than they, so that I shall bring forth the captives, though they who consider them as perpetual slaves may resist with all their power.”
And this also have we found in our time; for how hard was our bondage under the Papacy? and was not also its tyranny almost unconquerable? But God put forth his power and drew forth a few from under its cruel domination. In the same manner he promised formerly to the remnant of his people, that he would be so merciful to them as to rescue them from the yoke of tyranny. It follows —
(67) No doubt the people of Israel were often called the heritage of God; but the word heritage means here evidently the land. The version of Calvin cannot be admitted; the verb is in Hiphil and must be rendered, “I have caused to inherit;” and so it is rendered in all the versions and Targum. The verse runs thus, —
14.Thus saith Jehovah, — As to all my neighbors, Who have done evil, who have touched the heritage, Which I have caused my people Israel to inherit, — Behold, I will root them up from their land, And the house of Judah will I root up from the midst of them.
There is here a promise of two removals, — that of heathens from the Iand of Canaan, — and that of the Jews from the land of heathens. — Ed.
God does not only promise mercy here to the Jews, but also to heathen nations, of whom he would be the Judge, to punish them for the sake of his people. And that this passage is to be extended to aliens is evident from the context; for the Prophet immediately adds, “And it shall be, that when they shall learn the ways of my people, to swear in my name, Live does Jehovah, as they have taught my people to swear by Baal, then shall they be built in the midst of my people.” We hence see that God would not only shew mercy to the remnant of his elect people, but also to their enemies.
If it be objected, — that thus God’s favor, manifested towards the children of Abraham, was obscured, the answer is, — that this availed much to confirm the hope of the faithful; for they had not only to look for their own salvation, but also for that of their enemies, whom God would gather together with them. Thus God rendered double his favor to the Israelites. The Prophet also in this place confirms in a striking manner the confidence of the faithful; for he says that God would be merciful even to their enemies for their sake, as they would be saved in common with themselves. We now then understand the object of the Prophet, when he declares, that God, after having drawn out the Gentiles from their own countries, would again be merciful to them, so as to restore every one of them to their own inheritance and to their own place.
We see that this refers to the Gentiles, who were previously aliens to the grace of God; nay, they entertained the most dire hatred towards his chosen people. In short, God declares that he would be merciful and propitious to these miserable nations, of whose salvation no hope was entertained, for they had been rejected by him, and they had oftell and long, and in various ways, provoked his vengeance; and though he speaks of neighbors, as we have seen, yet this prediction belongs generally to the whole world, and was at length fulfined in the call of the Gentiles; for God then gathered a Church indiscriminately both from the Jews and the Gentiles.
But a condition is here laid down — If the Gentiles, who had hitherto opposed the true worship of God, received his law. We indeed know how much hated was true religion, especially by the neighboring nations; for their hatred was increased, because they saw that their superstitions were condenmed by this one people. As then they had been greatly incensed against God and the pure doctrine of his law, he now requires a change in them; If they will learn, he says, the ways of my people By the ways of his people he understands what he had commanded. The people of Israel had indeed often departed from true religion; but God here refers to himself rather than to their perverse conduct, for the law had not been abolished by the wickedness and ingratitude of his people. We hence see that, by the ways of his people, we are not to understand those glosses which the Jews had devised, but the law itself, which God had delivered to them. The authority of men, therefore, cannot be hence established, as though they had power to frame a religion for themselves; but God means only that by his good pleasure alone the Jews had been taught what was right. In short, Jeremiah understands the ways of the people passively, not those which the people had contrived for themselves, but such as they had received from above.
It is then added, That they may swear in my name The expression is a part for the whole, for in it is included the whole worship and service of God. Swearing, as we have said elsewhere, is a part of God’s worship and of true religion, for we profess that we ourselves and our life are in God’s hand when we swear by his name; and we also refer judgment to him, and own that he is really God, inasmuch as he knows our hearts and judges of hidden things. All these things are included in swearing. It is therefore no wonder that, in this place and in many other places, the whole of religion is designated by this expression, according to what is said elsewhere,
“Swear shall they all in my name, Live do I, saith Jehovah; to me shall bend every knee, and by me shall every tongue swear.”
And as by the altar, in another place, is meant the worship of God, so here by swearing. The meaning is, — that if the Gentiles became so changed as to submit their neck to the yoke of the law, and allow themselves to be ruled by God, they would be made partakers of the mercy which the Jews had before enjoyed.
Then follows the common form of swearing, Live does Jehovah So the Scripture speaks everywhere; and by these words men do not merely testify that they swear by the life of God, but they also ascribe eternity to him, as though it was said, “God alone exists:” for no life is anywhere to be found but in God. Men, indeed, and brute animals, and even trees, are said to live; but in trees there is only vigor without the senses, in brutes the senses without reason and understanding; but in men the life is light; yet they live not by or of themselves, but they derive life from God, according to what we see on the earth, on which light shines; but we know that there is really no light where we dwell but what descends and is conveyed to us by the rays of the sun. In the same manner it may be said that life dwells in men, being conveyed to them by the hidden power of God. Nor do angels, properly speaking, live of themselves. We hence see the meaning of the words, Live does Jehovah The eternity of God is hereby set forth; he is also owned as the Judge of the world; and further, whatever he claims for himself, men thus testify that it is justly and by right his due.
It afterwards follows, As they taught my people to swear by Baal The corruptions of heathens had greatly prevailed among the chosen people; and the greater part, when they saw that the nations prospered, had cast aside every care for true worship and sincere religion. As then the Jews had been so much given to the superstitions of the heathens, the Prophet says, speaking in God’s name, — “If the Gentiles, who have hitherto taught my people to swear by Baal, who have drawn them away to their own idolatries and fictitious and false forms of worship, begin now to swear by my name, faithfully to worship me alone, they shall be built in the midst of my people.” The metaphor of building is very common; but in this place God intimates no more than that the Gentiles would become a part of his flock, when they cast away their superstitions, and embraced the pure worship prescribed in the law. Nor is this to be applied to any particular place, as some have frigidly explained it, but “in the midst of the people,” is the same as though he had said, — “I will count those nations my people, as a part of my Church,” according to what is said in the Psalms, — that though the Tyrians and Sidonians, and Egyptians, and others who had been hostile nations, were born here and there, yet they would boast that they were all born at Jerusalem when God owned them as members of his own people. (Psalms 138:3) (69) It follows —
(69) The verb
There is here a clear instance of
As he had shewn that there was a sure hope of salvation to his own people, when the Gentiles would embrace his mercy, so he now threatens the Gentiles with destruction in case they repented not; for he had promised to be merciful to the Gentiles conditionally, and said, — “If they learn the ways of my people, if they submit to my authority:” but now he says, if they will not hear, etc We hence see that God here threatens extreme vengeance to the Gentiles if they subjected not themselves to his yoke, so as to render obedience to him. His object, no doubt, was to terrify the Jews as well as the nations; for as the Gentiles could not with impunity despise God, though unknown to them, how inexcusable would the Jews be, who had from their infancy imbibed the true knowledge of the law, if, after the manner of the Gentiles, they were perverse and intractable?
We in short see that God, on one side, sweetly allured the Jews to render a wining obedience to his law, and, on the other, he threatened them; for as he could by no means bear with the perverseness of the Gentiles, much less could the Jews hope to escape punishment. This is the import of the passage. Now follows another prophecy —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent