Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 19: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The LORD shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon.
1. Videre me fecit (ostendit mihi visionem) Jehova, et ecce duo calathi ficuum positi coram Templo Jehovae, postquam transtulerat Nebuchadne-zer, rex Babylonis, Jechoniam, filium Joakim, regem Jehudah, et principes Jehudah, et artificem et inclusorem (vel, sculptorem) 122 e Jerusalem, et ab-duxerat eos Babylonem:
2. One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.
2. Calathus unus ficuum bonarum valde, sicuti sunt ficus praecoces; et alter calathus ficuum malarum valde, quae non comederentur propter malitiam (hoc est, adeo malae erant.)
The meaning of this vision is, that there was no reason for the ungodly to flatter themselves if they continued in their wickedness, though God did bear with them for a time. The King Jeconiah had been then carried away into exile, together with the chief men and artisans. The condition of the king and of the rest appeared indeed much worse than that of the people who remained in the country, for they still retained a hope that the royal dignity would again be restored, and that the city would flourish again and enjoy abundance of every blessing, though it was then nearly emptied; for everything precious had become a prey to the conqueror; and we indeed know how great was the avarice and rapacity of Nebuchadnezzar. The city then was at that time almost empty, and desolate in comparison with its former splendor. They however who remained might indeed have hoped for a better state of things, but those who had gone into exile were become like dead bodies. Hence miserable Jeconiah, who was banished and deprived of his kingdom, was apparently undergoing a most grievous punishment, together with his companions, who had been led away with him; and the Jews who remained at Jerusalem no doubt flattered themselves, as though God had dealt more kindly with them. Had they really repented, they would indeed have given thanks to God for having spared them; but as they had abused his forbearance, it was necessary to set before them what this chapter contains, even that they foolishly reasoned when they concluded, that God had been more propitious to them than to the rest.
But this is shewn by a vision: the Prophet saw two baskets or flaskets; and he saw them full of figs, and that before the temple of God; but the figs in one were sweet and savory; and the figs in the other were bitter, so that they could not be eaten. By the sweet figs God intended to represent Jeconiah and the other exiles, who had left their country: and he compares them to the ripe figs; for ripe figs have a sweet taste, while the other figs are rejected on account of their bitterness. In like manner, Jeconiah and the rest had as it were been consumed; but there were figs still remaining; and he says that the lot of those was better whom God had in due time punished, than of the others who remained, as they were accumulating a heavier judgment by their obstinacy. For since the time that Nebuchadnezzar had spoiled the city and had taken from it everything valuable, those who remained had not ceased to add sins to sins, so that there was a larger portion of divine vengeance ready to fall on them.
We now see the design of this vision. And he says that the vision was presented to him by God; and to say this was very necessary, that his doctrine might have more weight with the people. God, indeed, often spoke without a vision; but we have elsewhere stated what was the design of a vision; it was a sort of seal to what was delivered; for in order that the Prophet might possess greater authority, they not only spoke, but as it were sealed their doctrine, as though God had graven on it, as it were by his finger, a certain mark. But as this subject has been elsewhere largely handled, I shall now pass it by.
Behold, he says, two baskets of figs set before the temple. 123 The place ought to be noticed. It may have been that the Prophet was not allowed to move a step from his own house; and the vision may have been presented to him in the night, during thick darkness: but the temple being mentioned, shews that a part of the people had not been taken away without cause, and the other part left in the city; for it had proceeded from God himself. For in the temple God manifested himself; and therefore the prophets, when they wished to storm the hearts of the ungodly, often said,
“Go forth shall God from his temple.” (Isa 26:21; Mic 1:3.)
The temple then is to be taken here for the tribunal of God. Hence, he says, that these two baskets were set in the temple; as though he said, that the whole people stood at God’s tribunal, and that those who had been already cast into exile had not been carried away at the will of their enemies, but because God designed to punish them.
The time also is mentioned, After Yeconiah the son of Jehohoiakim had been carried away; for had not this been added, the vision would have been obscure, and no one at this day could understand why God had set two baskets in the presence of Jeremiah. A distinction then is made here between the exiles and those who dwelt in their own country; and at the same time they were reduced to great poverty, and the city was deprived of its splendor; there was hardly any magnificence in the Temple, the royal palace was spoiled, and the race of David only reigned by permission. But though the calamity of the city and people was grievous, yet, as it has been said, the Jews who remained in the city thought themselves in a manner happy in comparison with their brethren, who were become as it were dead; for God had ejected the king, and he was treated disdainfully as a captive, and the condition of the others was still worse. This difference then between the captives and those who remained in the land is what is here represented.
He now adds, that one basket had very good figs, and that the other had very bad figs. If it be asked whether Jeconiah was in himself approved by God, the answer is easy, — that he was suffering punishment for his sins. Then the Prophet speaks here comparatively, when he calls some good and others bad. We must also notice, that he speaks not here of persons but of punishment; as though he had said, “ye feel a dread when those exiles are mentioned, who have been deprived of the inheritance promised them by God: this seems hard to you; but this is moderate when ye consider what end awaits you.” He then does not call Jeconiah and other captives good in themselves; but he calls them good figs, because God had chastened them more gently than he intended to chastise Zedekiah and the rest. Thus he calls the Jews who remained bad figs, not only for this reason, because they were more wicked, though this was in part the reason, but he had regard to the punishment that was nigh at hand; for the severity of God was to be greater towards those whom he had spared, and against whom he had not immediately executed his vengeance. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet. The rest we shall defer to the next Lecture.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou delayest with so much forbearance the punishments which we have deserved, and daily draw on ourselves, — O grant, that we may not indulge ourselves, but carefully consider how often, and in how many different ways we have provoked thy wrath against us, that we may thus learn humbly to present ourselves to thee for pardon, and with true repentance so implore thy mercy, that we may from the heart desire wholly to submit ourselves to thee, that whether thou chastisest us, or, according to thine infinite goodness, forgivest us, our condition may be ever blessed, not by flattering ourselves in our torpitude, but by finding thee to be our kind and bountiful Father, being reconciled to us in thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
3. Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
3. Et dixit Jehova ad me, Quid tu vides Jeremiah? et dixi, Ficus, ficus bonas, bonas valde; et malas, malas valde, quae non comedantur propter malitiam.
4. Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
4. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad me, dicendo,
5. Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
5. Sic dicit Jehova, Deus Israel, Sicuti ficus bonae istae, sic agnoscam captivitatem Jehudah, quem emisi ex hoc loco in terram Chaldaeorum ad beneficentiam.
In the last Lecture we began to explain the meaning of the vision which the Prophet relates. We said that the miserable exiles whose condition might have appeared to be the worst, are yet compared to good figs, and that those who still remained in the country are compared to bad and bitter figs. We have explained why God shewed this vision to his servant Jeremiah, even because the captives might have otherwise been driven to despair, especially through the weariness of delay, for they saw that their brethren were still in possession of the inheritance granted them by God, while they were driven into a far country, and as it were disinherited, so that no one could regard them as God’s people. As then despair might have overwhelmed their minds, God designed to give them some comfort. On the other hand, those who remained in the land not only exulted over the miserable exiles, but also abused the forbearance of God, so that they obstinately resisted all threatenings, and thus hardened themselves more and more against God’s judgment, hence God declares what was remotest from what was commonly thought, that they had a better lot who lived captives in Babylon than those who remained quietly as it were in their own nest.
We have said that the badness of the figs is not to be explained of guilt, but of punishment: and this is what Jeremiah confirms, when he says, As these good figs, so will I acknowledge the captivity for good, or for beneficence, הבוט, thube. It is well known that captivity means the persons led captive, it being a collective word. Then he says,
“I will acknowledge the captives of Judah, whom I have driven from this people, so as to do them good again.” 124
As this doctrine was then incredible, God calls the attention of the Jews to the final issue; as though he had said, that they were mistaken who took only a present view of things, and did not extend their thoughts to the hope of mercy. For they thus reasoned, “It is better to remain in the country where God is worshipped, where the Temple is and the altar, than to live among heathen nations; it is better to have some liberty than to be under the yoke of tyranny; it is better to retain even the name of being a separate people than to be scattered here and there, so as not to be a community at all.” Hence, according to their state at that time, they thought their condition better: but God corrected this wrong judgment; for they ought to have looked to the end, and what awaited the exiles and captives as well as those whom the king of Babylon had for a time spared. Though, indeed, it was the Prophet’s object to alleviate the grief of those who had been led away into Chaldea, yet he had a special regard to the people over whom he was appointed an instructor and teacher. He was then at Jerusalem; and we know how perverse were those whom he had to contend with, for none could have been more obstinate than that people. As God had delayed his punishment, they supposed that they had wholly escaped, especially as they had an uncle as a successor to their captive king.
Hence, then, was their contempt of threatenings; hence was their greater liberty in sinning: they thought that God had taken vengeance on the exiles, and that they were saved as being the more excellent portion of the community. The Prophet, therefore, in order to break down this presumption, which he could not bend, set before them this vision, which had been given him from above. We now, then, see that the doctrine especially set forth is, that God would remember the captives for the purpose of doing them good, as though he had said that a wrong judgment was formed of the calamity of a few years, and that the end was to be looked to. It follows —
6. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
6. Et ponam (vel, adjiciam) oculum meum super eos in beneficentiam, et reducam eos ad terram hanc, et aedificabo eos et non diruam, et plantabo eos et non evellam.
He confirms what he said in the last verse, but in other words, for it was difficult to persuade them that they were happier who were apparently lost, than those who still enjoyed some measure of safety. He had said that he would acknowledge them; but he now adds, I will set my eye upon them He uses a metaphor which often occurs in Scripture, for God is said to turn away his face when he hides his favor; and in the same sense he is said to forget, to depart, not to care, to despise, to cast away. Then, as God might have seemed to have no more any care for this people, he says, “I will set my eyes on them.” But he goes even farther, for he refers to the sentence announced in the last verse — he had said that he was the author of their exile, “I have cast them into the land of the Chaldeans” but he now confirms the same thing, though in other words, when he says, “Mine eyes will I set on them for good.” For God is said to visit men, not only when he manifests his favor towards them, but also when he chastises them and punishes them for their sins. He had then set his eyes on them to execute punishment; he says now that he would act differently, that he would kindly treat the miserable.
He afterwards says, I will restore them For, as he had sent them away, it was in his power to restore them. As, then, he could heal the wound inflicted by his own hand, this promise ought to have been sufficient to dispel every doubt from the minds of the captives as to their return; and further, the Jews, who as yet remained in Jerusalem and in the land of Judah, ought to have known that they in vain boasted in their good lot, as though God treated them better than their captive brethren, for it was in his power to restore those whom he had banished.
And he adds, I will build and not pull them down, I will plant and not pluck them up This mode of speaking would not be so significant either in Latin or in Greek; but such a repetition, as it is well known, often occurs in Hebrew. But whenever a negative is added to an affirmative, such form of expression is to be thus interpreted, “I shall be so far from plucking them up, that I will plant them; I shall be so far from pulling them down, that I will build them up;” or, “since I had pulled them down, I will now build them up; since I had plucked them up, I will now plant them:” or a perpetuity may be meant, as though God had said, “I will plant them, so as not to pluck them again; I will build them, so as not to pull them down again.” But the most frequent import of such expressions is what I first mentioned, “I will not pull them down, but on the contrary build them up; I will not pluck them up, but on the contrary plant them.”
The meaning of the whole is, that however sad might be the calamities of the people in Chaldea, they being as exiles reduced to a desolate condition, yet God could collect them again, like one who plants a tree or builds a house. The metaphor of building is common in Scripture, and also that of planting. God is said to plant men, when he introduces a certain order among them, or when he allots to them a certain place to dwell in, or when he grants them peace and quietness. God is said in Ps 44:2, to have planted his people; but I will not refer to the many passages which are everywhere to be met with. God often says that he had planted his vineyard. (Isa 5:2, etc.) And then well known is this passage,
“The branch of the Lord, and the planting for his glory.”
This is said of the preservation of the Church.
The meaning then is, that though God severely chastised the exiles who had been led into Chaldea, yet their condition was not to be estimated by one day, or a month, or a few years, but that a happy end was to be expected. And as God intended at length to shew himself reconcilable and propitious, it follows that the calamity which had happened to them was lighter than that which awaited the rest, who resolutely despised God and his prophets, and thus increased the vengeance which had been already denounced on them. It follows, —
7. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
7. Et dabo illis cor ad cognoscendum me, quod ego sum Jehova; et erunt mihi in populum, et ego ero ipsis in Deum, quia revertentur ad me in toto corde suo.
Here is added the main benefit, that God would not only restore the captives, that they might dwell in the land of promise, but would also change them inwardly; for except God gives us a conviction as to our own sins, and then leads us by his Spirit to repentance, whatever benefit he may bestow on us, they will only conduce to our greater ruin. The Prophet has hitherto spoken of the alleviation of punishment, as though he had said, “God will stretch forth his hand to restore his people to their own country.” Then the remission of punishment is what has been hitherto promised; but now the Prophet speaks of a much more excellent favor, that God would not only mitigate punishment, but that he would also inwardly change and reform their hearts, so that they would not only return to their own country, but would also become a true Church, a name of which they had vainly boasted. For though they had been chosen to be a peculiar people, yet, as they had departed from true religion, they were only a Church in name. But now God promises that he would bring them, not only to enjoy temporal and fading blessings, but also eternal salvation, for they would truly fear and serve him.
And this is what we ought carefully to observe, for the more bountiful God is towards men, the more is his vengeance kindled by ingratitude. What, then, would it avail us to abound in all good things, except we had evidences of God’s paternal favor towards us? But when we regard this end, that God testifies to us that he is our Father by his bounty towards us, we then make a right use of all his blessings; and God’s benefits cannot conduce to our salvation except we regard them in this light. Hence Jeremiah, after having spoken of the people’s restoration, justly exalts this favor above everything else, that the people would repent, so that they would not only fully partake of all the blessings they could expect, but would also worship God in sincerity and truth.
Now, God says that he would give them a heart to know him The word heart is to be taken here for the mind or understanding, as it means often in Hebrew. It, indeed, means frequently the seat of the affections, and also the soul of man, as including reason or understanding and will. But though the heart is taken often for the seat of the affections, it is yet applied to designate the other part of the soul, according to these words,
“Hitherto God has not given thee a heart to understand.” (De 29:4)
The Latins sometimes take it in this sense, according to what Cicero shews when he quotes these words of Ennius, “Catus AElius Sextus was a man remarkable in understanding.” (Egregie cordatus; Cic. 1 Tuscul.) Then, in this passage, the word heart is put for the light of the understanding. Yet another thing must be stated, that a true knowledge of God is not, as they say, imaginary, but is ever connected with a right feeling.
From the words of the Prophet we learn that repentance is the peculiar gift of God. Had Jeremiah said only that they who had been previously driven by madness into ruin, would return to a sane mind, he might have appeared as one setting up free-will and putting conversion in the power of man himself, according to what the Papists hold, who dream that we can turn to either side, to good as well as to evil; and thus they imagine that we can, after having forsaken God, of ourselves turn to him. But the Prophet clearly shews here, that it is God’s peculiar gift; for what God claims for himself, he surely does not take away from men, as though he intended to deprive them of any right which may belong to them, according to what the Pelagians hold, who seem to think that God appears almost envious when he declares that man’s conversion is in his power; but this is nothing less than a diabolical madness. It is, then, enough for us to know, that what God claims for himself is not taken away from men, for it is not in their power.
Since, then, he affirms that he would give them a heart to understand, we hence learn that men are by nature blind, and also that when they are blinded by the devil, they cannot return to the right way, and that they cannot be otherwise capable of light than by having God to illuminate them by his Spirit. We then see that man, from the time he fell, cannot rise again until God stretches forth his hand not only to help him, (as the Papists say, for they dare not claim to themselves the whole of repentance, but they halve it between themselves and God,) but even to do the whole work from the beginning to the end; for God is not called the helper in repentance, but the author of it. God, then, does not say, “I will help them, so that when they raise up their eyes to me, they shall be immediately assisted;” no, he does not say this; but what he says is, “I will give them a heart to understand.” And as understanding or knowledge is the main thing in repentance, it follows that man remains wholly under the power of the devil, and is, as it were, his slave, until God draws him forth from his miserable bondage. In short, we must maintain, that as soon as the devil draws us from the right way of salvation, nothing can come to our minds but what sinks us more and more in ruin, until God interposes, and thus restore us when thinking of no such thing.
This passage also shews, that we cannot really turn to God until we acknowledge him to be the Judge; for until the sinner sets himself before God’s tribunal, he will never be touched with the feeling of true repentance. Let us then know that the door of repentance is then opened to us, when God constrains us to look to him. At the same time there is more included in the term Jehovah than the majesty of God, for he assumes this principle, which ought to have been sufficiently known to the whole people, that he was the only true God who had chosen for himself the seed of Abraham, who had published the Law by Moses, who had made a covenant with the posterity of Abraham. There is then no doubt but that the Prophet meant that when the Jews became illuminated, they would be convinced of what they had forgotten, that is, that they had departed from the only true God. This mode of speaking then means the same as though he had said, “I will open their eyes, that they may at length acknowledge that they are apostates, and be thus humbled when made sensible how grievous was their impiety in forsaking me the fountain of living waters.”
He afterwards adds, that they should be to him a people, and that he in his turn would be to them a God; for they would return to him with the whole heart By these words the Prophet shews more clearly what he had before referred to, that God’s blessings would be then altogether salutary when they regarded their giver. As long then as we regard only the blessings of God, our insensibility produces this effect, that the more bountiful he is towards us, the more culpable we become. But when we regard God’s bounty and paternal kindness towards us, we then really enjoy his blessings. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s words when he says,
“I shall be to you a God, and ye shall be to me a people.”
What this mode of speaking means has been stated elsewhere.
Though God rules the whole world, he yet declares that he is the God of the Church; and the faithful whom he has adopted, he favors with this high distinction, that they are his people; and he does this that they may be persuaded that there is safety in him, according to what is said by Habakkuk,
“Thou art our God, we shall not die.” (Hab 1:12.)
And of this sentence Christ himself is the best interpreter, when he says, that he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, (Lu 20:38;) he proves by the testimony of Moses, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though dead, were yet alive. How so; because God would not have declared that he was their God, were they not living to him. Since then he regards them as his people, he at the same time shews that there is life for them laid up in him. In short, we see that there is here promised by God not a restoration for a short time, but he adds the hope of eternal life and salvation; for the Jews were not only to return to their own country, when the time came to leave Chaldea, and a liberty granted them to build their own city; but they were also to become the true Church of God.
And the reason is also added, Because they will return to me, he says, with their whole heart He repeats what we have already observed, that they would be wise (cordatos) and intelligent, whereas they had been for a long time stupid and foolish, and the devil had so blinded them, that they were not capable of receiving sound doctrine. But these two things, the reconciliation of God with men and repentance, are necessarily connected together, yet repentance ought not to be deemed as the cause of pardon or of reconciliation, as many falsely think who imagine that men deserve pardon because they repent. It is indeed true that God is never propitious to us, except when we turn to him; but the connection, as it has been already stated, is not such that repentance is the cause of pardon, nay, this very passage clearly shews that repentance itself depends on the grace and mercy of God. Since this is true, it follows that men are anticipated by God’s gratuitous kindness.
We hence further learn, that God is not otherwise propitious to us than according to his good pleasure, so that the cause of all is only in himself. Whence is it that a sinner returns to the right way and seeks God from whom he has departed? Is it because he is moved to do so of himself? Nay, but because God illuminates his mind and touches his heart, or rather renews it. How is it that God illuminates him who has become blind? Surely for this we can find no other cause than the gratuitous mercy of God. When God then is propitious to men, so as to restore them to himself, does he not anticipate them by his grace? How then can repentance be called the cause of reconciliation, when it is its effect? It cannot be at the same time its effect and cause.
We ought therefore carefully to notice the context here, for though the Prophet says that the Jews, when they returned, would be God’s people, because they would turn to him with their whole heart, he yet had before explained whence this turning or conversion would proceed, even because God would shew them mercy. They who pervert such passages according to their own fancies, are not so acquainted with Scripture as to know that there is a twofold reconciliation of men with God: He is first reconciled to men in a hidden manner, for when they despise him, he anticipates them by his grace, and illuminates their minds and renews their hearts. This first reconciliation is what they do not understand. But there is another reconciliation, known by experience, even when we feel that the wrath of God towards us is pacified, and are indeed made sensible of this by the effects. To this the reference is made in these words,
“Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,” (Zec 1:3)
that is, “I appear severe and rigid to you; but whence is this? even because ye cease not to provoke my wrath; return to me, and you shall find me ready to spare you.” God therefore did not then first begin to pardon sinners, when he does them good, but as he had been previously pacified, hence he turns them to himself, and afterwards shews that he is really reconciled to them.
By the whole heart, is intimated sincerity or integrity, as by a double heart, or a heart and a heart, is signified dissimulation. It is certain that no one turns to God in such a manner that he puts off all the affections of the flesh, that he is renewed at once in God’s image, so that he is freed from every stain. Such a conversion is never found in man. But when the Scripture speaks of the whole heart, it is in contrast with dissimulation;
“with my whole heart have I sought thee,” says David; “I have hid thy words and will keep them: I have prayed for thy favor; I will ask,” etc., (Ps 119:10-16;)
“They will seek me,” as Moses says, “with their whole heart.”
(De 4:29; De 10:12)
David did not divest himself of everything sinful, for he confesses in many places that he was laboring under many sins; but the clear meaning is, that what God requires is integrity. In short, the whole heart is integrity, that is when we deal not hypocritically with God, but desire from the heart to give up ourselves to him.
As we have before refuted the error of those who think that repentance is the cause why God becomes reconciled to us, so now we must know that God will not be propitious to us except we seek him. For there is a mutual bond of connection, so that God anticipates us by his grace, and also calls us to himself; in short, he draws us, and we feel in ourselves the working of the Holy Spirit. We do not indeed turn, unless we are turned; we do not turn through our own will or efforts, but it is the Holy Spirit’s work. Yet he who under pretext of grace indulges himself and cares not for God, and seeks not repentance, cannot flatter himself that he is one of God’s people; for as we have said, repentance is necessary. It follows, — but I cannot to-day finish this part, for he speaks of the badness of the figs, and of the remnant which still remained.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are placed in this world, that while daily receiving so many blessings, we may so pass our time as to regard our end and hasten towards the goal, — O grant, that the benefits and blessings by which thou invitest us to thyself, may not be impediments to us, and keep us attached to this world, but on the contrary stimulate us to fear thy name as well as to appreciate thy mercy, so that we may thus know thee to be our God, and strive on our part to present ourselves to thee as thy people, and so consecrate ourselves and all our services to thee, that thy name may be glorified in us, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
8. And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt:
8. Et sicut ficus malae, quae non comeduntur prae malitia (id est, amaritudine,) sic certe (est יכ, sed abundat, certe sic,) dicit Jehova, ita ponam Zedekiam, regem jehudah, et principesejus, et reliquias Jerusalem, quae residuae sunt in terra hac, et eos qui habitant in terra AEgypti.
God, after having promised to deal kindly with the captives, now declares that he would execute heavier punishment on King Zedekiah, and the whole people who yet remained in their own country. We have stated why God exhibited this vision to the Prophet, even that he might support their minds who saw nothing but grounds of despair, and that also, on the other hand, he might correct their pride who flattered themselves in their own lot, because God had deferred his vengeance as to them. Then the Prophet, having given comfort to the miserable exiles, now speaks against Zedekiah and his people, who boasted that God was propitious to them, and that they had not only been fortunate, but also wise in continuing in their own country.
He then says that Zedekiah and his princes, and all who remained in Judea, were like the bad figs, which could not be eaten on account of their bitterness. I have said that this is to be referred to punishment and not to guilt. They had sinned, I allow, most grievously; but we are to regard the design of the Prophet. The meaning then is, that though the condition of those who had been driven into captivity was for the present harder, yet God would deal more severely with those who remained, because he had for a time spared them, and they did not repent, but hardened themselves more and more in their wickedness.
Now we know that Zedekiah was set over the kingdom of Judah, when Jeconiah surrendered himself to Nebuchadnezzar: he was the uncle of Jeconiah, and reigned eleven years; and during that time he ought to have been at least wise at the expense of another. For Eliakim, who was also called Jehoiakim, had been chastised, and that not only once; but Nebuchadnezzar, after having spoiled the temple, rendered him tributary to himself, on his return to Chaldea. At length, after having been often deceived by him, he became extremely displeased with him; and his son, who had reigned with his father, three months after his death, voluntarily surrendered himself into the power and will of the conqueror. Mathaniah afterwards reigned, of whom the Prophet speaks here. So, he says, will I render 125 Zedekiah (called previously Mathaniah) the king of Judah, and his princes, and the remnants of Jerusalem, who remain in this land, (for the greater part had been led into exile,) and those who dwell in the land of Egypt, for many had fled thither; and we know that they were confederates with the Egyptians, and that through a vain confidence in them they often rebelled.
And this was also the reason why the prophets so sharply reproved them: they relied on the help of Egypt, and took shelter under its protection. When, therefore, they found themselves exposed to the will of their enemies, they fled into Egypt. But Nebuchadnezzar afterwards, as we shall see, conquered Egypt also. Thus it happened that they were only for a short time beyond the reach of danger. But as fugitive slaves, when recovered, are afterwards treated more severely by their masters, so also the rage of King Nebuchadnezzar became more violent against them. It now follows —
9. And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.
9. Et ponam eos in commotionem (vel, strepitum, vel, perturbationem, alii concussionem vertunt) in malum omnibus regnis terrae, in probrum, et parabolam, et proverbium, et execrationem in omnibus locis quo ejecero ipsos (vel, expulero.)
Here the Prophet borrows his words from Moses, in order to secure authority to his prophecy; for the Jews were ashamed to reject Moses, as they believed that the Law came from God: it would at least have been deemed by them an abominable thing to deny credit to the Law. And yet they boldly rejected all the prophets, though they were but faithful interpreters of the Law, as the case is with the Papists of the present day, who, though they dare not deny but that the Scripture contains celestial truth, yet furiously reject what is alleged from it. Similar was the perverseness of the Jews. Hence the prophets, in order to gain more credit to their words, often borrowed their very words from Moses, as though they had recited from a written document what had been dictated to them. For in Deuteronomy and in other places Moses spoke a language of this kind, — that God would give up the people to a concussion or a commotion, for a reproach, for a proverb, for a taunt, to all the nations of the earth. (De 28:37; 1Ki 9:7.)
It is then the same as though Jeremiah had said, that the time would at length come when the Jews would find that so many maledictions had not been pronounced in vain by Moses. They no doubt read Moses; but as they were so stupid, no fear, no reverence for God was felt by them, even when he terrified them with such words as these. The Prophet then says, that the time was now near when they should know by experience that God had not in vain threatened them.
I will set them for a commotion The verb עוז, zuo, means to move and to be noisy. Many render the noun here “noise,” others “perturbation,” and others, “the shaking of the head;” for we are wont to shake the head in scorn. 126
However this may be, we are to read in connection with this the following words, — that they would be for a reproach, and a terror, and a taunt, and an execration, to all nations It is then said, on account of evil: for the preposition ל, lamed, is to be taken here in different senses: before “commotion,” it means “for;” but here it is causal, “on account of.” The severe and dreadful vengeance of God would be such, that it would move and disturb all nations. He indeed mentions all kingdoms, but the meaning is the same. He then adds reproach, that is, that they would be subjected to the condemnation of all nations. They had refused to submit to God’s judgment, and when he would have made them ashamed for their good, they had wickedly resisted. It was therefore necessary to subject them to the reproach of all people.
It is added, for a proverb and for a tale, or as some read, “for a parable and for a proverb.” The word לשמ, meshel, means a common saying; but here it signifies a scoff, and a similar meaning must be given to, הנינש, shenine, a tale or a fable. By both words he means, that when the heathens wished to describe a most grievous calamity, they would take this example, “Yes, it is all over with the Jews, no nation has become so wretched.” The same view is to be taken of execration; for he intimates that they would become a type and a pattern of a curse, “Yes, may you perish like the Jews; may God execute vengeance on you, as he has done on the Jews.” He then adds, that this would happen to them in all places wherever God would drive them; as though the Prophet had said, that God would not be satisfied with their exile, though that was to be grievous and bitter; but that when driven to distant lands they would become objects of reproach, so that all would point at them with the finger of scorn, accompanied with every mark of reproach, and would be also taking them as an example of execration. He afterwards adds —
10. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.
10. Et mittam in ipsos gladium, famem et pestem, usque dum consumantur e superficie terrae, quam dedi ipsis et patribus ipsorum.
He confirms the former verse, — that God would then with extreme rigor punish them, by allowing the city and the inhabitants who remained, to be given up to the will of their enemies. And Jeremiah still speaks as from the mouth of Moses, that his prophecy might be more weighty, and that he might frighten those men who were so refractory. There are here three kinds of punishments which we often meet with, under which are included all other punishments. But as God for the most part punishes the sins of men by pestilence, or by famine, or by war, he connects these three together when his purpose is to include all kinds of punishment.
He adds, Until they be consumed from the face of the land; he says not “until they be consumed in the land,” but from the face of it, לעמ, mol, from upon it: for the Jews were not consumed in their own country; but he consumed them by degrees elsewhere, so that they gradually pined away: they were driven into exile, and that was their final destruction. 127 What this clause means I have explained in another place.
The Prophet adds, which I gave to them and to their fathers. His object here was to shake off from the Jews that foolish confidence with which they were inebriated: for as they had heard of the land in which they dwelt, that it was the rest of God, and as they knew that it had been given to them by an hereditary right, according to what had been promised to their fathers, they thought that it could never be taken away from them. They therefore became torpid in their sins, as though God was bound to them. The Prophet ridicules this folly by saying, that the promise and favor of God would not prevent him from depriving them of the land and of its possession, and from rejecting them as though they were aliens, notwithstanding the fact, that he had formerly adopted them as his children.
We now see the meaning of both parts of this vision. For the Prophet wished to alleviate the sorrow of the exiles when he said, that their state at length would be better; and so he promised that God would be reconciled to them after having for a time chastised them. Thus it is no small comfort to us when we regard the end; for as the Apostle says to the Hebrews, when we feel the scourges of God, sorrow is a hinderance to a patient suffering, as chastisement is for the present grievous, bitter, and difficult to be endured. (Heb 12:11.) It is therefore necessary, if we would patiently submit to God, to have regard to the issue: for until the sinner begins to taste of God’s grace and mercy, he will fret and murmur, or he will be stupid and hardened; and certainly he will receive no comfort. Afterwards the Prophet shews, on the other hand, that though God may spare us for a time, there is yet no reason for us to indulge ourselves, for he will at length make up for the delay by the heaviness of his punishment: the more indulgently he deals with us, the more grievous and dreadful will be his vengeance, when he sees that we have abused his forbearance. Now follows —
What this word exactly means it is difficult to know; it is rendered differently in the Versions and in the Targ. It is rendered here by the Sept. “prisoners,” and in 2 Kings 24:14, 16, “encloser, or joiner — συγκλείς;” by the Vulg. in three places, “clausor,” and “inclusor — closer and incloser,” and also in Jer 29:2. The word is not found elsewhere. The Targ. renders it “porters,” and the Syr. “soldiers.” As the word “artificer,” or mechanic, includes workers in wood and iron, that is, carpenters and smiths, it is probable that רגסמ means workers in embroidery, sculpture, and jewellery, Parkhurst was disposed to render it a setter, or incloser of precious stones; but Blayney renders it an armourer, who made the coats of mail which inclosed the body, as the word from which it comes means to inclose. It probably includes all engaged in the curious works of art, especially the three branches before mentioned. Perhaps the best modern word for it would be, the artist, —
“after Nebuchadrezar, the king of Babylon, removed Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, and the mechanic and the artist, from Jerusalem, and brought them to Babylon.”
Blayney’s rendering is “offered according to law before the temple.” See De 26:2. — Ed.
The word “acknowledge,” or own, would lead us to attach rather a different meaning to this expression: God would own them “good,” as the good figs. The next verse refers to God’s purpose to do them good. — Ed.
Rather “make.” The verb ןתנ, to give, means often to make, to constitute; and such is its meaning evidently here. As the figs were bad, unfit for eating; so God would make Zedekiah, the princes, etc., like them. The previous words, “yea, thus saith Jehovah,” would be better included in a parenthesis:
8. But like the bad figs, which cannot be eaten, they being so bad, (yea, thus saith Jehovah,) so will I make Zedekiah, etc.
“Vexation,” as rendered by the Vulg., and in several places in our version, is the best word. The word which follows is of a similar import, “for evil,” that is, annoyance. The verse is as follows, —
9. And I will make them a vexation, an evil, To all the kingdoms of the earth, — A reproach and a proverb, A taunt and an execration, In all the places where I shall drive them.
The word for “taunt” is rendered in other places “a byword:” it denotes what is sharp and cutting. They were to be objects and subjects of these things. Being a vexation and an evil, or an annoyance to others, they would become objects of reproach and execration, and subjects of proverbs and of taunts. See a note on Jer 15:4; vol. 2 — Ed.
The “sword” means war, and by war they were led captive. But their consumption in captivity is not what is here related; but their removal from their own land, and the means employed for that purpose. He had spoken before of what they would become in exile; but here he goes back as it were to describe their misery at the time of their captivity; they would be removed from their own land either by captivity, signified by the sword, or by famine, or by pestilence. — Ed.