Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 17: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:
1. Verba Jeremiae filii Helkiae, ex sacerdotibus qui erant in Anathoth, in terra Benjamin,
2. To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.
2. Nempe (אשר explicative hic ponitur) fecit sermo Jehovae ad ipsum, in diebus Josiea, filii Amon, regis Jehudah, decimo tertio anno regm ejus;
3. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
3. Et fuit (hoc est, perrexit in, cursum vocationis suae) diebus Joakim, filii Josiae, regis Jehudah, usque ad complementum undecimi anni Zedechiae, filii Josiae, regis Jehudah, ad transmigrationem Jerusalem, mense quinto.
I Have said that the time, when Jeremiah began to discharge his office of a Prophet in God’s Church, is not stated here without reason, and that it was when the state of the people was extremely corrupt, the whole of Religion having become vitiated, because the Book of the Law was lost: for nowhere else can be found the rule according to which God is to be worshipped; nor can right knowledge be obtained from any other source. It was then, at the time when impiety had by a long custom prevailed among the Jews, that Jeremiah suddenly came forth. There was then laid on his shoulders the heaviest burden; for many enemies must have risen to oppose him, when he attempted to bring back the people to the pure doctrine of the law, which the greater part were then treading under their feet.
He calls himself the son of Hilkiah The Rabbins think that this Hilkiah was the priest by whom the Book of Moses was found five years after: but this seems not to me probable. The conjecture also of Jerome is very frivolous, who concludes that the Prophet was a boy when he began to prophesy, because he calls himself נער (nor,) a child, a little farther on, as though he did not use the word metaphorically. 6 At what age he was called to the prophetic office, we do not know; it is, however, probable that he was of mature age, for it was a work of high authority; and further, had he been a youth, doubtless such a miracle would not have been passed over in silence, that is, that he was made a prophet before the age of maturity.
With regard to his father, it is nothing strange that the Rabbins have regarded him as the high priest; for we know that they are always prone to vain boastings. Ambition possessed them, and hence they have said that Jeremiah was the son of the high priest, in order to add to the splendor of his character. But what does the Prophet himself say? He declares indeed that he was the son of Hilkiah, but does not say that this was the high priest; on the contrary he adds, that he was from the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin Now we know that this was a mean village, not far from Jerusalem; and Jeremiah says, that it was in the tribe of Benjamin. Its nearness to Jerusalem may be gathered from the words of Isaiah, who says that small Anathoth was terrified. (Isa 10:30) He threatened Jerusalem by saying that the enemy was near.
“What,” he says, “is your security? Ye can hear the noise of your enemies and the groans of your brethren from your very gates; for Anathoth is not far from you, being only three miles distant.”
Since then Jeremiah only says, that he came from Anathoth, why should we suppose him to be the sort of the high priest? And frivolous is what the Chaldee paraphraser adds here, that Hilkiah had possessions in the town of Anathoth, as though it was allowed the priests to possess land: God allowed them only what was necessary to feed their flocks. We may then take it as certain, and what the Prophet indeed expressly declares, that he came from the village of Anathoth. 7
He further says, that he was of the priestly order. Hence the prophetic office was more suitable to him than to many of the other prophets, such as Amos and Isaiah. God took Isaiah from the court, as he was of the royal family, and made him a prophet. Amos was in a different situation: he was taken from the shepherds, for he was a shepherd. Since God appointed such prophets over his Church, he no doubt thus intended to cast a reflection on the idleness and sloth of the priests. For, though all the priests were not prophets, yet they ought to have been taken from that order; for the priestly order was as it were the nursery of the prophets. But when gross want of knowledge and ignorance prevailed among them, God chose his prophets from the other tribes, and thus exposed and condemned the priests. They ought, indeed, to have been the messengers of the God of hosts, so as to keep the law in their lips, that the people might seek it from their mouth, according to what is said by Malachi. (Mal 2:7) But as they were dumb dogs, God transferred the honor of the prophetic office to others; but Jeremiah, as I have already stated, was a prophet as well as a priest.
He begins in the second verse to speak of his calling. 8 It would have, indeed, been to little purpose, had he said that he came forth and brought a message; but he explains, in the second verse, that he brought nothing but what had been delivered to him by God, as though he had said, that he faithfully declared what God had commanded him. For we know that the whole authority belongs entirely to God, with regard to the doctrine of religion, and that it is not in the power of men to blend this or that, and to make the faithful subject to themselves. As God, then, is the only true teacher of the Church, whosoever demands to be heard, must prove that he is God’s minister. This is, then, what Jeremiah is now carefully doing, for he says that the word of Jehovah was given to him.
He had before said, the words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah; but any one of the people might have objected and said, “Why dost thou intrude thyself, as though any one is to be heard? for God claims this right to himself alone.” Hence Jeremiah, by way of correction, subjoins, that the words were his, but that he was not the author of them, but the minister only. He says, then, that he only executed what God had commanded, for he had been the disciple of God himself, before he undertook the office of a teacher.
As to the beginning of his time and its termination, it has been briefly shewn, why he says that he had been chosen a prophet in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and that he discharged his office till the eleventh year of Zedekiah.
Now that Josiah is called the son of Amon, it is doubtful whether Josiah was properly his son. Amon began to reign in his twenty-second year, and reigned only two years. Josiah succeeded him in the eighth year of his age. If we number the years precisely, Josiah must have been born when Amon was in his sixteenth year; but it does not appear likely, that Amon was a father when he was sixteen years of age, for in this case he must have begotten a son in his fifteenth year; as the birth must have taken place nine months after. Then Josiah must have been begotten in the fifteenth year of Amon’s age. It is hence a probable conclusion, that he was a son by law and not by nature, according to what is afterwards said of Zedekiah, that he was Josiah’s son, because he was his successor, while he was, as many think, his nephew, a brother’s son. But it was a common thing to call the successors of kings their sons, who were their sons by law, and not, as I have said, by nature. It now follows-
4. Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
4. Et fuit sermo Jehova ad me dicendo,
5. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
5. Antequam formarem to in utero novi to, et antequam egressus esses e vulva sanetificavi to, Prophetam in gentibus constituite.
Here Jeremiah explains more fully what he had already mentioned that he had been called from above, for otherwise he would have presumptuously obtruded himself: for no one, as the Apostle says, takes this honor to himself; but the call of God alone raises up prophets and teachers to their dignity (see Heb 5:4). Hence, that Jeremiah might secure attention, he declares that he had been called to the prophetic office, and that by the clear voice of God. For this purpose, he says, that this word was given him, Before I formed thee in the womb 9 I knew thee He introduces God as the speaker, that what he declares might be more emphatical, that it might be of more weight and more forcible: for, if he had said simply in his own person, that he had been made a prophet by God’s voice, it would not have so much moved the hearers; but when he brings forward God as the speaker, there is necessarily more weight and force in what is said.
I pass by here what might be more largely said on what is necessary in one’s call, so that he may be attended to by God’s people; for no one, by his own and private right, can claim this privilege of speaking, as I have already said, inasmuch as this is what belongs to God alone. But I have elsewhere spoken at large on the prophetic call; it is therefore enough now to point at such things as these as it were by the finger: and particular discussions must be sought elsewhere; for were I to dwell at large on every subject, my work would be endless. I will, therefore, according to my usual practice, give a brief exposition of this Prophet.
Jeremiah then says, that he had been called by God, for this end, that he might on this account gain a hearing from the people. God declares that he knew Jeremiah before he formed him in the womb. This is not said specially of the Prophet, as though other men are unknown to God, but it is to be understood of the prophetic office, as though he had said, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I destined thee for this work, even that thou mayest undertake the burden of a teacher among the people.” And the second part is a repetition, when he says, Before thou camest forth from the womb I sanctified thee Sanctification is the same as the knowledge of God: and thus we perceive that knowledge is not mere prescience, but that predestination, by which God chooses every single individual according to his own will, and at the same time appoints and also sanctifies him; for no one, as Paul declares, (2Co 2:16,) is according to his own nature fitted for the work. Since then this fitness is the gratuitous gift of God, it is nothing strange that God declares that he had sanctified Jeremiah, as though he had said, “I formed thee man in the womb, and at the same time appointed thee for this particular work; and as it was not in thy power to bring with thee a qualification for the prophetic office, I formed thee not only a man, but a prophet.” This is the import of the passage.
But they refine too much, who think that the Prophet was sanctified from the womb as John the Baptist was, for the words mean no such thing; but only that is testified of Jeremiah, which Paul also affirms respecting himself in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, that he was known by God before he was born. Jeremiah then was not actually sanctified in the womb, but set apart according to God’s predestination and hidden purpose; that is, God chose him then to be a Prophet. It may be asked, whether he was not chosen before the creation of the world? To this it may be readily answered, that he was indeed foreknown by God before the world was made; but Scripture accommodates itself to the measure of our capacities, when it speaks of the generation of any one: it is then the same as though God had said of Jeremiah, that he was formed man for this end that in due time he might come forth a Prophet.
And no doubt the following clause is added exegetically, A prophet for the nations I made thee His sanctification, then, as I have said, was not real, but intimated that he was appointed a Prophet before he was born.
It however seems strange that he was given a Prophet to the nations God designed him to be the minister of his Church; for he neither went to the Ninevites, as Jonah did, (Jon 3:3,) nor traveled into other countries, but spent his labors only among the tribe of Judah; why then is it said that he was given as a Prophet to the nations? To this I answer, that though God appointed him especially for his Church, yet his teaching belonged to other nations, as we shall presently see, and very evidently, as we proceed; for he prophesied concerning the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Moabites; in short, he included all the nations who were nigh and known to the Jews. This was indeed as it were accidental: but though he was given as a Prophet especially to his own people, yet his authority extended to heathen nations. No doubt nations are mentioned, including many, in order that the power and dignity of his teaching might appear more evident. It follows-
6. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
6. Et dixi, Ahah, Domine Jehova, ecce non novi loqui, quia puer ego.
7. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.
7. Et dixit Jehova ad me, Ne dicas, Puer ego (id est, sum puer,) quia ad quaecunque to misero, ibis, et quaeunque tibi praecepero, loqueris.
After having spoken of his call, the Prophet adds, that he at first refused his office, and he states this for two reasons; first, that he might clear himself from every suspicion of rashness, for we know how much ambition prevails among men, according to what James intimates, that many wish to be teachers, (Jas 3:1) and there is hardly one who is not anxious to be listened to. Since, then, most men too readily assume the office of teaching, and many boldly intrude into it, Jeremiah, in order to avoid the very suspicion of rashness, informs us that he was constrained to take the office. Secondly, he says that he refused the office, that he might gain more esteem, and render his disciples more attentive. But why did he refuse to obey God, when called to the prophetic function? Because its difficulty frightened him: and yet this very reason ought to rouse readers to a greater attention, as it no doubt awakened hearers when Jeremiah spoke to them.
If any one asks, whether Jeremiah acted rightly in refusing what God enjoined? the answer is, that God pardoned his servant, for it was not his design to reject his call, or to exempt himself from obedience, or to shake off the yoke, because he regarded his own leisure, or his own fame, or any similar considerations: Jeremiah looked on nothing of this kind; but when he thought of himself, he felt, that he was wholly unequal to undertake an office so arduous. Hence the excuse that is added is that of modesty. We then see that God forgave his timidity, for it proceeded, as we have just said, from a right feeling; and we know that from good principles vices often arise. But it was yet a laudable thing in Jeremiah, that he thought himself not sufficiently qualified to undertake the prophetic office, and that he wished to be excused, and that another should be chosen endued with more courage and with better qualifications. I shall proceed with what remains tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only provided for thine ancient Church, by choosing Jeremiah as thy servant, but hast also designed that the fruit of his labors should contilme to our age, O grant that we may not be unthankful to thee, but that we may so avail ourselves of so great a benefit, that the fruit of it may appear in us to the glory of thy name; may we learn so entirely to devote ourselves to thy service, and each of us be so attentive to the work of his calling, that we may strive with united hearts to promote the honor of thy name, and also the kingdom of thine only — begotten Son, until we finish our warfare, and come at length into that celestial rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. Amen.
We mentioned yesterday the reason why Jeremiah refused the office of teaching, even because he thought himself unequal to the work; and for this reason he called himself a child, not in age, but in knowledge. Hence the word “child” is to be taken metaphorically; for thereby the Prophet confessed that he was not sufficiently qualified as to knowledge and practice. Some, as I have said, have unwisely applied this to his age. Though then he was of a mature age, yet he called himself a child, because of his unskillfulness, and because he possessed not the gifts necessary for an office so important. 10
Now follows the answer given to him, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go, etc. God not only predicts here what the Prophet was to do, but declares also what he designed him to do, and what he required from him, as though he had said, “It is thy duty to obey, because I have the right to command: thou must, therefore, go wheresoever I shall send thee, and thou must also proclaim whatsoever I shall command thee.” By these words God reminds him that he was his servant, and that there was no reason why a sense of his own weakness should make him afraid; for it ought to have been enough for him simply to obey his command.
And it is especially necessary to know this doctrine: for as we ought to undertake nothing without considering what our strength is, so when God enjoins anything, we ought, immediately to obey his word as it were with closed eyes. Prudence is justly praised by writers; and it is what ought to be attended to by all generally; they ought to consider what the shoulders can bear, and cannot bear. For whence is it that many have so much audacity and boldness, except that they hurry on through extreme self — confidence? Hence, in all undertakings, this should be the first thing, that every one should weigh well his own strength, and take in hand what comports with the measure of his capacity. Then no one would foolishly obtrude himself, and arrogate to himself more than what is right. But when God calls us, we ought to obey, however deficient we may in all things be: and this is what we learn from what God says here, Say not, I am a child; that is, “though thou, indeed, thinkest thyself destitute of every qualification, though thou art conscious of thine own weakness, yet thou shalt go, thou must go wheresoever I shall send thee.” God, then, requires this honor to be simply conceded to him, that men should obey his commands, though the qualification necessary to execute them be wanting. It afterwards follows —
8. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.
8. Ne timeas a facie ipsorum, quia tecum ego (id est, ego sum tecum) ad eripiendum to, dicit Jehova.
We may learn from this verse that Jeremiah, when he observed the heavy and hard conflicts he had to undertake, was greatly disturbed; for he had not courage enough firmly and boldly to assail enemies so many and so violent. He indeed saw, that he had to do with a degenerated people, who had almost all departed from the law of God: and since they had for many years shaken off the yoke, and were petulantly exulting in their freedom, it was difficult to bring them back to obedience, and to a right course of life. It hence appears that the Prophet was restrained by this difficulty, so as not to venture to undertake the prophetic office. But God applied a suitable remedy to his fear; for what does he say? Fear not their face It appears, then, that when Jeremiah said that he was a child, he had in view, as I have already hinted, the difficulty of the undertaking; he could hardly bear to carry on contests so severe with that rebellious people, who had now become hardened in their wickedness. We hence see how he refused, in an indirect manner, the burden laid on him, for he ventured, not openly and ingenuously, and in plain words, to confess how the matter was; but God, who penetrates into the hearts of men, and knows all their hidden feelings and motives, heals his timidity by saying, Fear not their face. 11
Now this passage shews that corruptions had so prevailed among the chosen people, that no servant of God could peaceably perform his office. When prophets and teachers have to do with a teachable people, they have no need to fight: but when there is no fear of God, and no regard for him, yea, when men are led away by the violence of their lusts, no godly teacher can exercise his duty without being prepared for war. This, then, is what God intimates, when he bids his Prophet to be courageous; for he saw that there would be as many enemies as professed themselves to be the children of Abraham.
The reason, also, for boldness and confidence, that is added, ought to be noticed, For I am with thee to deliver thee By these words God reminds the Prophet, that there would be sufficient protection in his power, so that he had no need to dread the fury of his own nation. It was, indeed, at first, a formidable undertaking, when Jeremiah saw that he had to carry on war, not with a few men, but with the whole people; but God sets himself in opposition to all men, and says, I am with thee, 12 fear not. We hence see that due honor is then conceded to God, when being content with his defense we disregard the fury of men, and hesitate not to contend with all the ungodly, yea, though they may rise up in a mass against us: and were their forces and power the strongest, we ought yet to feel assured that the defense of God alone is sufficient to protect us. This is the full meaning of the passage. It now follows-
9. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.
9. Et extendit Jehova manum suam, et tetigit os meum; et dixit Jehova ad me, Ecce posui verba mea in ore tuo:
10. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.
10. Vide, constitui to (vel, praefeci) hodie super gentes et super regna, ad evellendum et ad destruendum et ad eruendum et ad perdendum, ad aedificandum et ad plantandum.
Here Jeremiah speaks again of his calling, that his doctrine might not be despised, as though it proceeded from a private individual. He, therefore, testifies again, that he came not of himself, but was sent from above, and was invested with the authority of a prophet. For this purpose he says, that God’s words were put in his mouth.
This passage ought to be carefully observed; for Jeremiah briefly describes how a true call may be ascertained, when any one undertakes the office of a teacher in the Church: it is ascertained even by this when he brings nothing of his own, according to what Peter says in his first canonical epistle,
“Let him who speaks, speak as the oracles of God,”
that is, let him not speak doubtingly, as though he introduced his own glosses; but let him boldly, and without hesitation, speak in the name of God. So also Jeremiah in this place, in order that he might demand to be heard, plainly declares that the words of God were put in his mouth. Let us, then, know, that whatever proceeds from the wit of man, ought to be disregarded; for God wills this honor to be conceded to him alone, as it was stated yesterday, to be heard in his own Church. It hence follows, that none ought to be acknowledged as God’s servants, that no prophets or teachers ought to be counted true and faithful, except those through whom God speaks, who invent nothing themselves, who teach not according to their own fancies, but faithfully deliver what God has committed to them.
A visible symbol was added, that there might be a stronger confirmation: but there is no reason to make this a general rule, as though it were necessary that the tongues of all teachers should be touched by the hand of God. There are here two things — the thing itself, and the external sign. As to the thing itself, a rule is prescribed to all God’s servants, that they bring not their own inventions, but simply deliver, as from hand to hand, what they have received from God. But it was a special thing as to Jeremiah, that God, by stretching out his hand, touched his mouth; it was, that he might openly shew that his mouth was consecrated to himself. It is therefore sufficient as to the ministers of the word, that their tongues be consecrated to God, so that they may not mix any of their own fictions with his pure doctrine. But it was God’s will, as to Jeremiah, to add also the visible signs of the thing itself, by extending his hand and touching his mouth.
God having now shewn that Jeremiah’s mouth was consecrated to himself, and separated from common and profane use, proceeds to invest him with power: See, he says, I have set thee this day over nations and over kingdoms By these words God shews how reverently he would have his word received, even when conveyed by frail mortals. There is no one who pretends not, that he desires to obey God, but yet hardly one in a hundred really receives his word. For as soon as he speaks, almost all raise a clamor; or if they dare not furiously, and in a hostile manner, oppose it, we yet see how some evade it, and others secretly oppose it. The authority, then, which God ascribes to his own word, ought to be noticed by us: Behold, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms
Farther, by saying, See, I have set thee, he encourages the Prophet to be magnanimous in spirit. He was to remember his calling, and not timidly or servilely to flatter men, or to shew indulgence to their lusts and passions: See, he says. We may hence perceive, that teachers cannot firmly execute their office except they have the majesty of God before their eyes, so that in comparison with him they may disregard whatever splendor, pomp, or power there may be in men. Experience indeed teaches us, that the sight of men, whatever dignity they may possess, be it the least, brings fear with it. Why are prophets and teachers sent? That they may reduce the world to order: they are not to spare their hearers, but freely reprove them whenever there may be need; they are also to use threatenings when they find men perverse. But when there is any dignity connected with men, the teacher dares not to offend; he is afraid of those who are invested with power, or who possess wealth, or a high character for prudence, or who are endued with great honors. In such cases there is no remedy, except teachers set God before their eyes, and regard him to be himself the speaker. They may thus with courageous and elevated minds look down on whatever height and pre — eminence there may be among mortals. This, then, is the object of what God says here, See, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms; for he shews that there is so much authority in his word, that whatever is high and exalted on earth is made subject to it; even kings are not excepted.
But what God has joined together let no man separate. (Mt 19:6; Mr 10:9) God indeed extols here his Prophets above the whole world, and even above kings; but he has previously said, Behold, I have put my words, in thy mouth; so that whosoever claims such a power, must necessarily bring forth the word of God, and really prove that he is a prophet, and that he introduces no fictions of his own. And hence we see how fatuitous is the boasting of the Pope, and of his filthy clergy, when they wickedly dare to appropriate to themselves what is here said. “We are, “they say, “above both kings and nations.” By what right? “God hath thus spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah.” But these two things are to be joined together — I have put my words in thy mouth, and, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms Now let the Pope shew that he is furnished with the word of God, that he claims for himself nothing that is his own, of apart from God; in a word, that he introduces nothing of his own devices, and we shall willingly allow that he is pre — eminent above the whole world. For God is not to be separated from his word: as his majesty shines eminently above the whole world, yea, and above all the angels of heaven; so there is the same dignity belonging to his word. But as these swine and dogs are empty of all true doctrine and piety, what effrontery it is, yea, what stupidity, to boast that they have authority over kings and nations! We, in short, see from the context, that men are not here so much extolled, though they be true ministers of celestial truth, as the truth itself; for God ascribes here the highest authority to his own word, though its ministers were men of no repute, poor and despised, and having nothing splendid connected with them. The purpose for which this was said I have already explained; it was, that true prophets and teachers may take courage, and thus boldly set themselves against kings and nations, when armed with the power of celestial truth.
He then adds, To root up, to destroy, to pull down, to lay waste God seems here to have designedly rendered odious his own word and the ministry of the Prophet; for the word of God in the mouth of Jeremiah could not have been acceptable to the Jews, except they perceived that it was for their safety and welfare: but God speaks here of ruin and destruction, of cutting down and desolation. But he subjoins, to build and to plant God then ascribes two effects to his word, that on the one hand it destroys, pulls down, lays waste, cuts off; and that on the other it plants and builds
But it may, however, be rightly asked, why does God at first speak of ruin and extermination? The order would have seemed better had he said first, I set thee to build and to plant, according to what is said by Paul, who declares that vengeance was prepared by him and the other teachers against all despisers, and against all the height of the world, when your obedience, he says, shall be completed. (2 Cor. 10:5, 6.) Paul then intimates that the doctrine of the gospel is properly, and in the first place, designed for this end — to call men to the service of God. But Jeremiah here puts rhin and destruction before building and planting. It then seems, as I have said, that he acts inconsistently. But we must ever bear in mind what the state of the people was: for impiety, perverseness, and hardened iniquity had for so long a time prevailed, that it was necessary to begin with ruin and eradication; for Jeremiah could not have planted or have built the temple of God, except he had first destroyed, pulled down, laid waste, and cut off. How so? Because the Devil had erected there his palace; for as true religion had been for many years despised, the Devil was there placed, as it were, on his high throne, and reigned uncontrolled at Jerusalem, and through the whole land of Judea. How, then, could he have built there a temple for God, in which he might be purely worshipped, except ruin and destruction had preceded? for the Devil had corrupted the whole land. We indeed know that all kinds of wickedness then prevailed everywhere, as though the land had been filled with thorns and briers. Jeremiah then could not have planted or sown his heavenly doctrine until the land had been cleansed from so many vices and pollutions. This is no doubt the reason why in the first place he speaks of cutting off and ruin, of exterminating and eradicating, and afterwards adds planting and building.
The heap of words employed shews how deep impiety and the contempt of God had fixed their roots. God might have said only, I have set thee to pull down and to destroy; he might have been content with two words, as in the latter instance — to plant and to build. But as the Jews had been obstinate in their wickedness, as their insolence had been so great, they could not be corrected immediately, nor in one day, nor by a slight effort. Hence God accumulated words, and thus encouraged his Prophet to proceed with unwearied zeal in the work of clearing away the filth which had polluted the whole land. We now then understand what is here said, and the purpose of using so many words. 13}
But he speaks again of kingdoms and nations; for though Jeremiah was given as a Prophet especially to his own nation, yet he was also a Prophet to heathen nations, as they say, by accident, according to what we shall hereafter see: and it seems that, God designedly mentioned nations and kingdoms, in order to humble the pride of that people who thought themselves exempt from all reproof. Hence he says, that he gave authority to his servant, not only over Judea, but also over the whole world; as though he had said, “Ye are but a small portion of mankind; raise not then your horns against my servant, as ye shall do this without effect; for he shall exercise power not only over Judea, but also over all nations, and even over kings, as the doctrine which I have deposited with him is of such force and power that it will stand eminent above all mortals, much more above one single nation.”
We at the same time see that though the treachery of men constrains God to use severity, yet he never forgets his own nature, and kindly invites to repentance those who are not wholly past remedy, and offers to them the hope of pardon and of salvation; and this is what celestial truth ever includes. For though it be the odour of death unto death to those who perish, it is yet the odor of life unto life to the elect of God. It indeed often happens that the greater part turn the doctrine of salvation to their ruin; yet God never suffers all to perish. He therefore makes the truth the incorruptible seed of life to his elect, and builds them up as his temples. This is what we must bear in mind. And so there is no reason why the truth of God should be disliked by us, though it be the occasion of perdition to many; for it always brings salvation to the elect: it so plants them, that they strike roots into the hope of a blessed immortality, and then it builds them for holy temples unto God. It now follows —
11. Moreover, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.
11. Et (hoc est, postea) factus est sermo Jehovae ad me (datus est mihi, fuit, ad verbum,) dicendo, Quid tu vides, Jeremia? Et dixi, Baculum vigilis (aut, amigdali) ego video.
12. Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.
12. Et dixit Jehova ad me, Bene fecisti ad videndam (hoc est, recte vidisti,) quia vigilo (aut, festino, vigilans ego, ad verbum) super sermonem meum ut ipsum faciam (hoc est, ut compleam.)
God confirms in this passage what he had previously said of the power of his word. These two verses, then, are to be taken as explanatory, for no new subject is introduced; but the former part is confirmed — that the Prophets spoke not in vain, or to no purpose, because they were invested with celestial power to plant and to build, and, on the other hand, to pull down and to root up, according to what we have quoted from Paul, who says that true teachers are armed with such power. (2 Cor. 10:5, 6) We have in readiness, he says, vengeance against all the unbelieving, however proud they may be: and though their height may terrify the whole world, yet we have a sword in our hands which will stay them; for God’s word has sufficient power to destroy the rebellious.
God then proceeds with the same subject when he says, What seest thou, Jeremiah? He had set before him a staff or a rod of almond, as some render the word: and שקר, shaked, means an almond; but as it comes from a verb which means to watch or to hasten, we cannot fitly render it here, almond. I do not, however, deny that the Hebrew word has this meaning. But it is written here with Kamets; the participle which afterwards follows has Holem: we hence see what affinity there is between the two words. The word שקר, shaked, an almond, is derived from the verb, שקר, shakad, to watch; and it has been thought that this tree is so called, because it brings forth fruit earlier than other trees; for almonds, as it is well known, flower even in winter, and in the coldest seasons. Now, were we to say in Latin, I see a rod or a staff of almond; and were the answer given, Thou hast rightly seen, for I watch, the allusion in the words would not appear, the sentence would lose its beauty, and there would indeed be no meaning. It is hence necessary to give another version, except we wish to pervert the passage, and to involve the Prophet’s meaning in darkness. It should be, “I see the rod, “or the staff, “of a watcher.” Let us grant that the almond is intended; yet the tree may be called watchful, according to what etymology requires, and also the sense of the passage, as all must see. 14
God then caused his servant to see the staff of a watcher. For what purpose? The answer is given: Thou hast rightly seen the staff of a watcher, because I watch over my word to execute (or, fulfill) it Interpreters seem to have unwisely confined this to the punishments afterwards mentioned: they think that what is intimated is, that the threatenings which the Prophet announced would not be without effect, because God was prepared to inflict whatever he would denounce. But this, as I think, is too restricted a view; for God, I have no doubt, extols here his own word, and speaks of its accomplishment; as though he had said, that he spoke not by his servants, that what they said might vanish into air, or fall to the ground, but that power would accompany it, according to what is said in Isaiah,
“Not return shall my word to me empty, but shall prosper in all things,” (Isa 55:11)
that is, “I will cause the prophetic doctrine to take effect, that the whole world may know that I have not spoken in vain, and that my word is not an empty sound, but that it has real power, which in due time will appear.”
Hence I have said that these verses ought to be connected with the last, in which God said, that he sent his Prophet to root up and to plant, to demolish and to build. He then gives a proof of this in other words, and says that he would watch over his word, that he might execute whatever he had announced by his servants; as though he had said, “I indeed allot their parts (so to speak) to the prophets; but as they speak from my mouth, I am present with them to fulfill whatever I command them.” In short, God intimates that the might and the power of his hand would be connected with the word, of which the prophets were ministers among men. Thus it is a general declaration which refers not only to punishments, but also to promises. Rightly, then, hast thou seen, he says; for I am watching.
God does not here resign his own office to Jeremiah, though he employs him as his teacher; for he shews that the power to accomplish what the Prophet would declare remained with him. God indeed does not here ascribe to Jeremiah anything as his own, or apart from himself, but sets forth only the power of his word; as though he had said, “Provided thou be my faithful minister, I will not frustrate thy hope, nor the hope of those who shall obey thee; for I will fulfill whatever thou and they may justly hope for: nor shall they escape unpunished who shall resist thee; for I will in due time bring on them the punishment they deserve.”
He therefore uses the word to watch, or to hasten, in order to shew that he stood ready to give effect to his word at the appointed time. The effect does not indeed always appear to us: it is on this account said by Habakkuk, that if prophecy delays, we are to wait;
“for it will not be,” he says,
“beyond its time; but coming it will come.” (Habakkuk. 2:3)
God then bids us with quiet minds to wait for the accomplishment of his word; but he afterwards adds, in order to modify what he had said, “coming it will come;” that is, “I will accomplish and really perform whatever my prophets have spoken by my command.” So there shall be no delay, for the suitable time depends on God’s will, and not on the judgment of men. It then follows, — but as the clock strikes, I cannot proceed farther today.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou art pleased kindly to invite us to thyself, and hast consecrated thy word for our salvation, — O grant that we may willingly, and from the heart, obey thee, and become so teachable, that what thou hast designed for our salvation may not turn to our perdition; but may that incorruptible seed by which thou dost regenerate us into a hope of the celestial life so drive its roots into our hearts, and bring forth fruit, that thy name may be glorified; and may we be so planted in the courts of thine house, that we may grow and flourish, and that fruit may appear through the whole course of our life, until we shall at length enjoy that blessed life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
13. And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.
13. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad me secundo, dicendo, Quid tu rides? Et dixi, Ollam ferventem ego video, facies ejus a facie Aquilonis.
14. Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.
14. Et dixit Jehova ad me, Ab Aquilone aperietur (alii vertunt, pendetur; alii, solvetur; erumpet, proprie) malum super cunctos habitatores terrae.
Jeremiah begins now to address the people to whom he was sent as a Prophet. He has hitherto spoken of his calling, that the authority of his doctrine might be evident: and he spoke generally; but now he accommodates his teaching specially to the people. Hence he says, that he had a vision, and saw a boiling-pot, whose face was towards the north. By God asking, and the Prophet answering, the design was to confirm the prediction; for if it had been only said that he saw a boiling-pot, and if an explanation of the metaphor had been given, there would not have been so much force and weight in the narrative. But when God is set forth as being present, and explaining what the boiling-pot signified, the prediction becomes more certain: and the Prophet no doubt gave this narrative, in order to shew that God, being as it were present, thereby proved himself to he the Author of this prophecy.
Now the import of the whole is, that the Chaldeans would come to overthrow the city Jerusalem, to take away and abolish all the honor and dignity both of the kingdom and of the priesthood.
This indeed had been previously announced by Isaiah as well as by other prophets; but all their threatenings had been despised. While indeed Isaiah was living, the king of Babylon had secured the friendship of Hezekiah; and the Jews thought that his protection had been opportunely obtained against the Assyrians. But they did not consider that the hearts of men are ruled by the hand of God, and are turned as he pleases: nor did they consider that they had for many years provoked God, and that he was become their enemy. Since, then, all threatening had been despised and regarded with derision, Jeremiah came forth and declared, that the northern nations would come, the Assyrians as well as the Chaldeans. For we know that the one monarchy had been swallowed up by the other; and the Chaldeans ruled over the Assyrians; and thus it happened that the whole eastern empire, with the exception of the Medes and Persians, had passed over to them; and with respect to Judea, they were northward. Hence the Prophet says, that he saw a boiling-pot, having its face towards the north.
By the pot many understand the king of Babylon; but they seem not rightly to understand what the Prophet says: and I could easily disprove their interpretation, but I shall be satisfied with a simple statement of what is true; and the meaning will become evident as we proceed. The pot, then, as it will be presently seen more clearly, is the nation of the Jews: I say this now, as I do not wish to heap together too many things. They are said to be like a boiling-pot, because the Lord, as it were, boiled them, until they were reduced almost to nothing. It is said also, that the face of the pot was towards the north; because there, as Jeremiah immediately explains, was the fire kindled. And the comparison is very apposite; for when a pot is set on the fire, it boils on that side nearest the fire, and all the scum passes over to the other side. Hence he says that it boiled, but so that its mouth was on the north side; for there was the fire, and there was the blowing. In short, God intended to shew to his Prophet, that the people were like flesh which is cast into the pot, boiled, and afterwards burnt, or reduced after a long time almost to nothing. The Prophet saw the mouth or the face of the boiling-pot, and on the side on which it boiled it looked towards the north; hence God, the interpreter of the vision which he presented to his servant, answers and says, From the north shall break forth evil on all the inhabitants of the land, that is, of Judea. In these words God declares, that the fire was already kindled by the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, by which he would boil, as it were, his people like flesh, and at length wholly consume them, as it is commonly the case, when the flesh remains in the pot, and the fire is continually burning, and blowing is also added; the flesh must necessarily be reduced to nothing when thus boiled or seethed. 15
And thus God testifies that the fire was already kindled in Chaldea and Assyria, which was not only to boil the Jews, but also reduce them to nothing. And then he expresses the same in other words — that evil would come from the north upon all the Jews. We shall hereafter see that there is presented here a brief summary of the truth which was committed to Jeremiah; at least it is a summary of one half of it; for God designed also to provide for his own elect; and he thus terrified them, that they might be subdued, and submit to him, and not that they might abandon themselves to despair. At the same time, this half of the prediction was — that there was no hope of pardon, because the Jews had with extreme obstinacy provoked God’s wrath, and had so abused his patience, that their impiety could no longer be tolerated. Hence, what other prophets had denounced Jeremiah now confirms more strongly, and points it out, as it were, by the finger. It afterwards follows —
15. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.
15. Quoniam ecce ego voco omnes familias regnorum Aquilonis, dicit Jehova, et venient; ponent quisque solium suum in ostio postarum Jerosolymae, et super omnes muros ejus in circuitu, et super omnes urbes Jehudah.
This verse contains an explanation of the last; for God more dearly and more specifically expresses what he had before referred to — that the evil would come from the north. He says that he would be the sender of this evil, and speaks thus of it: Behold, I call all the families of the kingdoms of the north The prediction would not have been so effectual had not this declaration been expressly added — that the Chaldeans would come by the authority of God; for men are ever wont to ascribe to fortune whatever takes place: and we shall hereafter see in the Book of Lamentations (Lam. 3:37, 38) that the Jews were so besotted, that in their calamities they attributed to the events of fortune the destruction of the temple and city, and the ruin of the kingdom. Hence God sharply expostulated with them, because they were so blind in a matter so clear, and did not acknowledge his judgments. The Prophet, then, after having testified that the evil would come from the north, now adds, that this evil would by no means be by chance, but through that war which the Chaldeans would bring on them; that God would be the chief commander, who would gather soldiers from all parts, and prepare an army to destroy the Jews.
The Prophet uses the word, to cry: Behold, he says, I will cry to all the kindreds, or families, etc. 16 God employs various modes of speaking, when he intends to teach us that all nations are in his hand, and subject to his will, so that he can excite wars whenever it pleases him. He says, “Behold, I will hiss (or whistle) for the Egyptians;” and he compares them sometimes to bees. (Isa 5:26; Isa 7:18.) Again, in another place he says, “Behold, I will blow with the trumpet, and assemble shall the Assyrians.” All these modes of speaking are intended to shew, that though men make a great stir, and disturb the whole world, yet God directs all things by his sovereign power, and that nothing takes place except under his guidance and authority. We then see that the Prophet does not speak as an historian; nor does he simply predict what was to be, but also adds a doctrine or a great truth. It would have been a naked prediction only, had he said, “An evil shall break forth from the north: “but he now, as I have already said, performs the office of a teacher, that his prediction might be useful, and says that God would be the chief commander in that war: Behold, then, I will cry to all the families 17 of the kingdoms of the north.
There was then indeed but one monarchy; but as the self — confidence of the Jews was so great, and hence their sottishness, so that they dreaded no evil, God, in order to arouse them, says that he would assemble all the families of the kingdoms: and doubtless those belonged to many kingdoms whom God brought together against the Jews. A regard also was had to that vain confidence which the Jews entertained, in thinking that the Egyptians would be ever ready to supply them with help. As, then, they were wont to set up the Egyptians as their shield, or even as a mountain, God here exposes their folly, — that trusting in the Egyptians, they thought themselves sufficiently fortified against the power and arms of the whole Chaldean monarchy. For these reasons, then, he mentions the families, and then the kingdoms, of the north.
It follows, And they shall come, and set each (man, literally) his throne 18 at the entrance of the gates The Prophet here means that the power of the Chaldeans would be such, that they would boldly pitch their tents before the gates, and not only so, but would also close up the smaller gates, for he mentions the doors (ostia) of the gates 19 And by speaking of each of them, he meant the more sharply to touch the Jews: for they, relying on the help of Egypt, thought themselves capable of resisting, while yet the Chaldeans, who had conquered the Assyrians, would be irresistible. Hence he says, that not only the army itself would encamp before the gates, but that each individual would fix himself there, and set up his tent as in a place of safety. In short, God intimates that the Chaldeans and Assyrians would be victorious, that they would entirely rule and rest themselves as at their own homes, in the fields and before the gates of the city Jerusalem. These things are afterwards more distinctly expressed, and many circumstances are added: but God intended at first to announce this declaration, that the Jews might know that it would be all over with them.
He then says, On its walls around, and on all the cities of Judah The Prophet here declares, that the whole country would be laid waste, as though he had said, “The Jews in vain trust to their own resources, and help from others, for God will fight against them; and as the Chaldeans and the Assyrians shall be armed by him, they shall be victorious, whatever force the Jews may oppose to them.” It follows —
16. And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burnt incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
16. Et loquar (vel, proferam) judicia mea cum ipsis super omni malitia eorum; quia (nam אשר hic ponitur vice כי valet causalem particulam, quia) dereliquerunt me, et suffitum fecerunt diis alienis et prostrati fuerunt (vel, se prostraverunt) coram operibus manuum suarum.
God now assigns the reason why he had resolved to deal so severely with the Jews. It was necessary to teach them two things, — first, that the Chaldeans would not of themselves come upon them, but through God, who would gather and arm them; and secondly, that God Would not act in a cruel manner, nor forget his covenant, in becoming a rigid avenger, but that he would thus be angry, because there was extreme iniquity in the Jews, so that it was needful to distress and wholly to break them down, as moderate corrections had availed nothing. God, then, after having testified that he would be the leader in that war, now explains the reasons why he would chastise the Jews, and shews that his conduct towards them could not be ascribed to cruelty, inasmuch as that they had provoked him by their impious superstitions.
Hence he says, I will speak my judgments with them This is referred by many interpreters to the Chaldeans and Assyrians, as though God would prescribe to them what was to be decreed, as chief judges are wont to do to those who are under them: but this exposition is strained, and confuted by what follows, on account of their wickedness What, then, is to speak judgments? It is done, when God summons the wicked before his tribunal, and executes the office of a judge. And this mode of speaking is common in Scripture, according to what we read at the end of this book, — The king of Babylon spoke judgments with the King Zedekiah, (Jer 52:9) that is, he dealt judicially with him, as we commonly say. 20 So now God declares that he would be the judge of the people, as though he had said, that hitherto he had been silent, not that the sins of the people were not known, but because he had borne with them, in order to try whether there was any hope of repentance. But he says now that he would become their judge, as he had found by long experience that they were past remedy.
There is, then, to be understood a contrast between the forbearance of God, which he had long exercised while he dealt with the people, not as he might have justly done, but deferred his vengeance, and the time of vengeance which was now at hand; I will then speak my judgments with the Jews; that is, “I will now ascend my tribunal: I have hitherto abstained from exercising my right, and waited for them to return to me; but as there is no return, and I see that they are men wholly irreclaimable, and their disposition is so depraved that they continually add evils to evils, I will now begin to undertake mine office, the office of a judge.” But we must bear in mind, as I have already said, the design of God in this declaration; for it was his object to clear himself from every charge, and from all calumnies, inasmuch as even the worst of men usually clamor against his judgments when he chastises them. Hence he presented before them his own judgments, as though he had said, “They shall not be able to blame me for dealing with them in a severe and cruel manner; for however severe I may be, I shall yet be an equitable judge.” Hence he adds, on account of all their wickedness
He afterwards shews what kind of wickedness it was, They have forsaken me, and burnt incense to strange gods The Jews had, indeed, in various ways, provoked his vengeance; but he mentions here one kind of wickedness, because it was the very fountain of evils, — they had departed from the law and the pure worship of God; and yet he mentions generally all wickedness The word all is not here without meaning, “on account of all their wickedness:” for he intimates that they were not only in one way wicked, but that they had heaped together various sins. And then he adds, for they have forsaken me Here God introduces their defection; for it may be, as we daily see, that one offends in this thing, and another in that, and each one for different causes may expose himself to God’s judgment; but God shews here that the Jews were become so depraved, that there was nothing sound or pure in them: hence he charges them with all wickedness; and then he mentions their defection, they have forsaken me; as though he had said, “They have wholly denied me; I say not that one is a thief, another an adulterer, and another a drunkard; but they are all become apostates, they are all perjurers and violators of the covenant: thus I am wholly forsaken by them, and they are in every respect alienated from me.” We hence see how greatly the Prophet enhances the guilt of his own nation.
It is afterwards added, for the sake of illustration, that they burnt incense to strange gods They had fallen away from God, and joined themselves to idolatry. He also adds this, — that they bowed down before the works of their own hands The Prophet divests the Jews of every excuse, and more fully discovers their shame and baseness, — “they prostrated themselves before the works of their own hands.” Whenever Scripture uses these expressions, it intimates that there is extreme madness in those men, who worship in the place of God not only the sun and moon, and other created things, but also the idols which they form for themselves. For how is it that they worship their own idols, except that they have formed for them a nose, and hands, and ears? A log of wood no one worships; a piece of brass or of silver all disregard; no one thinks a stone to be God: but when a thing is sculptured and artificially formed by the hand of man, miserable and blind idolaters immediately prostrate themselves; — how is this? Because they have formed for their statues and pictures noses, eyes, and ears! hence they themselves have made gods. We now see the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, that the Jews bowed down before the works of their own hands But I pass over such things as these lightly, as ye must be well informed on the subject generally. It now follows —
17. Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.
17. Et tu accinge lumbos tuos et surge, et loquere ad ipsos quaecunque (vel, omnia quae) ego mandavero tibi; ne timeas a facie ipsorum, ne to conteram (vel, timere faciam) a facie ipsorum (est enim verbum sumptum ex eadem radice.)
God first bids his Prophet to be the herald of the dreadful judgment, which we have already noticed: for it was not his purpose to speak only as it were in a corner, or secretly, to Jeremiah, but he committed to him what he intended should be proclaimed audibly to the whole people. It hence follows, And thou, etc. We therefore see that the Prophet had been taught by the Lord, that he might confidently and boldly declare what we shall hereafter see. These things should then be connected, — that God would ascend his tribunal to execute the vengeance he had deferred, — and also that Jeremiah would be the herald of that vengeance he was prepared to inflict. Thou then, — an illative is to be added here, for the copulative is to be thus taken in this place, — Thou then; that is, as thou hast heard that I shall be now the avenger of the people’s sins, and that the time of vengeance is at hand; and also as thou knowest that this has been told thee, that thou mightest warn them to render them more inexcusable, — Thou then, 21 gird thy loins We see why God addressed his servant Jeremiah privately; it was, that he might publicly exercise his office as a teacher.
And hence we learn, that all who are called to rule the Church of God cannot be exempt from blame, unless they honestly and boldly proclaim what has been committed to them. Hence Paul says that he was free from the blood of all men, because he had from house to house and publicly declared whatever he had received from the Lord, (Acts 20:26, 27;) and he says in another place,
“Woe is to me if I preach not the Gospel,
for it has been committed to me.” (1Co 9:16)
God bids the Prophet to gird his loins This is to be understood of the kind of dress which the Orientals used and continue to use, for they wear long garments; and when they undertake any work, or when they proceed on a journey, they gird themselves. Hence he says, gird thy loins, that is, undertake this expetition which I devolve on thee. At the same time he requires activity, so that the work might be expeditiously undertaken. Arise, he says, and speak to them whatsoever I shall command thee In short, God intimates in these words, that he was unwilling to proceed to extremes, until he had still tried whether there was any hope of repentance as to the people. He indeed knew that they were wholly irreclaimable; but he intended to discover more fully their perverseness in bidding Jeremiah, in the last place, to pronounce the extreme sentence of condemnation.
He now again repeats what he had before said, Fear not their face And this exhortation was very needful, as Jeremiah undertook an office in no small degree disliked; for it was the same as though he was an herald, to proclaim war in the name of God. As, then, Jeremiah had distinctly to declare that it was all over with the people, because their perverseness had been so great that God would no longer be entreated, it was a very hard message, not likely to be attended to, especially when we consider what great pride the Jews had. They gloried in their holy descent, and also thought, as we shall hereafter see, that the Temple was an impregnable fortress even against God himself. Since, then, their temper was so refractory, it was needful that the Prophet should be more than once confirmed by God, so that he might boldly undertake his office. The exhortation is, therefore, repeated, Fear not before them.
He afterwards adds, lest I make thee to fear But the word חת, chet, means sometimes to fear, and sometimes to break in pieces. Jerome perverts the meaning of the Prophet, by rendering the phrase, “I shall never make thee to fear.” It is indeed a godly truth, that God would give courage to his Prophet so as to render him invincible against his enemies; and doubtless he would exhort us in vain, were he not to supply us with fortitude by his Spirit. This is, indeed, true; but the word פן, pen, will not allow us thus to explain the passage. What then does God mean? We must either render the verb to break or to fear. The verb אחתך achetak, is transitive; and either meaning would be suitable. For God, after having bidden the Prophet to be of a courageous and invincible mind, now adds,
“Take heed to thyself; for if thou be timid, I will cause thee really to fear, or, I will break thee down before them.”
He then intimates, in these words, that the Prophet ought to be sufficiently fortified, as he knew that he was sent by God, and thus acted as it were under the authority of the highest power, and that he should not fear any mortal man. 22 There is also to be understood here a threatening, “See, if thou conductest thyself courageously I shall be present with thee, and however formidable at the first view thy opponents may be, they shall not yet prevail; but if thou be timid and faint — hearted, 23 I will render thee an object of contempt: thou shalt not only be timid in heart; but I will make thee to be despised by all, so that thou shalt be contemptuously treated; for in that case thou wilt not be worthy that I should fight for thee and supply thee with any courage and power to put thine enemies to flight.”
We hence see what this means, Fear not, lest I should make thee to fear; that is, “Be of a good courage and of a ready mind, lest thou be justly exposed to shame; and fear them not, lest thou shouldest really fear them, and lest they should even tear thee to pieces and tread thee under their feet: for in case thou fearest them, thou wilt be unworthy of being supported by the strength of my Spirit.”
This passage contains a useful doctrine, from which we learn that strength shall never be wanting to God’s servants, while they derive courage from the conviction that God himself is the author of their calling and become thus magnanimous; for God will then supply them with strength and courage invincible, so as to render them formidable to the whole world: but if they be unhinged and timid, and turn here and there, and be influenced by the fear of men, God will render them base and contemptible, and make them to tremble at the least breath of air, and they shall be wholly broken down; — and why? because they are unworthy that God should help them, that he should stretch forth his hand and fortify them by his power, and supply them, as it has been already said, with that fortitude, by which they might terrify both the Devil and the whole world.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been once pleased to fortify thy servant Jeremiah with the invincible power of thy Spirit, — O grant that his doctrine may at this day make us humble, and that we may learn willingly to submit to thee, and so to receive and even cordially to accept what thou offerest to us by thy servant — to sustain us by thine hand, and that we, relying on thy power and protection, may fight against the world and against Satan, while each of us, in his vocation, so recumbs on thy power, as not to hesitate, whenever necessary, to expose our very life to dangers: and may we manfully fight and persevere in our warfare to the end, until having finished our course we shall at length come to that blessed rest which is reserved for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
18. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
18. Et ego, 24 ecce posui to hodie in urbem munitionis (vel, munitam) in columnam (vel, fulturam) ferream, et in murum aeneum, super totam terram, contra Reges Jehudah, contra principes ejus, contra sacerdotes ejus, contra populum terrae ipsius.
God supplies here his servant with confidence; for courage was necessary in that state of trembling which we have observed. Jeremiah thought himself unfit to undertake a work so onerous; he had also to do and to contend with refractory men, and not a few in number; for the whole people had already, through their ungodly and wicked obstinacy, hardened themselves in the contempt of God. As, then, there was no more any care for religion, and no regard manifested by the people for heavenly truth, Jeremiah could not, diffident as he was, undertake so heavy a burden, without being supported by the hand of God. For this reason, then, God now declares that he would make him like a fortified city and an iron pillar 25 Indeed, the word prop would be more proper; for עמור omud, comes from the root עמד, omed; and the Prophet understands by it, not a pillar that is raised and stands by itself, but that which sustains a building or a wall. There is no ambiguity in the meaning; for God means that his servant would be invincible, and that whatever his enemies might devise against him, they would not yet prevail, as we find it said in the next verse.
Now, though this was said formerly to Jeremiah, yet godly teachers may justly apply it to themselves, who are honestly conscious of their Divine call, and are fully persuaded that they do nothing presumptuously, but obey the bidding of God. All, then, who are thus confirmed in their legitimate call from God, can apply to themselves this promise — that they shall be made invincible against all the ungodly.
But the particulars of this passage deserve to be noticed. It might have seemed enough that God called his servant a fortified city; but he compares him also to an iron pillar or column, and to a brazen wall This repetition only confirms what we have explained, — that Jeremiah would be victorious, and that though Satan might rouse many to assail him, yet the issue would be prosperous and joyful, as he would fight under the protection of God.
It is at the same time added, Over the whole land God doubtless speaks not of the whole world, but of the land of Judah; for Jeremiah was chosen for this purpose, — that he might bestow his labor on the chosen people. It is then said that he would be a conqueror of the whole of Judea. It then follows, against the kings of Judah We know, indeed, that there was only one king in Judea; but God encourages his Prophet to be firm and persevering, as though he had said, that the course of his warfare would be long; and he said this, that he might not faint through weariness. The meaning then is, that the Prophet would not have to contend with one king only, but that as soon as one died, another would rise and oppose him; so that he was to know that there would be no hope of rest until that time had passed which God himself had appointed. We indeed know that those who are sincerely disposed to obey, do yet look for some definite period, when, like soldiers who have served their time, they may obtain a discharge; but God declares here to his Prophet, that when he had strenuously contended to the death of one king, his condition would be nothing better; for others would succeed, with whom he would have to fight, as the same wickedness and obstinacy would be still continued. To kings, he adds princes and priests; and, lastly, the whole people
When a king forgets his office and rules tyrannically, it often happens that there are moderators who check his passions, when they cannot wholly restrain them: we indeed see, that the most cruel tyrants are sometimes softened by good counselors. But God here reminds his Prophet that the state of things in Judea would be so desperate, that ungodly and wicked kings would have counselors endued with the same disposition. When priests are added, it might seem still more monstrous; but the Scripture everywhere testifies, that the Levitical priests had almost all degenerated and become apostates, so that hardly one in a hundred shewed the least sign of religion. Since, then, that order had become thus corrupt, it is no wonder that Jeremiah had to declare war against the priests; and we shall hereafter see that this was done. Now the common people might have seemed to be excusable, as there was greater simplicity among them than among the higher orders; (for they who are elevated above others transgress through pride or cruelty, and often allow themselves too much liberty, relying on their own eminence; but the common people, as I have said, seemed apparently to have more modesty;) but God here declares that impiety had so greatly prevailed in Judea, that all, from the least to the greatest, were become perversely wicked. It was, therefore, necessary, as I have before stated, that the Prophet should be fully armed; for what could he have thought, had he not in time been warned, on finding afterwards such insolence, yea, such fury in high and low, as to constrain him to contend with God’s chosen people no otherwise than with devils? It afterwards follows —
19. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.
19. Pugnabunt autem tecum (vel, praeliabuntur contra to,) sed non praevalebunt tibi, quia tecum ego (quia sum tecum,) dicit Jehova, ad to liberandum.
God in this verse briefly reminds his servant, that though he would be supplied with invincible power, yet he would have great trials, so that his office would not be, according to a common saying, a mere play. He then shews for what purpose he would be made like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall, even that he might manfully fight, and not for the purpose of keeping away all dangers, and all fightings, and everything hard and grievous to the flesh. We, in short, see that the promise was given for this end, — that Jeremiah, relying on God’s aid, might not hesitate to set himself against all the Jews, and that whatever might be their fury, he might still be courageous.
Now a profitable doctrine may be hence gathered, even this — that whenever God promises his servants victory over their enemies, they ought not to make this the occasion of fostering their torpidity or idleness, but, on the contrary, of gathering courage, so that they may proceed boldly and unweariedly in the course of their vocation. In short, God promises to be their deliverer, but at the same time exhorts them to resist all the assaults of their enemies.
Hence he says, They shall fight with thee, but they shall not prevail, for I am with thee to deliver thee 26 From these words we see that Jeremiah was fully armed, that he might not fear on seeing dangers surrounding him; for God does not here declare that he would be like a wall to him to prevent him from being assaulted, but he says that he would deliver him; as though he had said, “Prepare thyself to suffer; for except I were thy deliverer, it would be all over with thee, and thou mightest perish a hundred times; but there is no reason for thee to fear any dangers amidst thousand deaths, since I am present with thee as thy deliverer.” Now follows —
The word does not properly mean a “child,“ as in our version, or “puer,“ as rendered by Calvin, but a youth, or rather a young man. Abraham’s trained servants were thus called, Ge 14:24, and his servant who dressed the calf for the angels, Ge 18:7, and his “young men” who accompanied him to Mount Moriah, Ge 22:5. Joshua had this name given him, when he was attending Moses at the tabernacle, Ex 33:11. It is rendered “(νεωτερος)-a youth or a young man,“ by the Septuagint The most probable thing is, that he was, not as Adam Clarke supposes, about 14, but a young man verging on maturity. The length of time during which he prophesied, would lead us to conclude that he was young when he was appointed to his office.
There are two remarkable resemblances between Jeremiah and Moses. They both made an excuse for declining the office to which God called them, and made a similar excuse. The other resemblance is what Lightfoot has noticed, that Moses was a teacher of the people for forty years before they entered the land of Canaan, and that Jeremiah was their teacher for forty years before they were banished from it and driven into exile. — Ed.
The reasons alleged against Jeremiah being the son of the high priest are by no means conclusive: indeed, all the circumstances being considered, the probability is in favor of that supposition. The family of the high priest resided no doubt at Anathoth; what is said in 1Ki 2:26, respecting Abiathar, is a proof of this. That the high priest resided at Jerusalem during the term of his office forms no objection; nor is the genealogy of the high priests as given in 1Ch 6:1-17, any objection; for though in verse 13, Azariah is said to be the son of Hilkiah, yet Jeremiah might have been one of his younger sons. Most commentators agree indeed with Calvin, -Gataker, Henry, Scott, Blayney, etc.; but they adduce no satisfactory reasons, sufficient to invalidate the opinion of the Rabbins and the intimation contained in the Targum: and this opinion is what the translators of the Geneva Bible have adopted. — Ed.
The second verse begins with אשר which Calvin renders “nempeeven,“ and takes it in an exegetic sense: but this is not its meaning. Our version is no doubt correct, “to whom;” though there is no preposition before it, it is yet found before the personal pronoun “to him,“ that comes afterwards. It is an idiom of the language, and the very same exists in Welsh, in which the version is literally the same with the Hebrew a relative pronoun without a preposition followed by a personal pronoun with a preposition profixed to it. It would be literally in English, “whom the word of Jehovah came to him.” The Welsh also retains the peculiarity of the Hebrew, in having prepositions prefixed to pronouns and attached to them, though this is not the case generally with nouns,
Yr hwn y daeth gair Jehova atto.
The verb too, as in the Hebrew, precedes its nominative; “came” is before “the word of Jehovah.” It is rather singular that the Septuagint have rendered this relative by “ὡσ — as,” which shews that the Hebrew idiom was not understood by them. — Ed.
More strictly, “in the inside,” or belly, בטן. The specific term for womb is in the next sentence, רחם. — Ed
The words admit of two meanings. לא-ידעתי דבר-I have not known word, or, I know not word. The phrase may signify, I have no word to say, or, I know not how to say a word. The first meaning is what the context seems to countenance. The answer given to him refers to his two objections — that he had no word to say, and that he was a young man. The last is first answered, according to the usual mode of writing adopted by the prophets, “To every one whom I shall send thee to, thou shalt go;” and then the first objection is removed, “and everything that I shall command thee, thou shalt speak.” The answer goes on, and refers to the points in the same order, “Fear not;” and then to remedy the want complained of; Jehovah is represented as putting his words in his mouth, so that he might have what was necessary for him to say. God promised courage though he was young, and gave him a message to deliver: thus his two objections were removed.
We meet with a similar phrase in Jer 6:15; Jer 8:12, which is, literally, “and shame they know not.” — Ed.
The proper rendering is, “Fear not before them,” or, on their account: סמני is invariably a preposition, before, from before, because of, on account of, for, by, through; De 2:21; Ex 14:19; De 7:19; Jer 6:13; and it is often, though not always, so rendered in our version. The very same phrase is found in Jos 11:6, and rendered, “Be not afraid, because of them;” and also in this book, Jer 41:18, “They were afraid of them.” It may, indeed, be rendered, “Fear them not,” or, “Be not afraid of them.” To introduce “face” or “faces” is by no means right. Gataker’s rendering is, “Fear not before them;” and Blayney’s, “Be not thou afraid because of them.” — Ed
“Earthly kings and sovereigns,” observes Gataker on this verse, “are not wont to go with those whom they send on embassage; God goeth along with those whom he sends, and is by his powerful protection, at all times and in all places, present with them.” — Ed.
The whole of this verse is arranged according to the usual manner of the Prophets. The word “nations” comes first, and then “kingdoms.” Three lines follow; the first word in each line refers to “kingdoms,” and the last to “nations.” The ו, vau, in the second line is omitted in many copies, and there seems to be no need of it; and it is not true what Blayney says, that there are MSS. which supply the ו before the last line, though it be supplied by the Septuagint To preserve the distinct meaning of each verb, I offer the following rendering: —
See, I have set thee this day
Over nations and over kingdoms,
To root up, and to break down,
To destroy, and to erase,
To build up, and to plant.
He was to root up kingdoms, and to break down nations; then he adds stronger words, for he was to destroy, or wholly to destroy kingdoms, and to erase or to obliterate nations. The reason for the repetition is well stated by Calvin. As to his other work, two words only are used: he was to build up kingdoms, and to plant nations. A nation, of course, exists before a kingdom, and this order is observed in the second line; but the order, as it is usual with the sacred writers, not only of the Old, but also of the New Testament, is then reversed. See an instance in Rom. 10:9, 10, where indeed the true order is given last, the ostensible act being in the first instance stated, and then the principle from which it proceeds. — Ed.
The word is rendered “a rod of almond” by the Septuagint, the Arabic version, and Theodotion; and also by Piscator, Drusius, Grotius, and Blayney; and “the rod of the watcher” by Sym., Aq., and the Vulgate The latter is no doubt more suitable in a translation. Some conclude, from what is related in Nu 17, that the head of each tribe carried a wand or a staff made of the almond tree as a token of watchfulness: if so, the probability is, that this wand was presented to the view of the Prophet. It being a well-known emblem of watchfulness, and called perhaps the watchful rod or staff, it was most suitable to the purposes here designed. The verb שקד does not mean to hasten, but to watch, or to be awake. Then the version of the passage would be the following: -
11. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, “What seest thou, Jeremiah?” and I said, “The rod of a watcher is what I see.”
12. Then Jehovah said to me, “Thou seest rightly, for I am watching over my word to do it.”
Most agree with Calvin, that the pot means the Jewish nation; so the learned Gataker in the Ass. Ann., Grotius, Henry, and Scott. There is some difference as to “its face.” The first of these authors, followed by the two last, thinks that the face means the front of the fire or the hearth, and therefore the front of the pot. This face or front was towards the north, signifying that the fuel and the blowing would be from that quarter, as it is afterwards stated. As to the metaphor, the pot, or cauldron, see Ezek. 11:3, 7, Ezek. 24:3, 5.
The version of the Geneva Bible is, “I see a seething-pot looking out of the north;” and the Chaldean army is regarded as the pot: and Blayney, following the marginal reading of our version, has given a similar rendering, “and the face thereof is turned from the north.” But מפני is a preposition, and rendered often, “from before,” and, “before,” (see note on verse 8;) and to say that its face was before the north means the same as towards the north: and this is the rendering of Jun. and Trem , and Piscator, “versus Aquilonem.”
“The boiling-pot” is a pot “kindled under-ὑποκαιόμενον,” by the Sept The literal rendering of סיר נפוח is, “a pot blown,“ meaning the fire under it. It was a pot set on a fire that was blown, and the front of it was toward the north, from whence the blowing came. The same word as a noun is used by Jeremiah in Jer 6:29, and signifies an instrument for blowing, and is rendered “bellows” in our version. It was then a pot set on a fire that was blown, which intimated the severe calamities which the Jews were soon to endure, as Grotius observes. — Ed.
Perhaps the more literal rendering would be, “I will call to,” or for. The version of Septuagint is, “συγκάλω-I will summon;” of Vatablus, “invitabo — I will invite;” of Piscator, “vocabo — I will call;” and of Blayney, “I will call for.” — Ed
They are called “families,“ say some, because kings are called fathers; but probable it is a mode of speaking retained from primitive times, as we find that those called “families” in Ge 12:3, are called “nations” in Ge 22:18. — Ed.
The original word, כסא, not only means a throne, but a seat; see 1Sa 1:9; 1Sa 4:18; and 2Ki 4:10, where it is rendered in our version “a stool.” Grotius renders it here “praetorium castrense — a camp’s tent.” The “throne” is derived from the Septuagint. — Ed
Literally it is “The opening of the gates.” The preposition at is not in the original; and the word in some other places is found without it. See Ge 19:11; Ge 43:17. The preposition ἐπὶ is given by the Septuagint, “ἐπὶ τὰ πρόθυρα-at or in the vestibules,“ etc. We have the fulfillment of this expressly recorded in Jer 39:3. The idea suggested by Adam Clarke, that they would sit as judges in the gates, as these were the courts of justice, is evidently not intended here; for they would also fix their tents or their seats by or on the walls, and in all the cities of Judah. The latter portion of the verse may be thus rendered, —
And they shall come, and set, each his seat,
At the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem,
And on all its walls around,
And on all the cities of Judah.
The description betokens an entire possession of the whole land. — Ed.
The idea conveyed by the Septuagint is somewhat different, and I believe that it is what the original words mean, “λαλήσω πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετὰ κρίσεως — I will speak to them with judgment.” The original literally is, “and I will speak my judgments to them;” that is, I will not speak words but judgments: or, I will not address them with words, but with actual judgments. Then in the following words the reason is assigned. The verse may be thus rendered, —
16. And I will speak by my judgments to them, On account of all their wickedness, Because they have forsaken me, And have burnt incense to strange gods, And have bowed down to the work of their own hands.
It is better to retain the outward act as expressed by the last verb, “bowed down.” or, more literally, “bowed down themselves,“ as the verb is in the reflective mood, than to adopt the abstract term “worshipped.” So the verb is rendered in the second commandment, Ex 20:5; De 5:9.
The first, line is rendered by Grotius, “Proedicam illis decreta mea — I will declare to them my decrees, “that is, by Jeremiah and others, — by Jun. and Trem., “I will speak my judgments against them,” that is, by the prophets, — by Henry. “I will pass sentence upon them,” — by Blayney, “I will pronounce my judgments against them;” and Scott gives the same view. But Gataker says, “It seems rather to import an efficacious and actual decree that God would, in his own appointed time, pass upon them, and put in execution by the Chaldeans.” Hence he renders the phrase like Henry, “I will pass sentence,“ or, “give judgment, upon them.” — Ed.
This is correctly given, only the ו need not be rendered “then” or “therefore.” It is an instance of the nominative absolute, or of the anticipative case, -
And thou, gird thy loins,
And arise, and speak to them
All that I shall command thee.
“And as for thee,” by Blayney, is very tame and prosaic. The version of the Geneva Bible is, “Thou, therefore, trusse up thy loyns.” — Ed.
It is true that the primary meaning of the verb here used is, to be broken, or to be broken down, to be broken in pieces. It is applied to the breaking of a bow, and to the breaking down of images, 1Sa 2:4; Jer 50:2; and to the breaking down of nations, (Isa 8:3; Isa 30:31.) Such is its meaning when applied to what is material and visible; but when applied to the mind or spirit, it means to be dispirited, daunted, terrified, or dismayed, 2Ki 19:26; Jer 8:9. It is here first in a passive sense, and then in Hiphil, as in Job 31:34; and in Jer 49:37, —
Be not dismayed at them,
Lest I cause thee to be dismayed before them.
Be not terrified by them,
Lest I terrify thee before them.
Blayney gives to the verb first its secondary meaning, and then its primary, “Be not thou afraid of them, lest I should suffer thee to be crushed before them.” How crushed before them? By whom? And to say that there is no threat included in the last line is singular, as words could hardly be framed to express it more distinctly.
The Targum expresses the meaning of the first line, “Restrain not thyself from rebuking them.” Grotius renders the last line, “Ne ego to perterrefaciam coram illis — lest I terrify thee before them;” which seems to be its best rendering. — Ed.
Cotton, the old translator, has rendered it very strikingly, “If thou quailest,” expressing the two words in one. — Ed.
We find here nearly the same form or mode of speech as at the beginning of the previous verse, “And I, behold I have made thee,” etc.: and Blayney renders it so here, though not in the preceding instance. — Ed.
There is the preposition ל before “city,” “pillar,” and “wall.” It is an idiom. The full meaning is, “I have made thee to be for a fortified city.” The same idiom exists in Welsh, the preposition yn is used, which implies that the verb to be is understood. But it is not necessary to retain the preposition in a language in which a similar idiom does not exist. The Septuagint render the preposition by “ὡς — as,” and Jun and Trem , by “velut — as,” or like. And such a word would be suitable in our language, —
And I, behold I have made thee this day
Like a city that is fortified,
And like a pillar of iron,
And like a wall of brass,
With regard to the whole land,
To the kings of Judah, to its princes,
To its priests, and to the people of the land.
“To” here means in opposition to-he was to stand opposed to the kings, etc., as a fortified city, etc. “Wall” is plural in the received text; but many MSS., the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Targum, and the Vulgate, have it in the singular number, which seems most suitable. — Ed.
It ought to be, “For with thee will I be, to deliver thee;” for the verb to be, being understood, it must be put in the same tense with the other verbs in the passage: and such is the rendering of Blayney. — Ed.