Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 17: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The Commentaries On Jeremiah, like those on The Minor Prophets, were delivered as Lectures In The Theological School At Geneva, taken down by some of the Pupils, and afterwards read to Calvin, and corrected. We find in them the production of the same vigorous and expansive mind: The Divine Oracles are faithfully explained, the meaning is clearly stated, and such brief deductions are made as the subjects legitimately warrant. Though the Lectures were extemporaneously delivered, there is yet so much order preserved, and such brevity, clearness, and suitableness of diction are found in them, that in these respects they nearly equal the most finished compositions of Calvin as proof that he possessed a mind of no common order.
The Ministry Of Jeremiah extended over a large space of time from the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign till after the final overthrow of the nation; but for how long after that period, it is not known. 1 Between the thirteenth year of Josiah and the destruction of the city and Temple, there were about forty years. This was a remarkable period, and Jeremiah nearly alone labored among the people. Their sins had been for the most part the same for a long time — for nearly two centuries, as it appears from the testimonies of his predecessors, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Joel, Micah, Nahum, and Zephaniah; for these seven had in this order preceded him. Zephaniah And Habakkuk were probably for a time his contemporaries, the first at the commencement, and the other near the end of his ministry. The contumacy with which Jeremiah often charged the Jews was here evident, as they continued in their evil courses after so many urgent remonstrances by the former Prophets.
What an example of blindness and of the power of superstition does the history of the Jews at this period exhibit! No past nor present calamities, and no threatenings of still greater calamities, and no promises of Divine favor and of temporal blessings, were sufficient to keep them from idolatrous and immoral practices — and such practices, too, as were plainly and explicitly condemned by that very Law which they professed to receive! Such inconsistency might have been deemed impossible, had it not been exemplified in the Jews: but it is an inconsistency which is still exhibited in the conduct of many calling themselves Christians.
As to The Style Of Jeremiah, the opinion of the accurate and elegant Lowth is as follows:
“Jeremiah, though not wanting either in elegance or sublimity, is yet in both inferior to Isaiah. Jerome seems to charge him with some measure of rusticity as to his expressions; but of this, I truly confess, I have found no traces. In thoughts, indeed, he is somewhat less elevated, being for the most part more loose and diffuse in his sentences, as one more conversant with the more tender feelings, being especially capable of expressing sorrow and sympathy. This, indeed, appears mainly in The Lamentations, where these feelings alone predominate; but it is also often found in his Prophecies, and particularly in the first part of his Book, which is chiefly poetical. The middle part is nearly all historical; and the last, consisting of six chapters, is altogether poetical, and contains several oracles plainly expressed, in which the Prophet nearly approaches the sublimity of Isaiah. But of the whole Book of Jeremiah, hardly the half do I consider to be poetical.” — Proel, 21.
Venema mainly agrees with Lowth: he blames Jerome for ascribing rusticity of diction to our Prophet, and says that he was no good judge (peritus Judex) of such matters. Speaking of Jeremiah’s style, he says, “His diction is not so lofty and sublime as that of Isaiah, though in the six last chapters, 46-51., it seems to me to be nearly equal to it, being no less pure, expressive, and copious, besprinkled also with tropes and metaphors as with lights, and fitted to move the feelings and to stimulate the heart to repentance, for which it was designed. The Lamentations alone are sufficient to defend Jeremiah against the charge of ignorance and rusticity; for antiquity, as Sanctums rightly observes, has nothing more grave, more harmonious, more expressive.” Com. ad Jer., p. 8.
“He is admirably pathetic,” says Scott; “his descriptions of approaching judgments are peculiarly vivid; and his eloquence is very vigorous and impressive, when inveighing against the shameless audacity of the people in rebellion against God.”
Of Jeremiah as a Prophet, Henry mentions these particulars: 1. That he was made a Prophet when young;-2. That he continued long a Prophet;-3. That he was a reproving Prophet;-4. That he was a weeping Prophet; — and, 5. That he was a suffering Prophet, having been persecuted by his own nation more than any other.
There are several references in the New Testament to Jeremiah and to his writings. See Matt. 2:17, 18; Mt 16:14; Heb 8:8-13; Heb 10:15-17. “These last references, “observes Scott, “are peculiarly important; for in one of them God himself is mentioned as speaking the words referred to; and in the other it is said, ‘Whereof the Holy Ghost is a witness to us.’ This is decisive, as to the judgment of the inspired Apostles, respecting the Book on which we now enter, and is peculiarly suited to put us on our guard against those professed friends of the Scriptures, who speak of these books as venerable, authentic, or genuine remains of antiquity, of great value and high authority, but hesitate to vindicate them as divinely inspired.” Pref. to Jer.
Nothing is with any certainty known as having been written by Jeremiah, except this Book and the Lamentations. Ascribed to him has been a funeral song on the death of Josiah, (2Ch 35:25) which, Josephus says, was extant in his day. It has been also said by some that he wrote the 137th Psalm (Psalm 137), and in connection with Ezekiel, the 46th Psalm (Psalm 46). His Letter to the captives in Babylon in the Apocrypha, appended to the book of Barite, is no doubt spurious: its style is very different from that of Jeremiah.
It is universally admitted that the Chapters in this Book are not in their right order. How this has happened, none have been able to conjecture; but the fact is evident. According to Blayney, whose account seems correct, the twelve first chapters contain prophecies delivered in the reign of Josiah. Those in the thirteenth, and in the following chapters to the twentieth inclusively, were delivered in the reign of Jehoiakim. Now begins the disorder; the twenty — first contains what was spoken in the time of Zedekiah, the last king: and afterwards we have what was delivered in a former reign. The kings of Judah, during Jeremiah’s ministry, were these: Josiah; Shallum or Jehoahaz, his second son; Jehoiakim, his eldest son; Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim; and Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah. Blayney thinks that no prophecies were delivered in the reigns of Shallum and of Jeconiah. Then his classification may be stated as follows:-During the reign of
Josiah, were delivered, chapters 1-12, inclusively.
Jehoiakim, chapters 13-20, inclusively, 22, 23, 25, 26, 35, 36, 45, 46, 47, 48, and 49 to verse 33 inclusively.
Zedekiah, chapters 21, 24, 27 -34, 37-39, 49: from verse 34 to the end, 1, and 51.
The 40-44, inclusively, were written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people; and the 52, the last, during the same time, or as it is commonly supposed, by Ezra; it is an epitome of the progressive and final overthrow of the kingdom.
There were several circumstances worthy of notice, with regard to The Jews, during the ministry of Jeremiah:
1. The means which God employed to lead them to repentance, and to a reformation of their conduct, both as to religion and morals: he gave them a pious and a reforming king in Josiah; the Book of the Law was providentially discovered and widely made known; a reformation was carried on according to its requirements, while idolatrous practices were in a great measure put an end to; the people had also before their eyes the awful judgment of God on their brethren, The Israelites, in banishing them from their country; and the powerful preaching of Jeremiah sounded in their ears.
2. The manifest evidences of God’s displeasure: their good king, Josiah, was suddenly taken from them, no doubt as a judgment for their ingratitude; his successor, Suallum, was, after three months’ reign, taken prisoner by the Egyptians, and the country was put under tribute; the country was visited with grievous famine, as recorded in chap. 14.; and Jeremiah, by God’s command, denounced on them the punishment of an entire extinction as a nation.
3. The extremely corrupted state of the people: they were both most idolatrous and most immoral, unfaithful to God and to man in a degree hardly credible. During Josiah’s reign they pretended to cast away their gross superstitions, but after his death they returned to them, as it were, with increased avidity; and with these superstitions was combined the prostration of every moral principle, and of every natural feeling. Superstition ever destroys morality, and enfeebles all the social and natural sympathies of men. What a picture of the effects of superstition is given by Jeremiah in chapter 9!
4. Notwithstanding this extremely degenerated state of things, The Jews harbored the conviction that their ruin, as denounced by Jeremiah, was impossible. While practically denying God, they yet rested their confidence on his promises respecting the perpetuity of David’s kingdom, and on their outward privileges; taking as unconditional what was conditional, and regarding the mere possession of divine institutions as a sufficient security. And in this vain confidence they were encouraged and confirmed by false Prophets and corrupt Priests, in opposition to God’s messages by his Prophet Jeremiah, and to the plain declarations of that Law, the authority of which they still ostensibly acknowledged!
These things have been recorded for our instruction.
Some of Jeremiah’s Prophecies were fulfilled in the days of many of those who heard them; such as those which refer to the Captivity of the people, and to the destruction of the neighboring nations by the king of Babylon. Other prophecies extend farther, to times more remote, to the destruction of Babylon, to the restoration of the Jews after the term of seventy years, and to the destinies of various nations. There are also Prophecies respecting The Messiah, as The Lord Our Righteousness, The Evangelical Covenant, The Call of the Gentiles, and final Restoration of The Jews. So that there are in this Book some Prophecies which were soon fulfilled, others at a more distant time, and some which are still to be fulfilled. Who but GOD, the Sole and the Supreme Ruler of the world, and the regulator and disposer of all events, could have announced such Prophecies? All those which refer to the past have been fulfilled, fully and completely; and with no less certainty shall all such as refer to what is future be in due time fulfilled. Nothing can intercept the exercise of Divine Faithfulness; nothing can obstruct the working of Infinite Power.
Facsimile copies of the old Latin, French, and English title — pages follow this Preface, with a reprint of the Dedication by Clement Cotton to the Countess Of Bedford, prefixed to his English Translation of 1620.
Thrussington, September 1850.
According to an ancient tradition, mentioned by Jerome and others, Jeremiah was stoned to death by the Jews at Tahpanhes in Egypt, (see Jer 43:8) shortly after their removal there, subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. So that he did not live long after that event: it may be two or three years.