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The Prophet here declares, that though he was shut up in prison, the Word of God was not bound, and that he himself was not less loose and free in his confinement than if he rambled through the whole city and visited all the lanes and the streets. He then did not desist from his office as a Prophet, though he was cast into prison. And thus we see that the course of heavenly truth cannot be impeded, how much soever the world may rage against all its ministers, and bind them in order to make them mute: and then also we see here that the constancy of the Prophet was invincible, because he was not cast down with fear, though he was a captive and not beyond the reach of danger; for we find that even then he proceeded in the discharge of his office.
He points out then the circumstances of that time, and not without reason, when he says, that he was then shut up in prison, and also mentions the year, even the tenth of Zedekiah and the eighteenth of king Nebuchadnezar. (59) It was about the end of the ninth year that the army of Nebuchadnezar came up to Jerusalem; the city was besieged for two months in that year. The tenth year followed, in which this vision was given to the Prophet. The siege continued for a year and a half; but there was some interruption; for the Egyptians came to its aid. Thus for a short time, while the Chaldeans went to meet them, it had some liberty. But the Egyptians, as we shall hereafter see, were forced to retire in disgrace, and afterwards suffered punishment for their audacity and rashness. It was then about the middle of the siege that God, as we shall see, foretold to the Prophet the future return of the people. But though God shewed a regard for the miserable exiles, he yet at the same time confirmed what he had previously said of his future vengeance; for the people could not be restored before they had been driven into exile. It was indeed a dreadful instance of hardness and obduracy, that having been so often scourged they received no benefit. They had experienced the heavy judgment of God under Jehoiakim, and also under Jeconiah; but the memory of these calamities had soon vanished, and they lived as securely as though they had never heard a word from the mouth of Jeremiah: and he was not the only one who had threatened them, but there were before him Isaiah and others, and at the same time with him was Ezekiel, who had been exiled into Chaldea. Then from the number of years we conclude how great must have been the obstinacy of the people.
At the same time we must observe how seasonable was this prophecy for alleviating the minds of the godly, as they were not far from extreme calamity; for it was in the eleventh year of Zedekiah and in the fourth month that the city was taken and demolished, the people driven into exile, and the Temple burnt. Then there were not more than six or seven months, perhaps, to the time of their utter ruin; there is indeed no mention made here of the month in which the Prophet received the vision, but the tenth year is only mentioned. Now, the city was taken at the beginning of the eleventh year, as we have stated. Hence then comes more fully to light the extreme perverseness of the people; for while the enemy surrounded the city, they held Jeremiah captive. He had already foretold many years past what experience then taught them to be true. For forty years he had not ceased to cry out and to strive by warning, exhorting, and threatening them to lead them to repentance. As then nothing new happened to them, and as they found by the evils which came on them that Jeremiah had been a true and faithful servant of God, what was their object in shutting him up in prison? was not this to carry on war with God? for what had they to do with Jeremiah? He had not evidently acted a private part, nor had he only dreamt of what he had so often foretold them. Then they did not fight with a mortal man, but like the giants they dared to raise up their horns against God himself.
For the same reason also, he calls himself a Prophet This indeed he often did, but there is no doubt but that the indignity offered to him is pointed out, that even at the time when the Chaldeans surrounded the city with their army, Jeremiah the Prophet was shut up in the court of the prison. He might have only said, that Jeremiah was shut up, but for honor’s sake he assumed the title of a Prophet, that hence might appear more evidently the baseness of the people’s contumacy, that though they perceived that God was angry with them, they yet ceased not from their presumption; for they then held the Prophet in prison as though they were fighting with God himself. We know that fools, according to the old proverb, being chastised, become wise. If then the Jews had a particle or a spark of wisdom, they might have been so subdued by evils and calamities as to cast aside their haughtiness and obstinacy. But we see that they were untameable, and through a mad fury persisted in their wickedness; for though besieged by their enemies, they yet attempted to hold God as it were captive in the person of his servant.
As to the court of the prison, I doubt not but it was a milder sort of imprisonment, for we shall hereafter see that the Prophet prayed that he might not be thence thrown into the dark prison where he had been. He sought it as no common favor to remain in some prison; and he was as yet exposed to the mockeries of all. However this may have been, we see that the people had then become nothing better, though they had already been chastised and scourged by God.
We ought at the same timeto bear in mind what I have already said, that though the ungodly sought in all ways wholly to extinguish the word of God, they yet did not attain what they wished; for God broke through all hinderances, and continued the course of his word notwithstanding all their attempts. And this ought to be carefully noticed, for we see at this day all sorts of contrivances made by the wicked to impede the course of celestial truth. Let then this history be remembered, that though Jeremiah was a captive, yet his word was free and his tongue at liberty, as Paul also boasts, that though he was bound with chains, yet God’s word was not bound. (2 Timothy 2:9)
(59) The 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th verses (Jeremiah 32:1) ought to be put as parenthetical, as they only relate the circumstances connected with Jeremiah when he received the vision which he proceeds to relate in the 6th verse. Instead of “For then” in the 2d verse, “And then” would be more proper; and “Where” would be better than “For” at the beginning of the 3d verse, “Where Zedekiah had shut him up,” etc. It is “In which” in the Sept. — Ed.
Then the reason is added why he was shut up in prison, — he had dared to prophesy against the city and the king himself. It was no wonder that the king’s mind was exasperated when Jeremiah boldly said that he would come into the hands of his enemies, for he had not only spoken of the ruin of the city, but also of the fall of the king; he had said that he would be brought before king Nebuchadnezar, and be led to Babylon, and be there until God visited him. We know how delicate are the ears of kings; it was then no wonder Zedekiah became incensed against Jeremiah; but yet he ought to have been softened and humbled when he found that this oracle had come from God. That he then still kept Jeremiah a prisoner, proves his madness and stupidity, for he had no regard for God. I shall proceed with the subject to-morrow.
When, therefore, the king saw that he would not be exempt from the common judgment, he was especially displeased with Jeremiah; for kings seek to be exempt from all laws, and when they allow the people to be reproved, they yet wish themselves to be deemed sacred. As then Jeremiah classed the king Zedekiah with all the common people, it was a thing not to be endured by a proud king. Hence his indignation was such, that he shut up Jeremiah in prison; and he became implacable, even when God’s hand pressed hard on him. It afterwards follows, —
He follows the same subject, Lead, he says, will King Nebuchadnezar Zedekiah captive; and he will remain in exile until I shall visit him. Some understand this time of visiting of his death, for it is certain that he died in Babylon; and as his condition was not improved like that of Jeconiah who was taken from the filth of a prison to the table of the king, this exposition at the first view seems probable, that is, that he was worn down to death by poverty and disgrace. It, however, seems that some alleviation was promised, if indeed a certain kind of death may be deemed a favor; for he was not slain with the sword; and though he was not restored to his own country, there is yet nothing improper in this way of speaking, that he would be in exile until he was visited, for nothing particular could be hence concluded; and we shall hereafter see that when dead he was buried honorably and with mourning. It is then no wonder that God points out here a time of favor, though Zedekiah was never restored to his own Country, and we know that his eyes were plucked out by King Nebuchadnezar, after having been tried and condemned. But this favor of God, however, is not here without reason mentioned, for Nebuchadnezar at length treated him more kindly, at least as far as his burial was concerned: Lead him, then he says, shall Nebuchadnezar into Babylon, and he shall be there until I shall visit him; that is, he shall remain an exile in a filthy prison, and there he shall pine away and be destitute of all help; he shall be then as one of the lowest, and shall, in short, drag on life ignominiously until the time of my visitation.
He lastly adds, When ye fight against the Chaldeans, ye shall not succeed Here the Prophet meets those foolish notions which still filled the minds of the Jews, so that they did not submit to God nor humble themselves under his mighty hand; for there was yet a large number of men, and the city had strong fortifications. As then they saw that they were furnished with men and forces, they were still confident; and then they became hardened on account of the length of the time they had sustained the siege. When enemies make the first attack, fear fills the minds of all; but when the event disappoints them, then they who before trembled gather courage. So it was with the Jews; for when the city was first encompassed by the Chaldean army, the miserable inhabitants no doubt were greatly terrified; but when they saw their enemies stopped, and effecting nothing by their attacks, they then hardened their hearts more and more. For we must notice what I said yesterday, that they had been besieged probably six or eight months when this vision was given to Jeremiah. Hence it was that their confidence was greater. But the Prophet repels this folly by saying,
“Ye fight against the Chaldeans, but the issue will be unsuccessful; for God will lay you prostrate before your enemies, for with him ye carry on war.”
The sum of this introduction is, that Jeremiah was then shut up in prison, and that the king continued in his contumacy, though God’s hand pressed hard on him; and then the cause of this is set forth, even because he boldly threatened the king and the city, and deelard that God’s vengeance was nigh them, so that the king would be led into exile and the city taken and plundered by their enemies. It now follows, —
The whole of this passage ought to be read together, for the Prophet at large explains how and by what symbol this prophecy had been confirmed. Now the purpose of the whole is to shew that after a long time the Jews would return to their own country, for God would restore them, and their captivity would have an end. God’s design, then, was to give them a hope of deliverance, but yet they were admonished to wait patiently for the end of their exile.
Let us now come to the external symbol. The Prophet was commanded to buy a field of his uncle’s son. Now this appeared strange, for the enemies had taken possession of that part of the country, and none of the Jews could then venture to go out to their own fields. As then they were deprived of the very sight of their own fields, the Prophet must have appeared to have been beside himself when he bought a field in the possession of enemies. But in this way God intended to shew, that after the Jews had for a time been deprived of the possession of the land, they would again return to it, so that every one would recover his own right, and thus everything would become completely their own, that is, after God had shewed them mercy.
But in the first place, let us see whether this was, as they say, a naked vision, or a real transaction. Some think that it was exhibited to Jeremiah by the prophetic Spirit; but it may be easily gathered from the context that the field was actually bought. It is first said, that the word came to Jeremiah; but shortly after it is added, that after his uncle’s son came, Jeremiah was informed that the whole business was directed by God. God then foretold the Prophet what was to be, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum, thine uncle, shall come to thee, and shall offer to sell his field to thee. This is what God said to the Prophet; and thus far we may say, that Jeremiah was informed of what was to be either by a dream or a vision; but when he afterwards adds, that Hanameel himself came, and that Jeremiah testifies that he now knew that it was from the Lord, there is no doubt but that it is a real narrative. God then inducedHanameel to come to Jeremiah and to offer him the field on sale, and to ask him to buy it, because he was the next heir, and therefore had the right of redemption. We then perceive that it was a communication from above, but then the reality was connected with it, for Hanameel came and sold the field before witnesses; and all this was necessary, not so much on account of Jeremiah as of the whole people, and especially of the faithful, for whom this prophecy was particularly designed; for God did not intend this to be a common treasure, but laid it up for his chosen people, as we may gather from the conclusion.
Before Hanameel then came, the Prophet was instructed that nothing was done unadvisedly, but that God had arranged and ordered the whole. He was then commanded to buy the field, and as it were to cast away his money; for who would not have said that it was the same thing as to throw it away? And then we are to notice a circumstance as to the time; for the Prophet was then in danger of his life, to what purpose then was the field to him? We have also said that he could not have a free access to it, had he not been shut up in prison; for he could not have ventured to go out of the city. It was then a most strange and ridiculous purchase according to the judgment of the flesh; for Jeremiah squandered away his money, and the possession of the field was only imaginary. But yet as God would have him to buy it, he spared not his money, but purchased the field from his uncle’s son.
He then says, that Hanameel his uncle’s son came, as Jehovah had spoken, that he came into the court of the prison, and that he spoke to him as God had foretold. As to the end of the verse, it may seem strange that the Prophet says, that he now knew that the word came from God: for if he before doubted, where would be the certainty as to the prophetic spirit? He had already received a vision; he ought to have embraced what he knew had been foretold to him from above, even without any hesitation: but it appears that he was in suspense and perplexity. It then seems an evidence of unbelief, that he did not put a full and all entire trust in God’s testimony, and was not fully persuaded as to the heavenly oracle, until he saw the whole thing really accomplished. But it is right to distinguish between the knowledge received from the revelation of the Spirit and experimental knowledge, as they say. The Prophet therefore did not then for the first time learn that God had spoken, but as he was confirmed in the certainty of his faith, and in the thing itself, there is no inconsistency; for nothing is taken away from the credit and authority of God’s word, when the reality and experience confirm us; and thus God often has a regard to the weakness of his people. Jeremiah then relied on God’s oracle, and was fully persuaded that he was directed from above to buy the field; but afterwards, when Hanameel came to him, the event was as it were the sealing of the vision: then the truth of God was more and more confirmed in the heart of the Prophet. This, as I have said, was experimental knowledge, which detracts nothing from the credibility of the word, but is rather a help and a comfort to human infirmity. In this sense it was that he said, that he now knew it; and thus he intended also to make others to believe the prophecy. For when the faithful compare a vision with its accomplishment, this consent and harmony, so to speak, avails not a little to confirm their faith, that as when in one part they hear that God had spoken, and when in another they see that what the Prophet had been taught was really fulfilled. (60)
(60) Gataker and Venema give another view of this clause. The Lord, as we find from verse 7 (Jeremiah 32:7), did not tell him to buy the field, but only informed him of the coming and offer of Hanameel. When Hanameel came, he knew that it was God’s will that he should buy the field, and he instantly acted accordingly. He knew from the very circumstances that it was God’s message, sent to him to buy the field. — Ed.
He afterwards adds, that he bought the field of Hanameel his uncle’s son, which was in Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin There is nothing superfluous in these words, for though the Prophet speaks of places well known, yet he had a regard to the time of the purchase, for the land of Benjamin was then in the power of enemies: the Jews had been reduced to such straits that they were not safe at Jerusalem. Anathoth was a village, as it was well known, exposed to the ravages of enemies, and was seized on as a prey at their first coming. And he adds, in the land of Benjamin, for it was nigh the borders of Judah, but it had been forsaken by its inhabitants, and all had fled to Jerusalem. As then the land of Benjamin had no inhabitant, it was by no means reasonable for the Prophet to pay even the smallest sum for a field there.
It may now be asked, how could Hanameel, who was of the Levitical order, sell a field, for we know that fields did not belong to the Levites, and that they had tithes for their inheritance. (Numbers 18:21) But this is to be taken for a suburban field, for they had the suburbs, and each had a meadow: they neither ploughed nor reaped, nor was it indeed lawful for them, according to the law, to labor in agriculture, but they fed cattle and sheep: and this is proved by the smallness of the sum given; for what was the field sold for? for seven shekels and ten pieces of silver. (61) We hence see that it was not a large field, but only a meadow like a garden; for the price would have been larger, had it been some acres of land. Then the difficulty here is easily removed, for Hanameel sold to Jeremiah a small meadow, as every Levite had in the suburbs a meadow to feed his sheep or his cattle; at the same time none of them had large herds, but each had a cow or two. This, then, is what we are to understand by the field.
(61) We may render the words literally thus, “And I weighed for him the money, seven shekels and ten, the money.” The word is “silver,” but it is often taken for money. The seventeen shekels, according to Lowth, were about two pounds of our money. — Ed.
The Prophet adds, that he wrote a book, that is, the writing of the purchase; for
This then was the reason why two writings of the purchase were made, the sealed and the open. (63) The open had a present benefit, as it would make the faithful to go more willingly into exile, and calmly to submit to the chastisement allotted to them by God; and for this reason the Prophecy was to be open to all. It was also sealed, in order that after the lapse of seventy years it might animate the godly, and inspire them with the hope of their promised deliverance. This, therefore, is the reason, as I think, why the Prophet relates that he made a writing and sealed it, and then that he made another writing which remained open.
(62) There were no doubt two rolls or writings, as it appears clear from Jeremiah 32:14, where the two are distinctly mentioned, “Take these rolls, this roll of the purchase, even the sealed, and this open roll,” etc. The word
There seems to be an incongruity in verse the 10th (Jeremiah 32:10), as rendered by most; the roll is represented as “sealed,” before the “witnesses” are mentioned, and before the money was weighed. The rendering, I conceive, ought to be as follows, “So I wrote in a roll; and I sealed it, when I had made witnesses to witness it, and weighed the money in balances.” The
(63) The 11th verse (Jeremiah 32:11), where the two rolls are first mentioned, is difficult to be rendered. I offer the following literal version of the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th, —
11.And I took the writing of the purchase, — it the sealed, the commandment and the conditions, — and it the open; and I gave the writing of the purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah,
12.The son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel my uncle’s son, and in the sight of the witnesses who wrote in the roll of the purchase, and in sight of all the Jews who
13.sat in the court of the prison; and I commanded Baruch in their sight,
14.saying, “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Take these rolls, — this roll of the purchase, even it the sealed, and this open roll; and put them in au earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.’”
The two rolls are called “the writing of the purchase” in ver. 11, but distinguished, one being “sealed,” and the other “open,” or unsealed. The sealed contained “the commandment,” that is, to purchase, and “the conditions,” literally “ordinances;” which Blayney renders, “the assignment and the limitations,” and the Vulg., “the stipulations and ratifications.” But
He afterwards adds, that he gave both to his scribe Baruch, the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the presence of Hanameel, and in the presence of the witnesses who had subscribed the writings, and in the presence of all who stood there, that is, in the court of the prison. Hence we may again plainly conclude, that he is narrating a real history, and not a vision exhibited to him: the seller, Hanameel, was present together with witnesses and other Jews; and he says that he gave up the writing with certain orders, for otherwise it would have been merely the delivering up of a book. If he had only deposited it with Baruch, the people would have learnt nothing; but the orders are added, I charged Baruch, saying, etc. We hence may also conclude, that this oracle was given to the Prophet, not only that it might continue for posterity, even after the time of exile was completed, but that it might also be then published and made known to all the Jews. He then says, Thus saith Jehovah He had not yet shewn the design of the prophecy; but when he said that the affair was carried on by the command of God, he rendered them all attentive. Take, he says, these writings, and put them in an earthen or a potter’s vessel It seems strange that he did not bid him to put them in another kind of vessel, for that vessel might become decayed, and so the writings might have perished. But we know that even the most precious treasures are deposited in earthen vessels. It is then no wonder that God commanded the prophecy to be put in an earthen vessel. Were any one disposed to understand something more refined, it might be said, that the promise, which apparently was not very firm, was an earthen vessel; for what is more frail than a voice which is dissipated into air? The Jews were driven into exile; they had heard from the mouth of Jeremiah, that the prefixed period was seventy years: but they might, in the meantime have despaired, since only the sound of the voice had reached their ears. However this may be, since the oracle, which was a pledge of deliverance, had been laid up in an earthen vessel, it remained safe and undecayed, because the treasure had been deposited there by God’s command.
He says, That they may continue for many days By these words he intimates that the prophecy would not only be profitable to the Jews, who were to be driven soon after into captivity, but also to their posterity, who were not yet born, and that they might know that this prophecy would stand valid after their death, for we ought not to measure the faithfulness of God by the extent of our life. This, then, was the reason why this clause was added: the prophecy was to be preserved in earthen vessels, that it might remain safe and secure for many days, that is, until God delivered his people.
Though the Prophet was discharging his own office, yet he confesses that he was himself perplexed at the vision. It hence appears that God’s counsel was not always made known in everything to the Prophets, but as far as it was expedient. However, the Prophets were not seized with ecstasies like heathen soothsayers, who pretended they were carried away beyond all their senses. There was not then this fanaticism in the Prophets, so that they spoke like sounding brass, or like the ass of Balaam; but the Lord discovered to them what they taught. They were then disciples, so that they delivered faithfully to the people, as if it were from hand to hand, what was committed to them. But the knowledge with which they were endued was not inconsistent with ignorance as to some things; as when the Prophet said, Houses, and fields, and vineyards shall yet be bought, he knew that God promised the restitution of the land and of the people, nor was the vision itself an obscure enigma; but yet the reason was hid from him, and hence the perplexity of which he now speaks; for being astonished at so wonderful a thing, he had recourse to prayer, and confessed that his mind was perplexed. The wonder then of the Prophet proceeded from his ignorance; but that ignorance was not incompatible with prophetic knowledge. For as far as it was necessary, and the office of a teacher required, he no doubt understood the counsel of God; but such was the height or the depth of this mystery, that he was constrained to confess that it was a work of God which surpassed all his thoughts.
We now then perceive how these two things are consistent, — the prophetic knowledge with which Jeremiah was endued, and the ignorance which compelled him to make this exclamation. He knew with certainty what had been shewn to him in the vision, but what was the design and how the work could be done by God, seemed incomprehensible, and hence his astonishment. He therefore says that he prayed: and by this we are taught, that whenever thoughts creep into our minds, which toss us here and there, we ought to flee to prayer. For many increase their anxieties by fomenting them, while they turn themselves to all quarters, and indulge their own thoughts, and weary themselves without any benefit. Whenever, therefore, any anxiety stealthily lays hold on our minds, let us know that the remedy ought to be in due time applied, that is, to pray to God; so that he may relieve us, and not suffer us to sink into the deep, as it usually happens to all who are curious, and give loose reins to their own imaginations.
We now see that the Prophet was greatly astonished, and yet in such a way as not to look for more than what was profitable; but he immediately prayed, that God would make him to understand what grieved his mind. His prayer follows, which, however, does not immediately discover the mind of the Prophet, for he does not shew the purpose of his prayer until he comes to the 25th verse (Jeremiah 32:25). But he seems here to refer to many things unconnected with his subject. His design must be ascertained from the conclusion of his prayer, “O Lord,” he says, “why hast thou bidden me to buy the field which is now in the hand of enemies? the Chaldeans possess it; and thou hast bidden me to throw away my money.” This was substantially his prayer.
But Jeremiah seems to wander and take long circuits when he says, “Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and stretched-out arm; nothing is wonderful to thee; thou shewest mercy to thousand generations; thou repayest the iniquity of fathers to their children; thy name is Jehovah of hosts; thou art great in council and excellent in work; thine eyes are open,” etc. These things seem not to belong in any degree to the present subject. But the Prophet’s object, no doubt, was to restrain himself, as it were, by putting on a bridle, so that he might acquiesce in the counsel of God, though it was hid and incomprehensible to him: for if he had immediately rushed into prayer, he might, at the first burst of his feelings, have contended with God; for such is the disposition and character of man, when he suddenly addresses God, that he boils over beyond all moderation. The Prophet then, who well understood that there is no such moderation in men as to judge rightly and calmly of God’s works, set up against himself these fences, and placed, as it were, barriers around him, that he might not take more liberty than what was right. Let. us then know that these high terms in which the Prophet spoke were designed for this end, — that he might produce moderation and humility in himself, so that he might check all those roving thoughts by which men are wont to divert themselves. Let us come now to the words:
Ah, Lord Jehovah! he says; behold, thou hast made heaven and earth. Were any one not to attend to the circumstances of the passage, he might think that the Prophet is here rambling, and does not connect his sentences, so that his prayer seems incoherent. But as I have already said, that as the Prophet knew that men take too much liberty when they speak of God’s works, he bridled himself in due time, before he came to his subject. He then made this sort of introduction, “O Lord, it does not behove me to contend with thee, nor is it right in me to require thee to give me a reason for thy doings, for thou hast made heaven and earth by thy great power and extended arm.” There is here then an implied contrast between God and mortal man; “For who am I to dare to summon thee to a contest! for thy power is justly to be dreaded by us; when we raise up our eyes to heaven, when we look on the earth, there is nothing which ought not to fill us with admiration of thy power, for its immensity appears above and below.” We hence see that the Prophet extols in high terms the power of God, in order that he might keep himself in a meek and humble state of mind, and not dare to clamor against God, nor presumptuously rush forward to pronounce a judgment on his works. Behold, he says; he sets before his eyes the wonderful workmanship of the world, in which the immeasurable power of God shines forth most conspicuously.
He then adds, Nor is there any thing hid from thee This clause admits of two meanings; for
I do not, however, reject the other meaning, given by Jerome, that there is nothing difficult to God, or wonderful, because all things are subject to his will. Thus the Prophet might say, continuing the same thought, that the power of God, which shines forth to our view in the heavens and in the earth, may at the same time be observed in the permanent government of the world; for he who has created the heavens and the earth can do all things, so that nothing is wonderful to him, that is, nothing is difficult for his power as soon as he has decreed this or that. The main object of the Prophet is, however, still the same. (64)
(64) The Targ. and the versions, except the Vulg., give the first sense; but the latter is no doubt the true meaning, as the word never means properly to be hidden. The phrase here literally is, “Not harder (or more marvellous) than thou shall anything be,” that is, not harder than what thou canst do. Exactly the same phrase occurs in Genesis 18:14. The word, in a similar clause, in Deuteronomy 30:11, is rendered “hidden;” but the clause literally is, “It is not harder than thou,” that is, than what thou canst attain, or do, as the context proves, see Jeremiah 32:14. — Ed.
He now adds, Thou shewest mercy to thousands, and repayest the iniquity of the fathers to the bosom of their children Here the Prophet acknowledges God’s judgments to be right, though the reason for them escapes human minds. Both these things were necessary, that is, that Jeremiah should set before himself the awful power of God, and that he should also regard God’s judgments as right, though men often think otherwise. For God has hidden reasons for his judgments; and so it happens, that various thoughts disturb us, and every one is disposed to set himself up against God. Hence the Prophet, after having spoken of the immeasurable power of God, now declares also that he is a just judge of the world; and he again restrains himself by another bridle, lest he should pronounce a judgment on God’s works according to his own perceptions.
Thou, he says, shewest mercy to thousands This is taken from the Law of Moses, (Exodus 20:6) for the Prophets often borrowed their chief sentences from Moses, of whom they were the interpreters. Since God then under the Law declared that he is merciful to thousand generations, though it appears unnaccountable to us, yet nothing remains for us to do, but to learn reverently to receive what we cannot comprehend. The Prophet then here confesses that the method which God adopts as to his mercy is hid from the human mind. But the latter clause seems, however, less reasonable, — that God should repay the iniquity of fathers to their children Shortly before we saw that this was set forth as an impious blasphemy, (Jeremiah 31:29) when they said that their fathers had eaten sour grapes, and that their children’s teeth were set on edge; for it is always true that the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:2; Deuteronomy 24:16) But if God repays the iniquity of fathers to their children, he punishes the innocent, and transfers to children what he ought to have rendered to their fathers. But the Prophet, regarding it a wicked thing to contradict what God had spoken by Moses, adores here this mystery, and thus brings himself to humility and meekness, so that he might not break forth into extremes when speaking of the hidden works of God.
We must at the same time briefly observe, that the innocent are not punished when God includes children with their fathers, and casts the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children, for he does not refer to the innocent and the righteous, but to the wicked. Some, when they saw that this truth militated against the common feelings of mankind, have laid hold of an evasion, that is, that God by a temporal punishment renders to children what their fathers had deserved. But God speaks without exception, that he repays to the bosom of children the reward due to their fathers. But how ought this to be understood? It is a part of this punishment, that God withholds from them his Spirit. When, therefore, his purpose is to punish the vices of fathers in their posterity, he withholds from their posterity the light and grace of his Spirit. It cannot then be but that they will ever accumulate evils on evils, and thus they are entangled in the guilt of their fathers. God then proceeds by degrees in the work of punishing sins; for when it is his purpose to forgive the son the punishment which he together with his father has deserved, he draws him to himself by his Spirit, so that he is freed from punishment; but if his purpose is to execute vengeance on sons and grandsons, he withholds from them, as I have already said, the gift of the Spirit, so that they do nothing but provoke his wrath more and more, and thus they become involved in the same guilt with their fathers; hence fathers and children receive in common the same punishment.
This indeed seems not at the first view to be just and right; but let us remember that God’s judgments are hid from us, and for this reason, — that we may cultivate meekness and humility and learn to be soberly wise, and so confess God to be a just judge as to know that our minds cannot penetrate into this deep abyss. But still the solution given seems plain enough, that is, that God never punishes the innocent. For when he visits the sins of fathers on their children, a part of that punishment is, as I have already stated, that he withholds from the children the light of his Spirit; being blind, they ever run headlong to their own ruin, and thus by the continual commission of new sins they provoke God’s vengeance against themselves. When therefore God renders to them the reward due to their fathers, he punishes them at the same time for what they themselves have deserved; nor have they any reason to complain, because they have been guilty in common with their fathers: there is, therefore, nothing strange that they share with them in their punishment. But it, however, depends on the hidden mercy of God, that. he favors some with pardon, and thus delivers them from ruin, while he forsakes others; and as they are wicked, they deserve all the punishment he inflicts on them: Thou, then, repayest into the bosom of their sons after them, that is, after their death.
He afterwards exclaims, God, strong and mighty! Jehovah of hosts is his name He again declares the greatness of God’s power, that he might restrain himself, and not rashly undertake any new inquiry, as the ease is with curious men, who indulge themselves in speculations, and thus summon God as it were to an account, as though there could be appointed a tribunal before which he might be found guilty. As then the insolence and arrogance of human nature are so great, the Prophet here sets barriers around himself, so that he might keep within the bounds of humility and soberness.
He afterwards changes the person, which is a proof of vehemence and ardor; for it is, as we have seen, a prayer. He does not now address God directly, but says, Jehovah of hosts is his name, speaking in the third person. (65) Had he continued in the same strain, he would have said, “Thou art God, strong and mighty,” etc., but he says, “Jehovah of hosts is his name.” We then see that the Prophet as it were turns aside; and this change of person, as I have stated, proceeded from the vehemence and ardor of his mind. And it often happens to the faithful, that they break off their direct address when they pray, while they contemplate God’s works, as displaying, now his power, then his goodness, or his wisdom. The faithful then do not always pray in a continued strain; but as feeling guides them, they now address God, then they turn aside and blend apostrophes. It follows, —
(65) The change of person seems to begin at the 18th verse (Jeremiah 32:18), and includes the first clause in the 19th, —
18.He who sheweth mercy to thousands, And who returns the iniquity of fathers To the bosom of their children after them, Is God, the great, the powerful; Jehovah is his name, —
19.Great in counsel and mighty in his doings: Who — thine eyes are open On the ways of the sons of men, To give to each according to his ways, And according to the fruit of his doings;
20.Who, etc., etc.
“God, the great,” etc., is connected with shewing mercy and requiting iniquity. His greatness is in counsel or wisdom, and his power or might is manifested in his doings. The
He goes on with the same subject, for he expresses his wonder and admiration as to God’s judgments. he first declares that God is great in counsel and great in work By counsel, he understands the wisdom of God, which not only surpasses all our thoughts, but also absorbs them. And then he mentions the execution of his counsel, which affords evidences of that wisdom which appears to us. By the works of God we learn how great and how unequalled is his wisdom: for that in itself cannot be comprehended, nay, men could not have the least knowledge of it, except it were rendered conspicuous by works. The works of God then through their excellency are evidences of his immeasurable wisdom. For this reason and in this sense the Prophet calls God great in counsel and great in work
He adds, that his eyes are open on all the ways of men By these words he intimates that he is the judge of the whole world, and that whatever men may consult, speak, or do, must come to a reckoning. The meaning is, that the providence of God so extends to all parts of the world, that the works of men cannot possibly be hid from him, and that no one can escape his hand; for after having spoken of God’s eyes, he adds, that he may render to every one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings
The Prophet then does not speak here of any idle speculation such as ungodly men entertain; for they confess that all things are seen by God, but imagine that he is satisfied with having only this bare knowledge; and thus they deprive him of the dignity and office of a judge. But the Prophet here shews what the end of God’s providence is, why God has his eyes open, even that he may at last produce at his tribunal all the sayings and doings of men, yea, their thoughts also. We are further taught by these words that our life cannot be rightly formed, unless we bear in mind the presence of God, so as to know that his eyes are on us, and that there is nothing hid from him: for whence is there so much liberty in sinning, except that men grow wanton like fugitives? as when a rebellious son withdraws himself from the eyes of his father, he can then abandon himself wholly to sin, for he is freed from all fear and shame. So our thoughtlessness is like a flight, for we think that we are far removed from God. This then, as I have said, ought always to be remembered, that the eyes of God are open on all our ways, and for this end, — that he may render to every one according to his ways, and that every one may gather the fruit of his own doings.
Though, then, God for a time may connive at what we do, and may not manifestly shew that he is the judge of men, there is no reason that indifference should creep over us, as though we could escape from his hand; but let us know that all our doings and sayings are now noticed by him, that he may hereafter shew that he is not an idle observer, as some ungodly men dream, but that he is an eye-witness of all things, that he may at last appear as our judge.
This passage is turned by Papists for the support of merits by works; but it is a frivolous attempt; for when Scripture declares that it shall be rendered to every one according to his works, it does not exclude the gratuitous mercy of God; and when God renders a reward to the faithful, it depends on gratuitous pardon, because he forgives them whatever would otherwise vitiate their good works: and to speak more exactly, God does not render to the faithful according to their works, except as he gratuitously pardons them and forgives whatever they have done amiss. Reward then depends on the free mercy of God only. As to the wicked, it is no wonder that a just reward is said to be rendered to them;for we know that they are worthy of eternal perdition, and that God is a righteous judge when he punishes their sins. It follows, —
The Prophet here especially commemorates the singular kindness of God, by which he had testified his paternal favor towards his Church. He then says, that signs and wonders had been done by him in the land of Egypt, that: is, for the sake of his people. For why were so many miracles done, except to prove the care he had for his chosen people, and thus to confirm his covenant? We hence see that God’s favor towards the children of Abraham is here set forth, that is, when he refers to the signs and wonders
which had been done in the land of Egypt. And he adds, and in Israel He extols not only God’s power in miracles, but especially the mercy with which he favored his chosen people. He says also, to this day Not that God performed miracles in every age, but he means that they were worthy of being perpetually remembered, and throughout all ages. Then this refers to the remembrance and celebration of God’s power, when the Prophet says, to this day God, indeed, performed miracles at a certain time, but he performed them that they might be remembered in all ages, and that posterity might acknowledge how wonderfully God had dwelt with their fathers. (66)
As then the power which he manifested in Egypt was worthy of being remembered, miracles are said to have been done to this day; and they are said to have been done in Israel, because it was God’s purpose to prove the certainty of his faithfulness when he redeemed his people as he had promised.
He afterwards adds, and among men The Prophet goes on still further. After he had spoken of the redemption of the people, he intimates that wherever he turned himself, he observed and admired the evidences of God’s power, as though he had said, “O Lord, thou hast indeed given peculiar testimonies as to thy wonderful power and goodness; the redemption of thy people was a singular work, and ought to be commemorated through all ages; but wherever we turn ourselves, there is no corner in the whole world where some miracles do not appear, which ought to lead us to celebrate thy praises.” We hence see that the Prophet proceeds from what is particular to what is general: after having considered God’s power and goodness in the redemption of his people, he extended his thoughts to all parts of the world, and contemplated God’s miracles everywhere. And this is what often occurs in Scripture; after having been reminded of some particular instance of divine power or grace, we are carried away so that we make a transition to what is general. And he adds, and thou hast made thee, or acquired to thyself, a name according to this day; that is, thou hast made thy name to be perpetual, as its glory still at this day shines forth before our eyes. Then the Prophet means that God had so wonderfully manifested his power, that the knowledge of it would be perpetual, and could never be buried by the ingratitude of men.
(66) This is commonly the meaning given to this verse. It may be rendered as follows, —
20.Who hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, To before signs and wonders to this day Both to Israel and to mankind; And hast made to thyself a name, Such as it is at this day.
They were “signs” or evidences of God’s power, and in their character “wonders,” that is, supernatural. — Ed.
Jeremiah comes now nearer to the point in hand; for, after having spoken of the unequalled power of God, he now extols his righteous judgment in inflicting punishment on an ungodly and wicked people. For this end he refers to the favor of redemption, and he then adds that the land had been given to Israel which had been promised to their fathers. He afterwards states that this favor had been conferred on the ungrateful, for they immediately shook off the yoke and despised God their redeemer, together with his Law.
He then says, that the people had been brought up from the land of Egypt with signs and wonders This is an amplification, for God had in an unusual manner made it sufficiently evident that without his favor the people could not have been delivered from Egypt. For had it not been for the manifest display of God’s power in miracles and wonders, the Israelites might have appropriated to themselves the favor of God, or to some worldly instrumentality; but God’s favor appeared so resplendent in signs and wonders, that the liberation of the people could not have been ascribed either to fortune, or to the efforts of men, or to any other means. And for the same purpose he mentions the strong hand and the extended arm. He intimates by these words, that the people had been so delivered, that the hand of God, yea, his extended arm, openly appeared, that is, his power, as we have explained elsewhere, was manifested far and wide.
He refers at last to great terror: such was the haughtiness of their enemies, that they would have never suffered the people to depart, had they not been filled with great terror. As then the Egyptians had been by terror subdued, Jeremiah amplifies by this circumstance the favor of redemption, as though he had said, that God’s favor was not obscure, because the Israelites might have known by these extraordinary evidences that they were delivered by a divine power. For so great was the power, the valor, and cruelty of their enemies, that no hope of a free departure could have been entertained, had not God put forth his hand from heaven. It afterwards follows, —
Here the fruitfulness of the land is commended, so that the ingratitude of the people for their redemption might appear less excusable. God had already bound them, as it were, more than enough to himself, but when the wealth and fruitfulness of the land were added, the bounty of God was doubled, which, by a stronger and more sacred chain, bound the people to obedience. But when they buried, as it were, both their benefits, their impiety was extreme, and so much baser was their ingratitude. We hence see why the Prophet said that the land was given to the people.
He at the same time mentions the reason, even because it had been promised to their fathers. It is not, however, right to suppose that the fathers had any merits, as Jerome says, who ignorantly perverts this passage; for he says, that nothing was due to the people on the ground of merit; but that the fathers were yet worthy on account of their great virtues. But we know that God’s covenant was from the beginning gratuitous. The Prophet then means here, that the land was not given as a reward rendered to the people for their works, but that it was given them because it had been gratuitously promised. And he mentions the oath, because God, regarding the infirmity of Abraham and the fathers, confirmed by an oath his own promise. But as I have spoken elsewhere more at large on this subject, I touch on it but slightly now. However, whenever there is mention made of an oath, let us know that reproof is indirectly given to the inconstancy of men, who always vacillate, and can never recumb on God’s promise, except they are helped by this confirmation.
However this may be, the Prophet here reminds us that God confirmed the pledge which he had given to the fathers when the people entered into the land, because they could not have obtained it by their valor, or by any other means. In short, Jeremiah calls the attention of the people to God’s gratuitous covenant, that they might understand that they became possessors of the land by no other right than this, — that God of his own free will had promised to Abraham and his seed that he would give them that land. He speaks, as I have just said, of the fruitfulness of the land, because it was God’s design to allure the people in every way, that they might continue in his service. And when the people, thus bountifully dealt with, did not acknowledge God’s favor, their extreme and base stupidity was fully proved. What the Prophet then means is, that the land was most fruitful, in which the people had all abundance, and that yet they despised God the giver of so much bounty, according to what immediately follows —
The Prophet in this verse confesses that. God’s vengeance was just, when the people were cast out of the land and driven into exile, because they, after having entered into the land, did not obey the voice of God. The very sight of the land ought to have made the people obedient to God; for they could not have eaten a crumb of bread, without being always reminded whence their food came, even because God had expelled the Gentiles from that land. When, therefore, they were filled with all kinds of good things, and at the same time despised God, no excuse could have been pretended; for if they made ignorance their pretense, the very land itself was before their eyes, which recalled them to the fear of God. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet joins those two things together, that the Israelites entered into the land, and that they disobeyed the voice of God
Now, by this clause he intimates that they had not fallen through ignorance, because God had sufficiently made known his will. God had indeed spoken, but it was to the deaf. The Prophet then here shews that there was no other cause for the sin of the people, but that they obstinately refused to attend to the voice of God.
Then he adds for the same purpose, that they had not walked in his Law The Law is often compared to a way; for except God prescribes to us what his will is, and regulates all the actions of our life according to a certain rule, we should be perpetually going astray. God’s Law, then, is justly said to be like a way, according to what Moses also speaks,
“This is the way, walk ye in it.”
(Deuteronomy 5:33; see also Isaiah 30:21)
Then Jeremiah, after having shewn that the people had been taught, mentions this, — that the way had been made known to them, so that they went astray knowingly and wilfully; for they could not have turned aside either to the right hand or to the left without being called back by the doctrine of the Law.
He says, in the third place, What thou hast commanded them to do they did not He explains here the same thing more clearly and without any figurative expression, even that they had been unwilling to obey God, while yet they sufficiently understood what was right; for the Law suffered them not to go astray, and God had included in it everything necessary to be known. The Prophet then shews that they had not turned aside except through perverseness, because they knew what God required. As a certain Lacedaemonian said, that the Athenians knew what was right, but were unwilling to do it; so the Prophet in this place distinguishes the open impiety and contempt of the people from ignorance and inadvertence, and does not mean that the people did not satisfy all the precepts of the Law.
And this passage also Jerome explains very absurdly; for he says that the Israelites did not stand to their promises, because they had said that they would do whatever God commanded. But the Prophet here does not condemn them as to one thing only, as though he had said that there had been some defect, but he says that they had been wholly disobedient, for they had not despised only one precept of the Law, but had as it were designedly cast aside the whole Law, and obeyed none of God’s commandments. Then this negative sets forth the defection of the people as to the whole law, and as to every precept of it.
And this passage is worthy of special notice, because the Prophet advisedly repeats the same thing, — that the people had not walked in the Law, — that they had not obeyed the voice of God, — that they had done nothing of what had been commanded; (67) for a heavier condemnation and vengeance await those who have been faithfully taught what pleases God and what is right, and yet follow their own will, and are carried away by the passions and lusts of the flesh. In a word, Jeremiah points out the highest pitch of impiety, that is, when people clearly and familiarly know what the will of God is, and yet disregard it and shake off the yoke, and thus shew manifestly a contempt for the whole Law.
It follows, Therefore thou hast made to come on them all this evil The Prophet here testifies that whatever had happened to the people, was not by chance, but that a reward was rendered to their sins. Men in some measure acknowledge God’s judgments, but this acknowledgment presently vanishes. Wisely then does the Prophet here shew that God’s vengeance is evident in adversities, and that the people thus received the reward which they had deserved. It now follows, —
(67) There is this difference between these three things: the “voice” was that of God by his prophets, — the “law” was the ten commandments, — and “all which” had been “commanded” were the statutes and ordinances, the civil and ceremonial appointments. To “hearken to his voice,” rather than to obey it, is what is meant: so far from obeying it, they would not hear the Prophets. This had been throughout their sin. — Ed.
Here then at length the Prophet discovers his own perplexity. We have already stated the reason why he made so long an introduction before he came to the main thing: it was necessary for him to put on as it were a bridle; for except we restrain our thoughts, we shall become petulant against God, and there will be no moderation. The Prophet then, that he might not peevishly expostulate with God, set before himself his immeasurablepower, and then he added that nothing happens except through his righteous vengeance. He now however asks, how it was, that he was bidden to buy the field when the city and the whole country were delivered up into their enemies. He then mentions here this inconsistency, and confesses that his mind was embarrassed, for he could not discover why God had bidden him to buy the field, and yet had determined to drive the people into exile and to scatter them into remote lands. But we have said that the Prophet was fully persuaded of God’s truth; and hence it was that he was so willing and ready to obey; for he made no delay in buying the field; and he afterwards laid up with Baruch the writings of the purchase. But after having performed all this, he brought a complaint against God; and as the thing appeared unreasonable, he desired this knot to be untied.
He then says, Behold the mounts, or, the warlike engines, for the word may mean either. The word
He adds, and what thou hast spoken is come to pass; and, behold, thou seest it He confirms what he had just said, even that the destruction of the city did not otherwise happen than through God’s judgment. And he confirms it, because whatever then happened, had already been testified during the time of the Prophet himself. And it hence appeared, that the city was not distressed through chance, because God had foretold nothing by his servants but what he had decreed and resolved to do. Then the ruin of Jerusalem was the work of God, of which he had foretold by his servants. For these two things ought to be joined together — the mouth of God and the hand of God. Nor is it lawful to imagine such a thing as some fanatics do, that God sees from heaven whatever is done on earth, and yet continues in an idle state. But he decrees what is right, and then when it is necessary, he testifies it by his servants the Prophets. However, the mouth of God ought not to be separated from his hand. The Prophet then shews that the destruction of the city was the righteous judgment of God, because the Prophets had previously spoken of it.
The words, thou seest it, refer to the preceding sentence, or to that which immediately follows, even because it seemed inconsistent or unreasonable that the Prophet should buy the field as God commanded, and yet that God knew that the land was possessed by enemies, and that the people were to be driven into exile. Since then God had resolved to cast out the people from the land, how was it that he had bidden his servant to buy the field? Had all this been unknown to God, the inconsistency would not have been so evident But when God perfectly knew that what he had so often proclaimed as to the exile by his Prophets could not be changed, what could be his purpose in bidding the field to be bought and the purchase to be confirmed by witnesses, when yet the city was delivered up to enemies? Jeremiah, after having mentioned the substance of his prayer, now adds the answer he received from God, in which is seen the fruit of his prayer, even that he had been taught what had regard to the deliverance and return of the people, in order that the faithful might entertain hope, and also that they, relying on the promise, might cheerfully bear their exile until the prefixed time came. The words are these, —
We have already said that the verb
And this meaning is most suitable to this passage: for Jeremiah, when that which seemed inconsistent occurred to him, was constrained to cast his anxiety as it were into the bosom of God. Then God, in order to relieve him, says that nothing is difficult to him, because he is the God of all flesh. Though by the words all flesh, the Scripture often means all kinds of animals, yet oftener the human race only. I do not, however, refinedly explain this passage, as though God did set the Gentiles in opposition to the Jews, and thus denied that he would be any longer the God of Abraham’s children, because he had repudiated them on account of their sins; but he says that he is in an especial manner the king of the whole earth, and rules over the whole human race. As God then, he says, is the God of all flesh, can anything be impssible to him?
The import of the answer is, that though God would bring to an end the seventy years of exile, yet there was no reason for hypocrites to gather encouragement, for this promise did not belong to them. God then speaks here, in the first place, of his vengeance, in order to fill the despisers of his Law with dread, and to intimate that they were excluded from the favor of redemption, he afterwards adds, that he would at length be merciful to the exiles; but this favor is confined to the elect and faithful alone.
The two parts of the answer ought then to be noticed, for God seems here to set in opposition one to another two contrary things. But as I have said, in the former clause, he has in view the hypocrites, who applied to themselves, without faith and repentance, what the Prophet had testified of restoration. God then sets forth here his extreme severity, and then he mitigates that rigor; but he then turns his discourse to the elect, because they alone were capable of receiving his favor.
Let us now come to the words, I will deliver this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, and into the hand of King Nebuchadnezar, and he will take it this purpose was, that what Jeremiah himself had predicted by his command, should remain unalterable, that the city could not be delivered. For it might have disturbed the mind of the Prophet were the Jews shortly after to be delivered, and were the siege of the city to be raised: he might, in that case, have been exposed to ridicule, together with his prophecies, and rashness might have been objected to him, because he had dared to announce in God’s name what we before noticed. For this reason and purpose God declares that nothing could be changed, for the Chaldeans were to take the city; and thus he bids the Prophet to retain a quiet mind, and not to disturb himself, as though it was his intention to expose his prophecies to ridicule; for God’s sacred name would thus have been subjected to many reproaches. Had Jeremiah been proved guilty of falsehood, what would have been the consequence, but that the Jews would have insolently triumphed over God? God then declares again that the city was given over to destruction.
And therefore he adds, enter in shall the Chaldeans who assail the city; for he does not say that they would come, but he confirms in other words what he had said; Break then into the city shall the Chaldeans, though it was closed up and fortified; and shall set on fire this city It was not without purpose that he mentioned the word city so often; for as it was the sanctuary of God, and the royal seat, the Jews thought that it was impregnable, and that the sun could be sooner cast down from heaven than that; enemies could take possession of it: in order then to subvert this false confidence, God often mentioned the word city. He at last adds, that the Chaldeans would burn it, as though he had said, that whatever Jeremiah had predicted would certainly be fulfilled, not only respecting the attack on the city, but also its destruction, so that not a stone would be left on a stone, but that there would be a dreadful desolation until the time of its restoration. The rest to-morrow.
He amplifies the sin of the people, that they never departed from their vices. And he mentions the ten tribes, and also the tribe of Judah. The ten tribes, we know, had departed from the pure worship of God, when as yet true religion continued at Jerusalem. By mentioning then the children of Judah, he no doubt aggravated their guilt, intimating that they had fallen together with the Israelites, while yet they had for a time been preserved. The Israelites had become degenerated, afterwards the whole seed of Abraham became implicated in the same defection, so that they forsook the true worship of God. But afterwards he mentions only the children of Israel, but he includes also the tribe of Judah. For it ought to be observed, that when Scripture connects Israel with Judah, Israel then means the ten tribes, and that for the sake of honor or reproach the house of Judah is referred to separately; from the kingdom of Israel; but that when Israel is alone mentioned, it includes generally all the children of Abraham without exception. So it is in this place, when he says that the children of Israel and the children of Judah had done nothing but provoked God. Afterwards he mentions only Israel, and includes the twelve tribes.
But he says that the children of Israel and of Judah had only provoked him from their youth The particle
And from their youth here is not to be understood of individuals, but is to be extended to the whole people; and so youth is to be taken for the time of their redemption, as we shall hereafter see. For the Church was in a manner then born, and in the desert, when they had been recently brought to the light, for God had delivered them from the darkness of death. In their very childhood they began to provoke God; from that time they had always been perverse in their wickedness.
The meaning then is, that the people of Israel had been of such a perverse disposition that it became necessary at length to punish them severely, for they ceased not to add evils to evils. And the particle
And he adds, with the work of their hands This explanation is added, because the Israelites might have raised a clamor, and asked what that evil was. God had indeed shewn sufficiently that it availed them nothing to seek evasions, for he had made himself their judge when he said, before my eyes; for by these words the Prophets intimate that a right judgment cannot be formed of men’s works by themselves, for willing or unwilling, they must stand or fall according to the judgment of God. Whenever then God declares that men have sinned before his eyes, he means that it is in vain for them to seek subterfuges, by alleging their good intentions, as they are wont commonly to say, because with him is the authority to judge. But this truth he confirms, when he says, that they had provoked him by the work of their hands (69) By the work of their hands the Prophet means the superstitions will tell the people had invented for themselves. And we must ever bear in mind the contrast between God’s commands and the works of our hands, for whatever we obtrude on God besides his Law is the work of our hands; but obedience is better than sacrifice. Then God here expressly condemns all the inventions of men, as though he had said, that however men may delight in their own superstitions, they are yet impious and detestable, for it is not lawful to devise anything. For God having given us his Law, has left nothing for us to do, except to follow what he has commanded; and when we turn aside and add something of our own, we do nothing but what is sacrilegious. It now follows —
(68) The particle
(69) It appears evident, that the last clause of this is explanatory of the first, as Calvin shews. “The evil,” for the article precedes it, was “the work of their hands,” that is, idolatry:
For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have doubtless been doing the evil before mine eyes from their youth; for the children of Israel have doubtless been provoking me with the work of their hands, saith Jehovah.
The connection in this way appears more obvious. — Ed.
He confirms what we have just said, even that God, however, severely he might punish the Jews, would not yet exceed due limits in his judgment, because their iniquity had reached the highest pitch. It was a dreadful judgment when the city was wholly demolished by fire, and the Temple destroyed. Hence the atrocity of the punishment might have driven many to complain that God was too severe. Here he checks all such complaints, and says, that the city had been built as it were for this end, even to provoke him, as we say in French, Elle a este faite pour me depiter, pour me facher. Some read, “Reduced to me has been the city;” but they pervert and obscure the meaning. It might more properly be rendered, “The city has been destined to me for my wrath and indignation.” But the meaning which I have given is simpler. Thus the words
There is then nothing new said here, but as it was a thing difficult to be believed, the Prophet dwells on it, and says, that the city Jerusalem had been for the wrath and indignation of God, from the time in which it had been founded And we may gather from the end of the verse that this is the true meaning, for he says, Even to this day, that I should remove it from my sight; as though he had said, that the Jews had made no end of sinning, so that it was now quite the time to punish a people so wicked, whose impiety was un-healable. And he points out their persistency when he says, even to this day (70) For the people had not only begun to sin in the wilderness, but they pursued in a regular course, so to speak, their impiety, so that at no age, in no year, in no day, did they cease from their vices. Here then is pointed out their constant habit of sinning. It follows —
(70) It has been found difficult to render this verse literally, though the general meaning is evident, and is given in our version, which is more paraphrastic than usual. If we take
31.For the occasion of my wrath, and the occasion of my indignation, has this city been to me from the day that they have built it even
32.to this day; so that I shall remove it from my sight on account of all the wickedness of the children of Israel, etc. etc.
So the latter part of Jeremiah 32:31 ought to be connected with the following verse. The verb for “remove” is in the infinitive mood preceded by
This verse is connected with the last: God had complained, that the city had been so perverse in its character, that it seemed to have been founded and built for the purpose of seeking its own ruin by its sins. He confirms that declaration by adding, On account of all the wickedness of the children of Israel, and of the children of Judah. By all the wickedness or evil, he means what he before said, that they had been doing only evil, for they had offended not only in one thing, but had abandoned themselves to impiety, so that there was nothing pure or honest among them; for they had given themselves up to impiety, so that they omitted nothing that was calculated to provoke God. A universal blot is extended to every part of life, as though he had said, that they were imbued with so much wickedness, that no sound part remained in them. It is possible for man’s body to labor under one or two diseases, while there may be soundness in some of the members; but the Prophet means here, that the Israelites had become so corrupt, as it is said in Psalms 14:1, that nothing remained whole among them.
Now God condemns here all ranks of men: in the first place he says, that the kings had sinned; for they not only themselves had forsaken the true worship of God, but had become the cause of defection or apostasy to others. To kings he adds princes, or counsellors, and then priests and prophets. And, doubtless, the kings with their counsellors ought to have been one eye, the priests and the prophets the other; for the two eyes in a true and legitimate government are the judges and the pastors of the Church. But the Prophet says, that the kings and their counsellors had been ungodly, and then that the priests and the prophets had been implicated in similar crimes. And it was indeed something monstrous to see such blindness and madness in those priests whom God had, by a hereditary right, set over the Church as the interpreters of the Law, according to what is said,
“The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7)
And when the priests failed in their office, either through ignorance or sloth, God raised up prophets in their place, and his purpose was to prevent by such a help the ruin of his Church. But Jeremiah says, that the prophets had become like the priests.
This passage deserves to be carefully noticed; for we see how delighted many are when the Church is disturbed by discords; for they think that they are thus excused, when they cast aside every care and every concern for religion; and many indulge in this kind of indifference. But if the faithful had been so careless at that time, must not religion have a thousand times vanished away, having been wholly extinguished and obliterated from their hearts? Let us then learn, that though false prophets may rise and obscure pure doctrine by their fallacies, and though the sacrificers should become apostates, and raise up, as it were, a banner to demolish the whole Church — yet let us learn to be firm; for our faith ought not to be shaken, though the whole world were in confusion, nay, though Satan mingled heaven and earth together. In short, it is the real trial of our faith, when we firmly abide in God’s truth at the time when Satan attempts above all things to throw everything into confusion. For Jeremiah does not speak here of the Egyptians or the Assyrians, but of the chosen people, the children of Abraham, the sacred heritage of God; and yet he says that the priests and prophets had become leaders to the people in their sinful courses, so that they cast aside the true worship of God, perverted the Law, and in short, departed from religion.
He afterwards adds, and the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem He speaks not of the Israelites, who had long ago become polluted, and had abandoned themselves to ungodly superstitions, for they had become, as it were, aliens to the people of God; but he names only the Jews, who remained alive, that God’s Church might continue in the world. He proceeds by degrees, for he mentions the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the last place. It was indeed less to be endured that those, who had the Temple before them, who were constantly reminded of God’s true worship, should be apostates, than if they dwelt in villages; for those who lived in the country, and were wont to come to the Temple three times a year, had apparently some excuse. But as the citizens of Jerusalem enjoyed so many religious means, as the Law of God continually sounded in their ears, as the sacrifices were as trumpets by whose blast they were summoned to serve and fear God, it was, as we have said, a great aggravation to their guilt. Hence the Prophet, for the sake of a greater reproach, joins them to the men of Judah It follows —
Here the Prophet expresses more clearly the perverseness of the people, as though he had said, that they had deliberately rejected every instruction, and had shewn no regard for God; for he who turns his back on us, does this knowingly and wilfully, and indeed not without contempt. When any one addresses me, and I look another way, is it not a manifest sign of contempt or disdain? and he who speaks, does he not see that he is disregarded? Thus God then complains that the Jews had not fallen away through ignorance, but as it were through a premeditated obstinacy: they then turned to me, he says, the neck, (71) when yet they ought to have been attentive to hear the doctrine of the Law. For God shews to us his face whenever he is pleased to prescribe what ought to be done, or to shew the way of salvation. When he looks on us, how detestable must be our pride, if we look not also on him in return? This, then, is the first thing, that the Jews had knowingly and wilfully despised God and his Law.
Then he amplifies their guilt by saying, And I taught them, I rose up early and taught them, and they hearkened not (72) If the Law had been only once promulgated, the Jews might have objected and said, that they were for the most part illiterate; but no color of pretense remained for them, since the Prophets were continually interpreting the Law, as God had also promised by Moses,
“A Prophet will I raise up for thee from the midst of thy brethren.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)
For he intimates that this benefit would be perpetual in the Church, so that there would never be wanting Prophets to shew the right way to the people. For he sets Prophets in opposition to soothsayers, diviners, foretellers, and all other ministers of Satan, as though he had said, that there was no reason for the people to seek the fallacies of Satan, since the Prophets were sufficient. Lest the Jews then should complain that they were hardly dealt with, God here shews that he had taught them, for he ascribes to himself what he had done by his Prophets: and doubtless Prophets and teachers are nothing else but the instruments of the Holy Spirit; for no one is fit to teach, but when he is guided by the Spirit of God. Justly then does God claim for himself these offices, so that all the praise for the building up of his Church is due to him, though he employs the labors of men. In this sense it is, that he says, that he had taught them.
Then he adds, that he rose up early, that is, that he had been sedulous. As a master of a family, who is solicitous for his own, early inquires how they are, and looks around the whole house; so also God represents himself here, speaking of his care in teaching the Israelites, as though he had said, that not only his Law was set before their eyes, by which they might learn what was right, but that Prophets were also given who ceased not to admonish and exhort them.
Now this manner of speaking ought to be particularly observed, as we hence learn how base their ingratitude is who reject the teaching of the Prophets; for they not only disregarded men, but God himself, as Christ also declares,
“He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)
This form of speaking, then, commends the truth of the doctrine taught by the Prophets; for God comes forth and shews that he speaks by his servants. And on the other hand, we learn what an incomparable blessing it is to have faithful and true teachers; for God, through them and their labors, with certainty declares that he cares for our salvation, as though he watched over us, as though he rose up early, as though he visited us; and the preaching of the Gospel is not without reason called the visitation of God. There is, then, no reason for us to seek anything better, when God is present with us by his word; for we have a sure testimony of his presence whenever true and faithful teachers rise up.
He adds, to receive correction He intimates by the word
(71) So the original is; but we say the back. The same words are found in Jeremiah 2:27. — Ed.
(72) The words for teaching, and early rising, are participles, dependent on “me,” in the previous clause, and by making a little change in the order of the words, the sense would be more evident, —
And they turned the neck and not the face to me, while teaching them, early-rising and teaching; yet they hearkened not to receive instruction.
They turned their back, while God was teaching them! — Ed.
(73) It is true that the word means correction as well as instruction; but as “teaching” is what was previously mentioned, our version, which gives the latter word, seems to present the true meaning here. It is so rendered byBlayney. — Ed.
There was here, as it were, an extreme wickedness, for the Jews had profaned the Temple itself. It was a grievous offense, when every one had, as we have seen, private services at home, where they burned incense on the roofs, and poured libations to foreign gods; but when impiety had gone so far, that even the Temple itself was polluted with idols, what hope was there of repentance?
He says that they had set their abominations in the Temple. It is called, indeed, a house after the manner of the Hebrews, but it is afterwards distinguished from private buildings, when he says, on which my name is called (74) and then, that they might defile it God here shews that the Temple had been dedicated to him; it was then a sacrilegious profanation when they offered their sacrifices to idols. They were, indeed, already apostates; but such a sacrilege was not so notorious in their private superstitions as in the Temple; for this was to deprive God of his own honor. Though it was not right in them to abandon themselves to all kind of wickedness when they came forth from the Temple; yet the Temple itself ought to have continued, as it were, safe and free from every defilement. For this reason, therefore, he says that it was called by his name, and then that the Temple itself had been defiled, so that they did not spare his sacred name. The rest I shall defer till to-morrow.
(74) The Vulg. and the Targ. very incorrectly render the words, “In which my name is called.” The Sept. and the Syr. are the same as our version. It was, no doubt, a house of prayer; but what is here meant is, that it was called God’s house. — Ed.
After having complained of the profanation of his own Temple, God now says that the Jews had sinned through another superstition, even because the valley of the son of Hinnom had become to them a temple instead of the true one. God had forbidden in the Law sacrifices to be offered except where he appointed,
“Thou shalt not do so to thy God, but thou shalt come to the place where he has put the memorial of his name.”
As God then had expressly testified that sacrifices are not acceptable to him except in one Temple, and on one altar, he shews here that the lawful worship had been corrupted by the Jews, even because they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire in honor to Molech. And yet in a former passage he calls him Baal. Hence it appears, as we said yesterday, that the word Baal includes all kinds of idols. For the Jews, no doubt, while they worshipped their Baalim, ever wished to ascribe to the one true God the chief sovereignty, but, at the same time, they devised patrons for themselves, and hence was the multitude of their gods. But Molech was a particular deity, as we learn from other parts of Scripture.
We now, then, perceive the Prophet’s meaning, — that the Jews had not been satisfied with one kind of idolatry, but built high places or altars for themselves; for so do some explain
But the Prophet speaks of sons and of daughters, in order to shew that so great was the intemperate zeal of the Jews, that they not only prostituted themselves before their idols, but also contaminated their offspring with these defilements.
He at last says, that he had commanded no such thing, and that it never came to his mind We have said elsewhere, that whenever this manner of speaking occurs, God cuts off every handle from objectors, because the superstitious ever have something to allege as a pretense when they are summoned to an account. We know that the Papists, by pretending good intentions, confidently glory against God; and they think that this one pretense is sufficient to defend them against all reproofs; and they think also that the servants of God and the Prophets are too morose and scrupulous when such an excuse does not satisfy them. But God, that he might not tediously contend with the superstitious, assumes this principle, — that whatever they attempt beyond the Law is spurious, and that, therefore, the inventions of men cannot be defended by any disguise or pretense. Let us then know that true religion is always founded on obedience to God’s will; and hence everything devised by men, when there is no command of God, is not only frivolous, but also abominable, according to what was said yesterday respecting the work of the hands; and so here the command of God is set in opposition to all the inventions of men. But as such declarations often occur, I now touch but slightly on this passage.
This doctrine, however, ought to be especially noticed, that is, that there is no need of a long refutation when we undertake to expose fictitious modes of worship, which men devise for themselves according to their own notions, because, after all that they can say, God in one word gives this answer, that whatever he has not commanded in his Law, is vain and mischievous. He then says, that he had not commanded this, and that it had never entered into his mind.
God in the last clause transfers to himself what applies only to men; for it cannot be said with strict propriety of God, that this or that had not come to his mind. But here he rebukes the presumption of men, who dare to introduce this or that, and think that an acceptable worship of God which they themselves have presumptuously devised; for they seek thus to exalt their own wisdom above that of God himself. And we even find at this day that the Papists, when we shew that nothing has proceeded from the mouth of God of all the mass of observances in which they make religion to consist, do always allege that they do not without reason observe what has been commanded by the fathers, as though some things had come into the minds of men which had escaped God himself! We then see that God in this place exposes to ridicule the madness of those, who, relying on their own inventive wits, devise for themselves various kinds of worship; for they seek, as we have said, to be wiser than God himself. We now, then, perceive the force of the expression, when God says that it never came to his mind, because men boast that it had not been contrived without reason, and glory in their own acuteness, as though they were able to appoint a better thing than God himself.
He afterwards says, That they should do this abomination God now goes farther, and calls whatever he had not commanded an abomination. And this clause confirms what I have before said, that there is no need of long arguments when the question is respecting the inventions of men, for nothing can be approved of in the worship of God but what he has himself commanded. Whatever therefore has proceeded from the notions of men, is not only frivolous and useless, but it is also an abomination; for God so represents it in this place. It is therefore not enough at this day to repudiate and to treat with disdain the fictitious modes of worship in which the Papists so much glory; but if we would prove that we have a true zeal for religion, we must abominate all these fictitious things; for God has once for all declared them to be abominable.
He adds, that Judah might sin, or, that they might make Judah to sin: either is admissible, and there is a twofold reading. (77) However this may be, he declares that those who build not on the Law, do nothing but sin, though they may think that they render to God the best service, even because they ought to have begun with this principle, — to do nothing but according to what the Law prescribes. It follows, —
(75) In Jeremiah 7:31, we have “the high places,” or elevations, “of Tophet.” Blayney thinks that they were artificial mounts thrown up for the purpose of performing some of their superstitious rites. Trees were, no doubt, planted on some of the high places; but there might be mounts without trees. That these high places were in a valley, favor the idea that they were artificial mounts without trees. And it indeed appears from this verse and from Jeremiah 7:31, that the image of Molech was set on the artificial mounts, for it is said that they built or erected these high places for this purpose, — that they might burn their children to Molech. And, probably, there were several mounts in this valley, in order to accommodate a large number of people. — Ed.
(76) There is no ground for this supposition as to the practice in Tophet; for, in other parts of Scripture, what they did is specifically mentioned. In this very book it is said, that they burnt their children in the fire, Jeremiah 7:31, and that they burnt them as burnt-offerings to Baal, Jeremiah 19:5. See also Deuteronomy 12:31; Ezekiel 23:37. — Ed.
(77) The Keri,
God has hitherto been shewing that the Jews were worthy of that extreme punishment with which he had already visited the kingdom of Israel, and that they could not complain of extreme severity, though they were to rot in exile after the ruin of the city and the Temple, for they had polluted the land which ought to have been sacred to God, and had everywhere spread abroad their abominations, so that even the Temple was not free from their filth and defilements, and they had not thus offended for a short time, but, as we have seen, they had despised all warnings; and though God had been solicitous for their safety, they had yet proudly rejected and even extinguished his favor. As then they were of a disposition so wicked, and their impiety had become altogether incurable through so much hardness, God shews that he would render to them the reward due to their works, by wholly rejecting them. But now he adds the promise of favor, in order to shew that he would in such a manner be the avenger of wickedness, as ever to have a regard for the gratuitous covenant which he had made with Abraham.
We have already said often, that whenever God mitigates the bitterness of punishment with some hope of mercy, he has a peculiar respect to his chosen people. The word then is not indiscriminately addressed to all, when God declares that he will be at length merciful and propitious, for he encourages his chosen people alone, as I have said, to entertain hope. As then there were some godly seed remaining among the people, God intended to relieve them, so that they might not wholly despond.
We now see the Prophet’s object; and this truth ought to be carefully observed; for we shall be mistaken as to the doctrine taught by the Prophets, except we know, that after having threatened the wicked and the despisers of God, they then turn their discourse to the elect, to encourage them to bear patiently and with calm minds the punishment laid on them, as Jeremiah did in his own case when he exhorted the faithful to lay their mouth in the dust, and then patiently to wait for God, though he would for a time hide his face from Jacob, that is, from his Church. Jeremiah then, after having shewn that the Jews could not be too severely treated, because they had been wholly intractable, now adds,-
And now therefore, thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, concerning this city, or, to this city. The preposition
I have said that the case with all the reprobate is, that they deride God while he spares and bears with them; but when they find that he is a judge, then they do not look to his mercy, but he prostrate in despair as though they were lifeless.
(78) “Ye are saying,” is the original, which betokens a habit at that time; they were continually saying this during the siege. — Ed.
We now understand what the design of the Prophet was, when he spoke of the Jews as saying, that the city was delivered up to the Chaldeans and the Babylonians, even because the promised deliverance could afford them no comfort, inasmuch as they fully believed that their salvation was hopeless. Ye then say, he says, that the city has been delivered up; but I, he adds, will gather them from all the lands to which I shall drive them in my wrath and hot displeasure and great indignation (79)
Here God promises that the exile would only be temporary, because he would at length gather, as it is said in Psalms 147:2, the dispersed of Israel. No name is here expressed, but a pronoun; there is however no ambiguity, for it is sufficiently evident that he speaks of the Jews when he says, I will gather them As they had been scattered here and there, the gathering of them might have appeared incredible; for had they been only driven from their own country, and a place of exile had been granted them where they might have lived together, they might have hoped some time to return: but the scattering took away every hope, for they had been driven into different countries, and far distant from each other. In order then to obviate this difficulty, God expressly says that he would restore them from all the lands into which he had driven them And the Prophet no doubt alludes to a passage in Deuteronomy 30:4,
“Though they be scattered to the four quarters of the world,
I will thence gather them.”
As then God had through Moses promised, that though they were banished into the farthest parts of the world, yet their restoration would not be difficult to him; so the Prophet applies this declaration of Moses to his own prophecy, even that God would gather from the whole of the East those who had been scattered.
He adds, in my wrath, hot displeasure, and great indignation (80) God does not here speak of his wrath, but in order that the Jews might perceive that they deserved so great a punishment: for we know that as God is the judge of the world, nothing unjust can belong to him. When therefore God’s wrath is said to be great, we may with certainty conclude that the vices of men are great; for he is never angry with us, except when he is offended by the greatness of our sins. We hence perceive the reason why the Prophet mentions here the wrath, the hot displeasure and great indignation of God, even that the faithful might feel assured that God would be propitious to them, though they were worthy of eternal ruin. In short, Jeremiah shews that there would be a place for God’s mercy, though the Jews had merited destruction a hundred times through their obstinacy.
And he adds that his favor would be continued, And I will cause them to dwell safely After having promised to them a return, he promises now a tranquil condition: for it would have been better for the Jews to remain always in exile and in foreign lands, than to return to their own country and to live there in misery. This was the reason why the Prophet expressly added, that there would be a quiet habitation for them.
But we know that this was not fulfilled when the Jews returned to their own country; for they were greatly harassed by their neighbors, and the building of the Temple was at first hindered, and they endured many troubles from all quarters, and at length they were oppressed with tyranny by the Syrian kings, and reduced to such extremities, that exile would not only have been more tolerable, but even pleasanter and more desirable, in comparison with the many miseries with which they were oppressed. But, as it has been said elsewhere, whenever the Prophets prophesied of the return of the people, they extended what they taught to the whole kingdom of Christ. For liberation from exile was no more than the beginning of God’s favor: God began the work of true and real redemption when he restored his people to their own country; but he gave them but a slight taste of his mercy. This prophecy, then, with those which are like it, ought to be extended to the kingdom of Christ. He afterwards adds, —
(79) This promise clearly shews what Calvin says as to their meaning in saying “The city has been delivered up,” etc. that is, irretrievably. No, says God, I will restore it. — Ed.
(80) There is a gradation in the words, — wrath, hot wrath, foaming wrath. Extreme displeasure betokens, as Calvin intimates, extreme wickedness, and inflicts extreme punishment. — Ed.
This promise held the first place in the restoration of the Church; for had the Jews been filled to satiety with wealth and plenty, and all variety of blessings, their condition would still have been by no means superior, had they not been the people of God; for men have no happiness, if they live only on the good things of this earthly and frail life, or on its pleasures and delights. Most truly it is said in the Psalms,
“Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah.”
For though God commands his own blessings, and designs them as testimonies of his paternal favor towards the godly, yet he will not have them to live as it were on these; but he raises up their minds by means, as it were, of these steps to the spring-head of true felicity, the very fountain itself, so that they may know that they are under his protection, and that he will ever be a Father to them.
We hence see that the Prophet, when he spoke of the restoration of the people, propounded to them the chief and the most desirable thing, even to know that God was reconciled to them, and that they were become thus his people.
We hence learn, that though God in his kindness bore with the infirmities of his ancient people, and so mentioned the fruitfulness of the land and other things, yet the end of all the promises was spiritual; nor would have this promise been true, were it explained only of God’s temporal blessings. For we must bear in mind that saying of the Prophet,
“Thou art our God, we shall not die.”
And doubtless the Prophet in the Psalm which we have just quoted, meant to distinguish the Church of God from all heathen nations, and meant also to distinguish the felicity of the Church from all the pleasures, honors, and those advantages, by which men persuade themselves they can be made happy, provided they obtain them. Since then the Prophet there marks the difference between the felicity of the Church and all the fleeting and empty things wished for by those who look no higher than to this world and the present life, it follows, that whenever these words are mentioned, “I will be your God,” the hope of an eternal and a celestial life is set before us.
There is another thing to be noticed, — that whatever we seek as to the things of this world can yield us no real good, except God be reconciled to us. When therefore we have all things in abundance, when nothing is wanting as to every kind of pleasure, when we are favored with great wealth, when peace and security are granted to us, yet all this, as I have said, will prove ruinous to us, except God owns us as his children, and becomes a Father to us. Therefore when we seek to become happy, we must direct our minds to the principal thing, even to be reconciled to God, so that we may be able with confidence to call him our Father, to hope for salvation from him, and ever to flee to his mercy. Ungodly men desire this and that, as their own cupidity leads them: the avaricious wishes for a large quantity of money, wide farms, and great revenues; the ambitious seeks to subdue the whole world; the man of pleasure wishes for everything that may satisfy his lusts, and even he who seems to be moderate, yet desires what is suitable to his disposition; and thus God is neglected, and also his grace. Let us then know that the wishes of men are wholly unreasonable, when they anxiously seek anything in this world except what flows from this fountain, even from the gratuitous favor of God, and when they do not prefer this singular privilege to all blessings, even that God may be reconciled to them.
We now apprehend the meaning of the words, when God declares that the Jews, after their return to their own country, would become his people, and that he would be their God.
Let us at the same time observe, that though God possesses the sovereignty of the whole world, he is not yet properly called the God of any, but of his chosen people; for as he gathers the Church for himself as a peculiar treasure, as he speaks everywhere, so this privilege cannot exist without a mutual relationship, that is, exept men know that God is their God, and are also fully persuaded that they are counted by him as his peculiar people. Now follows an explanation of this verse, which, on account of its brevity, might seem somewhat obscure.
He more clearly explains the last verse; for he mentions the effects of the favor referred to. God indeed includes everything in one word, when he declares that he will be our God, for he thus adopts us as his children. Hence comes the certainty as to our heavenly inheritance, and also as to his mercy, which is better than life. There is then nothing that can be desired beyond this benefit, that is, when God offers himself to us, and deigns to receive and embrace us as his people.
But as I have already said, we do not fully comprehend the benefit of this doctrine; for, first, we are very tardy and dull, we perceive not what God means by this expression, and then we know how much our nature is prone to diffidence, so far is the distance between us and God. Hence this doctrine has need of explanation. Therefore the Prophet, after having pointed out the cause and the beginning of all blessings, now mentions the effects, which more fully confirm what he had said. Hence he says, I willgive to them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever: for God does not otherwise own us as his people, nor can he be our Father, except he regenumtes us by his Spirit; for it is of regeneration that the Prophet here speaks. But I must defer the rest until to-morrow.
He pursues the same subject; but the repetition is intended emphatically to recommend the grace of God, for we know how men ever strive to withhold the praise due to his grace, and that on account of their pride. God, then, on the other hand, celebrates in high terms his grace, lest men should malignantly obscure it.
He first says, I will strike with them a perpetual covenant We must notice the contrast between the covenant of the Law, and the covenant of which the Prophet now speaks. He called it in the thirty-first chapter a new covenant, and gave the reason for it, because their fathers had soon fallen away after the Law was proclaimed, and because its doctrine was that of the letter, and deadly, and also fatal. But he now calls it a perpetual covenant That the covenant of the Law was not valid, this was accidental to it; for the Law would remain in force, were we only to keep it; but through men’s fault it happened that the covenant of the Law became void and immediately vanished. When, therefore, God promises anything, there is a manifest difference; but what is it? God intimates that his doctrine is set before men with no effect, for it only sounds in their ears, it does not penetrate into their hearts. There is, then, need of the grace of the Holy Spirit; for except God speaks within and touches our hearts, the sound will be to no purpose, only beating the air. We now, then, see why the covenant is called perpetual which God now promises.
We must, at the same time, bear in mind that this covenant peculiarly belongs to the kingdom of Christ. For though it was a part of God’s grace, which was manifested in delivering his people from captivity, yet the continued stream of his grace ought to be extended to the coming of Christ. The Prophet then, no doubt, brings Christ before us, together with the new covenant; for without him there is not the least hope that God would make another covenant, as it appears evident from the whole Law and the teaching of the Prophets. Then Christ is here opposed to Moses, and the Gospel to the Law. It hence follows, that the Law was a temporary covenant, for it had no stability, as it was that of the letter; but that the Gospel is a perpetual covenant, for it is inscribed on the heart. And for the same reason it is also called a new covenant, for the Law must have become obsolete, since the perpetuity of which the Prophet speaks has come in its place.
Now follows an explanation, Because I will not depart, etc. The
“They shall hear a voice behind them, saying,
‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)
God no doubt testifies here, that he would be always an Instructor and Teacher to his people. And he says, that he will speak from behind, as schoolmasters follow the pupils committed to their care, even that they may observe and watch all their gestures, walking, words, and everything else. So God compares himself to those teachers to whom children are committed to be taught and trained; and he says that he speaks from behind. We may then explain what is here said in this sense, “I will not depart from after thee:” but we may also take a simpler view that God would not depart from them, even because he would show them perpetual favor and kindness, according to what is immediately added, that I may do them good In a word, God shows that he would be an eternal Father to his people, who would never forsake nor cast them away. (82)
But the manner or method is also expressed, that he would put his fear in their hearts, that they might never depart from him. This is the same doctrine with what we have already seen; it is now repeated, but in other words; and thus God, as I said, more fully illustrates his favor, he says then that he would put his fear in the hearts of men. We now see how that puerile fiction is refuted, with which the Papists are inebriated, when they say that God’s grace co-operates, because the Spirit helps the infirmity of men, as though they themselves brought something of their own and were co-operators. But the Prophet here testifies that the fear of God is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit. He does not say I will give them power to fear me, but I will put my fear in their hearts We then see that he again shews that the Spirit works effectually in us, so as to form anew our affections, and does not leave us capable of turning or suspended. The same thing is said by Ezekiel,
“And I will cause them to fear me.” (Ezekiel 36:27)
Thus the same doctrine is confirmed there, for it is said, that God would make Israel to fear him, not that they might be able to fear him.
He adds again, That they may not depart from me We see that clearly refuted are those foolish notions about neutral grace, which offers only power to men, which they may afterwards receive if they please; for the Prophet says, “that they may not depart from me.” Thus he again shews that perseverance, no less than the commencement of acting rightly, is the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit: and as I have already said, were God only to form our hearts once, that we might be disposed to act rightly, the devil might, at any moment, entice us, by his wiles, from the right way, or, as he employs sudden and violent attacks, he might drive us up and down as he pleases. To rule us then for one hour would avail us nothing, except God preserved us through the whole course of our life, and led us on to the end. It hence then follows, that the whole course of our life is directed by the Spirit of God, so that the end no less than the beginning of good works ought to be ascribed to his grace. Whatever merit then men claim for themselves, they take away from God, and thus they become sacrilegious.
A question may, however, be here raised: we see that the faithful often stumble, not ten times during life, but every day: how then is this, that where God’s Spirit works, his efficacy is such that men never turn aside from the right way? Were any to answer, that the faithful indeed stumble, but do not wholly fail, and that God here refers to that defection which shakes off every fear of God, it would not be a full solution. For we see that even the elect themselves are sometimes like apostates, for the fear of God and piety are, as it were, choked in them. Piety is not indeed extinguished, but not even a spark of the Spirit appears in them. But we must notice, that inflexible perseverance is given to the faithful, so that when they fall, they soon repent. Hence interruptions are no hinderances that God should not guide them from the starting-post to the goal, until they complete their whole course. And thus true is what Augustine says, that the Spirit so works in us, that we invariably have a good will. For he compares our state with that of Adam, such as he was in his first creation. We know that Adam was then without any stain, for he was formed in the image of God: he was then upright and free from every vice. We are as yet imperfect; though God has regenerated us by his Spirit, there abide in us still some remnants of the flesh, and we do not run with so much alacrity as it behoves us; nay, we are constrained to exclaim with Paul, that we are “wretched,” and to confess that we do not the good which we would, but the evil which is hateful to us. (Romans 7:15) Then the condition of Adam seems to have been better than ours. To this Augustine replies, — that God deals better with us now than he did with Adam, our first parent; for though he created him just and innocent, and without any stain, yet he gave him a nature liable to a change; and hence Adam, having a free-will, immediately fell. To what end then did free-will serve? even that man immediately fell and brought us into the same ruin with himself. This is the praise of free-will! even that man, possessed of it, cast himself down into the lowest abyss, whence he could never of himself have risen. But now, with respect to us, though we halt, and also turn out of the right way, and our depraved lusts entice us to evil, and our corruption hinders us from running as we desire to do, yet our condition is far better, because God endues us amidst all our conflicts with the power of his own Spirit, so that we are never overcome or overwhelmed. This indefectible constancy, (indeclinabilis constantia) as Augustine calls it, is then far superior to the excellency and honor which Adam at first possessed. This may be clearly gathered from the words of the Prophet when he says, that God would put his fear in the hearts of his people, so that they may never depart from him.
It may be again asked, why is there no mention made of gratuitous justification? for the covenant of God cannot be valid, except he reconciles us to himself, for regeneration is not sufficient for the obtaining of God’s favor, as in part only we will rightly and act rightly. To this we answer, that there is no doubt but that God includes faith in the word fear; hence remission of sins, by which men return into favor with God, is not excluded when regeneration is spoken of. This passage may at the same time be explained in this way, that the Prophet states a part for the whole. Doubtless the new covenant, as we have before seen, consists of two parts, even that God, in adopting us as his children, forgives us, and pardons all our infirmities, and then governs us by his Spirit: but here he speaks only of the last. So the sentence may be viewed as including a part for the whole. Still the Scripture, as it has been said, when it speaks of God’s fear, often includes faith, for God, as the Psalmist says, cannot be feared, except we taste of his goodness,
“With thee is propitiation, that thou mayest be feared.”
For there would be no reverential fear of God, except it were preceded by a knowledge of his paternal favor.
Still, owing to the last clause, the Syriac version seems to be the most suitable. There are here two remarkable promises, — that God would not turn away from them, — and that he would put in his fear, so as to keep them from turning away from him. — Ed.
When God says that he would take pleasure in doing good to his people, he adopts the language of man, for fathers rejoice when they can do good to their children. God then, as the paternal love with which he regards his people could not have been otherwise expressed, made use of this similitude. Further, the contrast also ought to be noticed, even that God had rejoiced when he punished his people for their wickedness. For God delights in judgment as well as in mercy. God then for a time rejoiced when he punished the peopie; for as his judgment is right, he delights in it. But now he says that he would manifest his paternal affection, so as to take pleasure in doing them good.
He adds, I will plant them in this land He had indeed planted them, when, by Joshua, the possession of the land was given them, according to what is said in the 80th Psalm, where a similar expression is used, even that God had brought his vine out of Egypt, and planted it in the promised inheritance. (Psalms 80:8) But afterwards the people were plucked up by the roots. Hence the first possession of the land to the time of the exile was not, strictly speaking, a plantation, for the people did not then strike firm roots. God then promises here something new and unusual, when he speaks of a plantation. Nor is there a doubt but the perpetuity, of which mention has been made, is intended; for this plantation of the people depends on the covenant, and the covenant is not temporary as before the exile, but perpetual in its duration.
We now then understand what the Prophet means when he compares to a plantation the restoration of the people after their return from exile. We know, indeed, that the people from that time had not been banished, and that the Temple had ever stood, though the faithful had been pressed down with many troubles; but this was only a type of a plantation. We must therefore necessarily pass on to Christ, in order to have a complete fulfillment of this promise. The beginning, as we have said, and I am often compelled to repeat this, is to be taken from this return; but Christ is not to be excluded from that liberation which was like the morning star, before the sun of righteousness itself appeared in its own splendor. When Christians explain this passage and the like, they leave out the liberation of the people from Babylonish exile, as though these prophecies did not belong at all to that time; in this they are mistaken. And the Jews, who reject Christ, stop in that earthly deliverance. But the Prophets, as I have said, begin with the return of the people, but they set Christ also in the middle, that the faithful might know that that return was but a slight taste of the full grace, which was alone to be expected from Christ; for it was then, indeed, that God really planted his people.
Further, when the Jews were afterwards expelled from the land of Canaan, it was owing to their ingratitude; and it was a total abdication. In the meantime, however, God planted there his own vine until Jerusalem was extended and had its limits in the farthest parts of the earth: and we are said to be grafted in Christ and planted, when God adopts us into his Church; and hence that saying of Christ,
“Every tree which my Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” (Matthew 15:13)
Let us then know that the Church was planted in Judea, for it remained to the time of Christ. And as Christ has pulled down the wall of partition, so that there is now no difference between Jews and Gentiles, God plants us now in the holy land, when he grafts us into the body of Christ.
He says, in truth, that is, faithfully, so as never to pull them up again. And he adds, with my whole heart and with my whole soul The words are indeed singular, for God transfers to himself the affections and feelings of men; but it is necessary that he should in a manner transform himself, that he may be understood by us; for unless he prattled, where would be found so much understanding as would reach the immense altitude of his wisdom? As then the mysteries with which he favors us are incomprehensible, it is necessary that he should accommodate himself to our limited capacities. By the whole heart, then, and the whole soul, he means that faithfulness and constancy which will ever endure until the faithful shall obtain eternal life. Integrity in man is called the whole heart, because there may be a double heart. It cannot, it is true, be for this reason applied to God or to his nature. But as I have already said, he says by a similitude that he would do this with the whole heart, because he will do it so perfectly that there will be nothing wanting to render salvation complete, and the same thing is also meant by truth; though some philosophize more refinedly as to this word, for by truth they understand the firmness or veracity of the promises, (83) But we know that according to the usage of the Hebrew language, that truth means often what is solid and perpetual. He means then that the plantation would be so firm and solid, that there would be no danger that the people would ever be removed elsewhere, even because there would be a living root, as we have explained: the Church was fixed in Judea until the coming of Christ, who brought in the real accomplishment of this plantation; for when we are grafted into him, we already in a manner possess eternal life and are become the citizens of heaven.
(83) The word
God shews here again to his Prophet that exile would be temporary as to the remnant; for we know that the greater part of the people had been wholly rejected; but it pleased the Lord, that his Church should survive, though very small in number. Then this promise is not to be extended indiscriminately to all the twelve tribes, but refers especially to the elect, as the event sufficiently proved, and Paul also is a most faithful interpreter of this truth. And this ought to be carefully borne in mind, because hypocrites always steal for themselves whatever God promises to his faithful people, while yet they falsely pretend his name. Let us then understand the design of God, even that his purpose was to support with strong confidence his chosen, lest despair should close up the avenue to prayer. Since, then, a portion of the people remained, that the Church might not wholly be cut off, this promise was fulfilled; and as we can never embrace the promise of mercy, except repentance and acknowledgment of sin precede, the two things are here referred to by the Prophet.
He says that God had made to come, or had brought, a dreadful calamity; and it then follows, that he would bring on them all the good that he had promised. By these words God intimates that what he had before promised would not be difficult for him to accomplish, because he could heal the wound which he had inflicted. Had the Chaldeans, as it had been said elsewhere, taken the city according to their own will, the remedy might have been difficult; but as God had employed the Chaldeans, and as they had fought, as it were, under his banner, it was an easy thing for him to restore the city, and to recall from exile those whom his righteous vengeance had banished.
We must notice especially what is said, I will render to them all the good which I have spoken concerning them. For God shews on what support the faithful were to rely in hoping for their liberation; he bids them to depend on his own mouth; for whatever men may promise is evanescent and without fruit. If, then, we would have our hope to be firmly fixed, so that it may not disappoint us, let us learn to rely on God’s promises, so that no one of us may presumptuously dream of this or that, as we thus often deceive ourselves; but let us acquiesce in the word of God. But when the evidence of God’s grace fails us, we may have recourse to many confidences, but it will be without profit. We now perceive why the Prophet expressly added this particular respecting God’s word. It follows, —
He confirms the prediction respecting the return of the people, and makes application of the vision which had been presented to the Prophet; for he had been commanded, as we have seen, to buy a field in the land of Benjamin. God now then annects that sign to the prophecy; for the use of signs is to secure faith to doctrine, which yet deserves of itself to be believed, and is fully authentic, and of itself worthy of belief; it is however conceded to our infirmity, that signs are given us, in order that the promises may be more fixed and ratified in our hearts.
This order God now follows, and says, Yet bought shall a field be in this land The verb,
This, then, is what Jeremiah upbraids his own nation with, that is, that they cast off from themselves every hope, while yet God had fixed for them the term of seventy years. While God then was stretching forth his hand to them, they chose rather thus to sink in the abyss of despair, so that nothing could alleviate their minds. This ingratitude the Prophet justly condemns; for they considered their land as devoted to perpetual ruin, when yet its restoration had been promised to them; as though he had said, “The mercy of God and his faithfulness will surpass all your wickedness; but ye, as far as you can, extinguish his promises, abolish his grace, and give no place to his promises: nevertheless he will complete what he has promised; for though the land is falsely deemed by you to be given up for ever to destruction, yet the Lord will cause it to be inhabited by its own legitimate heirs, even the children of Abraham.” This is the reason why he intimates that the Jews had regarded the land as given up to perpetual desolation.
(84) This is not the literal rendering of the Hebrew, but the following, —
Which, ye say, is desolate, without man or beast, Given into the hand of the Chaldeans.
Had “which” been governed by “say,” there would have been a pronoun after it with a preposition prefixed. The Sept., the Syr., and Arab. have retained the right construction, though the Vulg. has not. “Without,” i.e., with not, or not with, is literally the Hebrew,
To shew more fully what is said in the preceding verse, he adds, Fields with money shall be bought, and by writing (the verbs are in the infinitive mood) they shall write on tablets and sign by witnesses even if the land of Benjamin (85) Then the Prophet mentions all the boundaries by which Jerusalem was surrounded. We know that a part of the city was in the lot of Benjamin, and even one gate was so called: in the land of Benjamin, he says, and also through the circuits of Jerusalem, even in the cities of Judah, those on the mountains, as well as those in the valley, and in the cities which he to the south, even Egypt, for the southern country was towards Egypt. The reason is added, Because God would restore their captivity, that, is, restore the captives that they might again rossess the land. Now follows, —
(85) The infinitives in Hebrew are often as in Welsh, verbal nouns. The rendering may be made as follows, —
Fields with money shall they buy; And there shall be writing in a book, And sealing, and the witnessing of witnesses, In the land of Benjamin, etc. etc.
Our version is the Syr. and nearly the Targ. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 32". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany