Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 18: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
1. Audite verbum quod loquitur (sermonem quem profert) Jehova ad vos, domus Israel:
2. Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
2. Sic dicit Jehova, Viam gentium ne didiceritis, et a signis coelorum ne metuatis; quoniam metuunt ab illis gentes.
Jeremiah enters here on a new subject. Though he had, no doubt, taught this truth often, yet I consider it as distinct from what has gone before; for he begins here a new attack on those superstitions to which the Jews were then extremely addicted. He exhorts them first to hear the word of Jehovah; for they had so hardened themselves in the errors which they had derived from the Gentiles, and the contagion had so prevailed, that they could not be easily drawn away from them. This, then, is the reason why he used a sort of preface, and said, Hear ye the word of Jehovah, which he speaks to you, O house of Israel 1
He then mentions the error in which the Chaldeans and the Egyptians were involved; for they were, we know, very attentive observers of the stars. And this is expressly stated, because the Jews despised God’s judgments, and greatly feared what were foolishly divined. For when any one, by looking at the stars, threatened them with some calamity, they were immediately terrified; but when God denounced on them, as with the sound of a trumpet, a calamity by his Prophets, they were not at all moved. But it will be better to examine the very words of the Prophet, as then we shall more plainly see the drift of the whole.
Learn not, he says, the way of the nations The Hebrew grammarians take אל, al את at. 2 Way, we know, is everywhere taken for all those customs and habits by which human life is regulated, He then forbids them to pay attention to the rules of life observed by the Gentiles. And one thing he specifies, Be not terrified by celestial signs. He afterwards shews how vain were the practices of the Gentiles; being devoted to idols, they worshipped them in the place of God, though framed by the skill of man. But there are other words added, For the heathens are terrified by them There is a threefold exposition of this clause. Some take כי, ki, properly a causative, in the sense of כ, caph, which denotes likeness, “as the Gentiles are terrified by them.” Others regard it as an adversative, “though,” and כי, ki, has often this meaning. There are also others who give this explanation, “For it is the case with the Gentiles, that they are terrified by them;” as though God had said, that it was extremely absurd in the Jews to be terrified by celestial signs, for they ought to have left this folly, or rather madness, to the Gentiles, as God regarded them as wholly blind. Let us now come to the subject.
Learn not, he says, the way of the Gentiles This is a general precept. The law was to the Jews a rule which was sure, and prescribed to them the limits of duty; they ought, therefore, to have followed what God taught them in his law, and not to have turned aside either to the right hand or to the left, according to what Moses also had said. But as human minds are always wanton, they were very desirous of knowing what the Gentiles observed; but whenever this wantonness possesses men’s minds, they necessarily blend darkness with light. It was then, for this reason, that Jeremiah reminded them, that nothing was to be learnt from the Gentiles; as though he had said, “Ye ought to be satisfied with the simple doctrine of the law; for unless ye are content with having God as your teacher, ye will necessarily go astray: unless, then, ye seek wilfully to err, keep the way which is pointed out to you in the law, and turn not aside to the rites and practices of the Gentiles.”
After having given them a general command not to turn aside from the plain doctrine of the law, he specifies one thing in particular, Be not terrified by celestial signs, that is, “Do not suppose that prosperity or adversity depends on the position or aspect of the stars.” There seems, however, to be here some inconsistency, for he mentions the stars as signs; it hence follows that something is intimated by their position; and Moses also says, that the sun and moon, and all the stars, (and especially the planets,) would be for signs. There are, at the same time, in the firmament, twelve signs by which astrologers especially make their calculations. Since then God has, from the beginning of the creation, appointed what they call the fixed stars in the firmament, as well as the planets, to be for signs, the Prophet seems not to have done right in forbidding the Jews to fear such signs; for these signs in the heavens are not the vain fictions of men, but what God has created and appointed; and we have already stated that the stars are not called signs through the foolish conceit of men, but this character was given them by God himself when they were first created; and if the stars presage to us either prosperity or adversity, it follows that they ought to be dreaded by us.
But the Prophet here does not use the word signs in its proper meaning; for he refers not to its true origin, but accommodates himself to the notions which then prevailed; 3 and we must bear in mind what I have already said, that the Egyptians and Chaldeans were much given to that astrology, which is called at this day judiciary. The word itself may be allowed; but it has been long ago profaned by wicked and unprincipled men, whose object has been to make gain by mere falsehoods. There is no doubt but that the Egyptians and the Chaldeans were true astrologers, and understood the art, which in itself is praiseworthy; for to observe the stars, what else is it, but to contemplate that wonderful workmanship, in which the power, as well as the wisdom and goodness of God, shines forth? And, indeed, astrology may justly be called the alphabet of theology; for no one can with a right mind come to the contemplation of the celestial framework, without being enraptured with admiration at the display of God’s wisdom, as well as of his power and goodness. I have no doubt, then, but that the Chaldeans and the Egyptians had learned that art, which in itself is not only to be approved, but is also most useful, and contains not only the most delightful speculations, but ought also to contribute much towards exciting in the hearts of men a high reverence for God. Hence Moses was instructed from his childhood in that art, and also Daniel among the Chaldeans. (Ac 7:22; Dan. 1:17, 20.) Moses learned astrology as understood by the Egyptians, and Daniel as known by the Chaldeans; but the art among them was at that time much adulterated; for they had mingled, as I have already said, foolish divinations with the true and genuine science.
As then the Prophet’s meaning seems evident, the truth remains fixed, that the sun, and moon, and other planets, and the fixed stars in the firmament, are for signs. But we must notice also here the purpose for which God intended the sun and moon to be signs. His purpose was, that the lunar course should complete one month, and that the solar course should complete one year. And then the twelve signs were designed to answer another purpose: for when the sun is in Cancer it has not the same power and influence as when it is in Virgo; and it differs as to the other signs. In short, as to the order of nature, the stars, the planets, as well as the fixed stars, are to us for signs. We number the years by the solar course, and the months by the lunar; and then the sun, with respect to the twelve signs, introduces the spring, then the summer, then the autumn, and lastly the winter. There are other purposes; but we include in one sentence whatever can be said of the celestial signs, when we say, that they have a reference to the order of nature. Whosoever, then, seeks to make more of these signs, confounds the order established by God, as the Chaldeans formerly did, and also the Egyptians, when they sought to ascend higher than reason warranted: they tried to conjecture by the position of the stars what would be the fates of all nations; and then they dared to come down to the cases of individuals. Hence arose the casters of nativities. Then they first began more anxiously to philosophize, that the sun, when in a certain sign, portends the death of an only son, and happy events to another. But these are things, as we have said, which are beyond the usual order of nature. That there is to be, for instance, summer and winter, this is natural and common; but that there is to be war between one nation and another, this is not by the usual order of things, nor takes place according to what nature appoints, but through the ambition and avarice of men. The hidden providence of God, indeed, rules; but we speak of causes, which ought to be understood by us, and which can be comprehended by us, for they are within the reach of our understanding. It must at the same time be observed, that the course of the stars is in itself of no moment; for we see that God varies the seasons: there is not the same state of weather; we have no winters and no summers exactly alike; there is no year which is not dissimilar to the former; and the third which follows, differs from the second.
We hence, then, learn that God has so formed and ordered the sun, and the moon, and all the stars, that he himself still governs and changes the seasons as it pleases him. In this way we account for sterilities, and pestilences, and other things of this kind. When the air seems temperate, pestilence prevails, the year is less fruitful, and men are famished, and no cause appears. Then this diversity in nature itself shews that God has not resigned his power to the stars, but that he so works by them, that he still holds the reins of government, and that he, according to his own will, rules the world in a way different from what even the acutest can divine by the stars. Yet this is no reason why we should deny to them the office which I have mentioned. But they who exceed the limits fixed by God, and seek to form conjectures respecting war in this country and peace in that countrymthey who thus seek to learn from the stars what is beyond the order of nature, blend heaven and earth together. The Prophet, no doubt, intended to condemn this madness when he forbade the Jews to attend to the celestial signs so as to dread them.
But the reason also must be noticed, why the Prophet so severely condemned that fear which prevailed among the Gentiles: it was for this, because when the opinion prevailed that all events depended on the stars, the fearof God was removed, and nothing was ascribed to his judgments, faith was extinguished, and prayer to God, and all the ordinances of religion, were reduced to nothing. For all the astrologers, who falsely assume so honorable a name, yea those unprincipled men, who add to their impostures the name of judiciary astrology, hold and maintain, that a judgment respecting man’s life ought to be formed by the horoscope, as though the fortune of every one depended on the stars. When, therefore, any one is born at a certain hour, this or that condition, according to them, awaits him. Thus they imagine that there is a fate, or some necessity, which holds a man bound to the influence of the sun, moon, and stars: for he was born when the sun was in the tail of that sign or in the head of another; his birth portends such and such fortune; he will live but a short time, or he will live long. Thus they judge. And they go still farther, and pronounce on every occurrence, “Such will be the issue of this expedition; this during the year will be unhappily undertaken, but that will succeed.” Afterwards, when nativity is not taken into an account, they subject the whole human race to the uncontrollable influence of the stars: “See, if you undertake this business on such a day, you will succeed; but if you begin before mid-day, the issue will be unsuccessful.” Thus they divine concerning the whole life of man with regard to each of his actions: but God never intended the stars to be signs for such purposes.
Now, as I have said, it hence follows that God does not rule, and that thus faith is extinguished, and all the exercises of religion are reduced to nothing. For whosoever is persuaded that he is bound by necessity, because the horoscope is of such a character, he must necessarily die at such an hour, and necessarily die of a certain kind of death, — will any one who has this conviction call on God? will he commend his life to his keeping? And then, when any adversity happens, who will bear it as a punishment for his sins? Will he acknowledge that he is called to judgment by God? And if he should prosper, will he be led to sing praises to God?
We hence see that this divination extinguishes all religion; for there will be no faith, there will be no recognition of punishment, no acknowledgment of God’s blessings, and no concern for sin, whenever this diabolical error possesses our minds, — that we are subject to the stars, that such and such is our nativity, and that the stars portend some kind of death every day and every moment. This, then, is what is especially intended by the Prophet in forbidding the Jews to be terrified by the celestial signs; for the Chaldeans, no doubt, prophesied that they should have a new empire; and thus they frightened the miserable Jews: “It is all over with us, for the astrologers among the Chaldeans have so spoken; and on the other hand the Egyptians see also that this has been foreshewn by the position of the stars.” Thus it happened that the Jews became, as it were, wholly lifeless. Nor did they remember what God had so often, and for so many years, threatened by his Prophets to do, in case they continued to provoke his wrath. Of God’s judgment they made no account; and yet the persuasion, that the Chaldeans announced a judgment by the stars, and that there would be some convulsion, filled them with terror and amazement. Hence the Prophet, in order to lead them to repentance, as well as to faith, which are the two essentials of religion, and include in them the perfection of true wisdom, speaks thus to them in effect, “Fear not the stars, but fear God.” For there is implied a contrast between God and the stars; as though he had said, “When any adversity happens to you, know that you are chastised by God’s hand, who is a just avenger of sins.” This was to teach them repentance; it was to shew them that they justly suffered, because they had been perverse in their wickedness. Then follows the other fact, that though the stars threatened calamity and destruction, they were to flee to God’s mercy and never doubt of their safety, provided he was propitious to them. We now then understand the Prophet’s object in telling them not to fear the stars.
More things might be said, but! study brevity as far as I can; and I trust that I have briefly included what is sufficient for the understanding of this passage. There are many, I know, at this day foolishly curious, and hence wish some account to be made of judiciary astrology; and this delirium has taken possession of some pious men and really learned: but we see what God here declares by his servant. And I wonder that some are thus credulous as to the stars, who yet speak with extreme subtlety on free-will. They would have the events of things fortuitous, they would have it that men act freely in both ways, and they hate and abhor fate; and yet they confine God as it were in a prison, and would have the stars to rule. This is to me a prodigy, not a sign. But all these things I leave. Let the plain doctrine of the Prophet be deemed sufficient by us, when he says, that we are not to be terrified by signs, for it belongs to the Gentiles to be thus terrified; for I am disposed to take this meaning, — that the Prophet says that this was a kind of blindness which belonged to them: “Leave,” he says, “this folly to the Gentiles; it is no wonder that they labor under so many errors and delusions, for celestial truth has never shone upon them; but it becomes you to fear God and to rely on his mercy.” It follows —
3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest (the work of the hands of the workman) with the axe.
3. Quoniam statuta populorum vanitas est: nam lignum a sylva scindit, opus manuum artificis dolabra (vel, in securi; nam ponitur ב, quoe est nota instrumenti apud Hebroeos.)
The Prophet seems to break off his subject, and even to reason inconclusively; for he had said in the last verse, “Learn not the rites of the Gentiles, and fear not the celestial signs;” and he now adds, Because the rites of the Gentiles are vanity; for wood they cut down from the forest. He seems then, as though forgetting himself, to have passed off to idols. But we must observe, that the Jews were influenced by that ancient opinion, that the Chaldeans and the Egyptians were alone wise, and that they had acquired a fame of this kind among all nations. We find also that heathen writers, when speaking of the origin of the sciences, trace them up to the Chaldeans and the Egyptians; for with them, it is said, have originated astrology and all the liberal sciences. The Jews then, no doubt, allowed so much authority to the Chaldeans and the Egyptians, that their minds, being possessed by that prejudice, could discern nothing aright. The Prophet then shakes off from them this stupidity, and shews how foolish they were, who yet would have themselves to be alone deemed wise, and regarded others, compared with themselves, as barbarous and ignorant. We now then see why the Prophet connects idolatry with that false and spurious astrology which he had mentioned.
He says, Laws: the word, חקות, chekut, means strictly, statutes. The word, חק chek, signifies to decree, or to write; and hence decrees are called חקות, chekut. The word Law is general; and one of those which are special and often occurs in Scripture, is the statute. Some render it “Edict;” and the verb means to publish by edict. But this word is often applied to ceremonies and rites. He then says, that the rites of the nations were vanity.
He then proves this, Because they cut for themselves trees from the forest; and after having polished them by art, they think them to be gods. How detestable was this madness, to think that a tree, cut from the forest, was a god, as soon as it assumed a certain form or shape! As then a madness, so great and so monstrous, prevailed among the Chaldeans and the Egyptians, what right knowledge or judgment could have been in them? The Jews then were very foolish in thinking that they were very clear — sighted. “They are,” he says, “brute animals; for it is wholly contrary to reason to suppose that a god can be made from a dead piece of wood. When, therefore, the Chaldeans and the Egyptians amaze and astonish you through the influence of a false opinion, derived from nothing, that they are alone wise, do ye not see that ye are doubly and trebly mad? for where is their wisdom, when they thus make gods from trunks of trees?”
We now then perceive the design of the Prophet: but as these circumstances have not been considered by interpreters, they have only elicited a frigid doctrine and gathered some general thoughts. But when any one rightly and carefully examines the design of the Prophet, he will find how important is what he teaches; and no one can otherwise rightly understand what Jeremiah means.
A tree then does one cut, etc.: he uses the singular number. 4 He then adds, the work of the hands of the artificer by the ax He shews that nature itself is changed through the false imagination of men; for as soon as it takes a new form, it seems to be no longer a tree. The tree, while it grows, when it produces fruit, is not worshipped as God; but when it is cut down, the dead and dry trunk is substituted in the place of God: for what reason? even because the ax has been applied. Some render it “hatchet,” hache, ou doloire, which is the same; for there is no ambiguity in the meaning: they cut down trees from the forests; and then after the tree was formed by the ax and worked by the hands of the artificer, what follows was done to it —
4. They deck it with silver and with gold; the fasten it with nails and with the hammers, that it move not.
4. Argento et auro pulchrificant (hoc est, exornant) illud; clavis et malleis fortificant (hoc est, bene defigunt;) et non movebitur (hoc est, ut non moveatur.)
5. They are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
5. Sicuti palma aequalis (hoc est, stat effigies illa aequalis tanquam palma, id est, assurgit in rectitudinem;) et non loquuntur; et tollendo tolluntur, quia non ambulabunt (hoc est, non possunt ambulare:) ne timeatis ab illis; quia non male faciunt, atque etiam bene facere non penes ipsos.
He goes on with the same subject, and borrows his words from the forty — fourth chapter of Isaiah (Isa 44); for the passage is wholly similar. Jeremiah, being later, was induced to take the words from his predecessor, that his own nation might be more impressed, on finding that the same thing was said by two Prophets, and that thus they had two witnesses.
He then says that these wise men, who filled the Jews with wonder and astonishment, adorned their images, or statues, with silver and gold, and afterward fixed them with nails and with hammers, that they might not move Some refer the last word to the metal, “that the pieces might not come off,” as the verb sometimes means to depart. But the simpler meaning is, that the statues were fixed by nails and hammers, that they might not be moved. Then the Prophet adds by way of concession, They are indeed erect as the palm-trees; and thus there appears in them something remarkable: but they speak not; and then, being raised they are raised, that is, they cannot move themselves; for they cannot walk Then he says, Be not afraid of them; for they do no evil, nor is it in their power to do good
We now see what the Prophet meant to teach us, — that the wisdom of the Chaldeans, and also of the Egyptians, was celebrated throughout the world, and also so blinded the Jews, or so enraptured, them, that they thought that nothing proceeded from them but what deserved to be known and esteemed. In order therefore to remove and demolish this false notion, he shews that they were beyond measure foolish; for what could have been more sottish than to think that the nature of a tree is changed as soon as it receives a new form? How? By the hand of the artificer. Can it be in the power of man to make a god at his will? This is a folly which heathen authors have derided. Horace has this sentence: —
“When the workman was uncertain whether to make a bench or Priapus, He chose rather to make a god.” 5
That poet, as he dared not generally to condemn the madness which then prevailed, indirectly shewed how shameful it was to make a log of wood a god, because the workman had given it a form. The very richest worshipped a wooden god, while he despised the artificer! He who would not have condescended to give the workman a cup of water, yet prostrated himself befbre the god which the workman had made! This then is what our Prophet now says, “Behold, with silver and gold do they adorn trunks of trees; they indeed stood up, for they are erect statues;” and he compares them to palm-trees, because they stood high: and he says, “but they speak not; they are raised up, for they have no life; hence fear them not:” and then he adds, “They cannot do evil, and it is not in their power to do good.”
The Prophet seems to speak improperly when he says that they were not gods, because they could do no evil; for it is wholly contrary to the nature of the only true God to do evil: but the Prophet, according to what is common, uses the word for the infliction of punishment. God, then, is said to do evil, not because he does harm to any one, not because he does wrong to any mortals, but because he chastises them for their sins. And it is a way of speaking derived from the common judgment of man, for we call those things evils which are afflictions to us; for famine, diseases, poverty, cold, heat, disgrace, and things of this kind, are called afflictions or adversities. Now, the Prophet says, that the idols of the Gentiles, or their fictitious gods, do no evil, that is, they have no power to inflict punishment on men. And this is taken from Isaiah. God uses there a twofold argument, while claiming divinity to himself alone: he says,
“I alone am he who foresees and predicts future things;”
and hence I am God alone; and then he says,
“I alone am he who do good and evil;”
hence I alone am God. (Isa 45:22; Isa. 48:3, 5.) He says, that he doeth evil, because he is the Judge of the world. We hence see that this expression is not to be taken in a bad sense, but, as I have said, it is to be taken in a sense used by men; for we consider and call those punishments, with which God visits us, evils. It follows —
6. Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
6. A non 6 (vel, ab eo quod non, hoc est, ab ultimis temporibus non) sicut tu Jehova reperietur; magnus tu, et magnum nomen tuum in fortitudine.
As the truth respecting the gods of the heathens, that they are mere figments, would be useless and of no moment, were not the knowledge of the, true God added, the Prophet now introduces God himself. And there is another reason; for no one could know that these wooden and stony gods are of no account, were not the truth respecting the true God to shine forth. Whosoever does not understand that there is a God, and does not know who or what he is, can never be really influenced by this truth, that the gods of the heathens are demons, and that all their superstitions are sacrilegious.
We now then perceive why the Prophet turns to the true God: it was, that the brightness of God’s glory might dissipate the darkness in which the Gentiles were involved, and also, that true religion might really influence the hearts of men, so that by acknowledging the one true God, to whose power we ought to submit, they might not only despise and repudiate all idols, but also hate and abhor them. The rest to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast made heaven and earth for our sake, and hast testified by thy servant Moses, that the sun, as well as the moon, to which foolish heathens ascribe divinity, are to be serviceable to us, and that we are to use them as though they were our servants, — O grant that we may, by thy so many blessings, have our minds raised upwards and contemplate thy true glory, so that we may faithfully worship thee only, and surrender ourselves so entirely to thee, that while we enjoy the benefits derived from all the stars, and also from the earth, we may know that we are bound to thee by so many favors, in order that we may be more and more roused to attend to what is just and right, and thus endeavor to glorify on earth thy name, that we may at length enjoy that blessed glory which has been provided for us by Christ our Lord. — Amen.
We began yesterday to explain the sixth verse, in which Jeremiah says, From no time has there been found any like the true God, for he is great, and great is his name in power. This sentence appears, indeed, unmeaning or very common as to its idea, in negativing the notion that there has been any in all the ages like to God: but as the world by its figments has ever obscured the glory of the true God, there is in this sentence what is of great importance, for it says that God possesses his own peculiar dignity, and shines far above all fictitious deities. The same view is to be taken of the second clause, Thou art great Who will not concede greatness to God? yet he is deprived of it by most; for when any one devises for himself a god, he robs the true God of his own greatness, and makes him as it were one like many other gods. If we bear in mind how men depreciate God’s glory, it is easy for us to see, that he is not uselessly called here great, as he is in many other places. But I only touch here on these things briefly, as I have elsewhere discussed them more at large.
He says that God’s name is great in power; for idols had a celebrated name among all nations, but had no power. Though many things have been related of their idols by the Grecians and Italians, as well as by the Orientals, yet it is certain that no proof has been given to shew that they worshipped true gods. Hence the Prophet.declares here that greatness belbngs to God alone, as his power has been made known, and has fully manifested his own peculiar glory. It now follows —
7. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.
7. Quis non timebit to rex gentium? quia tibi convenit; nam inter omnes sapientes gentium et in omnibus regnis eorum, a nullo tempore similis tibi, (vel, sicut tu, ad verbum.)
The Prophet exclaims, Who will not fear thee? This question is very emphatical, as though he indignantly rebuked the stupidity of all those who acknowledged not the only true God, as if he had said, “Whence is it that thou art not feared throughout the whole world? Surely were there a spark of right knowledge in men, they would acknowledge thee as the only true God, and having found this truth, would submit to thy power. When, therefore, men invent for themselves various gods, and when every one is led here and there without any judgment, it is a monstrous thing; for when the subject is pressed on the attention of the rudest, they confess that there, is some supreme deity, and are at length constrained to allow that there is but one true God; whence then is it that there is such a multitude and variety of gods in the world? How is it that they who hold this principle — that God ought to be worshipped — fall away, and adopt many gods, and never can determine who the true God is, or how he is to be worshipped?” We now understand the object of the Prophet in exclaiming, as through astonishment, Who will not fear thee, the King of nations?
We know that the true God was then despised by the heathens; and we also know that his law was regarded with contempt, and even els an abomination: What then does this question mean? even what I have already stated: The Prophet indignantly says, that it was a monstrous thing, bordering on madness, that men paid no regard to the only true God, but went astray after their own foolish devices. And he calls him the King of the nations, not that the nations submitted to his authority, but because he manifested evidences of his power everywhere, which might have induced the rudest to shew him reverence, were they not extremely stupid. We then see that this is not said to the honor of the nations, but on the contrary, that their ingratitude might be exposed to shame in not honoring God, who manifested his power among them.
Then follows what confirms this: For to thee it belongs; for among all the wise of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, from no time has there been one like to thee He says that it belongs to God, that is, that all the world should fear him. Some render יאתה iate, as a noun, and take it as signifying “honor;” and others render it “government,” or authority; but this cannot be received. He then says, it belongs to God. What? Some say, “glory or dominion belongs to thee.” But it must be referred to the beginning of the verse: there is here a figure called Zeugma, and the meaning is, God deserves this, that is, to be feared by all. H.e then speaks of fear, and says that it belongs to God. What is meant is, that the glory of God shines so much as to be sufficient to arrest and engage all the thoughts of men, and that they are therefore extremely stupid when they pass by and forsake him, and turn to their own devices, and invent gods according to their own fancies. 7
The Prophet then confirms what we have already said — that all men who worship not nor fear the only true God are detestable beings, because so much of his glory shines forth, that renders all bound to acknowledge him. It then follows, that those who are carried away into various superstitions are to the last degree stupid and brutish; for God renders his glory conspicuous everywhere, so that it ought to engage and occupy the thoughts of all men; and it would do so were they not led away by their own vanity.
We hence also learn that the pretext of ignorance made by unbelievers is wholly vain. There are those who on the first view seem to be excusable for their error, as they have not been taught, and never understood who the true God is; but yet there is in them the blame of neglect as well as of wickedness, for they wilfully neglect and despise the only true God. As then the unbelieving take delight in their errors, they are to be held guilty. And this is what the Prophet means by saying that God was worthy of glory — the glory of being feared by all: and this he more fully confirms when he says, “Among all the wise, and in all kingdoms,” that is, among all the princes who seemed to excel in wisdom in governing the world, “no other God could be found throughout all the ages.”
He repeats again the word מאין main, of which we spoke yesterday. 8 It is the same as though the Prophet had said, “Let all the wise men and philosophers come forth, let all those counsellors who assume great wisdom appear, and let them adduce whatever they can allege; doubtless God will ever defend his own glory against all their frivolous arguments, so that they must depart confounded; nor shall they be able, however willing they may be, to bring any solid objection against him.” By these words, then, the Prophet intimates that it is vain to boast of philosophic reasons, and that the counsels of princes, who esteem themselves very acute in civil affairs, will be adduced in vain; for all will be covered with shame, and be constrained to be silent, when God makes known his glory. Indeed the glory of God appears everywhere so conspicuously, that the rudest ought to perceive it, that the wise, who fly above the heavens as philosophers, who search all the secrets of nature, do not understand what is, as they say, abroad in the open air; for God manifests himself to the simple, and even to children. We now perceive the design of the Prophet, when he says, From no times has been found any like to God, not only among the vulgar or common men, but among the wise, and princes, and kings’ counsellors. He afterwards adds —
8. But they are altogether brutish and foolish; the stock is a doctrine of vanities.
8. Et in uno stulti sunt et fatui sunt; eruditio vanitatum lignum est.
The Prophet shews here, in one sentence, that the wisest in the whole world could be proved guilty of the greatest madness, or of a twofold folly, because they willingly worshipped the trunks of trees, and they worshipped stones; for Under one kind he includes the other. There is no one, he says, however intelligent, who does not approve of the superstitions of the people, who does not bend the knee before a wood or a stone. There have been, indeed, a few in the world who ridiculed such sottishhess, but no one dared openly to condemn it, and no one introduced anything better. And even the Platonics hold that the Greeks had not without reason invented gods like men; and they say that there was not so much judgment among the barbarians as to form such ideas of the gods as were suitable to their nature. However this may have been, it is evident that the grossest superstitions of the nations were ever approved by all their wise men.
The Prophet then shews that there was no need of a long discussion to discover the vanity of the wise; In one, in one thing, he says; and there is emphasis in this word, when he says, In one thing they are foolish and fatuitous; for there is to be understood a contrast, as though he had said, “I will not here join together many heads of accusation against them to expose their folly, one thing is sufficient; this one sentence is enough to condemn them, — that wood is the teaching of vanities.” 9 We have stated what the Prophet means,meven that all the wise, who together with the vulgar worshipped gods made of wood and stone, were very foolish: but we must notice the import of the expression, The teaching of vanities is the wood. It is, as we have said, an instance of a part being put for the whole; for under “wood” Jeremiah includes statues of stone, and others made of different materials; as though he had said, “Every form or effigy, representing a god, is the teaching of vanities.” He takes this as granted; and yet there had been, as we have lately stated, a great and fierce contention among the wise men on this subject; but the Prophet deigned not to contend or seriously to dispute with them, for the thing itself was sufficiently evident, that is, that nothing can be more absurd than to worship the trunk of a tree or a stone.
Now we may from this passage draw a general truth, — that when men seek to represent God under any visible form, they give way to the delusions and impostures of Satan. Well known is that sentence of Gregory to Serenus, the Bishop of Marseilles, when that good man cast down the images which he saw led to ungodly worship, and purged the churches of Marseilles from such pollutions: Gregory, though a pious man, yet wrote very foolishly — that Serenus acted rightly and wisely in forbidding images to be worshipped, but that he yet acted inconsiderately by emptying the churches of them; for “they are,” he said, “the books of the simple:” this is the conclusion of his epistle. And it is ever in the mouth of Papists — that images are the books of the simple. At the same time I would they retained this truth avowed by Gregory, that they ought not to be worshipped. They worship and adore them, as it is well known, in the place of God. But as I have already said, that answer of Gregory was puerile and foolish: for we hear what the Prophet says, — that in wood and stone and in every outward representation there is vanity, as Habakkuk also in the second chapter, where He speaks of idols, calls an idol the teacher of vanity. Every statue, every image, by which foolish men seek to represent God, is a teacher of falsehood. So our Prophet says, — that the teaching of vanities is found in all statues, because God is thus misrepresented; for what can be in a wood or stone that is like the infinite power of God, or his incomprehensible essence and majesty? Men, therefore, offer a serious affront to God when they thus deform him, as Paul also in Ro 1:25, says, — that the truth was thus changed into falsehood, that is, when he is supposed to have anything like to what external and dead figures have; as the same Paul further reasons in Ac 17:29, when he says, Do ye think that God is like to wood or stone, to silver or gold? And his argument was at that time suitable; for he had to do with heafilens: he did not refer to the law, though he might have quoted a passage in Deuteronomy, where God reminded the people that he so appeared to them that they saw no similitude; and he might have referred to the testimonies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of the other Prophets; but as he addressed heathens, even the Athenians, he says, “One of your poets has said, that we are the offspring of God:” if we are then, He says, the offspring of God, do ye not draw God down from his celestial throne, when ye seek to delineate him according to your fancies, and suppose that he lies hid in wood or stone, in silver and gold? For some life appears at least in men, they are endued with mind and intelligence, and so far they bear some likeness to God: but a dead wood and stone, which are void of sense, — gold also and silver, which are metals without reason, which have no life, — what affinity, He says, can these have to God? This subject might be more copiously handled; but I merely explain what the Prophet means, and also shew the import of his doctrine, and how it may be applied for general instruction. It now follows —
9. Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.
9. Argentum percussum (vel, diductum, hoc est, malleo sic contusum, ut redactum sit in laminas; hoc enim significat verbum רקע percutere, et ita contundere, ut res diducatur vel protrahatur: argentum ergo laminatum, ut ita loquar, vel, malleo contusum) e Tharsis affertur, et aurum ex Ophas, opus artificis et manus conflatoris; hyacinthus et purpura, vestes eorum; opus sapientum omnes!
The Prophet, anticipating what might be said, refers to the splendor and pomp of idols, and declares that all was frivolous and extremely puerile. Whence was it that the world shewed so much honor to idols, except that their pomp dazzled the eyes of men? The devil has also by this artifice ever deluded the unbelieving; for he has exhibited in idols something that involved men’s minds in darkness.
The Prophet then assails these foolish imaginations, and says, Silver is brought from Tharsis, that is, from Cilicia; for so the Scripture designates that transmarine country, which lies opposed to Judea; and we know that Cilicia was over against Judea; for the Mediterranean Sea intervenes between Syria and Cilicia; and the sea of Tharsis is what they call that part which extended towards Cilicia and Asia Minor. The Prophet then says; that it was brought from a far country. Well, he says, the fact is so; and then it is added that gold was brought from Uphaz Some have explained this last word wrongly, by saying that it means pure or fine gold; but it appears from this place and many others, that it is the name of a country, that is, Persia, or one not far from Persia: it was at least a country eastward of Judea. He then says, gold is brought from Uphaz; and he mentions the workmanship, the work of the artificer; that is, it is not silver and gold in its rude state; but they are so elegantly wrought, that they readily attract the eyes of men. Then he adds the hands (he speaks in the plural number) of the melter; that is, the silver and gold were melted and were made to assume a certain form; and then art was employed, which gave an increased polish to these forms which came out of the furnace. He afterwards says, The hyacinth and purple are their vestments; that is, it is not enough to have the precious metal, and that cast into an elegant and lovely form, but it must be clothed in purple and hyacinth. He says in the last place, that the work was that of the wise; that is, skillful men were chosen, who could in the most perfect manner give expression to every lineament; in short, nothing was left undone. 10
But the Prophet, though he concedes generally to the unbelieving that they added whatever could add beauty to their idols, yet declares that they were mere trumperies: they are puppets, he says; for man, who is a mortal, cannot make a god: and then, what can art and the toil and labor of man do in this respect? can he change the nature of things? can he make a god from wood and stone? and when a vestment covers the idol of gold or of silver, can it raise it above the heavens, that it may attain a new divinity? We hence see that the Prophet mentions all that was done, that he might taunt the heathens and ridicule their fatuitous trifles; for in their idols there was nothing real, nothing that could be dependd upon. He then subjoins —
10. But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
10 Atqui Iehova Deus veritas (qui vertunt, Deus veritatis, non observant syntax in Hebraicam; dixisset enim יהלא הוהי תמא; Iehova ergo Dens veritas,) ipse Deus vita, et rex seculorum; a furore ejus contremiscet terra, et non sustinebunt gentes iram ejus.
The Prophet here exults and triumphs in the name of his God, as though he had overcome and put to flight the erroneous notions of the heathens: for he had spoken, as it appears, contemptuously of their gross errors, and shewed that the wise men of the world were extremely sottish, who were so charmed with wood and stone. He now highly extols the glory of God, and says, But Jehovah is God; that is, let the nations worship their gods, let them recite fables as to their power, and falsely ascribe to them many miracles; but Jehovah, he says, is God When all things are faithfully examined, it will appear evident that He is the only true God, and all the gods of the heathens will of themselves vanish into nothing. This then is the meaning of the Prophet, as though he had said, God himself is sumcient to put to flight all the errors of the heathens, when his majesty appears; for so great is its brightness that it will reduce to nothing whatever the world admires.
He then adds truth. He sets truth here in opposition to vanities. He had said that wood was the teaching of vanities; he now says, God is eternal truth; that is, he has no need of adventitious ornaments; they mask, he says, the idols of the heathens, they are clothed and adorned; but these things have nothing real in them: Jehovah is God the truth; that is, God borrows nothing from anything else, but is satisfied with himself, and his power possesses of itself sufficient authority. God then is truth, and God, he says, is life. After having said that God has real and solid glory in himself, he adds another proof, taken from what is known to men, even that God is life; for though God is in himself incomprehensible, yet he not only sets before our eyes evidences of his glow, but he also renders himself in a manner the object of feeling, as Paul says in Ac 14:17. What he means is, that though men were blind, they could yet by feeling find out God. Though the blind have no sight, yet they can find their way by feeling; they go round a hall or a room, and by feeling find the door; and when they wish to enter into a room, they find the door by the same means. But there is no need, says Paul, for us to depart from ourselves; for whosoever will examine himself will find God within; for in him we live and move and have our being. (Ac 17:28.) Were we then to object and say, that God is incomprehensible, and that we cannot ascend to the height of his glory, doubtless there is life in us, and as we have life, we have an evidence of his divinity; for who is so devoid of reason as to say that he lives through himself? Since then men live not of themselves, but obtain life as a favor from another, it follows that God dwells in them. 11
Now, then, the Prophet, after having spoken of God’s essence, descends to what is more evident. And doubtless it is a real knowledge of God, not when we speculate in the air as philosophers do, but when we know by experience that there is one true God — how? because we exist. We exist not of ourselves, but in and through another, and that is, through the one true God. It hence follows that human life is a clear proof of one supreme God. God then is life and the King of ages For as the world has also been made, as years succeed years, and as there is in this revolution variety and yet such perfect order, who does not see in all this the glory of God? Now, then, we also perceive why the Prophet calls God the King of ages
He then adds, Through his fury tremble will the earth, and the nations will not sustain his wrath As he could not succeed with the heathens, He warns liere the Jews not to provoke the wrath of God, who will be the Judge of the whole world, and will destroy the unbelievers, however blind in darkness they may be. He then warns the Jews not to close their eyes to the glory, which had been more fully open to them. But the Gentiles might by the works of nature have known God, and were inexcusable; yet, the knowledge of him was made plain to the Jews by the law. For this reason Jeremiah says, “Even though unbelievers now boldly despise God, yet when he shall appear as the Judge of the world, the whole earth must of necessity tremble, and will not be able to bear his presence, though they now proudly reproach true religion.”
But it was not without reason that the Prophet took so much pains on this subject; for the ten tribes had been driven into exile, and the Assyrians and Chaldeans triumphed over God himself, as though he had been overcome, inasmuch as he did not defend the kingdom of Israel, which was under his care and protection; and the miserable Israelites could not but despond when they found themselves so distressed, and cruelly treated and oppressed by the most shameless tyranny; for what could they have thought, but that they had not been the objects of God’s care, and that his promises were vain, or that he possessed no sufficient power to preserve them? It is, then, for this reason that the Prophet now so highly extols the power and glory of God, that is, that their calamities might not deject them and lay prostrate the faith of those who thought that they were forsaken.
And this will be more evident from the following verse, where the Prophet uses the Chaldee language; and this is the only verse in the whole book written in Chaldee; and the Chaldee differs much from the Hebrew. We have seen before that Daniel wrote in Chaldee, when he spoke of things pertaining to the Chaldeans; but when he addressed his own people and announced prophecies, belonging especially to the Church of God, he wrote in Hebrew. Hence the book of Daniel is written in Hebrew, except in those parts which he wished to be understood by the Chaldeans; and so does the Prophet in this place.
11. Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.
11. Sic (secundum hoc) dicetis illis (inquit) Dii (prorsus diverso modo loquitur quam ante, et proximo etiam versu loquitur; dii ergo) qui coelum et terram non fecerunt, pereant e terra et de sub coelis istis.
Now, the reason why he bids the Israelites to speak in the Chaldee language is, because they had been led into exile, and were mingled with the Assyrians and Chaldeans. He then required from those despised exiles an open and a bold confession, as though he had said, “Even though ye are now in the most miserable bondage, and though the Chaldeans disdainfully oppress you, as if ye were slaves, yet proclaim the glory of God and shrink not from an open confession of your religion, and say to them, in contempt of all their idols, perish must your gods from the earth and from under heaven, for they have not made heaven nor the earth.” We now understand the meaning of the Prophet. But the rest I shall defer until tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast exhibited thy glory to be seen by us, not only in the heavens and the earth, but also ill the law, in the Prophets, and in the Gospel, and hast so plainly made thyself known to us in thine only — begotten Son, that ignorance can be no excuse, — O grant that we may make progress in this knowledge by which thou kindly invitest to thyself, and may so constantly cleave to thee, that none of the errors of the world may draw us aside; but may we stand firm in thy word, which cannot deceive us, until we shall at length come to that celestial blessedness, when we shall enjoy thee face to face in thy glory, having been made fully conformable to thine image in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
We began yesterday to explain the declaration of the Prophet, in which he exhorted the Israelites to constancy, though scattered among the Chaldeans. Their condition was then miserable, because we know that it was that of bondage, and conquerors ruled in a very petulant manner, when a people were subdued by war; but they had been led into exile for the very purpose of degrading them. The Prophet therefore animates them here, that they might not be dejected, but continue in the pure worship of God, and faithfully profess his name.
What he said to them was, May those gods, who created not the heaven and the earth, perish from the earth and from under heaven He assumed this principle — that no one ought to be counted God but he who is the creator and maker of heaven and earth; and who could say that gods of wood and stone had created the world? for wood, as well as stone, is a corruptible material. All the statues, which were created gods, had received their form and shape from mortal men. It is hence manifest, that to ascribe divinity to thenl was not only false, but foolish and monstrous. This, then, is the reason why he says, “May the gods who made not the heaven and earth perish.” The verb is indeed in the future tense; but we know that the future is often to be taken as an optative in Hebrew. If, however, any one prefers to retain this tense, “Perish shall the gods who made not the heaven and the earth,” I shall not contend with him; yet the other view is what I approve, that the Israelites were to imprecate destruction on all idols. 12
Now that he uses the Chaldee language, is what deserves, as we said yesterday, to be observed; they had then to do with the Chaldeans, who insultingly triumphed over the true God, thinking that they were his conquerors; and they triumphed over him, as though he had been overcome by their swords. Then the Prophet bids the Israelites, boldly and courageously, to proclaim the name and the glory of the true God. Doubtless this could not have been done without immediate danger of death; but it was their duty, as God’s true servants, to prefer his glory to their own lives, in opposing the fury of the enemies who then ruled over them, and who had led them to remote countries.
We see how much God makes of the confession of faith; and the whole Scripture shews that this sacrifice is especially approved by him. Hence also it appears how foolishly they talk who say that they cherish faith secretly in their hearts, though they may hide from the world their real sentiments. We see how frigid, nay, how foolish is this excuse, while they seek, by a perfidious silence, to save their own life and to remain in peace with the ungodly. They who at this day live under the Papacy, think that they justly exempt themselves by such an excuse as this — that they ought not rashly to endanger their lives, as facts prove that such is the rage of the enemies of the gospel, that were any to confess the truth, they would be immediately led to punishment, But we may compare the condition of the ancient people with our own; certainly ours is better than that of the ten tribes, who lived in a foreign land and were treated as slaves. As then the Chaldeans watched them, did they not find the sword daily and constantly ready to be used against them? And yet God bids them to close their eyes to their danger and faithfully to profess what they believed, yea, to detest the idols, which was still more displeasing to the Chaldeans; for he bids them to say, “The God whom we worship made himself known to Abraham our father, and we worship him, because we have found him to be a Redeemer and a constant preserver of our safety:” and this is not the only thing that the Prophet bids them to say, but also, “May your gods perish.” This was certainly enough to kindle rage in the Chaldeans, even if they had been men of temperate millds; but as they were elated with pride on account of their victory and hated the Jews, such a declaration must have been intolerable to them. What, then, call the Nicodemites of this day say, who indulge their own delusions? for they think it enough if they deny not God in their hearts; and yet being frightened with danger, they either pretend to deny him, or openly shew that they consent to errors.
In short, we see that there is no true religion in the hearts of men, except a confession is made, for there ought to be a consent between the heart and the tongue. But some one may object and say, Is it necessary for the faithful to cry through cross — ways and the streets of the city, “There is but one true God?” I answer, that all have not been chosen to the prophetic office, in order to preach everywhere; but it is commanded to all without exception, to detest idols, where they see the glory of God reproachfully traduced by enemies; for the Prophet meant, that they were to make this answer to the reproaches of those who then took the occasion insultingly to rise up against the true God. It now follows: —
12. He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
12. Faciens terram in virtute sua, disponens orbem in sapientia sua, et in sua intelligentia extendit coelos.
13. When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.
13. Ad vocem dando sonitum aquarum (vel potius copiam aquarum) in coelis; et ascendere faciens elevationes ab extremitate terrae, fulgura ad pluviam creans (faciens, ut prius,) et educens ventum e thesauris suis.
Jeremiah speaks now again in Hebrew, for he on purpose spoke in Chaldee, to shew that the ungodly were not to be given way to, if they blasphemed and wantonly derided the holy name of God. But as it is necessary that the confession of the mouth should proceed from faith, as fruit from the root, the Prophet here reminds the Israelites that there is but one true God; for, besides him who created the earth, set in order the world, and extended the heavens, there is no other to be found. Since, then, this cannot be said except of one, it follows that all the deities which the world devises for itself, are false and mere inventions of Satan, by which he deludes mankind. And doubtless no one can courageously oppose such errors, except he who believes in the one true God. We know that there were formerly some among the philosophers who jocularly and facetiously ridiculed the delirious notions of the vulgar; but no one in earnest undertook this cause, nor could they take upon themselves the defense of God’s glory, for he was unknown to them. It is therefore necessary, as I have said, that we should be really and truly grounded in the faith before the building can be carried on; for the profession, by which we ascribe glory to God, is, as it were, the superstructure, but faith, concealed within the heart, is the foundation.
We now then understand the Prophet’s design in saying, that there is but one, who made the earth. He speaks indeed concisely; but what tie says has more force, when he does not mention God’s name, but sets before us his power, as though he had said, “There is one, there is one, who has created the earth; there is one, who has set in order the world and extended the heavens; as these things cannot be ascribed to many, it follows that men are very absurd in imagining that there are various gods.”
He says that God created the earth by his power He alludes to the solid state of the earth. The philosophers indeed hold that the earth stands naturally in the middle of creation, as it is the heaviest element; and the reason they give that the earth is suspended in mid-air, is, because the center of the world attracts what is most heavy; and these things indeed they wisely discuss. Yet we must go further: for the center of the earth is not the main part of creation; it hence follows that the earth has been suspended in the air, because it has so pleased God. When, therefore, the Prophet commends God’s power in fixing the earth, he refers to its firm state.
He then adds, There is one who hath by his wisdom set the world in order He does not indeed say that He is one, but this is what is implied. Though the term תבל, tabel, is taken for the earth, it has yet a wider meaning. The Prophet, I have no doubt, includes in it at least the sea. And we know that the Spirit has not spoken in the Law and the Prophets with rigorous exactness, but in a style suited to the common capacities of men. He says then that the world was set in order by God’s wisdom: for it is wonderful how the waters mingle with the earth, and yet retain their own habitation, and are restrained from covering the earth: in the earth also itself there is amazing variety; we see in one part mountains, in another small hills; there are meadows, forests, and fields for corn. Indeed, man’s industry contributes to this variety; but we see how God hath fitted the earth for different purposes, here then shines forth the wonderful wisdom of God. When again he speaks of the heavens, he says, that they have been expanded by God’s knowledge, He indeed employs various expressions, but he means the same thing, — that God’s singular wisdom may be seen in the earth and in the heavens.
Some connect the following verse and explain the verb נטה nuthe, differently, — that God extends the heavens when he covers them with clouds; for the verb תתו, tatu, which means the same thing, follows: but the infinite mood is often to be taken for the preterite. As then this is a strained explanation, and too far-fetched, I reject it. The Prophet, no doubt, speaks of the original formation of the heavens: for when God covers the heavens with clouds, their true form does not appear; besides, the meaning of the verb is perverted, when taken to express the obscuring of the heavens by clouds. They who will impartially examine the passage, will be ready to admit, that the Prophet speaks of the expanding of the heavens. So the Scripture everywhere sets forth God’s wisdom as displayed by this wonderfill workmanship; and the heaven is said to have been expanded over the earth, so that it covers it around. (Ps 104:6.)
Now, though Jeremiah mentions only the word “heavens,” yet he includes the wonders which appear in them, such as that the sun performs its daily course — that it changes its track daily — that the planets have two motions — that they appear in different parts — and that the sun seems now to ascend and then to descend. In short, Jeremiah here extols all the secrets of astrology, when he says, that the heavens have been expanded by God, and expanded with singular and incomparable wisdom. Though, then, he only briefly touches on this wonderful workmanship of God, yet he would have us carefully to dwell on it in our meditations; for all errors and all fancies will soon vanish, when we duly consider the power and wisdom of God, as manifested in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and in the order observable in the world.
The Prophet then descends to the other works of God, to those which are changeable, for there is in nature a perpetual constancy as to the heavens and the earth; and there are many things subject to changes; as when God darkens the air, when he raises winds, when he pours down rain. These things happen not according to the settled order of the world of which he had spoken. We see then that the Prophet has hitherto referred to the fixed and regular government of the world, to what had been done at the creation. But now, as I have said, he sets before us things of another kind, — that God gives or sends forth, by his voice, abundance of waters from the heavens Some render המון emun, “sound;” but it is, on the contrary, to be taken for “multitude,” or abundance. Moreover, he takes “voice” for thunder: for though it often rains without thunder, yet when God thunders from heaven, there is a sudden change, which not only disturbs the air, but also fills us with dread. As then in this sudden and unexpected change the power of God more strikingly appears, the Prophet says, At his voice he gives abundance of waters
He then says, he makes elevations to ascend; for we see that vapours arise from the earth and ascend upwards. Philosophers shew how this happens: but yet the power of God cannot be excluded, when we say that anything is done according to nature. For we hence more clearly see what the Prophet means, that is, that God has so set in order the world, that when he causes vapours to ascend, he shews that he rules in the heavens and on the earth. And he adds, from the extremity of the earth: for we see that vapors rise at a distance and immediately spread over our heads. Is not this wonderful? And were we not accustomed to such a thing, it could not but fill us with admiration. The Prophet then rouses men here from their torpor, that they may learn to consider what is presented to their view. He goes on and says, creating or making lightnings for the rain, or with the rain: for ל, lamed, is taken by some, as though he had said, that lightnings are mingled with rain: and doubtless we see that these things, fire and rain, are contrary to one another; yet fire generates water, and it dwells also in the midst of a mass of waters: it rains, and yet the air is at the same time kindled with lightnings. Since then God thus mingles contrary things, and makes fire the origin and the cause of rain, is it not so wonderful that it is sufficient, to move the very stones? How great then must be the stupidity of men, when they attend not to so conspicuous a work of God, in which they may see the glory of his wisdom as well as of his power!
He then says, that God brings forth the wind from his treasures He calls hidden places the treasures of God; for whence the winds except from the caverns of the earth? Since, then, the earth, where it is hollow, generates winds, rightly does the Prophet say, that they were the bidden treasures of God. The philosophers also find out the cause why the winds arise from the earth; for the sun attracts vapors and exhalations; from vapors are formed clouds, snows, and rains, according to the fixed order of the middle region of the air. From the exhalations also are formed the thunders, lightnings, the comets also, and the winds; for the exhalations differ from the vapours only in their lightness and rarity, the vapors being thicker and heavier. Then from vapor arises rain; but the exhalation is lighter, and not so thick; hence the exhalations generate thunders as well as winds, according to the heat they contain. How, then, is it that the same exhalation now breaks forth into wind, then into lightnings? It is according to the measure of its heat; when it is dense it rises into the air; but the winds vanish and thus disturb the lower part of the world. These are the things said by philosophers; but the chief thing in philosophy is to have regard to God, who brings the winds out of his treasures, for he keeps them hidden. We wonder that the wind rises suddenly when it is quite calm; who ought not to acknowledge that winds are formed, and are sent here and there at God’s pleasure? And hence in Ps 104:4, they are called the swift messengers of God,
“who makes spirits his messengers.”
It follows: —
14. Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
14. Stultus est omnis homo a scientia (vertunt alii, praescientia; sed perperam, meo judicio,) pudefactus est omnis conflator a sculptili; quia mendacium conflatile, et non est spiritus in illis.
Some too refinedly explain the beginning of this verse — that their own subtlety or wisdom, which they arrogate, infatuates men, according to what Paul says, that men become vain in their minds, when they form an idea of God according to their own imagination. (Ro 1:21.) But the Prophet speaks more plainly, for he says, that all artificers were foolish The word lrnowledge is not to be taken here for knowledge of truth, but for the knowledge of artificers, whether carpenters or blacksmiths, or those who either melted or grayed or formed gods of wood, stone, and silver, as we may learn from the second clause of the verse. There is no difficulty as to what is meant, if we duly consider the words of the Prophet; he expresses the same thing in two ways; foolish, he says, are all our artificers; then he specifies one sort, every founder or melter, etc. We hence see that the Prophet does not use the word knowledge according to its strict meaning, but extends it to skill in workmanship. 13
But when he says that the artizans were foolish, he connects with them, no doubt, all the worshippers of false gods; but he reprobates their knowledge, who applied whatever skill and knowledge they had to so vain a purpose. Bellold, he says, the worker in gold, and every other artificer, think that they are very ingenious when they elegantly form an idol; they spend all their wits on so vain a thing; what is this but folly? But they think that they make a god by their own hands; yet they cannot change the nature of gold and silver. It is the form only that they add; but this form contains no life. Hence he subjoins, There is no spirit in them He had said before, that they who formed the graven image would be ashamed, or convicted of folly; for he had called them foolish and brutish. Now, בער, bor, in Hiphil, means to be foolish; but the noun means a brute animal. Hence he reproachfully compares these illustrious artizans, who gained repute by the elegant forms they gave to their gods, to asses, and oxen, and other brute animals. Some render נסך, nusak, “covering;” but it signifies, I doubt not, a molten image; for he repeats what he had said, that the founders would be ashamed of the graven image In short, He says, that the molten image was falsehood, for there was in, them no spirit He changes the number, but the meaning is evident.
We have seen before that idols were said to be the teaching of vanities; for they were extremely deceived, and became wholly foolish, who ascribed the glory of God to wood and stone. The heathens might say, that they had never thought such a thing; but facies proved that they were liars and made only vain pretences; for why did they place confidence in their idols? — why did they bow down before them? — why did they address to them prayers and supplications? They then believed that God was present in the visible form. Now the Prophet says, that this was the teaching of vanities; because they who made a figure or image of God thought that he was like to gold and silver, and that he had some affinity to dead elements, destitute of reason and understanding. For the same purpose he now adds, that the molten image is falsehood; why? because the truth of God is turned into falsehood, as Paul says, (Ro 1:25.)
It is, therefore, a monstrous absurdity when men imagine that wood or stone is an image of God; for there is no similarity, nor can such a thing enter into man’s mind without a grievous and an atrocious indignity being offered to God. The reason also is to be noticed, For there is no spirit in them God, so to speak, is the life of all things living; now, to call a dead thing an image of God, a thing in which there is no mind nor life, is it not to turn light into darkness? This reason, then, ought to be remembered by us; and it is a sufficient refutation of all such errors, when the Prophet says, that there is no spirit in idols, that is, in wood, stone, gold, and silver, and that they are therefore a He; for God will not have himself to be compared to dead things, without mind and life. He then adds —
15. They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.
15. Vanitas sunt, opus illusionum; in tempore visitationis ipsorum peribunt.
He confirms the same thing. What he called before falsehood, שקר, shikor, he calls now vanity, הבל ebel. They are vanity, he says. He had said that they were falsehood, which means, that men were grossly deceived when they sought the presence of God in dead things, now he says, that they were vanity, and also the work of illusions; but some render the last word “mockeries,” taking it in a passive sense; and hence the Chaldee interpreter renders it, “a thing worthy of ridicule and laughter.” 14 But I prefer to take it for imposture or deception. Jacob said to his mother, “I shall be found in the eyes of my father a deceiver;” but some render the word there “a mocker.” But Jacob, on the contrary, meant that he should be found out as one of no credit, or acting in guile, as though he had said, “I shall be an impostor, and rny father will flnd out the fraud.” So also in this place, he calls idols the work of deceptions, by which men infatuated themselves. He does not then teach us here that idols deserved to be ridiculed, but he refers to the madness of those who imagined that they were gods, for he had before called them vanity and falsehood; and there is no doubt but that in these various ways he repeats and confirms the same thing.
He afterwards adds, In the time of their visitation they shall perish The pronoun “their” may be applied to idols or to the Chaldeans: when the time of visitation shall come; that is, when God shall punish the enemies of his Church, then their idols shall perish: or, when the time shall come for God to visit the idols, they shall perish. Either sense may be admitted; and indeed as to the subject in hand, there is no difference.
The Israelites might have objected and said, “How is it then that false gods, whom men have devised for themselves, are worshipped, and are in great esteem and highly regarded? How does God suffer and overlook this?” The Israelites might have raised an objection of this kind. Therefore the Prophet answers them, They shall perish; but it shall be at the time of visitation 15 It is an exhortation to patience, that the faithful might not despond or be weakened in their hopes, though they saw silver gods carried on men’s shoulders, though they saw wood and stone set on elevated places, and incense burnt to them and sacrifices offered to them. Though then they saw idols in such esteem, they were not yet to despair or fall away from true religion, for the time of visitation was to be looked for, when God would execute his judgment on the false gods as well as on their worshippets. We now understand why he speaks of visitation. It follows —
16. The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things; and Israel is the rod of his inheritance: The LORD of hosts is his name.
16. Non sicuti illi portio Iacob, quia creator omnium est; et Israel virga haereditatis, ejus, Iehova exercituum nomen ejus.
We have said before, that superstitions cannot be from the heart and boldly rejected, except the true God be known; for the heathens, even when they disapproved of the opinions of the vulgar, yet reasoned on both sides, and knew nothing certain, and had no sure faith. It is, therefore, necessary that we should have previously a knowledge of the true God. Hence the Prophets, whenever they spoke of idols, spoke also of the true God; for it would have been to little purpose to condemn these follies, except they represented God in his own real dignity. For this reason the Prophet says again, that God, who is the portion of Israel, is not like idols.
He calls God the portion of Israel, that he might preserve the people in the pure truth of the law which they had learnt, and with which they had been favored; and thus he draws away the attention of the Israelites from all the inventions of men or of the heathens. The portion then of Israel is not like idols — how so? For he is the former of all things, that is, the creator of heaven and earth. Then he says, Israel is the rod of his inheritance 16 Rod may be taken for a measuring rod; and I think it ought to be so taken, for he mentions inheritance: for he took the comparison from common practice; as men are wont to measure fields and possessions by a rod. He therefore says, Israel is the rod, that is, the measuring rod of his inheritance He concludes by saying, Jehovah of hosts is his name
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to shew thyself so plainly to us, and as thou art pleased to confirm us in thy truth, — O grant that we may not turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but depend entirely on thy word, and so cleave to thee that no errors of the world may draw us aside: may we constantly persevere in that faith which we have learnt from thy Law and thy Prophets, and especially from thy gospel, where thou hast made thyself more clearly known to us, through Christ Jesus, until we shall at length enjoy thy full and perfect glory, when we shall be transformed into it in that inheritance, which has been purchased for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. — Amen.
17. Gather up thy wares out of the land, O inhabitant of the fortress.
17. Collige e terra merces tuas, quae habitas in munitione:
18. For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once, and will distress them, that they may find it so.
18. Quia sic dicit Iehova, Ecce ego funda projiciens habitatores terrae vice hac, et coarctabo eos (vel, faciam ut obsideant eos) ut inveniant.
The first verse which we have recited, the Rabbins think, is addressed to the Chaldeans, but in my view very incorrectly. Jeremiah had indeed said that all the nations who devised gods of stone and of other corruptible materials, were very foolish; but we have seen for what purpose he said this, even to confirm the Israelites, who were captives, and in addition to the disgrace of exile were greatly hated by the Chaldeans and the Assyrians; it was, I say, to confirm them, lest they should depart from the true worship of God, but constantly defend the honor of their God, from whom they expected restoration. It is, therefore, absurd for the Rabbins to explain this verse of the Chaldeans; for the two verses ought to be connected, gather thy merchandise, because thus saith Jehovah It is then strange that these interpreters apply the second verse to the Israelites, while they read the first by itself, as though they were not connected: yet a reason is given why he bids all wages to be gathered.
But the meaning is simply this, — that the whole country would be exposed to the will of their enemies, that they might plunder it: as then devastation was nigh at hand, the Prophet bids those in fortified places to gather their wages, or to gather a gathering, (we shall hereafter speak of this expression.) Now, we have already stated in several places, that the Prophets ironically touched on the torpidity of the people; for plain truth would have had no effect, except it was urged on them as it were vehemently The Prophet then undertakes the character of a man, who brings warlike tidings, as we shall more clearly see presently. But in this place, as in some other places, he declares that nowhere in Judea would there be safety, except in fortresses; which yet would not be able to resist the attacks of enemies, as we shall hereafter see.
As to the words, some give this rendering, “gather thy humiliation,” as כנעcano, means to be humble; but they apply the words to Babylon, as though the Prophet had said, “Now cease to subdue the remaining nations.” Thus they take the verb אסף asaph, in the sense of contraction, when some moderation is observed. But I have already said that this verse cannot refer to Babylon or to the Chaldeans. As then the Prophet addresses the Jews, and speaks of their effects, or of their merchandise, or precious things, which were wont to be gathered and laid up; as though he had said, “Gather thy gathering;” for the word כנע cano, means also to collect or to gather: and this is a suitable meaning, it being taken afterwards for doing business. But as to the subject itself there is no obscurity; for the Prophet shews that in a short time the whole of Judea would be laid waste by enemies; and as it was to be exposed to plunder, what is usual was to be done, that is, to gather whatever was valuable into fortified cities. In short, the Prophet here declares that war and ruin would come on the Jews, which would extend through the whole land; for by land he means the country, as distinguished from fortified towns.
Then follows the reason, For thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will with a sling cast out the inhabitants of the land Land here is to be taken in another sense, even for the whole country. Wherever then the Jews dwelt, the Lord, says the Prophet, will draw them forth, yea, east them out as with a sling. We now then see that the vengeance which the Jews despised is denounced on them, because they remained securely in their own delusions; and what still more provoked God’s wrath, they regarded all that Jeremiah said of his judgment as a fable. But he compares their violent exile to slinging, and represents the Lord as the slinger. We know that when a sling is flung and a stone is cast, the motion is very violent. Such a casting away is then what God here threatens the people with, — that he would violently throw them here and there, like stones when cast by a sling.
And he says at this term or time, in order that the Jews might know that their calamity would be like a sudden storm. For they had often been subject to the assaults of enemies; but at one time they had delivered themselves, at another the Chaldeans and Assyrians had been constrained to turn aside to other quarters; or they had been miraculously delivered by God’s aid. They hoped that it would be the same always; and they thought also that by protracting the war they could disappoint their enemies, as they had often done; and further still, they expected aid from various quarters. Hence the Prophet says, that they would be so taken away, that God would at once cast them all out of the land, and east them out as it were in one day: at this time they, will I fling out the inhabitants of the land
Then he says, And I will straiten them. Some render the verb transitively, as it is in Hiphil, “I will cause them to be besieged by their enemies,” and then, “that their enemies may find them.” But this seems forced. Others more correctly give this explanation of the last clause, “that they may find,” that is, as true, what had been so often foretold them. For, as we have said, the Prophets and their threatenings had been despised, as the Jews had hardened themselves in their impiety: therefore this interpretation may be allowed. But I prefer a more general meaning, — that they may find, even what they had sought; for they had in many and various ways provoked the wrath of God: it was therefore right that they should at last find that which they had by their perverse doings procured for themselves, according to what is said in Isa 57:10,
“They shall find the fruit of their own ways.”
The Jews sought nothing less than the calamity which Jeremiah denounced on them: but they had really long sought it; for it was right that they should receive the wages due to their wickedness. Then it is, that they may find, that is, the reward of their own works. 17 It follows —
19. Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it.
19. Hei mihi super contritione mea; dolore plena est percussio mea: et ego dixi, Certe (vel, utique) haec plaga mea, et feram eam.
The Prophet here no doubt speaks in the name of the whole people; for he saw that no one was moved by threatenings, though very grievous and severe; and this mode of speaking must be sufficiently known to us, for it is commonly used by all the prophets. They first, addressed the people; but when they saw that they produced no effect, in order to shew their indignation, they speak of themselves as in the presence of God: thus they rebuked the hardness and torpidity of men. So now does Jeremiah speak, Woe to me for my bruising! He did not grieve on his own account; but, as I have said, he represents the grief which the whole people ought to have felt, which yet they did not feel at all. As then they were so stupid, and proudly derided God and his threatenings, the Prophet shews to them, as it were in a mirror, what grievous and bitter lamentation awaited them.
We must then bear in mind that the Prophet speaks not here according to the feeling which the people had, for they were so stupified that they felt nothing; but that he speaks of what they ought to have felt, as though he had said, — “Were there in them a particle of wisdom, they would all most surely bewail their approaching calamity, before God begins to make his judgment to fall on their heads; but no one is moved: I shall therefore weep alone, but it is on your account.” There is yet no doubt but he intended to try in every way whether God’s threatenings would penetrate into their hearts.
He says that his smiting was full of pain; and then adds, And I said, Surely it is my stroke, and I will bear it. As I have already said, he does not relate what the Jews said or thought, but what would have been the case with them had they the smallest portion of wisdom. Some connect this with the following verse, as though the Prophet had said that he thought himself able to bear his grief, but was deceived, as he was at length constrained to succumb. But this is an incorrect view, and the passage runs better otherwise. The Prophet here reminds his own people with what feeling they ought to have regarded the fact, that God was angry with them; for he no doubt indirectly condemns their sottishness, because God’s hand was put forth to chastise them, and yet they disregarded the hand of him who smote them. He then relates what they ought to have thought and felt, when God shewed tokens of his wrath, — that they ought to have acknowledged that it was their own stroke, and that it was therefore to be borne: for it is the best preparation for repentance when the sinner acknowledges that he is justly smitten, and when he willingly receives the yoke. When, therefore, any one proceeds thus far, his conversion is half effected.
The Prophet then teaches us here that the only remedy which remained for the Jews was to be fully convinced that they deserved the punishment which they endured, and then patiently to submit to God’s judgment, according to what a dutiful son does who suffers himself to be chastised when he offends. The word is used in another sense in Ps 77:10,
“To die is my lot.”
The Prophet has חלי, cheli, here; but there it is חלותי cheluti. That passage is indeed variously explained; but it seenis to be an expression of despair, when it is said, “To die is my lot;” that is, it is all over with me. But the Prophet here shews that it was the beginning of repentance, when the Jews confessed that they deserved their stroke; for no doubt there is here a comparison made between sin and its punishment, as though the Prophet had said, “We have thus deserved, and God allots to us the reward due to our sins.” It is one thing, — to give glory to God, by confessing that he inflicts due punishment; but it is not sufficient unless patience be added, — I will bear it; that is, I will submit to God. For there are many who, when convinced of their sins, do yet complain against their judge, and also raise a clamor. Hence the Prophet joins together these two things, — the confession of sin and patience; so that they who experience the severity of God quietly submit to him as long as He exercises towards them the office of a judge. 18 He afterwards adds —
20. My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains.
20. Tabernaculum meum vastatum est (vel, dirutum) et omnes funes mei rupti sunt; filii mei egressi sunt a me (particula ני tantundem valet ac ממני,) et nulli sunt (hoc est, nulli restant amplius:) nemo qui extendat amplius tabernaculum meum, et erigat (vel, disponat) cortinas meas.
This metaphor may have been taken from shepherds, and it seems suitable here; yet the prophets often compare the Church to a tent. Though indeed it is said elsewhere that the Church is built on the holy mountains, (Ps 87:1) and great firmness is ascribed to it, yet, as to its external condition, it may justly be said to be like a tent, for there is no fixed residence for God’s children on earth, for they are often constrained to ehange their place; and hence Paul speaks of the faithful as unsettled. (1Co 4:11.) But as, in the next verse, mention is made of shepherds, the Prophet seems here to refer to the tents of shepherds. Though indeed he takes hereafter the similitude more generally, or in a wider sense, yet there is no reason why he should not allude to the shepherds of whom he afterwards speaks, and yet retain the metaphor which so often occurs in all the prophets.
He then says that his tent was pulled down, and that all his cords were broken Some take the tent for the city of Jerusalem, but this is a strained view, and unsuitable. We have already said that the Prophet speaks here in the name of the whole people; and it is the same as though he compared the people to a man dwelling with his family in a tent. He adds, My children are gone forth from me The people then complain that they were deprived of all their children; nor was this all, but they were scattered here and there, which was worse than if they had been taken away by death. He afterwards says, And there is no one to extend my tent, and to set up my curtains Jeremiah shews that the people would be so bereaved as to have none to bring them any assistance, though in much want of it.
No one then thought that such a thing would take place, and Jeremiah was held in contempt, and some raged against him, and yet He shewed what would be. And that what he said might be more forcible, and produce a stronger effect, he speaks in their name, like a poet in a play, who describes a miser, and mentions things suitable to his character, making use of such words and actions, so that he cannot but see, as it were in a mirror, his own disposition and conduct. So also the Prophet does here; for when He saw that the stupid people could not be moved by the simple truth, he told them what they all ought to have felt in their liearts, and to have testified by their mouths, — that they were solitary, deserted by all who belonged to them, and that there was no one to bring them any help. 19 But he pursues, as we have said, the same metaphor. It follows —
21. For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.
21. Quia infatuati sunt pastores, et Jehovam non inquisierunt; propterea non egerunt prospere (alii, non intellexerunt,) et omnis pascua eorum (hoc est, quicquid in pascuis eorum erat) fuit destructum.
In the first place, he assigns a cause for the dreadful devastation of which he had spoken, and that was, because the shepherds were without thought and understanding. He still, as we see, goes on with his metaphor. Some confine this to the kings of Israel; but I do not agree with them: for I include under the name shepherds, the priests and the prophets as wen as the king and his counsellors. But Jeremiah did not mean to exempt the people from fault, when He, in an especial manner, accused the shepherds; but he only mentioned the origin and the primary cause of evils, — that the kings, the prophets, and the priests were blind, and thus destroyed the flock of God. We have observed elsewhere the same mode of speaking; and yet the prophets did not intend to extenuate the vices of the people, nor to absolve the lower orders. But as it mostly happens that the lower ranks, and those in humble stations, rely much on the chief men who occupy places of authority, it was necessary that the prophets should notice this evil: and we also know how nmch pride and arrogance there is in kings and priests, and in all those who elljoy any honor or dignity; for they think themselves exempt from the restraint of laws, and will not be reproved, as though they were sacred persons. It was, therefore, for this reason, that the Prophet reproved such with so much vehemence and severity. Hence, he says, The shepherds are infatuated
The people, indeed, at that time repudiated the prophets, as the case is now under the Papacy. For even when the truth of God is dearly and perspicuously set forth, there are many who set up this shield, — that they believe their bishops, prelates, and kings, and others of a similar kind. When, therefore, Jeremiah saw that the pure truth of God was subverted by vain splendor, he found it necessary to expose the disguise, and, so to speak, to pull off the mask. It was, then, for this reason, that he said that the shepherds were infatuated. If the prophets were under this necessity, what ought to be done by us at this day, when we see that all those who unblushingly boast that they are the representatives of the Church are sheer impostors, and draw miserable souls into destruction? What else, I pray, ought to be done by us, but what we learn was done by the prophets? And how foolishly and childishly do the Papal bishops prattle, when they would have themselves exempted from all reproofs, because power and government is in their own hands! For they cannot surely assume to themselves more than what belonged formerly to the Levitical priests; for God had chosen them, and all the priests under the law might have justly boasted that they were appointed by divine authority: yet we see that they were reproved, and were said to be infatuated. The Pope and his bishops have not been appointed by God, nor have they any evidence of their calling. Though, then, they arrogate all things to themselves, and seem to do so by divine right, yet they cannot be deemed superior to the ancient priests: they must, therefore, become subject to the judgment which God denounces here by the mouth of his Prophet.
He gives a reason why they were infatuated, because they sought not Jehovah We hence see, on the other hand, that true wisdom is to seek God. When, therefore, there is no care taken to seek God, however acute men may be, they must necessarily be altogether infatuated: and it was for this reason that Jeremiah called them who had not sought God foolish or fatuitous. This passage teaches us, that the only way of governing rightly is, when they who rule strive to give glory to God, and regard him in all their thoughts and actions: but when they act otherwise, they must necessarily play the feel and become infatuated, however wise they may appear to be.
Hence he says, they have not prospered The verb שכל, shical, means to understand, and also to prosper. I see no reason for rendering it here, “they have not understood” or acted wisely; for it seems frigid, nor do I see what sense can be elicited. But the Prophet may be considered to have justly said, that neither the kings and their counsellors, nor the priests and the prophets ruled with any success, because they sought not God; and that as they had no care for true religion, they were become infatuated. 20 And what follows confirms this view, And all that was in their pastures, etc.; for the Prophet seems here to add to his general statement a particular thing, and thus to prove that the government was unhappily conducted, being under the curse of God, because true religion had been neglected. He then adds this special thing, — that the pastures had been deserted, that is, that the flock in the pastures had been wholly scattered. It follows —
22. Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.
22. Vox rumoris, ecce venit, et strepitus (vel, tumultus) magnus (commotio, alii vertunt) e terra Aquilonis, ad ponendas urbes Jehudah in vastationem, domicilium draconum.
Jeremiah shews in this verse that prophetic doctrine was useless to an obstinate people; for there is a contrast, no doubt, to be understood betweenthe voice of God, which had constantly resounded in Judea, and the tumultuous clamours of enemies; for the prophets, one after another, had reproved the people, but without effect. Now, then, as they were deaf to God’s voice, the Prophet declares that new teachers were now come who would address them in another way, and in an unusual manner. The voice then of rumor is heard; “ye would not hear me and other servants of God; but a voice of rumor comes from the north: the Chaldeans shall be your teachers; I send you to their school, since I have spent my labor for many years in vain, as all those have done who before me diligently sought to lead you to the right way, whom God employed, and who faithfully endeavored to secure your safety; but they were no more attended to than I am, and therefore they ceased to teach you. I now turn you over to the Chaldeans; they shall teach you.” This is the simple meaning.
The voice of rumor, he says, or literally, of hearing, שמועה, shimuoe, comes; that is, the voice which shall be heard, for they had closed their ears to the prophetic warnings; and a great tumult or commotion from the land of the north We now then see that the Chaldeans are set in opposition to the prophets, who had labored in vain among the Jews; as though Jeremiah had said that the Jews would, willing or unwilling, be made to attend to this tumultuous noise; and he says that it would be for the purpose of turning the cities of Judah to desolation and an habitation of dragons 21 It follows —
23. O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
23. Novi, Jehova, quod non sit penes hominem via ejus, non sit penes virum ambulantem, ut dirigat grassum suum.
The Jews confine this to Sennacherib, who had, according to his own will, at one time resolved to attack the Ammonites, at another the Moabites, and to reduce them under his own power; but had been induced by a sudden impulse to go to Judea. But this is frivolous. The Prophet, I doubt not, referred to the Jews, who had for a long time been accustomed to dismiss every fear, as though they were able by their own counsels to consult in the best way for the public good: for we know, that whenever any danger was apprehended from the Assyrians, they usually fled for aid to Egypt or to Chaldea. Thus, then, they provided for themselves, so tlmt they thought that they took good care of their affairs, while they had recourse to this or that expedient; and then, when the prophets denounced on them the vengeance of God, they usually regarded only their then present state, as though God could not; in one instant vibrate his lightnings from the rising to the setting sun.
Since then this security produced torpor and obstinacy, the Prophet in this passage justly exclaims, I know, Jehovah, that his way is not in man’s power; nor is it in the power of a person walking to direct his steps 22
We now perceive what the Prophet had in view; and this is ever to be remembered — that if we desire to read what has been written with profit, we must consider the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, and then the purpose for which he has spoken. When we understand these things, then it is easy to make the application to other things: but he who does not weigh the end in view, ever wanders here and there, and though he may say many things, he yet does not reach the chief point. 23 But we must observe that the Prophet, as he had done before, spoke as though he had God alone as his witness, for he saw that his own people were so hardened, that he addressed his words to them in vain: he therefore turned to God, which was a proof that he despaired as to the disposition of the people, as though he had said, “I shall have nothing to do with this perverse people any more; for I have already found out by my experience that their perverseness is untameable. I am now therefore constrained, O Lord, to address thee as though I were alone in the world.” This is the reason why he spoke to God himself. We shall defer the rest fill to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are in like manner at this day so torpid, that we are not moved by thy threatenings, nor do the kind and friendly warnings, by which thou invitest us to thyself, prevail with us, — O grant that we may at length learn to attend to the truth, in whatever form thou settest it before us, and that we may be teachable and obedient, when thou only invitest us, and that if we become hardened, we may be also touched by thy threatenings, and not tempt thy patience, but suffer ourselves to be brought under thy yoke, and so submit to thee, that thou mayest through our whole life rule over us, and shew to us thy paternal love, so that, after having faithfully served thee in this world, we may come at length into that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. — Amen.
We stated yesterday why the Prophet exclaimed, that man’s way is not in his own power: for as the sentence is brought in abruptly, it is made to signify different things. But I have briefly shewed that the Prophet condemns the security of his own people, because they thought that they were beyond the reach of danger, as they hoped for aid from neighboring nations in league with them, or because they supposed that they had sufficient help and protection in their own resources. Hence the Prophet derides this foolish confidence, and says, that his way is not in the power of man, and that it is not in the power of man while walking to direct his steps
It must be farther noticed, that he treats not here of counsels, but that though men wisely guided their affairs, the Prophet denies that the issue is in their own hands or at their own will: and hence he expressly speaks of a man walking He concedes that men walk, but yet he intimates that they cannot move a foot, except they receive strength from God. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view.
We may hence gather a general truth — that men greatly deceive themselves, when they think that fortune or the issue of events is in their own hands: for though they may consult most wisely, yet things will turn out unsuccessfully, unless God blesses their counsels. And this is what we ought carefully to notice, because we see how presumptuously men promise themselves this and that; and this presumption can hardly be arrested while men arrogate to themselves what belongs peculiarly to God alone. There are many warnings given in Scripture in order to check this rashness; but almost all proceed in their own course, and cannot, be induced to allow themselves to be ruled by God. James condemns this madness 24 when he says, that men resolve what they would for a long time do: the merchant determines on a long voyage, not only for three or four months, but for many years; another undertakes war; another ventures to take this or that business in hand; in short, there is no end to such instances. The Holy Spirit has by this one passage checked the boldness of those who claim for themselves more than they ought: but the greater part, as I have already said, think that the event is in their own power. On this account Solomon says, 25 that man deliberates, but that it is God who governs the tongue. He had said in the former clause, that it is man who sets in order his ways; but he said this ironically, as it is what most believe; fortwhen they undertake anything, they are not so solicitous about the event, but they always promise to themselves more than what they have a right to do. Men, he says, set in order or arrange their ways, but God governs the tongue; that is, they cannot speak a word unless the Lord lets loose the bridle of their tongues; and yet we know that many things are vainly said by men, for they are never accomplished. Since then the voice itself is not in the power of man, but depends on the will of God, what ought we to think of the issue?
We now then see the truth which may be learnt from this passage, — that men deceive themselves when they dare to undertake this or that business, and promise themselves a happy issue. But we must farther observe, that not only events are at the disposal of God, but counsels also; for God directs the hearts and minds of men as it seemeth him good. But all things are not said in every passage. The Prophet does not here avowedly speak of what men can do, but grants this to them — that they consult, that they decide; yet he teaches us that the execution is not in their own power.
Some foolishly elicit from this passage, that something belongs to man, that he possesses some power of free-will. There seems indeed to be here something plausible at the first view. Jeremiah says, that his way is not in man’s power, and that it is not in the power of him who walks to direct his steps; he then, it is said, has left something to manm he walks; it hence follows that free — will is not reduced to nothing, but that a defect is proved, for man of himself has no sufficient power unless he is helped from above. These are only puerile trifles; for, as we have said, the Prophet does not shew here what are the powers of free-will, and what power man has to deliberate, but he takes this as granted; yet the children of this world, though they seem to themselves to be very acute in all things, and take their own counsels, and rely on their own resources, are yet deceived, because God can in one moment dissipate all their hopes, as the events of things are wholly in his power. It is therefore by way of concession that he says that man walks, according to what Paul says in Ro 9:16, though in that passage he ascends higher; yet in saying, that it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, he seems to concede to men the power of willing and running. But there is to be understood here a species of irony; for we know that men can never be stripped of that vain and deceptive conceit which fills them, while they think that they can obtain righteousness by their own strength. They dare not, indeed, actually to boast that they are the authors of their own salvation, and that righteousness is within their own power, but they wish to be associates with God. Though they admit him as a partner, they yet wish to divide with him. This is the folly which Paul ridicules; and he says, that it is not of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God only who shews mercy; that is, that man’s salvation is alone from the mercy of God, and that it is not from the toil and running of man.
When the Pelagians sought by this cavil to evade the sentence of Paul, “It is not of him who wills and runs,” deducing hence, that man has some liberty to will and to run, Augustine said wisely, “If it be so, then, on the other hand, we may infer, that it is not of God who shews mercy, but of him who wills and runs.” 26 How so? If men co-operate in half with God, and if there is a concurrence of human power with the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit, and if this sentence, “It is not of him who wills, or of him who runs,” is true according to the sense given to it, so we may also say, that it is not only of God who shews mercy, but also of him who wills and runs. Why? Because the mercy of God is not sufficient if it is to be aided by man’s power. But this is extremely absurd, and there is no one who does not abhor the thought, that man’s salvation is not from God’s mercy, but from their willing and running. It then follows, that all human power, and all lab ours, are wholly excluded by these words of Paul.
Now, the Prophet does not speak of eternal salvation, but only of the actions of the present life. As then the Israelites thought that they had sufficient protection in their own wisdom, in their own power, in their own nmnbers, and also in their confederacies with other nations, the Prophet says, that they were deceived, for they arrogated to themselves the ruling power, which belongs to God alone; for what men commonly call fortune is nothing else but God’s providence. Since then God by his hidden counsel governs the affairs of men, it follows that all events, prosperous or adverse, are at his will. Whatever, then, men may consult, determine, and attempt, they yet can execute nothing, for God gives such an issue as he pleases.
We now see what the Prophet speaks of, and also see that he touches not on the powers of free-will; for he does not refer here to man’s will, but only shews that after men have arranged their affairs in the best manner, all their counsels, strivings, and toils come to nothing, and that God disappoints their confidence, because they dare rashly to promise to themselves more than what is right. It now follows —
24. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.
24. Castiga me, Jehova, tantummodo in judicio, non in ira tua, ne imminuas me.
The Prophet again indirectly reproves and condemns the stupor of the people, because he saw that all his threatenings were despised. They had indeed been often punished, and they thought that they had escaped; and though an extreme calamity was approaching, they yet supposed that God was far from them; and thus they cherished their own delusions. Hence the Prophet alone personates the whole people, and undertakes a common and public lamentation. Chastise me, Jehovah, he says, but in judgment The Prophet doubtless is not here solicitous about his own safety only, nor does he plead his own private cause, but he supplicates for the whole people.
But why does he speak of himself alone? Because he personated, as I have already said, the whole community, and thus reproved them for their insensibility, because they were not more attentive to the approaching judgment of God. In short, the Prophet here teaches them how they must all have felt, were they not wholly blinded and, as it were, given up to a reprobate mind;. and thus he shews, that the only thing that remained for them was suppliantly to ask pardon from God, and that they were not wholly to refuse all chastisement, but to supplicate forgiveness only in part, even that God would not exercise such severity as altogether to consume them. In this way he shews how atrocious were the sins of the people; for they were not simply and unreservedly to ask God to pardon them, but only to moderate his vengeance. When any one sins lightly, he may flee to God’s mercy, and say, “Lord, forgive me!” but they who have accumulated evils on evils, and after having been often warned have not repented, as though they purposely sought to arm God against themselves and to their own ruin, — can such seek entire exemption from all punishment? This would not be meet nor reasonable.
The Prophet then shews here briefly, that the Jews had so far advanced in wickedness that God would not wholly forgive them, and that they were not to seek pardon without any chastisement, but only to ask of God, as I have said, to moderate his severity. David did the same thing, though he pleaded his own cause only, and not that of the people. He deprecated God’s wrath and indignation; he sought not to be so forgiven as to feel no chastisement; but as he dreaded God’s wrath he wished it to be in a measure averted. And hence, in another place, he thanks God that he had been lightly smitten by his hand,
“Chastising, the Lord has chastised me,
but doomed me not to death.” (Ps 118:18)
But this ought to be especially observed as to the words of Jeremiah, — that the people ought not to have asked pardon unless they submitted to God’s chastisement, for they had most grievously and perversely sinned.
We may hence also gather a general truth: the real character and nature of repentance is, to submit to God’s judgment and to suffer with a resigned mind his chastisement, provided it be paternal. For when God deals with us according to strict justice, all hope of salvation is extinguished, so that it cannot be that we shall from the heart repent. Let us then know that this is necessary in repentance — that he who has offended God should present himself willingly, and of his own accord, before his tribunal and bear his chastisement. For they who are so delicate and tender, that they cannot endure any of his scourges, seem to be still refractory and rebellious. Wherever, then, there is the true feeling of penitence, there is this submission connected with it, — that God should chastise him who has offended. But a moderation is needed, according to the promise,
“I will chastise them, but with the hand of man; for my mercy will I not take away from them.” (2Sa 7:14;
Ps. 89:33, 35)
This was God’s promise to Solomon; but we know that it belongs to all the members of Christ. Though then God indiscriminately punishes the sins of the whole world, there is yet a great difference between the elect and the reprobate, for God grants this privilege to his elect, — that he chastises them paternally as his children, while he deals with the reprobate as a severe judge, so that all the punishments which they endure are fatal, as they cannot see anything but God’s wrath in their judgments. The elect also have ever a reason for consolation, for they know God to be their Father; and though they may at first shun his wrath, and being smitten with terror, seek some hiding places, yet having afterwards a taste of his kindness and mercy they take courage; and thus their punishments, though much more grievous than those endured by the reprobate, are yet not fatal to them, for God turns them to remedies. We now then see what is the use and benefit of what the Prophet teaches, when he says, Chastise me, Jehovah, but only in judgment
Judgment is to be taken here for moderation. The word משפט meshepheth, has indeed various meanings: but it is to be regarded here as signifying a measured portion; not that God ever exceeds due limits in inflicting punishment, but because men faint when he exercises rigor, as then there appears to them no hope of pardon. When God therefore executes only the office of a Judge, men must necessarily faint altogether: so Jeremiah means, that there would be no measured dealing, that is, that God’s judgment would not be endurable, except he dealt mercifully with him. 27 There is also set in opposition to this another clause, not in fury, or, not in wrath. Here then the want of moderation or excess is not opposed to a measured proportion, but the wrath of God. We also know that no passions belong to God; but, when God’s wrath or rigour appears, men must necessarily not only be terrified, but be also reduced to nothing: and yet in many places we read that` God is angry with his elect and the whole Church: but, this is to be referred to the outward appearance; for it is certain that the punishments with which God visits his own children are evidences of his paternal love, as in this way he promotes their salvation. Hence the Apostle says, that they are bastards whom God does not favor with any correction. (Heb 12:8.) But yet as to the outward appearance, the punishments which God inflicts on his elect differ nothing from those by which he manifests his wrath, and which he executes on the reprobate. Therefore it is by a sort of impropriety in language that punishments are always said to be evidences and signs of God’s wrath, and that God is said to be angry with his Church. But the Prophet speaks here strictly correct when he sets God’s wrath in opposition to his judgment, that. is, to that moderation which he exercises towards his elect, when he withholds his hand, which would otherwise overwhelm them in an instant.
Hence he subjoins, Lest thou shouldest diminish them By diminishing he means destruction: as in many other places. It could not be otherwise but that God should diminish us, were he only to touch us with the end of his finger, as we know how dreadful is his power: nor is there any need for him to thunder from heaven, but were he only to shew an angry countenance, it would be all over with us. But the Prophet takes diminution here for demolition. We hence see that he so subjects himself and the whole people to God’s chastisement as yet to seek some moderation; for otherwise God’s rigor would have consumed them all, from the least to the greatest, according to what is also said by Isaiah,
“I have tried thee, but not as gold and silver, for thou wouldest have been consumed.” (Isa 48:10)
God then so deals with miserable sinners, that he regards what they can bear, and not what they deserve. This is simply what the Prophet means. 28
But we may hence learn, that there is no one who can bear the strict rigour of God; and that therefore our only asylum is his mercy; not that he may pardon us altogether: for it is good for us to be chastised by his hand; but that he may chastise us only according to his paternal kindness. It follows —
25. Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate.
25. Effunde iram tuam super gentes, quae te non noverunt, et super cognationes (vel, familias) quae nomen tuum non invocaverunt; quia comederunt Jacob, comederunt inquam ipsum, et consumpserunt eum, et tabernacula ejus vastarunt.
The Prophet confirms his prayer by this reason — that God had sufficient ground for executing his vengeance on the wicked and ungodly heathens who were alienated from him; and there is no doubt but that he had respect to the promise to which we have referred; for the Prophet knew that what had been said once to David was promised to the whole Church throughout all ages. Hence He reminds God, as it were, of the difference which he had made between domestics and foreigners; as though he had said, “O Lord, though it is right and also useful for our salvation to be chastised by thy hand, yet thou dost not indiscriminately visit with vengeance the sins of men; for thou hast promised paternally to chastise thy children: but as to aliens, thou art their judge, so that they may be wholly destroyed. Now then, O Lord, shew that this has not been said in vain; and as thou hast been pleased to adopt us as thy peculiar people, forgive us according to thy paternal kindness.” Hence we see that the Prophet did not inconsiderately pour forth his prayer into the air, but had a regard to God’s promise, and referred to that difference which God himself was pleased to make between his Church and unbelievers.
He then says, Pour forth thy wrath on the nations who know not thee: and he exaggerates what he says by adding, that Jacob had been devoured by these heathen nations as by wild beasts; as though he had said, “We have indeed sinned, O Lord; but (lost thou shew thyself to be the Judge of the world for our destruction, and yet sparest the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans, who have so cruelly distressed us, yea, who have not only torn us, but have also wholly devoured us? (For he uses the word devour twice; and then he adds, They have consumed him; and lastly, His tents have they laid waste ) Since then they have so atrociously raged against thy people, are they to go unpunished, when thou castest us down, who are thine? Even had we given thee ever so great a cause for punishing us, still thine adoption should avail us; and thou mightest in the meantime execute thy judgment on the heathen nations.”
There is no doubt but that the Prophet, or whoever he was who composed the seventy-ninth Psalm, borrowed the words used here, for it is there said,
“Pour forth thy wrath on the nations who know not thee, and on the kingdoms which have not called on thy name; for they have consumed Jacob and his inheritance.” (Ps. 79:6, 7)
It may be that Jeremiah himself wrote that Psalm, after having been driven into Egypt, when that city had been destroyed. It was, however, suitable to the time when dreadful scattering had happened; for the Psalm seems to have been composed for the benefit of the miserable, and as it were of the lost Church. It is yet more probable that it was written under the tyranny of Antiochus, or at the time when the cruelty of God’s enemies raged against his people. However this may be, the author of that Psalm wished to repeat what is contained here.
It may now be asked, Whether it is right to pray for evils on the ungodly and wicked, while we are doubtful and uncertain as to their final doom. For as God has not made it known how he purposes to deal at last with them, the rule of charity ought on the contrary to turn us another way, — that we are to hope for their salvation and to pray God to forgive them: but the Prophet; consigns them only to destruction; and he speaks not according to his own private feeling, but dictates a prayer which all the faithful were to use. To this I answer, — that we are not to denounce a sentence on this or that man individually, and that our prejudging would be presumptuous, were we to consign individuals to eternal death and to pray for evil on them: but we may use this form of prayer generally with regard to the obstinate enemies of God, so as still to refer to him the certainty of the issue; and yet we are not to mix in one mass all those whom we know to be now ungodly, for this, as I have said, would be presumptuous It would then be more becoming in us to pray for the good of all and to wish their salvation, and, as far as we can, to promote it. Yet when we thus entertain love towards every individual, we may still so pray in general, that God would lay prostrate, consume, scatter, and reduce to nothing his enemies. There is then no doubt but that the Prophet here turns his own thoughts to God’s judgment, as though He had said, “Lord, it was thy work to make a distinction between domestics and aliens; it has pleased thee to adopt this people; what now remains, but that thou shouldest deal mercifully with them, inasmuch as thou sustainest towards them the character of a Father? As to the heathen nations, as they are aliens to thee and belong not to thy flock, destruction awaits them; let them therefore perish.”
Now the Prophet in thus speaking of heathen nations, does not anticipate God’s judgment so as to restrain him from doing what he pleased: but he only mentions, as I have already said, what he derived from God’s word, — that some are elected, and that others are reprobates. He infers God’s election from his vocation or his covenant; and, on the other hand, he regards all those reprobate on whom God has not been pleased to bestow the privilege of his paternal favor.
The question then is now solved: and hence it appears how it is lawful for us to pray for the destruction of the reprobate, and of those who despise God, — that our prayers ought not to anticipate God’s judgment, — and that we are not to determine as to individuals, but only remember this distinction — that God acts as a Father towards his elect, and as a judge towards the reprobate.
Pour forth then thy wrath: as he had subjected himself and the whole people to God’s chastisements, so he says, Pour forth thy wrath; that is, deal with them with strict justice; but yet moderate thy wrath towards us, lest like the deluge it should swallow us up; for the word “pour forth” conveys this meaning. By saying, on the nations which know not thee, which have not called on thy name, he uses words which ought to be carefully noticed; for we are by them taught that the beginning of religion is the knowledge of God. He then mentions the fruit or the effect, which is invocation or prayer. These two things are connected together: but we must bear in mind the order also; for God cannot be invoked, except the knowledge of him previously shines on us. Indeed all everywhere call on God; even the unbelieving commonly cry on him when urged by danger; but they do not rightly address their prayers to him, nor offer them as legitimate sacrifices. How so? How can they call on him,” says Paul, “in whom they have not believed?” Hence it is necessary, as I have said, that God himself should shew us the way before we can rightly pray: and therefore where there is no knowledge of God, there can be no way of praying to him. But when God has once given us light, then there is a way of access open to us. Invocation then is ever the fruit of faith, as it is an evidence of religion; for all who call not on God, and that seriously, prove that they have never known anything of religion. If then we desire to pray aright, we must first learn what is God’s will towards us: we must also know that we then only advance as we ought in the attainment of salvation, when we flee to God and exercise ourselves in prayer.
He lastly adds, For they have consumed Jacob, they have consumed him, they have consumed him, 29 and his tents have they laid waste. Two things are to be observed here: we see how sad and miserable was the state of the Church; for he says not that the Israelites had suffered many wrongs, or had been treated violently and reproachfully, but that they had been devoured by the nations, and he repeats this twice; and then he adds, that they had been consumed, and that their tents had been laid waste. Since then we see how cruelly afflicted were God’s children formerly, let us not wonder if the Church at this day be exposed to the most grievous calamities, and let us not be frightened as though it was something new and unusual; but as the same thing happened formerly to our fathers, let us bear such trials with a submissive mind. The other thing to be observed is, — that as the Prophet was not here led to pray by the impulse of his flesh, but by the guidance of the Spirit, we may hence with certainty conclude, that though the enemies of the Church triumph at this day, and think that they have everything in their own power, while they cruelly treat the innocent, they shall at length be punished; for the Spirit who guided the tongue of the Prophet intended this form of prayer to be unto us like a promise, so that we may feel assured that the more atrociously the ungodly rage against God’s children, the heavier punishment is nigh them as the wages of their cruelty. They indeed devour, at this day, like wild beasts; but God will sooner or later put forth his hand, and shew how precious to him is the blood of his people.
Grant, Almighty God, that since we are so torpid in our sins, except thou rousest us, that we profit not by the severe warnings by which thou didst formerly stimulate thine ancient people, and since we have also been already warned by many signs of thy wrath to seek repentance with increasing assiduity, — O grant that we may earnestly persevere in this course, and so submit to thee, that with patient and calm minds we may bear thy corrections: and may we in the meantime be fully assured that thou wilt ever be our Father, and never hesitate, even in death itself, to flee to thy mercy, until thou pourest forth thy wrath on the ungodly and the profane despisers of thy name, and shewest such compassion towards us, that we may know that thou hast not in vain promised that thy chastisements would ever be kind and paternal, in visiting the sins of those who hope in thee, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Here the preceding lecture ends in the original; but in order to keep the chapters distinct, this section has been transferred to the present lecture. A similar arrangement is adopted as to the last lecture in this volume. — Ed.
The Sept. and Vulg. render it “according” — κατὰ — juxta. It is omitted in the Syr. Blayney renders the line thus: —
“Unto the way of the heathen conform ye not.”
We may view it as a negative, thus: —
“No, the way of the heathen learn not.”
But it is most probable a typographical error for את as Jeremiah so writes at least in two other instances, Jer 2:23, and Jer 12:16. — Ed
Blayney gives a similar explanation — “The sun, moon, and stars are said indeed to have been created and set in the firmament for ‘signs.’ (Ge 1:14) But hereby is meant, that they should serve as natural marks, serving to distinguish, by their periodical revolutions and appearances, the various times and seasons; which, however, is a very different use from that of prognosticating future events, or causing any alteration in the fortunes of men.” — Ed.
This is not correct, the verb is plural, and there is no different reading. The Vulgate has led Calvin and our translators astray here. The other versions never changed the form of the sentence. The verse may be thus rendered, —
3. Verily, the customs of the nations are very vanity; For a tree from the forest they cut down, — The work of the hands of the worker with the ax!
Then verbs in the plural number follow in the next verse, —
4. With silver and with gold they beautify, With nails and with hammers they fasten them, So that none may move them
The verb for “move” is in Hiphil; it means in Kal to totter, “that none may cause them to totter.”
But the Septuagint have rendered the verb “cut down” as a passive participle, כרות, transposing the ו; and Venema takes this as the proper reading, — “For a tree from the forest is cut down.” But this does not run well with the following verse. The nations or heathens, is the nominative to all the verbs.
Venema renders the last line of the fourth verse, —
That nothing may make them to reel.
He considers that לא means often “nothing;” but it means also sometimes, “none,” or no one. — Ed
Cum faber incertus scanmum faceretne Priapm, Maluit esse Demu.” — Hor. Lib. 1, Sat. 8.
The word is, מאין: the מ here is not a preposition, but a formative, and the word means none. So all the versions and the Targum render it. The proper rendering of the verse is —
None is like thee, Jehovah; Great art thou, And great is thy name, in strength.
This verse is omitted in the Septuagint. The sentence, “To thee it belongs, is in the Vulgate and Syriac, “Thine is the honor;” and in theTargum and Arabic, “Thine is the kingdom.” Blayney gives this version, —
“When he shall approach unto thee.”
But this has hardly a meaning here, and far less has the rendering of Horsley, —
“Surely unto thee shall be the coming;”
i.e.,” The general coming, the universal resort.” The bishop saw predictions everywhere. The explanation of Calvin is the most satisfactory. The act mentioned in the preceding clause, “fear,” is to be understood as the nominative case. — Ed.
All the versions and the Targum, as in the former instance, do not regard the מ as a preposition, but render the word by “none,” or no one. — Ed
The word באחת is rendered by the Versions and the Targum, alike, equally or together. Literally, “in one,” that is, altogether. Calvin rather refines here. The verse may be thus rendered, —
But they are together brutish and stupid; The teaching of vanities the wood is.
Literally, “the wood it,” but as Gataker says, the pronoun is often used in Hebrew for the substantive verb. The phrase is elliptical, no unusual thing in Hebrew. It may be thus, rendering in full, —
The teaching of vanities, is the teaching of the wood,
or respecting the wood.
What they taught respecting the wooden idols was “vanities,” that is, very or extremely vain; for so the plural often means. The version ofBlayney, after Castellio, and approved by Horsley, is the following, —
“The very wood itself being a rebuker of vanities.”
But it is a sentiment not suitable to this place. The most strict meaning of מוסר is restraint, and not rebuke; it often means teaching or instruction. — Ed
The verse is literally thus, —
9. Silver extended, from Tarsis it is brought, And gold from Uphaz, — The work of the artizan And of the hands of the founder; Blue and purple their garments, — The work of the wise, all of them.
The Septuagint and Arabic have “Mophaz;” the Vulgate, “Ophaz;” the Syriac and the Targum, “Ophir.” Probably the same country is meant, and that it had two names. “Blue” is rendered “hyacinth,” violet-color, by all the versions and the Targum.
“Uphaz,” according to Bochart, was a country near the Ganges in India, and the same with Ophir. — Ed.
The verse, literally rendered, is as follows: —
“But Jehovah, God the truth he, God the life and King eternal;
At his wrath tremble will the earth, And not bear will the nations his indignation.”
It is usual in Hebrew to put nouns for adjectives; divested of this peculiarity, and the future being taken for the present, the verse would run thus:
“But Jehovah, the true God is he, The living God and King eternal;
At his wrath tremble does the earth, And the nations cannot bear his indignation.”
“The true God,” and “the living God,” is the version of the Vulgate and of the Targum; but that of the Syriac and Arab., “the God of truth,” and “the God of the living,” but no doubt incorrect. — Ed.
Critics have unnecessarily suggested a doubt as to the genuineness of this verse, written in Chaldee. They have nothing but conjecture, and even for that conjecture there is no solid reason. It is not omitted in any MS. but one, nor by any of the early versions, nor by the Targum, though paraphrased more than what is commonly done. As to the context, it seems to be wholly necessary; for the meaning of the two following verses cannot be well understood without it, provided they are rendered correctly. I shall first give the three verses, and then point out the connection: —
11. Thus shall ye say to them, “The gods, who have not made the heaven and the earth, Perish from the earth, even from under heaven, shall they:
12. He who made the earth through his power, Who has set in order the world by his wisdom, And through his understanding expanded the heavens, —
13. At his voice when given, Abundance of waters is in the heavens, For he brings clouds from the extremity of the earth; Lightnings for rain he makes, And sends forth the wind from his treasures.”
The Prophet’s object was to shew that the Creator of the world is its ruler. As false gods did not create the world, they do not rule it. The name of the true God is not given in these verses, nor are the gods of the Chaldeans specially named. The gods who were no creators are alone mentioned, and contrasted with them is he who made all things; and of him he says, that “at his voice when given,” or literally, “at the voice of his giving,” abundance of waters appear, which he brings from the extremity of the earth. He states things as they appear; clouds arise from the horizon, said here to be the extremity of the earth. Then he mentions the most terrific things in nature, thunders, lightnings, and storms, (for that is what is meant here by wind,) as being under the entire control of him who made the heaven and the earth. Thus we see that when the passage is rightly understood, the eleventh verse is necessary as a portion of the context. “He who made,” etc. He is put as a sort of nominative absolute, as ”gods” is in the former verse. This kind of phraseology is often to be met with in Hebrew. — Ed.
The first, clause of this verse is rendered by the Sept. and Vulg., “Foolish has become every man by knowledge;” by the Syr., “Foolish have all men become without knowledge;” the Arab. and the Targ. convey the same idea with the last. Gataker takes this view and gives this version, “Every man is become brutish for want of knowledge.” But as the framers of idols were called, in Jer 10:9, “wise” or cunning men, it is more probable that their boasted knowledge is what is meant here. The verse may be thus rendered —
14. Brutish has every man become by his knowledge; Disgracefully has every founder done as to the graven image, For deception is his cunning; And no spirit is in them.
To render the different parts of this verse correspondent, it is necessary to take הוביש as a Hiphil. The connection is between the first and last line, and between the two middle lines. Every man, both the carver and the founder, or melter, were brutish, in employing their knowledge and skill in making idols or images, because there was, after all their toil, no spirit, no life in them. Then the founder acted shamefully in taking the carved thing or image, to cover it with gold or silver, because what he melted was a mere deception.
This verse is no prediction, but a representation of the extreme folly and stupidity of idol-makers. This is confirmed by the following verse. — Ed.
So, substantially, is the version of the Sept., Vulg., Syr., and Arab., — “ridiculous — worthy of laughter — foolish — ludicrous.” But the word means no such thing. The verb תעה means to wander, to err, to go astray; in Niphal, to be led astray, to be deceived; and Hiphil, to lead astray, to seduce, to deceive; and it is a Hiphil participle in Ge 27:12. It is here a reduplicate noun; and Blayney takes it as referring to persons, and not as an abstract noun — those who greatly err; and this is the best view, as the Prophet has been throughout describing the idol-makers —
Vanity are they (i.e., the idols,) The work of the grossly deluded:
At the time of their visitation they shall perish;
that is, the grossly deluded.
He had before threatened ruin to idols; but he now threatens their makers. — Ed.
Scott quotes a sermon of Mede, in which he says, “Ye have heard the state of the times, wherein this prophecy is commanded; now let us consider the event. We have heard of the admired oracles of the Gentiles, of Apollo at Delphos, of Jupiter Ammon in Egypt, etc.; but all of them are long since perished. Where is now Bel, the god of Babylon, Nisroch, the god of Assyria, Baal and Astaroth, the gods of Zidonians, Milcom of the Ammonites, Chemosh of Moab, and Tammuz of the Egyptians? Even these also are perished with their names.” The partial fulfillment of this prophecy is an evidence of its complete fulfillment, when “the spirit of evil,” as Scott says, “whom all idolaters worship, shall be confined to the bottomless pit.” — Ed.
This clause is left out in the Septuagint, but retained by the Vulgate, the Targum, and the Syriac, though “rod’ is rendered “tribe” in the last; and so it may be rendered, for שבט means a tribe as well as a rod or scepter: and this meaning is the most suitable. God was the portion of Israel, and Israel was the tribe or nation whom God inherited or possessed as his inheritance, there being no other nation so favored. — Ed.
As to these two verses the early versions all differ from one another, as well as from our version and that of Calvin. The Targum comes the nighest to our version. I offer the following rendering, —
17. Gather from the land thy gains, Thou who dwellest in a fortress!
18. For thus saith Jehovah, — Behold I will sling out The inhabitants of the land at this time, And will fortress them, that they may be taken.
The first verse is spoken ironically, recommending what they were doing. Then the Lord says what he would do: They were gathering their goods into fortresses in order to secure them, and the Lord says that he would violently fortress (as the word means literally) or drive into fortresses all the inhabitants of the land, and would do so, that they might be found or taken, that is, captives; there would be no need of collecting the people, for they would be driven into fortified cities, where the enemies would find them. This seems to be the meaning of this verse, which Horsley deemed “very obscure,” and elucidated “by no expositor.” — Ed.
Our translation, as to this verse, is nearly the Syriac. The Septuagint and Arabic have wandered much from the original; and so have the Vulgate and the Targum in some degree. The most literal is the version of Calvin. The terms here used, bruising, smiting, are commonly employed to designate great trouble and affliction, or distress; and this distress he describes in the verse that follows; and in the twenty-first verse the cause of it is set forth. And the distress corresponds with what he says in the eighteenth verse, where he says that the inhabitants would be driven from the land into fortresses, so that he would have none to set up his tent. All these verses seem connected. The literal rendering of this verse is as follows, —
19. Woe is to me, because of my bruising, (distress;) Grievous is my stroke; I have said, — Surely, this is grief! but I must bear it.
Then he proceeds to state his distress: he had none even to assist him to pitch his tent, the people having all been driven to fortified cities. — Ed.
I should render the verse as follows —
My tent, it is laid waste, And all my curtains, they are broken; My sons, they have left me, and there are none of them; No one extends any more my tent, and sets up my curtains.
When the noun precedes its verb in Hebrew, I consider that it ought commonly to be rendered as above. “There are none of them,” that is, with me; not that they “were not,” that is, that they were dead. — Ed.
The meaning of the verb שכל here is determined by the verb בער at the beginning of the verse: it is what is the reverse of that. Now בער is a verb derived from the name, which means a beast. To be like the beast is to be ignorant, stupid, void of reason and understanding: then שכל means here to act with knowledge, like one who possesses mind and reason. But then the shepherds did not act but like beasts who have no understanding. Then the verse may be thus rendered, —
20. For stupidly-ignorant have become the shepherds, And Jehovah they have not sought; Therefore wisely have they not acted, And every one from their pastures is scattered.
The “scattering” was from the land or country to the fortified towns, referred to in Jer 10:18. They left the country, like sheep quitting their shepherds’ pastures, and visited towns. Then, in the next verse, the Prophet says, that even the towns also would be destroyed. In the first instance God would terrify them, and fling them, as it were, from the land, so that they would take shelter in fortresses: this would be owing to the foolish conduct or their shepherds. They would be driven, then, that their enemies might more easily find or take them: and in the following verse he announces the approach of their enemies who were coming to lay waste their towns.
All the versions give the idea of knowledge or wisdom to שכל here; but the Targum, that of prosperity. To act foolishly is what they all render the verb בער — Ed.
The verse may be thus rendered, —
A sound is heard! — behold it comes, Even a great commotion, from the land of the North, To make the cities of Judah a desolation, The habitation of dragons.
Blayney is right in taking the first words by themselves, but, “Hark, a voice!” is not a true version, שמועה is here a passive participle. — Ed
Literally rendered the verse is as follows: —
I know, Jehovah, That not to a mortal is his way;
Nor is it for man to walk And to stablish his steps.
Such substantially is the meaning of the Targum, and of all the versions, except the Syriac, which Blayney has followed thus:
I know Jehovah, that his way is not like that of men,
Nor like a human being doth he proceed and order his going.
This construction is wholly inadmissible. Had Jehovah been in the objective case, it would have את before it. See 1Sa 3:7. Then the rest of the verse is a paraphrase and not a version; and such a paraphrase as the original will not bear. To “walk” and to “stablish” are in the same predicament, both infinitives; and so they are rendered in all the versions and the Targum.
The design of the passage seems to be more correctly intimated by Gataker than by Calvin: — “Lord, we know well, that this army cannot come in but by thy permission; but since thou art resolved to chastise us, we beseech thee, in wrath remember mercy.” So in the next verse the Prophet says, “O Lord, correct me, but with judgment.” — Ed.
Or, as the French version has it, “does not reach the burden and knot of the subject.”
Epist. 107, ad Vitalem.
The word judgment, though usually given as the version of the original word, does not convey its meaning here. Of the twelve senses mentioned by Johnson as belonging to the word judgment, not one of them is applicable to this place. There is perhaps not a word in any language which includes all the ideas conveyed by a word of a similar general import in another. The word משפט is rendered in our version, “judgment,” Ex 23:6, — “manner,” 1Sa 27:11, — “custom,” 1Sa 2:13, — “ordinance,” Isa 58:2, — “due,” De 18:3, — “right,” De 21:17, — “measure,” Jer 30:11; the last is in the sense of moderation; and this is its meaning here; or, it may be rendered, “due measure.”
Chastise me, Jehovah, but yet in moderation; Not in thy wrath, lest thou diminish me,
render me small.
The Septuagint and Arabic render this verse as though spoken by the people, “chastise us,” etc., and the last clause, “lest thou make us few.” The Targum has, “chastise them,” and, “lest they be diminished.” These are interpretations and not versions. The Vulgate and the Syriac render the Hebrew literally, “chastise me,” and the last clause, “lest thou reduce me to nothing,” or, according to the Syriac, “to a small number,” which is literally the original; and this verb clearly shews that this verse was spoken, as Calvin observes, in the name of the people: but diminution, and not destruction, is meant, as the verb has never the latter meaning. Hence our version is wrong, and also Blayney’s, “lest thou crush me to atoms.” Diminution, and not annihilation, is what the word means; and this diminution was one of the judgments that would come upon them in case of disobedience, as mentioned by Moses, Le 26:22. — Ed.
Blayney for no good reason has omitted the verb “consumed,” following the Septuagint and one MS. The Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Targum, retain the two verbs. So far is the last verb from being without meaning, as this author says, that it has an especial emphasis, it being stronger than the preceding verb, —
24. Pour forth thine indignation on the nations, Who know not thee, and on the families, Who on thy name have not called; For they have devoured Jacob, Yea, they have devoured him and consumed him, And his habitation have they made desolate.