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This prayer ought to be read as unconnected with the Lamentations, for the initial letters of the verses are not written according to the order of the Alphabet; yet it is a complaint rather than a prayer; for Jeremiah mentions those things which had happened to the people in their extreme calamity in order to turn God to compassion and mercy.
He says first, Remember what has happened to us; and then in the second part he explains himself, Look and see our reproach Now the words, though brief and concise, yet contain a useful doctrine — that God is pleased to bring help to the miserable when their evils come to an account before him, especially when they are unjustly oppressed. It is, indeed, certain that nothing is unknown to God, but this mode of speaking is according to the perceptions of men; for we think that God disregards our miseries, or we imagine that his back is turned to us when he does not immediately succor us. But as I have said, he is simply to be asked to look on our evils, for we know what he testifies of himself; so that as he claims to himself the office of helping the miserable and the unjustly oppressed, we ought to acquiesce in this consolation, that as soon as he is pleased to look on the evils we suffer, aid is at the same time prepared for us.
There is mention especially made of reproach, that the indignity might move God the more: for it was for this end that he took the people under his protection, that they might be for his glory and honor, as Moses says. As, then, it was God’s will that the riches of his glory should appear in that people, nothing could have been more inconsistent that that instead of glory they should have nothing but disgrace and reproach. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet makes a special mention of the reproach of the people. It follows, —
A catalogue of many calamities is now given by the Prophet, and as I have reminded you, for this end, that he may obtain God’s favor for himself and for the whole people. It was by no means a reasonable thing, that the inheritance of the elect people should be given to aliens; for we know that the land had been promised to Abraham four hundred years before his children possessed it; we know that this promise had been often repeated, “This land shall be to you for an inheritance.” For though God sustained all nations, yet he was pleased to take a peculiar care of his people. In short, no land has ever been given to men in so singular a way as the land of Canaan to the posterity of Abraham. As, then, this inheritance had been for so many ages possessed by the chosen people, Jeremiah does not without reason complain that it was turned over to aliens.
In the second clause he repeats the same thing; but he shews that the Jews had not only been robbed of their fields, but had been cast out of their houses, a more grievous and disgraceful thing. For it sometimes happens, that when one loses his farm, his fields, and vineyards, his house remains to him untouched; but the Prophet here amplifies the misery of his own nation, that they were not only deprived of their fields and possessions, but that they were also ejected from their own houses, and others had possession of them. For it is a sight deemed affecting even among heathens, when one unworthy of any honor succeeds in the place of another eminent in wealth and dignity. Well known are these words, —
O house of Aucus! How ruled by an unequal master! (223)
As Tarquinius had succeeded and taken possession of the kingdom, the heathen poet upbraidingly said that the house of Ancus had passed over to those who were at first exiles and fugitives, but afterwards became proud and cruel tyrants. So also in this place Jeremiah says that aliens dwelt in the houses of the people. It follows, —
(223) O domus Anci! Quam dispari domino dominaris!
Here the Prophet not only speaks in the person of the whole people, but utters also the groans and complaints of each; for this could not have been suitable to the whole Church, as he speaks of fathers and mothers. We hence see that this verse does not apply to the whole body, but to individual members, though every one of the people might have said that widows and orphans were everywhere seen.
Now, this usually happens when a nation is consumed either by pestilence or by war; for in one battle all do not so fall that a whole country becomes full of orphans. But the Prophet sets forth here the orphanage and widowhood occasioned through the continued vengeance of God, for he had not ceased to afflict the people until by degrees they were exhausted. It was, indeed, a sad spectacle to see among the chosen people so many widows, and also so many children deprived of their fathers. It follows, —
The Prophet here relates, that the people were denuded, that they labored under the want of water and of wood. He does not say that they were only deprived of corn and wine, he does not complain that any of their luxuries were lessened; but he mentions water and wood, the common things of life; for the use of water, as it is said, is common to all; no one is so poor, if he dwells not in a land wholly dry, but that he has water enough to drink. For if there be no fountains, there are at least rivers, there are wells; nor do men perish through thirst, except in deserts and in places uninhabitable. As, then, water might be had everywhere, the Prophet here sets forth the extreme misery of the people, for water was even sold to them. In stony and high places water is sold; but this is a very rare thing. The Prophet here means that the people were not only deprived of their wealth, but reduced to such a state of want that they had no water without buying it.
At the same time he seems to express something worse when he says, Our water we drink for money, and our wood is brought to us for a price. It is not strange that wood should be bought; but the Prophet means that water was sold to the Jews which had been their own, and that they were also compelled to buy wood which had been their own. Thus the possessive pronouns are to be considered as emphatical. Then he says, “Our own waters we drink,” etc. (224) He calls them the waters of the people, which by right they might have claimed as their own; and he also calls the wood The same; it was that to which the people had a legitimate right. He then says that all things had been so taken away by their enemies, that they were forced to buy, not only the wine which had been taken from their cellars, and the corn which had been taken from their granaries, but also the water and the wood.
But were any one disposed to take the words more simply, the complaint would not be unsuitable, — that the people, who before had abundance of wine and all other things, were constrained to buy everything, even water and wood. For it is a grievous change when any one, who could once cut wood of his own, and gather his own wine and corn, is not able to get even a drop of water without buying it. This is a sad change. So this passage may be understood. It follows, —
(224) To express this meaning, which is probably the true one, the words ought to be thus rendered, —
4.Our own water, for money have we drunk it;
Our own wood, for a price it comes to us.
Grotius says that in the land of Canaan the forests were free to all to get wood from. When in exile the Jews had to buy wood. — Ed.
Here he says that the people were oppressed with a grievous bondage. It is, indeed, a metaphorical expression when he says, that people suffered persecution on their necks. Enemies may sometimes be troublesome to us, either before our face, or behind our backs, or by our sides; but when they so domineer as to ride on our necks, in this kind of insult there is extreme degradation. Hence the Prophet here complains of the servile and even disgraceful oppression of the people when he says, that the Jews suffered persecution on their necks.
The meaning is, that the enemies so domineered at the, it pleasure, that the Jews dared not to raise up their heads. They were, indeed, worthy of this reward — for we know that they had an iron neck; for when God would have them to bear his yoke, they were wholly unbending; nay, they were like untameable wild beasts. As, then, their hardness had been so great, God rendered to them a just reward for their pride and obstinacy, when their enemies laid such a burden on their necks. (225)
But the Prophet sets forth here this indignity, that he might turn God to mercy; that is, that the Chaldeans thus oppressed as they pleased the chosen people.
He adds, that they labored and had no rest. He intimates by these words that there were no limits nor end to their miseries and troubles; for the phrase in Hebrew is, We have labored and there was no rest. It often happens that when one is pressed down with evils for a short time, a relaxation comes. But the Prophet. says that there was no end to the miseries of the people. Then to labor without rest is the same as to be pressed down with incessant afflictions, from which there is no outlet. Their obstinacy was worthy also of this reward, for they had fought against God, not for a few months or years only, but for many years. We know how long the Prophet called them without any success. Here, however, he seeks favor with God, by saying that the people were miserable without limits or end.
(225) Not one of the versions or the Targ., though they all differ, gives a satisfactory rendering of this clause. Some take, “on our neck we have been pursued,” as meaning, We have been closely pursued. So Gataker. Others, as Lowth and Henderson, regarding
On our neck (closely) have we been pursued,
We labored and had no rest.
Then comes in what they did when thus pursued by their enemies, —
To Egypt gave we the hand,
To Assyria, to be satisfied with bread.
To give the hand, in this case, was to put it forth as suppliants to ask help. This seems to refer to a, time previous to their exile. — Ed.
He speaks here of the mendicity of the people, that they sought bread from every quarter. To give the hand, is explained in three ways: some say that it means humbly to ask; others, to make an agreement; and others, to extend it in token of misery, as he who cannot ask for help, intimates his wants by extending his hand. But the Prophet seems simply to mean that the people were so distressed by want, that they begged bread. I then take the expression, to give the hand, as meaning that they asked bread, as beggars usually do.
He now says that they gave or extended the hand both to the Egyptians and to the Assyrians, which was a most unworthy and disgraceful thing; for the Egyptians had been their most troublesome enemies, and the Assyrians afterwards followed their example. At that time, indeed, the Egyptians pretended to be the friends of the chosen people, and made a treaty with them; but the Jews were held in contempt by them as they deserved, for they had prostituted as it were themselves like harlots. As, then, they had been despised by the Egyptians, it was a disgrace and reproach the most bitter, when they were compelled to beg bread in Egypt, and then in Assyria; for this might have been turned to the bitterest taunts.
We now, then, perceive the meaning of the Prophet; even this reward also God justly rendered to them. He had promised them a fruitful land, in which he was ready to support them to the full. How often is mention made by Moses of corn, wine, and oil; and why? in order that God might shew that that land exceeded every other in fertility. It was, then, an evidence of an extreme curse when the people were compelled to beg bread here and there, while yet the abundance of all things ought to have been sufficient to supply even aliens,
“Thou shalt lend to others, but thou shalt not borrow.” (Deuteronomy 15:6.)
They then who ought to have fed others by their plenty, were so reduced that their want forced them to undergo this disgrace, to beg bread of the Egyptians and Assyrians. It follows, —
The Prophet seems here to contend with God, and to utter that blasphemy mentioned by Ezekiel. For when God severely chastised the people, that proverb was commonly used by them,
“Our fathers did eat a sour grape, and our teeth are blunted.” (Ezekiel 18:2.)
Thus they intimated that they were unjustly and cruelly treated, because they suffered the punishment of others, when they themselves were innocent. So the Prophet seems to quarrel with God when he says that the fathers who sinned were no more; but as we shall presently see, the Prophet confesses also the sins of those who were yet alive. As, then, an ingenuous confession is made by the Prophet, he no doubt abstained here from that blasphemy which is so severely reproved by Ezekiel. Jeremiah had nothing farther from his purpose than to free the people from all blame, as though God had dealt cruelly with them, according to what is said by a heathen poet, —
“For the sins of the fathers thou undeservedly sufferest, O Roman!” (226)
Another says, —
“Enough already by our blood
Have we suffered for the perjuries of Laomedonian Troy.” (227)
They mean that the people of their age were wholly innocent, and seek in Asia and beyond the sea the cause of evils, as though they never had a sin at Rome. But the meaning of Jeremiah was not this, but he simply intended to say that the people who had been long rebellious against God were already dead, and that it was therefore a suitable time for God to regard the miseries of their posterity. The faithful, then, do not allege here their own innocency before God, as though they were blameless; but only mention that their fathers underwent a just punishment, for that whole generation had perished. Daniel speaks more fully when he says,
“We have sinned, and our fathers, and our kings.”
He involved in the same condemnation both the fathers and their children.
But our Prophet’s object was different, even to turn God to mercy, as it has been stated; and to attain this object he says, “O Lord, thou indeed hast hitherto executed just punishment, because our fathers had very long abused thy goodness and forbearance; but now the time is come for thee to try and prove whether we are like our fathers: as, then, they have perished as they deserved, receive us now into favor.” We hence see that thus no quarrel or contention is carried on with God, but only that the miserable exiles ask God to look on them, since their fathers who had provoked God and had experienced his dreadful vengeance, were already dead. (228)
And when he says that the sons bore the iniquity of the fathers, though it be a strong expression, yet its meaning is not as though God had without reason punished their children and not their fathers; for unalterable is that declaration,
“The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor the father the iniquity of the son; but the soul that sinneth it shall die.”
It may yet be said that children are loaded with the sins of their fathers, because God, as he declares by Moses, extends his vengeance to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5.) And he says also in another place,
“I will return into the bosom of children the iniquity of their fathers.”
God then continued his vengeance to their posterity. But yet there is no doubt but that the children who had been so severely punished, bore also the punishment of their own iniquity, for they deserved a hundred deaths. But these two things well agree together, that God returns the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children, and yet that the children are chastised for their own sins.
(226) Horace, Od. 6:1, —
(227) Virgil, Georg., lib. 1, —
“Satis jampridem sanguine nostro
Laomedonteae luimus perjuria Troiae.”
(228) The words may be thus rendered, —
Our fathers, they sinned and are not;
We, their iniquities have we borne.
To bear iniquities, is here evidently to bear their penalty. So when Christ is said to bear our sins, the same thing is meant. — Ed.
Another circumstance aggravated the calamity of the people, that they came under the power of servants, which is more degrading than when the rich and the eminent in wealth and power make us their servants. For it is no shame to serve a king, or at, least a man who possesses some eminence; for that servitude which is not apparently degrading is deemed tolerable. But when we become the servants of servants, it is a most afflicting degradation, and most grievously wounds our minds.
It is, then, for this indignity that Jeremiah now expostulates, and says that servants ruled over them. There is, indeed, no doubt but that they were driven into exile by some of the lowest; for the Chaldeans thought it right to exercise towards them every kind of cruelty. But it was yet a very mournful thing for God’s children to be the slaves of servants; for they were before a sacerdotal kingdom, and God had so taken them under his protection, that their condition was better and more desirable than that of any other kingdom. As, then, they had been robbed of their liberty, and not only so, but also made subject to servants, the change was sad in the extreme. (229) Therefore the Prophet sought another occasion to plead for mercy, when he said that they were ruled by servants. It now follows, —
(229) See Nehemiah 5:15. — Ed.
He then says that the people sought bread with the soul, that is, at the hazard of their own life. If danger be preferred, I do not object. But as he simply says, with the soul, he seems to express this, that for food they hazarded their own life. Food, indeed, is the support of life, for why is bread sought but for sustaining life? But the hungry so rush headlong to procure food, that they expose themselves to thousand dangers, and they also weary themselves with many labors; and this is to seek bread with their soul, that is, when men not only anxiously labor to procure food, but pour forth as it were their own blood, as when one undertakes a long journey to get some support, lie is almost lifeless when he reaches the distant hospital. As, then, the Jews nowhere found food, the Prophet says that they sought bread with their life, that is, at the hazard of life. This is the view I prefer.
He then adds, For the dryness of the wilderness. What has the sword to do with wilderness? We see that this is wholly unsuitable; there was then no reason why interpreters should pervert this word. But what he calls the dryness of the wilderness was the want by which the people were distressed, as though they were in the wilderness. This is said by way of comparison, — that on account of the dryness of the desert, that is, on account of sterility, they were under the necessity of exposing their life to death, only that they might anywhere find bread. (230)
It may also be, that the Prophet meant, that they were fugitives, and thus went in hunger through woods and forest, when they dared not to go forth into the open country lest the enemy should meet them. But what I have said is most suitable, that is, that they were so famished as though they were in a vast desert, and far away from every hospital, so that bread could nowhere be found. We now, then, perceive the meaning of the Prophet. He adds, —
(230) The versions and the Targ. render the word, “sword;” and so do Gataker, Blayney, and Henderson. And by “the sword of the desert” are to be understood freebooters who carried swords and made incursions from desert places.
At the risk of our life we got our bread,
On account of the sword of the desert
Some read, “for tremors;” literally, “from the face of tremors.” Jerome renders it, “tempests,” but the word “burnings” is the most suitable; for he says that their skins were darkened, and he compares them to an oven. This metaphor often occurs in Scripture,
“Though ye have been as among pots in the smoke, and deformed by blackness, yet your wings shall shine.” (Psalms 68:14.)
God says that his people had contracted blackness, as though they had touched smoky pots, because they had been burnt as it were by many afflictions; for when we pine away in our evils, filthiness itself deforms us. But here he compares to an oven (which is the same thing) their skins or skin. He then says that the skin of every one was so wrinkled and darkened by blackness, that it was like an oven which is black through constant fire and smoke. The Prophet or whoever was the author of the 119th Psalm, uses another comparison, that he was like a bottle or a bladder, contracted by the smoke, and had wrinkles together with blackness. (231)
The meaning is, that there was a degrading deformity in the people, for they were so famished that no moisture remained in them; and when moisture fails, then paleness and decay follow; and then from paleness a greater deformity and blackness, of which the Prophet now speaks. Hence I have said, that the word “burnings” is the most proper. For, if we say tempests or storms, a tempest does not certainly darken the skin; and if we render it tremors or tremblings, this would be far remote; but if we adopt the word burnings, the whole passage will appear consistent; and we know, that as food as it were irrigates the life of man, so famine burns it up, as Scripture speaks also elsewhere. It follows, —
(231) The word
Our skins, like an oven they became black,
Because of the horrors of famine (or, horrible famine.)
The word for “skins” is in the plural number according to several copies, and the verb requires it to be so. — Ed.
He mentions here another kind of reproach, that women had been ravished in Jerusalem, and in other cities. (232) God had commanded chastity to be observed among his people. When, therefore, virgins and women were thus defiled, it was a thing extremely disgraceful. But the Prophet mentioned this also, in order that God might at length show himself propitious to his people after having been entreated. (Deuteronomy 22:21.)
And he mentioned Sion rather than Jerusalem, — it was indeed to state a part for the whole; but that place, we know, had been chosen by God that his name might be there worshipped. Sion, then, was a holy place above any other; it was, in a word, the earthly dwelling of God. As, then, God had there his palace, that he might dwell in the midst of his people, it was a disgraceful sight in the extreme to see women ravished there, for the temple of God was thus violated. It was not only a thing disgraceful to the people, that women were thus ravished, but it was a filthy profanation of God’s worship, and therefore sacrilegious. We now see the design of the Prophet. He mentions also the cities of Judah, but with reference to the same thing. It follows —
(232) There is here a delicate word for a disgraceful act. The words literally are, —
Women in Sion they humbled (or, were humbled,)
And virgins in the cities of Judah.
It is humbled by the Sept. and Vulg. “And” before “virgins” is supplied by the Vulg. and Syr. — Ed.
The beginning of the verse may be explained in two ways. All render thus, “The princes have been slain by their hand,” that is, of their enemies. But I wonder how it never occurred to them, that it was far more grievous, that they were slain by their own hand. I certainly do not doubt but that the Prophet says here, that some of the princes had laid violent hands on themselves. For it would be a frigid expression, that the princes were hung by the hand of enemies; but if we read, that the princes were hung by their own hand, this would be far more atrocious, as we have before seen that even women, excelling in humanity, devoured their own offspring. So he says now that princes were hung, not by enemies, for it was a common thing for the conquered to be slain by their enemies, and be also hung by way of reproach; but the Prophet, as it appears to me, meant to express something more atrocious, even that the miserable princes were constrained to lay violent hands on themselves. (233)
He adds, that the faces of the aged were not honored; which is also a thing not natural; for we know that some honor is always rendered to old age, and that time of life is commonly regarded with reverence. When, therefore, no respect is shown to the aged, the greatest barbarity must necessarily prevail. It is the same, then, as though the Prophet had said that the people had been so disgracefully treated, that their enemies had not even spared the aged. We also now understand why he adds this, for it would have otherwise appeared incredible, that the princes hung themselves by their own hand. But he here intimates that there was no escape for them, except they in despair sought death for themselves, because all humanity had disappeared. It follows, —
(233) The most obvious meaning of the words is, that princes were hung or suspended by the hand, and not by the neck. Such a punishment is not recorded as having been then practiced; but it may have been a barbarity resorted to by the Chaldeans. This seems to be the meaning conveyed by the versions and the Targ., —
Princes were by their hand hung up,
The persons of the aged were not honored.
I cannot proceed farther now.
Here the Prophet briefly shews that the city was reduced to ruins, so that nothing but desolation could be seen there. For when cities are inhabited, judges sit at the gate and young men exercise themselves in lawful pursuits; but he says that there were no judgments; for at that time, as it is well known, they were wont to administer justice and to hold assemblies at the gates of cities. It was then the same as though all civil order had been abolished.
Then he adds, the young men had ceased from their own beating or musical songs. The meaning is, that there was so great a desolation in the city, that, it was no more a city. For men cannot dwell together without laws and without courts of justice. Where courts of justice are closed up, where laws are mute, where no equity is administered, there barbarity prevails, which is worse than solitude; and where there are no assemblies for legitimate amusements, life becomes brutal, for we know that man is a sociable being. By these words, then, the Prophet shews that a dreadful desolation appeared in the city after the people had gone into exile. And among the Chaldeans, and in Assyria, they had not their own judges nor any form of government, for they were dispersed and scattered, and that designedly, that they might not unite together any more; for it was the purpose of the Chaldeans to obliterate by degrees the very name of the people; and hence they were not there formed into a community. So justly does the Prophet deplore their desolation even in exile. It follows, —
He pursues the same subject, but he seems more clearly to explain what he had briefly stated in the preceding verse, when he says that all joy of the heart had ceased, and that all the dances were turned into mourning (234) We know that life is more bitter than death when men are in constant mourning; and truly where there is no hilarity, that state of life is worse than death. And this is what the Prophet now means by saying that all joy had ceased, and that all dances were converted into mourning.
(234) The words ought rather to be thus rendered, —
Turned into mourning was our piping.
The word does not mean dancing, but playing on some fistular instrument. — Ed.
By the crown of the head he no doubt understands all those ornaments by which that people had been adorned. They had a kingdom and a priesthood, which were like two luminaries or two precious jewels; they had also other things by which the Lord had adorned them. As, then, they were endued with such excellent things, they are said to have borne a crown on their head But a crown was not only taken for a diadem, — it was also a symbol of joy and of honor; for not only kings then wore crowns, but men were crowned at weddings and feasts, at games also, and theatres. The Prophet, in a word, complains, that though many ornaments did belong to the people, yet now they were denuded of them all: The crown, he says, has fallen from our head (235)
He then exclaims, Woe to us now, for we have sinned! Here he sets forth an extreme misery, and at the same time shews that all hope of restoration was taken away. He, however, mentions the cause, because they had done wickedly By saying this he did not intend to exasperate their sorrow, so that they who were thus afflicted might murmur against God; but, on the contrary, his object was to humble the afflicted, so that they might perceive that they were justly punished. It is the same as though he had summoned them as guilty before the tribunal of God, and pronounced in one word that they justly suffered or sustained so grievous a punishment; for a just God is an avenger of wickedness.
We hence conclude, that when he said yesterday that the fathers who had sinned were dead, and their iniquity was borne by their children, he did not so speak as to exempt the living from all blame; for here he condemns them and includes himself in the number. But I explained yesterday the meaning of that verse; and here the Prophet ingenuously confesses that the people were justly punished, because they had by their sins provoked the wrath of God. And this doctrine ought to be carefully observed; because when we are pressed down by adversities, Satan will excite us to sorrow, and at the same time hurry us on to rage, except this doctrine comes to our minds, that we have to do with God, who is a righteous Judge. For the knowledge of our sins will tame our pride and also check all those clamorous complaints, which the unbelieving are wont to utter when they rise up against God. Our evils, then, ought to lead us to consider God’s judgment and to confess our sins; and this was the end which our Prophet had in view. It follows, —
(235) The words are, —
Fallen has the crown of our head.
Then the “woe” in the next line is only declarative, —
Woe is now to us, because we have sinned.
The particle “now” is omitted in our version. — Ed.
He connects sorrow here with the acknowledgment of sin, that the people under the pressure and agony of sorrow might apply their minds so as to consider their own sins. At the same time the Prophet, no doubt, includes here all that we have already observed, as though he had said that the people were not without reason wearied with sorrow, for they had ample and manifold reasons for their grief.
For this reason, he says, that is, we do not exceed a due measure in our sorrow, for our afflictions are not ordinary, so that our grief cannot be moderate; but as we are come to an extremity, it cannot then be but our minds should be overwhelmed with sorrow. As, then, the curse of God appeared everywhere, he says that this was the cause of the fainting heart; and he says also, Therefore were our eyes darkened. This is a common metaphor, that the eyes become dim through sorrow; for the senses through sorrow are blunted. Hence it is that the sight of the eyes is injured; and David especially makes use of this mode of speaking. Our Prophet then says that the eyes were darkened, because their grief was, as it were, deadly. It follows —
Though he had in general included all kinds of evils, he yet mentions now the principal cause of sorrow, that mount Sion had lost its beauty and its excellency. For that place had been chosen by God, as though he had descended there from heaven, that he might dwell there; and we know also that its beauty is spoken of in high terms. For there the face of God shone forth, as Moses and the Prophets often speak. It was then an extremely sad change, that as God had dwelt in mount Sion, foxes should lodge there as in a deserted cave. For on mount Sion was the tabernacle or the sanctuary; and God says that it was the tabernacle of meeting,
For as it is the principal thing, and as it were the chief of all blessings, to be counted God’s people, and to have a familiar access to him, so in adversities nothing is so sad as to be deprived of God’s presence. When David testified his gratitude to God, because he had been enriched by every kind of blessing, he added this,
“I shall dwell in the house of God.” (Psalms 23:6.)
For though he had spoken of wealth and riches and of the abundance of all things, yet he saw that his chief happiness was to call on God together with the faithful, and to be deemed one of his people. So, also, on the other hand, the Prophet here shews that nothing can be sadder to the godly than when God leaves his dwelling and makes it desolate, in order to terrify all who may see it.
This had been predicted to them by Jeremiah himself, as we have seen in the seventh chapter of his prophecies, “Go ye to Shiloh,” he said, where the ark of the covenant had long been; though that place had been a long time the habitation of God, yet it was afterwards rejected with great disdain. Jeremiah then declared to the Jews, while they were yet in safety, that such would be the condition of Jerusalem; but his prophecy was not believed. He now, then, confirms, by the event, what he had predicted by God’s command, when he says that mount Sion was become the den of foxes. It follows, —
(236) Some connect this verse with the foregoing, as a special reason why their eyes were darkened, —
17.For this become faint did our heart;
For these things darkened were our eyes,
18.Yea, for mount Sion, which is desolate;
Foxes have walked through it.
“This” was the “woe” which sin had brought; and “these things” were the various things which he had previously stated, but the desolation of mount Sion was the chief cause of sorrow.
Others take this verse by itself, as it is done by the Sept., where
On mount Sion, because it has become desolate,
Foxes have walked in (or through) it.
As to mount Sion, which has become desolate,
Foxes have walked in it (or, traversed it.)
The Prophet here raises up his eyes to God, and, by his example, he encourages all the godly, that they might not cease, notwithstanding their extreme calamities, to look to God, as we find in the hundred and second Psalm, where the Psalmist speaks of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Indeed the subject of that psalm is similar to that of this chapter; nor is there a doubt but that it was composed when the people, as it clearly appears, were in exile in Babylon. There the Psalmist, after having spoken of the ruin of the city, and calamities of the people, says, that the heavens were growing old and wasting as it were with rottenness, together with the whole world; but he afterwards adds,
“But thou, O Lord, remainest perpetually.”
At the same time he speaks more clearly than Jeremiah, for he applies his doctrine to the consolation of the Church, “Children’s children,” he says, “shall inhabit it.” Hence, from the perpetuity and immutability of God, he infers the perpetuity of the Church. This is not done by Jeremiah, though it is implied; and for this reason, no doubt, he exclaims, that God dwells for ever, and that his throne remains fixed in all ages, or through all ages.
For when we fix our eyes on present things, we must necessarily vacillate, as there is nothing permanent hi the world; and when adversities bring a cloud over our eyes, then faith in a manner vanishes, at least we are troubled and stand amazed. Now the remedy is, to raise up our eyes to God, for however confounded things may be in the world, yet he remains always the same. His truth may indeed be hidden from us, yet it remains in him. In short, were the world to change and perish a hundred times, nothing could ever affect the immutability of God. There is, then, no doubt but that the Prophet wished to take courage and to raise himself up to a firm hope, when he exclaimed, “Thou, O God, remainest for ever.” By the word sitting or remaining, he doubtless meant that the world is governed by God. We know that God has no body, but the word sitting is to be taken metaphorically, for He is no God except he be the judge of the world.
This, also, he expresses more clearly, when he says, that God’s throne remains through all ages. The throne of God designates the government of the world. But if God be the judge of the world, then he doeth nothing,, or suffereth nothing to be done, but according to his supreme wisdom and justice. (237) We hence see, that inasmuch as the state of present things, as thick darkness, took away all distinction, the Prophet raises up his eyes to God and acknowledges him as remaining the same perpetually, though things in the world continually change. Then the throne of God is set in opposition to chance or uncertain changes which ungodly men dream of; for when they see things in great confusion in the world, they say that it is the wheel of fortune, they say that all things happen through blind fate. Then the Prophet, that he might not be cast down with the unbelieving, refers to the throne of God, and strengthens himself in this doctrine of true religion, — that God nevertheless sits on this throne, though things are thus confounded, though all things fluctuate; yea, even though storms and tempests mingle as it were heaven and earth together, yet God sits on his throne amidst all such disturbances. However turbulent, then, all the elements may be, this derogates nothing from the righteous and perpetual judgment of God. This is the meaning of the words; and hence fruit and benefit may be easily gathered. It. follows, —
(237) The words literally are, —
Thou Jehovah for ever sittest,
Thy throne is from generation to generation.
Sitting is the posture of a judge, and the reference here is to Jehovah, not as to his essence or existence, but as to his judicial office. — Ed.
He seems, indeed, here to expostulate with God; but the faithful, even when they patiently bear their evils, and submit to God’s scourges, do yet familiarly deposit their complaints in his bosom, and thus unburden themselves. We see that David prayed, and no doubt by the real impulse of the Spirit, and at the same time expostulated,
“Why dost thou forget me perpetually?” (Psalms 13:1.)
Nor is there a doubt but that the Prophet took this complaint from David. Let us, then, know, that though the faithful sometimes take this liberty of expostulating with God, they yet do not put off reverence, modesty, submission, or humility. For when the Prophet thus inquired why God should for ever forget his people and forsake them, he no doubt relied on his own prophecies, which he knew had proceeded from God, and thus he deferred his hope until the end of the seventy years, for that time had been prefixed by God. But it was according to human judgment that he complained in his own person, and in that of the faithful, that the affliction was long; nor is there a doubt but that he dictated this form of prayer to the faithful, that k might be retained after his death. He, then, formed this prayer, not only according to his own feeling, and for the direction to those of his own age; but his purpose was to supply the faithful with a prayer after his own death, so that they might flee to the mercy of God.
We now, then, perceive how complaints of this kind ought to be understood, when the prophets asked, “How long?” as though they stimulated God to hasten the time; for it cannot be, when we are pressed down by many evils, but that we wish help to be accelerated; for faith does not wholly strip us of all cares and anxieties. But when we thus pray, let us remember that our times are at the will and in the hand of God, and that we ought not to hasten too much. It is, then, lawful for us on the one hand to ask God to hasten; but, on the other hand, we ought to check our impatience and wait until the suitable time comes. Both these things the Prophet no doubt joined together when he said, Why shouldest thou, perpetually forget us and forsake us? (238)
We yet see that he judged according to the evils then endured; and doubtless he believed that God had not forsaken his own people nor forgotten them, as no oblivion can happen to him. But, as I have already said, the Prophet mentioned these complaints through human infirmity, not that men might indulge themselves in their own thoughts, but that they might ascend by degrees to God and overcome all these temptations. It follows, —
Why shouldest thou to the end forget us —
Forsake us for the length of our days?
“To the end,” or perpetually, and “the length of our days,” are the same. The length of days, as it appears from Psalms 23:6, means the extent of the present life; the phrase is there used as synonymous with all the days of one’s life. Might not the Prophet here refer to the life of those then living? As to restoration after seventy years, he could have had no doubt. He seems to have pleaded for the restoration of the generation then living. — Ed.
The Prophet shews, in this verse, that the remedy is in God’s hand whenever he is pleased to succor his people. He, then, exalts here the power of God, as though he had said, that God is not without power, but that he can, whenever he pleases, help his people. This is not, indeed, a sufficient ground for confidence, yet it is the beginning of hope; for whence is it that despair weakens us, so that we cannot call on God? because we think that it is all over with us; and whence is this? because we impiously confine the power of God; nay, we in a manner, through our unbelief, repel his power, which would otherwise be exerted in our behalf. As, then, we thus close the door against God, when we extenuate his power, and think that our evils will prevail; it is, therefore, as I have said, the beginning of hope to believe that all the issues of death are in God’s hand, and that were we a hundred times swallowed up, yet he, by stretching forth his hand to us, can become the author of salvation to us at any moment.
This is now the argument which the Prophet handles, when he says, Turn us, O Jehovah, and we shall be turned; that is, “If thou, O Jehovah, be pleased to gather us, salvation is already certain to us.” And he does not speak here of repentance. There is, indeed, a twofold turning or conversion of men to God, and a twofold turning of God to men. There is all inward turning when God regenerates us by his own Spirit; and turning with respect to us is said to be the feeling of true religion, when, after having been alienated from him, we return to the right way and to a fight mind. There is also all exterior turning as to God, that is, when he so receives men into favor, that his paternal favor becomes apparent; but the interior turning of men to God takes place when they recover life and joy.
Of this second turning, then, does the Prophet now speak, Turn us, O Jehovah, and we shall be turned; that is, If thou, Jehovah, lookest on us, our condition will immediately become prosperous, for in thy hand there is a sure salvation for us.” As, then, the Jews were at that time like the dead, the Prophet says, that if it pleased God to gather them, they could in a moment, as they say, have been restored, as it is said also in the Psalms,
“Thou takest away life, and all things change; send forth thy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” (Psalms 104:29.)
As, then, God renews the face of the earth and restores it by only looking at it, hence now the Prophet says, that the Jews, though they had been destroyed, could yet be immediately restored, if it were the will of God to receive them into favor. (239)
He adds, Renew our days as of old. This is an explanation of the former clause — the renewing of days was restoration to their former state. God had been for many ages the deliverer of his people; under David had been their greatest happiness; under Solomon also they had greatly flourished; but from the time when God had redeemed his people, he had given, as we know, many and constant proofs of his favor and mercy. As, then, God’s goodness had, by so many evidences been made conspicuous, the Prophet now says, Renew our days as formerly, that is, “Restore us to that happiness, which was formerly a testimony of thy paternal favor towards thy people.” We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
But it ought to be noticed, that he grounds his hope on the ancient benefits of God; for as God had formerly redeemed his people, had often helped the miserable, had poured forth on them, posterity fullness of blessings, hence the Prophet encourages himself to entertain good hope, and suggests also to others the same ground of confidence. We see that this was done often by David; for whenever he mentions ancient testimonies of God’s favor towards his people, he hence gathered, that God would extend the same goodness and kindness to posterity. It follows, —
(239) The meaning of this sentence is,” says Grotius, “Restore us to thy favor, that we may be restored to our ancient state.” This being evidently the meaning, the rendering ought to be this, —
Restore us, O Jehovah, to thyself, that we may be restored.
And as Calvin, as well as Grotius, says, the following line is a confirmation, —
Renew our days as of old.
The two words
For the Jews labor under this superstition, that when a book ends with a hard and severe sentence, or one containing a dreadful threatening, grating to the ears, in order to avoid the sad omen, they repeat the last verse but one. So they do at the end of Isaiah, and at the end of Malachi. As Isaiah says, “It shall be a horror (or abomination) to all flesh;” they therefore repeat the previous verse. So in Malachi; as he says, “Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse —
If this explanation be approved, we must hold that the Prophet here exceeded due limits, as also the faithful, in their prayers, do not always so restrain themselves, but that some heat bubbles up; for we see how David, in the Psalms, too often shewed this kind of feeling; and it is hence evident, that his mind was not always sufficiently calm. We must then say, that the Prophet was impelled by a turbulent feeling when he uttered these words.
But it cannot be that God will reject his people, and be so angry with them, as never to be reconciled. We hence see that the Prophet does not simply set down the condition, as though he said, “O God, if thou art to be perpetually angry with us, and wilt never be reconciled, it is there all over with our salvation; but if thou wilt be reconciled to us, we shall then entertain good hope.” No, the Prophet did not thus keep his own mind and the minds of others in suspense, but had a sure confidence as to God’s favor; for it cannot be that God will ever forsake those whom he has chosen, as Paul also shews in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
As it has so seemed good to the brethren, I will begin tomorrow the explanation of Ezekiel.
(240) The particles,
For surely rejecting thou hast rejected us,
Thou hast been wroth with us exceedingly,
or, more literally,
Thou hast foamed against us exceedingly.
The first line here corresponds with the latter part of the previous verse, “Restore us to our land, and renew the ancient days,” — “Thou hast wholly rejected us.” He speaks of things as they were then. Then the last line in this verse bears a relation to the first part of the preceding verse, “Restore us to thy favor,” — “Thou hast been exceedingly displeased with us.” Thus, for displeasure he asked favor, and for repudiation, a restoration. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Lamentations 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25