Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 20: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon.
1. Sermo qui fuit ad Jeremiam a Jehova, postquam dimisit eum Nabuzardan, princeps interfectorum, e Ramah, quum sustulisset ipsum: et ipse vinctus erat cathenis (vel, manicis,) in medio captivitatis (hoc est, multitudinis captivae) Jerusalem et Jehudah, qui transferebantur Babylonem.
2. And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him, The LORD thy God hath pronounced this evil upon this place.
2. Et sumpsit princeps interfectorum Jeremiam, et dixit ad eum, Jehova Deus tuus loquutus est malum hoc super locum hunc;
3. Now the LORD hath brought it, and done according as he hath said: because ye have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon you.
3. Et adduxit et fecit Jehova sicut loquutus fuerat, quia peccastis Jehovae, et non audiistis vocem ejus; et fuit vobis res haec (hoc est, accidit vobis haec res.)
4. And now, behold, I loose thee this day from the chains which were upon thine hand. If it seem good unto thee to come with me into Babylon, come; and I will look well unto thee: but if it seem ill unto thee to come with me into Babylon, forbear: behold, all the land is before thee: whither it seemeth good and convenient for thee to go, thither go.
4. Et tu ecce (hoc est, quantum ad te,) ego ecce solvi te hodie a manicis (vel, cathenis, sed potius, a manicis, quoniam addit) quae erant super manus tuas (ideo perperam alii, vertunt, compedes, quia non ligantur compedibus;) si bonum in oculis tuis fecerit, ut venias (hoc est, si tibi placuerit venire) Babylonem, venias; ego autem ponam oculum meum super te; si autem malum in oculis tuis fuerit, ut venias Babylonem, desine (cessa, veI, supersedeas:) ecce tota regio coram facie tua est, ad bonum et rectum in oculis tuis, ad proficiscendum (hoc est, quod fuerit bonum et rectum in oculis tuis,) ut illic eas, eas.
Here Jeremiah pursues more at large what he had briefly touched upon before; for the Hebrews were wont, in a few words, to state the substance of the whole, and then to explain more diffusely what, they had briefly said. Jeremiah had before told us that some of the Babylonian generals had been sent to release him from prison; and he added that he had been committed to the care of Gedaliah, who had been set over the poor of the land. He now tells us, that he, as yet bound with chains, had been brought forth to Ramah in that miserable condition. These things appear inconsistent, but, as I have said, we must bear in mind, that there is an omission in that summary, which we have noticed. For, in the first instance, Jeremiah only said, that he had been freed from his chains; but he now states the manner more distinctly, and, as it were, the different parts of the transaction. Then this order ought to be especially noticed.
Moreover, this chapter so begins, that he seems throughout the chapter to have forgotten the introduction. He says, that a word came to him; he afterwards declares historically, how he had been brought to Ramah, and then that he had been released there, and also that Gedaliah was set over the remainder of the people: in short, there is not in this long’ passage any mention made of any prophecy; but there is inserted a whole historical narrative before the Prophet expresses what God had committed to him, after the city was taken, and after he had been restored to his former liberty. When, therefore, he says here, that a word came to him, we must wait until he has completed what we find in this chapter; for he will then return to this prophecy.
Let us now consider the words. After Nebuzaradan, he says, dismissed him from Ramah, etc.; into which place he had been brought by the guards, when he was as yet bound with chains. There is then no doubt but that the leaders of the army had ordered Jeremiah to be brought there, after he was taken out of the court of the prison, and that he was brought there in the presence of all the people; for it is probable also that all the Jews, who were to be led into exile, were brought there too, and that they were there mustered, that none might escape, for they would have slipped off here and there, had they not been delivered to guards. When, therefore, all the captives were there, Nebuzaradan ordered Jeremiah to be brought forth, not for the sake of degrading him, for, as we have seen, the king had been solicitous about his life; and no doubt this coutier wished to gratify his king in every way: but it was, on the contrary, for the purpose of an indirect reproof to all the people, as though he would honor the servant of God, who had so faithfully warned them, and for so long a time, even above forty years, and would set before them their wickedness, and also their ingratitude, for having so cruelly treated God’s servant.
This then was the reason why Nebuzaradan wished Jeremiah to come bound with chains, and to be released in the presence of all the people; it was that the Jews might at length be ashamed of their pride and impiety against God, and of their ingratitude towards the holy Prophet. Nebu-zaradan then did not treat Jeremiah reproachfully; but he brought him forth in chains, that he might publicly expose the wickedness of the whole nation.
He says, that an option was given him by Nebuzaradan; so that if he wished, he might remain in his own country, and choose the best place for himself, and the situation which was most agreeable to him; but if he chose rather to go to Babylon, there he might go. This, certainly, was a liberal offer. The Prophet was not only freed from prison and loosed from His chains; but liberty was so given him, that he alone was free, while the whole nation was reduced to bondage. For they who remained had no liberty to go elsewhere. But Nebuzaradan gave here a free option to Jere-mime, so that he was at liberty either to live in Chaldea, or to remain in any place he wished, or in any part of the earth.
But before he says this, he administers reproof to the people, and says, Jehovah thy God hath spoken evil on this city; and he hath brought it, and made it to come. Here Nebuzar-adan undertook the prophetic office, and spoke in high terms of God’s righteous vengeance on the people. There is no doubt but that God had raised up such a teacher to the Jews; for they had for forty years and more obstinately rejected celestial truth. God had not ceased kindly to invite them to repentance, and to promise them pardon and salvation, provided they repented. As then God had not ceased for so long a time, and continually to address them according to his paternal goodness, and at the same time had spoken to the deaf, they deserved to hear such a preacher as Nebuzaradan, who now contumeliously upbraided them, that they had brought this evil on themselves, because they had been disobedient and rebellious against God, as they had not obeyed his word.
There is here a remarkable example set before us, so that we may learn, that when God addresses us by his servants, we ought immediately to render obedience to him; let us learn to fear when he threatens us, and learn to entertain hope when he offers his favor to us. For if we reject the Prophets when they are sent to us, other teachers will arise, who will deride us, and though they may be themselves ungodly, they will yet upbraid us with our impiety. This then is the doctrine we ought to gather from this passage, in which we see that Nebuzaradan, as though gifted with the prophetic spirit, severely rebuked the people. He, indeed, addressed Jeremiah, and seems to have included him with the people, when he said, Thy God hath spoken — because ye have sinned and have been rebellious. But Nebuzaradan, no doubt, thus highly commended the faithfulness of Jeremiah, because he had been true and faithful in his vocation and office, he then did not make him as one of the people, nor did he mean that he had sinned with others, or had been rebellious against God. But, in the first, place, he addressed Jeremiah, Thy God, he said; and this was expressed by way of honor, even that God was the God of Jeremiah; for though the people boasted that they were holy, yet Nebuzaradan here indirectly condemned their foolish boastings, since he inti-mated that Jeremiah alone was worthy of being deemed one of God’s servants, as though he had said, that the Jews were unworthy of the honor of glorying in God’s name, or of professing it: Thy God then hath spoken The rest tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast promised that we shall be to thee as the apple of the eye, — O grant, that we may ever flee under the shadow of thy mercy, and that this alone may be our tranquillity in times of confusion and misery: and may we, at the same time, recumb in confidence on thy help, that we may, in sincerity, perform what thou commandest us, and that which is our duty to do, so that we may, by experience, find, that all they who obey thy voice are really sustained by thine hand, and that those are never disappointed who look for the certain reward of their obedience from thee; and may we carry on the warfare so perseveringly in this life, that we may know that there is a reward laid up for us in heaven, when Christ thine only-begotten Son shall appear. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-Third
WE began yesterday to explain the words of Nebuzaradan which he spoke before all the Jews. We have said that though he directed his words to Jeremiah, yet what he said referred to the whole people; for he spoke in praise of Jeremiah, and subscribed to his prophecies: he hence concluded that the people deserved their extreme punishment. He says that God had spoken, not that he had faith in the words of Jeremiah, but as far as he saw, that they were serviceable to his purpose. He-gladly laid hold on what he approved, as ungodly men do, who embrace what is useful for them in God’s Law and the Prophets, though they do not regard them with much reverence; and yet they pretend a great concern for religion. Such was the case with Nebu-zaradan; when he had got the victory over the Jews, he boasted that he was the minister of God; Jehovah, he says, has spoken, as though he had said, that the Jews suffered such punishment as they deserved, because God had long before declared that he would punish them.
And then he adds, that God had done as he had spoken, because they had sinned and hearkened not to his voice He was nothing better; but as I have already said, he boldly reproved others. And this is a common thing with hypocrites and all despisers of God; they are judges in another’s cause, but look not, as one has said, on the other side of the wallet. Thus all are keen and ready enough to condemn others; and of this we have an example here in Nebuzaradan, for, as though he was the lawful judge of the people, he declared that the destruction of the city and Temple had not happened by chance, but that it was a just punishment inflicted by God on the wicked, because they had obstinately rejected the prophetic doctrine, and had been intractable and disobedient.
Nor is there indeed a doubt, as we hinted yesterday, but that God, in order to expose the Jews to greater shame, raised up for them this prophet; for when Jeremiah addressed them, and that for their safety, while yet there was time to repent, they had perversely rejected that favor of God. They then deserved to be addressed with no benefit by a foreign teacher, who exulted over them, as this unbelieving heathen did in the present instance.
As to the option given to Jeremiah, we said yesterday that it was openly made in the presence of the Jews, in order that Nebuzaradan might wound them the more. But at the same time it was God’s purpose to make the perseverance of his servant an example, as we shall hereafter see. Let us now proceed, —
5. Now while he was not yet gone back, he said, Go back also to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon hath made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people: or go wheresoever it seemeth convenient unto thee to go. So the captain of the guard gave him victuals and a reward, and let him go.
5. Adhuc autem non reversus erat (hoc per parenthesin legendum est) et revertere ad Godoliam filium Achikam filii Saphan, quem praefecit rex Babylonis urbibus Jehudah, et habita cum eo in medio populi, vel ad quemcunque locum qui visus erit in oculis tuis ad proficiscendum illuc proficiscere; et dedit illi princeps interfectorum cibum et munus (est enallage numeri, munera) et demisit eum.
Jeremiah goes on with the same discourse, that Nebuzar-adan dealt bountifully with him, and permitted him to go wherever he wished. We hence conclude that Nebuchadnezzar was fully convinced of the honesty and uprightness of Jeremiah. For he knew how he was regarded among his own people, and that he might rouse great disturbances, except he was upright and quiet. As, then, Nebuchadnezzar had no doubt respecting’ the character of Jeremiah, he wished to grant him free liberty to choose his own habitation in any city he pleased, or to remove wherever it seemed good to him. Invitation was given him to go to Babylon, and a promise of favor was added; but it was further permitted to him to remain in his own country.
I have said that this was done according to the divine purpose, that the Prophet might give a proof of his religion. For if he had gone to Chaldea, it might have been that the confidence of many would have failed them, and that faith in the promises would have vanished: for they might have thought it a sign of hopeless despair, had the Prophet gone there. That he might not then disturb weak minds, he thought it his duty to remain in his own country. And hence God inclined the mind of Nebuchadnezzar and the minds of his leaders to grant liberty to the holy Prophet to remain in Judea, as though for the purpose of raising a standard for the captives, and of accomplishing their return after seventy years. We shall, however, see presently that he was led away elsewhere; but that in no degree frustrated his prophecies, because violent men led him away as a captive, and he at length died in Egypt. But he did not willingly remove from Judea, though he found there nothing but grief and sorrow; for he did not gratify himself, nor could he indulge in any pleasures, in the abundance of meat and drink, but he was ever lamenting the overthrow of his own nation, and especially the destruction of the Temple. As, then, he preferred Judea to all other countries, and submitted to be a constant spectator of so many miseries, he gave a remarkable proof of his faith and patience, and thus strengthened the faith of the miserable exiles, so that they might know that God would be yet merciful and propitious to his people.
He goes on with the words of Nebuzaradan, but he introduces this clause, He was not yet gone back, that is, because he was not yet gone back. Then Nebuzaradan said, “Return to Gedaliah, that is, if thou preferrest to live here rather than to follow me, then go to Gedaliah.” Here Nebuzaradan shews how he would have Jeremiah to live in safety in that land, which was as yet like a den of robbers, even that he should be with Gedaliab. And we see how solicitous Nebuzaradan was to preserve the life of the Prophet, for he wished that Gedaliah should be his guardian, as he had briefly said before; but he now sets the matter more fully and more at large before him, Return, he says, to Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon hath set over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him he intimates that Jeremiah would be without danger if he dwelt with Gedaliah, because he had been set over Judah by the king of Babylon. Repeated at the same time is what we have before observed, that it was in the Prophet’s power, either to go to Gedaliah or to go anywhere else; Whatever place, he says, it seems right in thine eyes to go to, go there He did not then assign to him any certain place, but gave him leave to go anywhere; so that the Prophet was to choose for himself an habitation either in Judea or out of Judea.
It follows, that he gave him food; for so I render the ארחה, areche, though some, “a present;” but it means food, as we shall hereafter see in the fifty-first chapter, where Jeremiah speaks of daily bread. The second word, משאה, meshae, I regard as meaning a gift or a present. Then Nebuzaradan bestowed on God’s servant food and other gifts. As to food, the Prophet might have well accepted it, for after the city was taken we know that he must have been in want of everything. Even before, he lived very scantily and miserably, having only a piece of bread daily. And now, when Nebuzaradan supplied him with food, there was no reason why the holy man should not in such want receive what was given him. But as to the presents, Jeremiah may seem to have forgotten himself; for it was a disgrace to him to receive from an enemy of God’s people, a present or gifts for his doctrine; for whence proceeded this benevolence and bounty to the Prophet, except that Nebuzaradan knew that his prophecy referred to the destruction of his own nation? It seems, then, that for this reason he wished to reward the holy man; he ought then to have refused these presents. But it is probable that he was not enriched by a large sum of money, or by costly things; Nebuzaradan only gave him some token of benevolence; and the Prophet might without suspicion have received the present, not as a reward for his doctrine, but rather as a confirmation of it offered by God, because the Jews had been enemies to him as long as he had been faithfully spending his labors among them; for when he bitterly reproved them, he had no other object but to secure their safety. But as he had been so inhumanely treated by the Jews, God intended that more humanity should be shown to him by a heathen and barbarous nation than by the children of Abraham, who boasted that they were the holy people of God. It was, then, for this reason that Jeremiah received gifts from the hand of Nebuzaradan. It follows, —
6. Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.
6. Et venit Jeremias ad Godoliam filium Achikam in Mispath; et habitavit cum eo in medio populi, qui residui erant in terra.
Here is shown to us the firmness of the Prophet, that he hesitated not to reject, what Nebuzaradan kindly offered to him, and yet he might have committed a great offense in making light, as it were, of Chaldea. It was, as we know, a very pleasant country, and very fertile; and tyrants cannot bear their bounty to be despised; for when they are pleased to honor any one, however little may be what they offer, if he refuses, they regard it as a dishonor done to them. The Prophet, then, might have been overcome by modesty and fear, so as to remove to Chaldea. That he dared simply to refuse the offer, and to ask that he might dwell in his own country, was a proof and evidence that he had more concern for religion, and more care for God’s Church, than for all the favors of men, and all that he might have hoped from the wealth of Babylon and Chaldea.
We hence see that the Prophet in receiving presents, accepted of nothing but what he knew would be for the benefit of God’s Church. At the same time he made light of the offense he might have given, when he chose to remain in his own country; for as we have said, it was as though he erected a standard to invite the Jews to return, and thus to prove the truth of his prophecy respecting their exile being temporary, the end of which was to be hoped for after seventy years. For this reason he says, that he went to Gedaliah, and dwelt in the midst of the people, even Of those who remained in the land. It follows, —
7. Now, when all the captains of the forces which were in the fields, even they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed unto him men, and women, and children, and of the poor of the land, of them that were not carried away captive to Babylon;
7. Et audierunt omnes principes exercituum qui erant in agro, ipsi et viri eorum, quod praefecisset rex Babylonis Godoliam filium Achikam in terra; et quod commiserat ei viros et mulieres et parvulum (hoc est, parvulos, sed fere in singulari numero hoc nomen legitur tam singulari quam plurali·significatione,) et ex paupertate terrae ex his qui non fuerant translati Babylonem;
8. Then they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, even Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah the son of a Maachathite, they and their men.
8. Et venerunt ad Godoliam in Mispath Ishmael filius Nathaniae et Jochanan (Joannes) et Jonathan filii Chareah et Seraiah filius Thanekumeth et filii Ophi, qui erat Nethophites, et Jazanias filius Maachati, ipsi et viri eorum.
Mention has been before made of Gedaliah. We have seen that the Prophet was once rescued from death through his kindness, for he interposed for him when almost all with one consent doomed the holy Prophet to death. 119 And God bestowed on him no common honor, that while he was seeking nothing, Nebuchadnezzar should set him as governor over the land. He did not, indeed, enjoy power for any length of time; but it was yet God’s will to extend his hand to the pious man, so that he might have, at least for a time, some evidence of his favor. He was at length, as we shall see, killed by treachery.
The Prophet now tells us, that the leaders of the forces, before scattered together with their troops, were now come to him. When the Prophet says that they were in the field, I do not think as some, that they were those who fled when the city was taken. But probably they were those who were forced to flee from the cities at the first entrance of the Chaldean army. Nor does it seem probable that they escaped, when all the companions of the king were overtaken and caught in the plain of Jericho, as we have already seen. I then think that they were those who had been scattered here and there, having deserted the cities committed to them at the first approach of their enemies. As then they had been wanderers from their own country and exiles, they now returned to Gedaliah. By saying that the leaders of the forces had heard, he does not mean that they had now an army, but that they had been set over cities and towns in Judea together with their troops.
They then and their men, came to Gedaliah, when they heard that the king of Babylon had set Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, over Judea, and that men, women, and children were committed to his power or keeping. And then he adds, from the poverty of the land, that is, from the dregs of the people, even from those who had not been removed to Babylon: they came, even Ishmael, etc.; who, as we shall hereafter see, became a traitor. He was, as the Prophet says, of the royal family. His spirits were still very high, and influenced by envy, he killed Gedaliah, though he had been kindly received by him. He had, at the same time, received a reward for his treachery from the king of Amon. But all these things we shall see in what follows.
He names here the fugitive chiefs, the first of whom was Ishmael, and among them were the sons of Kareah; who had pledged their faith to Gedaliah; but he was too credulous, and, at the same time, closed his ears to wise counsels and warnings. The Prophet proceeds to tell us how Geda-liah dealt with his own nation, —
9. And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan sware unto them and to their men, saying, Fear not to serve the Chaldeans: dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.
9. Et juravit illis Godolias filius Achikam et viris eorum, dicendo, Ne metuatis a serviendo (hoc est, ne metuatis servire, ne impediat vos timor quo minus serviatis Chaldaeis;) sed subjicite vos et servite regi Babylonis; et bene erit vobis.
10. As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to serve the Chaldeans, which will come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine, and summer-fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that ye have taken.
10. Et ego, ecce ego manebo in Mispath, ut stem coram facie Chaldaeorum (hoc est, ut occurram Chaldaeis) qui venient ad nos; et vos colligite vinum et fructus aestivos (קיף significat oestatem, sed transfertur metaphorice ad oestivos fructus,) et oleum; et reponite in vasis vestris, et habitate in urbibus quas apprehenderitis.
Here, as I have hinted, is explained the great humanity of Gedaliah, and also his pious solicitude for his own nation, in order that the perfidy and cruelty of the son of Nethaniah might appear the more detestable, who slew a man so well deserving in his conduct to him and to others, having been led to do so by reward.
The Prophet says that he swore to them; nor was it strange to interpose an oath in a state of things so disturbed. Hardly could Ishmael and the rest have any confidence, since the Chaldeans had been so extremely hostile to them; they must, indeed, have been in the greatest trepidation. There was, therefore, need of a remedy, even that Gedaliah should assure them of his integrity. This was the reason why he made an oath; for had it been in times of tranquillity, an oath would not have been necessary. But as their life hung, as it were, on a thread, and they saw many dangers on every side, there was need of a confirmation; nor did Gedaliah receive them without some danger; for it was not pleasing to the Chaldeans that such men should continue in the land. For we have seen that the princes had been on this account killed, and then all the chief men among the people had been removed to Chaldea, lest any of them should attempt some new commotions. It was, therefore, the object of Nebuchadnezzar to keep the country quiet; and this was the best way to prevent any disturbance. Gedaliah then, no doubt, saw that this would not be very agreeable to the Chaldeans, and yet his humanity prevailed, and his concern for his own nation, that he not only hospitably received them, but also promised them by an oath, that there would be safety for them. He therefore exhorted them to be confident, and also to serve the Chaldeans. It was, indeed, especially expected of them, that they should surrender up themselves, as their case was hopeless. Then Gedaliah promised that the Chaldeans would be content with a voluntary submission; and he promised them also, that there would be a safe dwelling for them in the land.
And he ordered them to gather wine, and corn, and fruit, and to store them up, as there would be no danger from war. He also ordered them to dwell in the cities which they had taken, or to which they had been driven. The verb here is ambiguous; but I prefer its most literal meaning, which ye have taken. They could not, indeed, have taken a city by force and arms, as they had only a few men, and could never have been equal to their enemies. Then the forcible taking of cities is not what is meant; but Gedaliah’s meaning was, that they might safely remain wherever they were, or that they might dwell in any city they came to. But it was a great ‘thing when he said to them, that he would stand for them; for he thus laid down his own life, as though he had said that he would be a surety that nothing grievous should happen to them. And hence it is more clearly seen that he did not regard himself, but that he used the power given him for the public good; for if he had ambition, he would have been, doubtless, more careful to ingratiate himself with the king of Babylon, and he would have resolved to deal no less cruelly with a people so hard and refractory, than their enemies. But when he extended his wings as the hen, to gather under them the residue of his own nation, it appears quite evident that he had no care for his own private safety, but that whatever power had been given him by King Nebuchadnezzar, he employed it wholly for the public good.
Then these words ought to be especially noticed, And I, behold, I will dwell in Mizpah, that I may stand, etc., that is, that I may meet the Chaldeans who may come to us, that is, lest they should come upon you for some hostile purpose. It afterwards follows —
11. Likewise when all the Jews that were in Moab, and among the Ammonites, and in Edom, and that were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan;
11. Atque etiam omnes Judaei qui erant in Moab (hoc est, apud Moabitas) et apud filios Ammon, et apud ldumaeos (et in Edom,) et quicunque erant in omnibus terris (hoc est, qui dispersi erant per varios regiones,) audierunt quod dimisisset rex Babylonis reliquias (residuum aliquod) Jehudah, et quod praefecisset illis Godoliam filium Achikam filii Saphan;
12. Even all the Jews returned out of all places whither they were driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah, unto Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer-fruits very much.
12. Et venerunt omnes Judaei (venerunt ergo omnes Judaei) ex cunctis locis ad quae expulsi fuerunt et venerunt (reversi sunt) in terrain Jehudah ad Godoliam in Mispath; et collegerunt vinum et fructus aestivos multos valde (hoc est, in magna copia.)
The Prophet shews here, that except intestine wickedness had arisen, the condition of the people would have been endurable until the time of exile had elapsed. God had pre-fixed, as it has been before stated, seventy years. Nebuchadnezzar had already so withdrawn the flower of the people, that still some inhabitants remained, that the land might not be wholly naked and forsaken. For besides the poor who had been left, he has already told us, that some chief men came with their troops. He now adds that all the Jews, who had fled to neighboring nations, came to Geda-liah; some had taken refuge among the Ammonites, and some among the Moabites; these came and dwelt in the land. Then God did thus moderate the rigor of his vengeance, so that some remnants continued in Judea until the restoration of the whole people. But the perverseness of those who had before despised his favor, is on the other hand most clearly shewn. God no doubt designed to make manifest their extreme wickedness; for they not only despised the kindness of King Nebuchadnezzar, but rushed headlong to their own ruin; for their fury and madness led them on to kill their own leader, and thus all things were thrown into confusion, as this might have provoked the indignation of the conqueror to obliterate the very name of the people by slaying the captives as well as those who had been left in the land. To point out this was the object of the Prophet in this part of the chapter.
He says that all the Jews; he puts in the particle גם, gam, for the sake of emphasis, and even all the Jews, who had fled either to the Moabites or to the children of Ammon, or to the Idumeans, or to other parts in other countries. There is no doubt but they made up a considerable number. Then the whole land must have had many inhabitants; and though it was not populous, yet the desolation that might have been feared, was not extreme. We hence conclude, that there was no over-statement made, when Gedaliah promised security to the leaders of the forces and their companions. As he then made an oath that they would all be safe, he did not deceive them, for he really proved his faithfulness, because these miserable exiles, who returned into Judea, dwelt in safety, and God also gave them a rich abundance of fruits, so that they lived comfortably in their own country. Before the city was taken these were wanderers, and no doubt they must have suffered great poverty and want. But now the Lord gave them relief, and supplied them with plenty.
But we hence know more fully how great must have been the impiety and wickedness of Ishmael and his companions, who not only had the liberty to dwell comfortably in their own country under the care and protection of Gedaliah, but who also enjoyed abundance of blessings. For as the most miserable of them gathered great abundance of fruits, they might have had a large portion of all good things. Hence then the more and the more detestable appeared their ingratitude. And it further appears how extreme and incurable was their perverseness, that they were not moved and affected, when they saw Jerusalem destroyed, the temple burnt, and the horrible slaughter which had taken place; and especially when they knew what Nebuzaradan had preached respecting God’s vengeance, and had performed the office of a prophet in reproving them. That they thus so obstinately rejected the blessings of God and resisted what he did for them, was an evident proof that they were monstrously stupid; and this is what the Prophet intended to shew, as we shall hereafter see. But I must make an end here.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are not sufficiently attentive in considering thy judgments, we may learn to become wise by the examples of others, and so to reflect on what thou teachest us by thy servants the Prophets, that we may apply it to our own use, and thus render ourselves teachable and obedient to thee, and that especially when thou chastisest us with thy scourges, we may not resist thy power, but so submit to thee, that we may at length be raised up and comforted by thy mercy and be restored to a complete salvation, through Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-Fourth
13. Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields, came to Gedaliah to Mizpah,
13. Et Johanan (Joannes) filius Chareah et omnes duces copiarum qui fuerant in agro, venerunt ad Godoliam in Mispath;
14. And said unto him, Dost thou certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to slay thee? But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not.
14. Et dixerunt ei, An sciendo scis, quod Baalis rex filiorum Ammon misit Ismael filium Nathaniae qui percutiat to in anima? Sed non credidit illis Godolias filius Achikam.
A sad history is here given, from which we may conclude, that God’s wrath against the people had not been appeased by the destruction of the city and the burning of the Temple. It was some token of mercy, when Gedaliah was set over the remnant of the people and the poor, who had been allowed to dwell in the land. But now Gedaliah is slain, and a miserable scattering must have ensued. The wrath also of the king of Babylon was kindled, because the Chaldeans, who had been given as guards, were at the same time killed. It was then God’s purpose to execute his judgment also on these remnants.
But the Prophet shews how it was that Gedaliah was killed, even because Ishmael had been hired and advised by the king of Ammon. he says, however, that he had been warned by the sons of Kareah, of whom mention has been made, but that he had no faith in them. And hence the Prophet begins by saying, that John the son of Kareah and the other leaders came to him. He had, as we have seen, received them before, and had sworn to them that he would be their defender, so that no one would hurt them; he had undertaken to face all danger, and offered his head as a pledge that the Chaldeans would not attempt anything against them. They came then to him, because with safety was connected public benefit, he had, then, bound them to himself by no common benefit, and it was for their good that he should be safe and secure, who was in favor with the king of Babylon.
They therefore came and said, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah was suborned by the king of Ammon It may have been that the king of Ammon had hoped to be the king of Judea, or to have all that land as his own after the departure of the Chaldean army. But as his expectation was disappointed, he began to attempt another tiling, to render the land desolate by creating disturbances. Such then seems to have been the reason why he induced Ishmael to undertake the impious and abominable act of killing Gedaliah.
As to Gedaliah having no faith in their words, a question may be here raised, How was it that God suffered this holy man, endued with such rare virtues, to be basely killed by a traitor and an assassin? In the first place, we must hold it as true, that God’s judgments are just, though they correspond not with our notions. It seems indeed, at the first glance, very unaccountable, that Gedaliah should have been slain, who yet had emerged, as it were, from death, and had obtained favor with the Chaldeans; but it was God’s purpose to take him to himself, and at the same time to execute his vengeance to the utmost on the people; for we shall see that those who had been left were wholly unworthy of God’s favor; and we shall also see, that as mad wild beasts they ran headlong to death, and never ceased to provoke God’s wrath against them.
Let us then learn from this passage, that when God calls his servants from this world, he regards their salvation, so that death is for their good. For Gedaliah might have seen, that had he lived longer, things more bitter than hundred deaths would have happened to him. It was then God’s will to take him in time, before he was overwhelmed with sorrows. For it was no small cause of grief to see the people obstinately struggling against the goodness of God, until their final ruin came. This obstinacy then might have been the cause of incredible sorrow to the holy man: hence the Lord removed him in due time. In the meantime, as I have said, he opened a way for his wrath, so that after it became evident that the remnant that had been saved were wholly unworthy of mercy, they were destroyed together with the rest.
But, in the second place, we see that there was a fault mixed with virtue in Gedaliah. Love, indeed, is not suspicious, as Paul says, and ought not easily to admit an accusation. (1Co 13:5.) But he ought to have been circumspect, not only for his own sake, but because his death brought with it the ruin of the whole people. He ought then to have been more cautious. But we hence learn how difficult it is even for the best of men, endued with peculiar virtues, so to conduct themselves, as not to deviate on either side. It was a. praiseworthy simplicity that Gedaliah did not suspect that Ishmael would be so perfidious and so wicked; but as in this instance he shewed no regard for himself nor for the public safety, he was to be blamed. But, as I have said, it was God’s purpose to remove him to his rest, for had he lived, he would have been a hundred times overwhelmed with troubles. Ungodly men may blast the memory of the holy man, because he had been so stupid: but as I have already said, that as he must have deviated either on this or that side, it was better that Ishmael should not be accused until he was found guilty. Gedaliah’s only mistake was, that he disregarded the treachery of which he had been warned. It now follows —
15. Then Johanan the son of Kareah spake to Gedaliah in Mizpah secretly, saying, Let me go, I pray thee, and I will slay Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no man shall know it: wherefore should he slay thee, that all the Jews which are gathered unto thee should be scattered, and the remnant in Judah perish?
15. Et Joannes filius Kareah dixit ad Godoliam in secreto in Mispath, dicendo, lbo nunc (vel, agedum eam) et percutiam Ismael filium Nathaniae ita ut nemo sciat: quare percutiet to in anima, 120 et dissipabuntur totus Jehudah, qui congregati sunt ad te (hoc est, dissipabuntur qui congregati sunt ad te ex toto Jehudah,) et peribit residuum Jehudah?
16 But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said unto Johanan the son of Kareah, Thou shalt not do this thing: for thou speakest falsely of Ishmael.
16. Et dixit Godolias filius Achikam Joanni filio Kareah, Ne feceris hanc rem, quia merdacium tu loqueris contra Ismael.
We here see that the holy man was blinded, so that he not only disregarded the counsel given to him, but also rejected the help offered to him. It is again a thing worthy of praise, that he was unwilling that Ishmael should be rashly killed, the cause being not known; but he ought to have carefully inquired, and the thing being found out, he might have defended himself, and put to death a wicked man and a public pest. He was armed with the sword; and he might have justly punished Ishmael, if he had only been attentive to the matter, that is, if he had taken the trouble to ascertain the fact. As then he had been endued with authority, for Nebuchadnezzar had set him over the land, he was to be blamed in this, that he abstained from taking’ vengeance, (for he was not a private man,)but he did not believe that there was so great a treachery in Ishmael, whom he thought to be an honest and upright man, and friendly to him. Nevertheless, there is a medium between simplicity on the one hand, and cruelty on the other. Had he immediately become incensed against Ishmael, it would have been blamable cruelty; for we ought not to be carried away headlong to condemn innocent men; for if we indiscriminately receive all sorts of calumnies, no man can remain innocent. But as I have said, Gedaliah might have so acted as not to wrong Ishmael by believing every idle report, and yet he might have taken care of himself. He might have done this, had he inquired, and having known the case, determined accordingly; but he willfully closed his eyes, and thus committed a great mistake.
But we hence see, that when in other things he was not without judgment and foresight, he was in this instance, as it were, destitute of a sound mind; for it was God’s purpose to open a way for his judgment, so that he might destroy the remnant of the people. And at the same time we see how difficult it is not to do wrong, when we desire to be just, tolerant, and unsuspicious. We are, in short, taught, how difficult a thing it is, and how rare is the virtue to exercise moderation. Ishmael might have been immediately convicted of perfidy and wickedness; this was what Gedaliah was unwilling to do; and why? because he was unwilling to suspect anything wrong in a man whom he thought to be sincere and faithful. Well, but at the same time he did wrong to John, the son of Kareah, and to the other leaders of the forces. They came to him, not one man or two men, but the chiefs who had been set over the soldiers by King Zedekiah. These came to him, so that their charge was probable. What did Gedaliah say? Thou speakest falsely, he said. he reproachfully repelled John, the son of Kareah, who yet was well disposed towards him, and wished to save him from his danger. We hence clearly see that the best of men never so act, but that under the color of equity and humanity they often fall into sloth and neglect; and that when they wish to be humane towards one, they act unkindly and reproachfully towards many. So it is ever necessary to flee to God, that he may rule us by the spirit of discretion. Now follows the murder of Gedaliah.
There is here an oversight; it was his father Ahikam that delivered the Prophet, as recorded in the twenty-sixth chapter (Jeremiah 26). — Ed.
Why should he kill (or smite) thy life?” so all the versions and the Targum. But נפש means often a corpse or a dead body, Le 21:1; Le 22:4. Then the most obvious rendering would be, “Why should he smite thee dead?” or, “Why should he smite thee a corpse?” Blayney gives the meaning, but not a translation,” Wherefore should he take away thy life?” — Ed.