Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 21: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
1. Ego vir videns afflictionem in virga Indignationis ejus.
The word, עברה obere, properly means assault, passing over limits; but what is peculiar to man is often in Scripture ascribed to God. Here also he changes the person, for he spoke before of the people under the person of a woman, as it is often done; but now the Prophet himself comes before us. At the same time there is no doubt but that by his own example he exhorted all others to lamentation, which was to be connected with true repentance. And this chapter, as we shall see, is full of rich instruction, for it contains remarkable sentiments which we shall consider in their proper places.
Some think that this Lamentation was written by Jeremiah when he was cast into prison; but this opinion seems not probable to me; and the contents of the chapter sufficiently shew that this ode was composed to set forth the common calamity of the whole people. Jeremiah, then, does not here plead his own private cause, but shews to his own nation what remedy there was for them in such a state of despair, even to have an immediate recourse to God, and on the one hand to consider their sins, and on the other to look to the mercy of God, so that they might entertain hope, and exercise themselves in prayer. All these things we shall see in their due order.
The Prophet then says that he was an afflicted man, or a man who saw affliction. This mode of speaking, we know, is common in Scripture — to see affliction — to see good and evil — to see life and death. He then says that he had experienced many afflictions, and not only so, but that he had been given up as it were to miseries, — how? by the rod of his fury. He does not mention the name of God, but Jeremiah speaks of him as of one well known, using only a pronoun. Now, then, at the very beginning, he acknowledges that whatever he suffered had been inflicted by God’s hand. And as all the godly ought to be convinced of this, that God is never angry without just reasons, there is included in the word wrath a brief confession, especially when it is added, by the rod, or staff. In short, the Prophet says that he was very miserable, and he also expresses the cause, for he had been severely chastised by an angry God.
2. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
2. Me deduxit et proficisci fecit in tenebras, et non in lucem.
The letters of the alphabet are tripled in this chapter, which I had omitted to mention. In the first two chapters each verse begins with the successive letters of the alphabet, except that in the last chapter there is one instance of inversion, for Jeremiah has put פ, phi, before ע, oin; or it may be that the order has been changed by the scribes; but this is uncertain. Here then, as I have said, each letter is thrice repeated. Then the first, the second, and the third verse begins with א aleph; and the fourth begins with ב, beth, and so he goes on to the end. 174
He confirms here the last verse, for lie shews the cause or the manner of his afflictions, for he had been led into darkness and not into light. This kind of contrast has not the same force in other languages as it has in Hebrew. But when the Hebrews said that they were in darkness and not in the light, they amplified that obscurity, as though they had said that there was not even a spark of light in that darkness, it being so thick and obscure. This is what the Prophet now means. And we know what is everywhere understood in Scripture by darkness, even every kind of Lamentation: for the appearance of light exhilarates us, yea, the serenity of heaven cheers and revives the minds of men. Then darkness signifies all sorts of adversities and the sorrow which proceeds from them. He afterwards adds, —
3. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
3. Utique contra me vertetur, eonvertet marrum suam quotidie (vel, toro die, qtuanquam in duobus verbis videtur futurtum tempus debere resolvi in all prceteritutn, vel saltem Propheta actum continuum, designat, ut soepe fieri solet.)
Now he says that God was an adversary to him; for this is what the verb ישב, isheb, means, he is turned against me. As an enemy, when intending to fight, comes to meet one from the opposite side, so the Prophet says of God, who had become an enemy to him; and he teaches the same thing in another way when he says that he perceived that the hand of God was against him: He turns, he says, against me his hand daily, or all the day, כל-היום, cal-eium. But the Prophet simply means constancy, as though he had said that there was no truce, no cessation, because God manifested the rigor of his vengeance without limit or end. He afterwards adds, —
4. My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
4. Senio confecit earnera meam (senescere fecit, ad verbum) et pelletn meam (vel, cutem;) confregit ossa mea.
These, as it evidently appears, are metaphorical words. Illness often makes people to look old, for from pain proceeds leanness: thus the skin is contracted, and the wrinkles of old age appear even in youths. As, then, sorrows exhaust moisture and strength, hence he is said to grow old who pines away in mourning. This is what the Prophet now means. God, he says, has made my flesh and my skin, to grow old, that is, he hath worn me out, within and without, so that I am almost wasted away.
He then adds, He hath broken my bones This seems to be hyperbolical; but we have said elsewhere that this simile does not in every instance express the greatness of the sorrow which the faithful feel under a sense of God’s wrath. Both David and Hezekiah spoke in this way; nay, Hezekiah compares God to a lion,
“As a lion,” he says, “has he broken my bones.”
And David says at one time that his bones wasted away, at another that they were broken, and at another that they were reduced to ashes; for there is nothing more dreadful than to feel that God is angry with us. The Prophet, then, did not only regard outward calamities, but the evidence of God’s vengeance; for the people could see nothing else in their distresses except that God was their enemy — and this was true; for God had often exhorted them to repentance; but upon those whom he had found incurable, he at length, as it was just, poured forth his vengeance to the uttermost. This, then, was the reason why the Prophet said, that God had broken his bones. He then adds, —
5. He hath builded against me, and encompassed me with gall and travail.
5. Ædificavit contra me, et circumdedit felle et molestia.
The words, as translated, may seem harsh, yet they have no common beauty in Hebrew. The Prophet says he was blocked up and straitened as it were by walls; and as we shall see, he repeats this comparison three times; in other words, indeed, but for the same purpose.
God, he says, hath built against me, as, when we wish to besiege any one, we build mounds, so that there may be no escape. This, then, is the sort of building of which the Prophet now speaks: God, he says, holds me confined all around, so that there is no way of escape open to me.
He then gives a clearer explanation, that he was surrounded by gall 175 or poison and trouble. He mentions poison first, and then, without a figure, he shews what that poison was, even that he was afflicted with many troubles. He afterwards adds, —
6. He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
6. In tenebris jacere me fecit tanquam mortuos seculi.
Here he amplifies what he had before said of poison and trouble; he says that he was placed in darkness, not that he might be there for a little while, but remain there for a long time; he hath made me, he says, to dwell in darkness. But the comparison which follows more clearly explains the Prophet’s meaning, as the dead of ages. The word עולם, oulam, may refer to future or past time. Some say, as the dead for ever, who are perpetually dead. But the Scripture elsewhere calls those the dead of ages who have been long buried, and have decayed, and whose memory has become nearly extinct. For as long as the dead body retains its form, it seems more like a living being; but when it is reduced to ashes, when no bone appears, when the whole skin and nerves and blood have perished, and no likeness to man remains, there can then be no hope of life. The Scripture then calls those the dead of ages, who have wholly decayed. So also in this place the Prophet says, that he dwelt in darkness, into which he had been cast by God’s hand, and that he dwelt there as though he had been long dead, and his body had become now putrid.
This way of speaking appears indeed hyperbolical; but we must always remember what I have reminded you of, that it is not possible sufficiently to set forth the greatness of that sorrow which the faithful feel when terrified by the wrath of God. He then adds, —
7. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
7 Sepsit me, ut non egrediar; aggravavit compedem meum.
Here he says, first, that he was held shut up; for גדר, gidar, is to enclose, and גדרה, gidare, means a fence or a mound, or an enclosure of any kind. He then says, that he was shut up as it were by a fence, so that he could not go forth; literally, it is, and I shall not go forth; but the conjunction here is to be taken as denoting the end. He has shut me up, he says, or he has enclosed me, that I might not get out.
It then follows, He hath made heavy my fetter. His meaning is, that he was not only bound with fetters, but so bound that he could not raise up his feet, as though he had said, that he not only had fetters, but that they were so heavy that he could not even move his feet.
8. Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
8. Etiam si clamem et vociferer, clausit precationem meam (vel precatioi meae.)
The Prophet describes here the extremity of all evils, that it availed him nothing to cry and to pray. And yet we know that we are called to do this in all our miseries.
“The strongest tower is the name of the Lord, to it will the righteous flee and shall be safe.” (Pr 18:10.)
“Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And Scripture is full of testimonies of this kind; that is, that God graciously invites all the faithful to himself:
“He shall call upon me, and I will hear him.” (Ps 91:15.)
“In the day when I call, answer me speedily.”
“Before they call, I will answer.” (Isa 65:24.)
In short, there is no need to collect all the passages; but we may be content with this one thing, that when God claims to himself this prerogative, that he answers prayers, he intimates that it is what cannot be separated from his eternal essence and godhead; that is, that he is ready to hear prayer. And hence the Psalmist concludes,
“To thee shall all flesh come.” (Ps 65:3.)
When, therefore, Jeremiah complains that his prayers were in vain, and without any fruit or effect., it seems strange and inconsistent. But we know that God holds the faithful in suspense, and so hears as to prove and try their patience, sometimes for a long time. This is the reason why he defers and delays his aid.
It is no wonder, then, that God did not hear the prayers of his servant, that is, according to the judgment of the flesh. For God never rejects his own, nor is he deaf to their prayers and their sighs; but the faithful often speak according to what the flesh judges. As, then, the Prophet found that he obtained nothing by prayer, he says that his prayer was shut out, or that the door was closed against him, so that his prayer did not come to God.
Now, this passage is worthy of special notice; for except God immediately meets us, we become languid, and not only our ardor in prayer is cooled but almost extinguished. Let us, then, bear in mind, theft though God may not help us soon, yet our prayers are never repudiated by him; and since we see that the holy fathers experienced the same thing, let us not wonder, if the Lord at this day were to try our faith in the same manner. Let us, therefore, persevere hi calling on Him; and should there be a longer delay, and our complaint be that we are not heard, yet let us proceed in the same course, as we shall see the Prophet did. It follows, —
9. He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
9. Sepivit (idem est verbum quod ante vidimus) vias meas lapide quadrato, semitas meas pervertit.
Other metaphors are used. Some think that the Prophet refers to the siege of Jerusalem, but such a view is not suitable. The metaphors correspond with one another, though they are somewhat different. He had said before, that he was enclosed by God, or surrounded as with a mound; and now he transfers this idea to his ways. When the life of man is spoken of, it is, we know, compared to a way. Then the Prophet includes under this word all the doings of his life, as though he had said, that all his plans were brought into straits, as though his way was shut up, so that he could not proceed: “Were I to proceed ill any direction, an obstacle is set before me; I am compelled to remain as it were fixed.” So the Prophet now says, his ways were enclosed, because God allowed none of His counsels or His purposes to be carried into effect.
And to the same purpose he adds, that. God had perverted his ways, that is, that he had confounded all his doings, and all his counsels.
But these words are added, with a squared stone The verb גזז gizaz, means to cut; hence the word גזית, gizit, signifies a polished stone, or one trimmed by the hammer. And we know that such stones are more durable and firmer than other stones. For when unpolished stones are used, the building is not so strong as when the stones are squared, as they fit together better. Then the Prophet intimates that the enclosures were such that he could by no means break through them, as they could not be broken. He, in short, means that he was so oppressed by God’s hand, that whatever he purposed God immediately reversed it. We now, then, perceive what he means by saying, that all his ways were subverted or overturned by God. 176 This is not to be understood generally, for it is God who directs our ways. But he is said to pervert our ways, when he disconcerts our counsels, when all our purposes and efforts are rendered void; in a word, when God as it were meets us as an adversary, and impedes our course; it is then that he is said to pervert our ways. But this ought not to be understood as though God blinded men unjustly, or as though he led them astray. The Prophet only means that he could find no success in all his counsels, in all his efforts and doings, because he had God opposed to him. here I stop.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou didst in former times so severely chastise thy people, we may in the present day patiently submit to all thy scourges, and in a humble and meek spirit suffer ourselves to be chastised as we deserve; and that we may not, in the meantime, cease to call on thee, and that however slowly thou mayest seem to hear our prayers, we may yet persevere continually to the end, until at length we shall really find that salvation is not in vain promised to all those who in sincerity of heart call on thee, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
10. He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
10. Urus insidians fuit mihi (ipse mihi,) leo in latebris.
Harsh is the complaint when Jeremiah compares God to a. bear and a lion. But we have said that the apprehension of God’s wrath so terrified the faithful, that they could not sufficiently express the atrocity of their calamity; and then borne in mind must also be what we have stated, that they spoke according to the judgment of the flesh; for they did not always so moderate their feelings, but that something fell from them worthy of blame. We ought not, then, to make as a rule in religion all the complaints of holy men, when they were pressed down by the hand of God; for when their minds were in a state of confusion, they uttered much that was intemperate. But we ought, on the other hand, to acknowledge how great must be our weakness, since we see that even the strongest; have thus fallen, when God exercised severity towards them.
Though, then, it does not seem that it was said in due honor, that God did lie in wait as bears for travelers, or as lions in their dens; yet, if we consider how much the faithful dreaded the tokens of God’s wrath, we shall not wonder at this excess. It is then certain that rite Prophet brings before us here not only evidences of the fear of God, of religion and humility, but also of the corrupt feelings of the flesh; for it cannot be, but that the infirmity of men will betray itself ill extreme evils. He adds, what is of the same import, —
11. He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
11. Vias meas pervertit et scidit me (vel, dissipavit, vel, laceravit,) posuit me vastatam (vel, quasi vastitatem.)
In this verse also the Prophet shews how grievously the faithful are disturbed when they feel that God is adverse to them. But he uses the same figure as yesterday, though the word סורר, surer, is different: what he used yesterday was עוה, oue, but in the same sense.
He then says that his ways had been perverted; 177 and for this reason, because he had been disappointed in his purpose; whatever he did was made void, because God by force prevented him. When we undertake to do anything, a way is open to us; but when there is no success, our way is said to be perverted. And this is done by God, who has all events, prosperous as well as adverse, in his own hand. As, then, God directs our ways when he blesses our counsels and our actions; so, on the other hand, he perverts them, when all things turn out unsuccessfully, when our purpose is not done and events do not answer our expectations.
He afterwards adds, He hath torn me or broken me. The verb פשח, peshech, means properly to cut, but here to tear or scatter. It follows lastly, he hath made me a waste In this expression he includes the other two things; for he who is reduced to desolation, does not hold on his way, nor find any exit; he is also drawn here and there, as though he was torn into several parts. We hence see that the Prophet here complains of extreme evils, for there was no hope of deliverance left. He adds, —
12. He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
12. Extendit (vel, intendit) arcum suum, et statuit me quasi signum sagittae.
Here the Prophet introduces another metaphor, that God had shot him with arrows, as he was made a mark to them. Jeremiah has elsewhere often used the word מתרא, methera, for a prison; but here it means a mark at which arrows are leveled, and such is its meaning in Job 16:12, where there is a similar complaint made. The meaning is, that the people, in whose name Jeremiah speaks, had been like marks, because God had directed against them all his arrows. It is, indeed, a fearful thing when God aims at us, that he may discharge his darts and arrows in order to hit and wound us. But as God had so grievously afflicted his people, that he seemed to have poured forth all his vengeance, the Prophet justly complains that the people had been like marks for arrows.
13. He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
13. Induxit in renes meos filion pharetrae sum (id est, sagittas.)
He goes on with the same metaphor; he said in the last verse that God had leveled his bow; he now adds, that his arrows had penetrated into his reins, that is, into his inward parts. But we must bear in mind what the Prophet meant, that God had dealt so severely with the people, that no part, even the innermost, was sound or untouched, for his arrows had perforated their very reins. He afterwards adds, —
14. I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
14. Fui risus (vel, ludibrium) toti populo meo, pulsatio (vel, canticum, quod pulsatur ab organo et instrumento musico) quotidie (vel, toto die.)
The Prophet again complains of the reproaches to which God had exposed the Jews. We have said that of all evils the most grievous is reproach, and experience teaches us that sorrow is greatly embittered when scoffs and taunts are added to it; for he who silently bears the most grievous sorrows, becomes broken in heart when he finds himself contumeliously treated. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet again amplifies the miseries of the people, because they were exposed to the scoffs of all men. But it may seem a strange thing that the Jews were derided by their own people. This is the reason why some think that the Prophet complains of his own private evils, and that he does not represent the whole people or the public condition of the Church. But it may also be said in reply, that the Prophet does not mean that the people were derided by themselves, which could not be; but it is the same as though he had said, that their state was so disgraceful, that while they looked on one another, they had a reason for taunting, if this their condition was allowed to continue.
In short, the Prophet does not mean what was actually done, but he simply complains that their calamity was liable to all kinds of reproaches, so that any one looking on Jerusalem might justly deride such a disgraceful spectacle. And it was, as we have said, a most equitable reward, for they had not ceased to reproach God. Then rendered to them was what they had deserved, when God loaded them in turn with dishonor.
He afterwards adds, that he was their song, that is, of derision; for it is a confirmation of the former clause, and the same complaint is also formal in Job. He says that he was their song daily or all the day. This constancy, as it has been said, proved more clearly the grievousness of the evil.
15. He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
15. Satiavit me amaritudinibus, saturavit me felle.
Some render the last word “wormwood,” but this word seems not to me to suit the passage, for though wormwood is bitter, yet it is a wholesome herb. I therefore take it in this and like places for poison or gall; and ראש, rash, as we shall see, is joined with it. To satiate, is also a metaphor very common. Then the Prophet means that lie was full of bitterness and gall; and lie thus had regard to those calamities from which so much sorrow had proceeded.
We hence also gather that the faithful were not free from sorrow in their evils, for bitterness and gall sufficiently shew that their minds were so disturbed that they did not bear their troubles with sufficient patience. But they struggled with their own infirmity, and the example is set before us that we may not despond when bitterness and gall lay hold on our minds; for since the same thing happened to the best servants of God, let us bear in mind our own infirmity, and at the same time flee to God. The unbelieving nourish their bitterness, for they do not unburden their souls into the bosom of God. But the best way of comfort is, when we do not flatter ourselves in our bitterness and grief, but seek the purifying of our souls, and in a manner lay them open, so that whatever bitter thing may be there, God may take it away and so feed us, as it is said elsewhere, with the sweetness of his goodness. He adds, —
16. He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
16. Confregit (vel, contrivit) lapillo dentes meos, involvit me (foedavit me, alii autem, versavit) hi pulvere.
Many renderings are given of these words’ there is, however, no over-statement here; for, as it has been often said, the grief of the people under such a mass of evils could not be sufficiently expressed. The Prophet, no doubt, extended here his hand to the weak, who would have otherwise lain down as dead; for under such evils the ruin of the whole nation, the fall of the city, and the destruction of the temple, it could not be but such thoughts as these must have occurred. Now, as to any one unacquainted with such a trial, he would soon succumb, had no remedy been presented to him. The Prophet then dictates for all the godly such complaints as they might, so to speak, pour forth confidently and freely into the bosom of God.
We hence see that here is even expressed whatever might occur to the minds of God’s children, so that they might not hesitate in their straits to direct their prayers to God, and freely confess whatever they suffered in their souls. For shame closes up the door of access; and thus it happens; that we make a clamor as though God were far away from us; hence impatience breaks out almost to a rage. But when an access to God is opened to us, and we dare to confess what burdens our minds, this, as I have said, is the best way for obtaining relief and comfort. We must then understand the design of the Prophet, that he suggests words to the faithful, that they might freely cast their cares and sorrows on God, and thus find some alleviation.
For this reason, he says that his teeth had been broken by a little stone or pebble. 178 The same expression, if I mistake not, is found in Job. It is a metaphor taken from those who press stones instead of bread under their teeth; for when grit lies hid in bread, it hurts the teeth. Then inward and hidden griefs are said to be like small stones, which break or shatter the teeth. For the Prophet does not speak here of large stones, but on the contrary he speaks of pebbles or small stones, which deceive men, for they lie hid either in bread or in meat, or in any other kind of food. As, then, the teeth are hurt by pressing them, so the Prophet says that his sorrows were most bitter, as that part, as it is well known, is very tender; and when any injury is done to the teeth, the pain spreads instantly almost through the whole body. This is the reason why he says that his teeth were broken.
Then he adds, that he was covered with dust, or that he was lying down or dragged along in the dust. The expression is taken from those who are drawn by way of reproach along the ground, as a carcass is, or some filthy thing which we abhor. 179 Thus the Prophet complains that there was nothing short of extreme evils. He adds, —
17. And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
17. Et remota fuit a pace anima mea, oblitus sum boni.
By saying that his soul was remote from peace, he means that no good remained; for by peace, as it is well known, the Hebrews understood every kind of prosperity. And he explains himself by another clause, that, he had forgotten every good; and this forgetfulness ought to be understood, so to speak, as real or entire; for if there had been any reason for rejoicing, it would not have been forgotten; for all are naturally pleased with what is pleasant, nay, they with avidity seek what delights them. It would then be contrary to nature to forget things good and pleasant, to us. But the Prophet means here a privation. Hence the forgetfulness of which he speaks is nothing else but alienation from everything good, as though he had said (as the previous clause shews) that he was removed from every hope of peace.
But the expression is much more emphatical, when he says, that his soul was far removed from peace. By soul he does not mean himself only, (for that would be frigid,) but he understands by it all things connected with him, as though he had said, “Wherever I look around me, I find no peace, and no hope appears to me.” Hence it was, that all the faculties of his soul were far removed from all experience of good things. It follows, —
18. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
18. Et dixi, Periit fortitudo mea, et spes mea a Jehova.
This verse shews what I have before reminded you of, that the Prophet does not here speak as though he was divested of every sin, and prescribed a perfect rule for prayer. But, on the contrary, in order to animate the faithful to seek God, he sets before them here an instance of infirmity which every one finds true as to himself. It was yet a most grievous trial, because the Prophet almost despaired; for since faith is the mother of hope, it follows, that when any one is overwhelmed with despair, faith is extinct. Nevertheless the Prophet. makes this declaration, Perished, he says, has my strength and my hope from God 180
He does not speak through some inconsiderate impulse, as though he was suddenly carried away, as many things happen to us which we have had no thought of; but he speaks what was, as it were, fixed in his mind. As he said, “Perished has my hope and strength from Jehovah,” it is evident that his faith was not slightly shaken, but had wholly failed’ but the expression, I said, renders the thing still stronger; for it means, as it is well known, a settled conviction. The Prophet was then fully persuaded that he was forsaken by God; but what does this mean? We ought indeed to maintain this, that faith sometimes is so stifled, that even the children of God think that they are lost, and that it is all over with their salvation. Even David confesses the same thing; for it was an evidence of despair, when he declared,
“I said in my haste, Vanity is every man.” (Ps 116:11.)
He had almost failed, and he was not master of himself when he was thus agitated. There is no doubt but that the Prophet also expressly reminded the faithful that they ought not to despair, though despair laid hold on their minds, or though the devil tempted them to despair, but that they ought then especially to struggle against it. This is indeed, I allow, a hard and perilous contest, but the faithful ought not to faint, even when such a thing happens to them, that is, when it seems to be all over with them and no hope remains; but, on the contrary, they ought nevertheless to go on hoping, and that, indeed, as the Scripture says elsewhere, against hope, or above hope. (Ro 4:18.)
Let us then learn from this passage, that the faithful are not free from despair, for it enters into their souls; but that there is yet no reason why they should indulge despair; on the contrary, they ought courageously and firmly to resist it; for when the Prophet said this, he did not mean that. he succumbed to this trial, as though he had embraced what had come to his mind; but lie meant, that lie was as it were overwhelmed for a short time. Were any one to ask, How can it be that hope and despair should reside in the same man? the answer is, that when faith is weak, that part of the soul is empty, which admits despair. Now, faith is sometimes not only enfeebled, but is also nearly stifled. This, indeed, does not happen daily, but there is no one whom God deeply exercises with temptations, who does not feel that his faith is almost extinguished. It is often no wonder, that despair then prevails; but it is for a moment. In the meantime, the remedy is, immediately to flee to God and to complain of this misery, so that he may succor and raise up those who are thus fallen. He then adds, —
19. Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
19. Recordari (vel, recordando, alii, recordare) afflictionis meae et aerumnae maere (alii vertunt, humiliationem, alii, peccatum; sed nomen afflictionis vel aerumnoe melius convenit) veneni et fellis (iterum ponitur לענה quod vertunt quidam, absynthium, sed potius est amaritudo vel venenum, veneni ergo et fellis.)
The verb may be considered as an imperative; it is an infinitive mood, but it is often taken in Hebrew as an imperative. Thus, many deem it a prayer, Remember my affliction and my trouble, the gall and the poison This might be admitted; but what others teach I prefer: that this verse depends on the last. For the Prophet seems here to express how he had almost fallen away from hope, so that he no longer found strength from God, even because he was overwhelmed with evils; for it is very unreasonable to think, that those who have once experienced the mercy of God should cast away hope, so as not to believe that they are to flee to God any more. What seems then by no means congruous the Prophet here in a manner excuses, and shews that it was not strange that he succumbed under extreme evils, for he had been so pressed down by afflictions and troubles, that his soul became as it were filled with poison and gall. 181
But in the meantime, he shews by the word remember, how such a trial as this, when it comes, lays hold on our minds, that is, when we think too much of our evils. For the faithful ought to hold a middle course in their afflictions, lest they contract a torpor; for as hence indifference and stupidity arise, they ought to rouse themselves to a due consideration of their evils; but moderation ought to be observed, lest sorrow should swallow us up, as Paul also warns us (2Co 2:7.) They then who fix their minds too much on the remembrance of their evils, by degrees open the door to Satan, who may fill their hearts and all their thoughts with despair. The Prophet then describes here the fountain of evils, when he says, that he remembered his affliction and trouble; and suitable to this is what immediately follows, —
20. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
20. Recordando recordabitur, et humiliabitur in me (vel, super me) anima mea.
The Prophet seems in other words to confirm what he had said, even that the memory of afflictions overwhelmed his soul. For the soul is said to be humbled in or upon man, when he lies down under the burden of despair. It is the soul that raises man up, and as it were revives him; but when the soul is cast as it were on man, it is a most grievous thing; for it is better to lie down a dead body than to have this additional burden, which makes the case still worse. A dead body might indeed lie on the ground without strength and motion, but it may still retain its own place; but when the soul is thus cast down, it is said to press down man, though lifeless, more and more. This then is what the Prophet means. And yet he says that he was so occupied with this remembrance, that he could not thence withdraw his mind.
There is no doubt but that he also intended here to confess his own infirmity, and that of all the faithful; and the reason of this we have already explained. Then relying on this doctrine, even when all our thoughts press us down, and not only lead us to despair, but also hurry us on and cast us headlong into it, let us learn to flee even then to God and to lay before him all our complaints, and let us not be ashamed, because we see that this mode of proceeding is suggested to us by the Holy Spirit. It follows, —
21. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
21. Hoc revocabo ad cor meum, propterea sperabo.
We see here what I have already stated, that if we struggle against temptations, it will be a sure remedy to us, because our faith will at length emerge again, and gather strength, yea, it will in a manner be raised up from the lowest depths. This is what the Prophet now shews. I will recall this, he says, to my heart, and therefore will I hope How can despair produce hope from itself? This would be contrary to nature. What then does the Prophet mean here, and what does he understand by the pronoun this, זאת, zat? Even that being oppressed with evils, he was almost lost, and was also nearly persuaded that no hope of good anymore remained. As then he would recall this to mind, he says that he would then have new ground of hope, that is, when he had recourse to God; for all who devour their own sorrows, and do not look to God, kindle more and more the hidden fire, which at length suddenly turns to fury. Hence it comes that they clamor against God, as though they were doubly insane. But he who is conscious of his own infirmity, and directs his prayer to God, will at length find a ground of hope.
When therefore we recall to mind our evils, and also consider how ready we are to despair, and how apt we are to succumb under it, some hope will then arise and aid us, as the Prophet here says. 182
It must still be observed, that we ought to take heed lest we grow torpid in our evils; for hence it happens that our minds become wholly overwhelmed. Whosoever then would profit by his evils, should consider what the Prophet says here came to his mind, for he at length came to himself, and surmounted all obstacles. We see then that God brings light out of darkness, when he restores his faithful people from despair to a good hope; yea, he makes infirmity itself to be the cause of hope. For whence is it that the unbelieving east away hope? even because security draws them away from God; but a sense of our own infirmity draws us even close to him; thus hope, contrary to nature, and through the incomprehensible and wonderful kindness of God, arises from despair. It follows, —
22. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
22. Clementite Jehovae, quod non sumus consumpti (vel, certe non sunt consumptae,) certe non defecerunt miscrationes ejus.
The first clause may be explained in two ways: The view commonly taken is, that it ought to be ascribed to God’s mercy that the faithful have not been often consumed. Hence a very useful doctrine is elicited — that God succors his own people, lest they should wholly perish. But if we attend to the context, we shall see that another sense is more suitable, even that the mercies of God were not consumed, and that his compassion’s had not failed The particle כי, ki, is inserted, but ought to be taken as an affirmative only, surely the mercies of God are not consumed; 183 and then, — surely his compassion’s have not failed. And he afterwards adds, —
23. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
23. Novae ad singula mane; magna veritas tua.
This verse confirms what I have said, that the same truth is here repeated by the Prophet, that God’s mercies were not consumed, nor had his compassion’s failed. How so? Because they were new, or renewed, every day; but he puts morning, and that in the plural number. I am surprised at the hour striking so soon; I hardly think that I have lectured a whole hour.
Grant, Almighty God, that as there are none of us who have not continually to contend with many temptations, and as such is our infirmity, that we are ready to succumb under them, except thou helpest us, — O grant, that we may be sustained by thine invincible power, and that also, when thou wouldest humble us, we may loathe ourselves on account of our sins, and thus perseveringly contend, until, having gained the victory, we shall give thee the glory for thy perpetual aid in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
In the last lecture the Prophet said that the mercies of God are renewed daily. This must indeed be viewed according to the apprehension of men, for to God belongs no charge. But the mercies of God seem to be renewed when he for a time hides his face, and again becomes reconciled to us. The Prophet mentions morning; and he alludes, as I think, to this passage in the Psalms —
“If weeping dwells with us in the evening,
yet joy will return in the morning.” (Ps 30:5.)
He then means that God hastens to succor men in misery.
He subjoins the word truth, because a sense of God’s mercy can never come to us except he offers it to us. Were then God to take away the promise, all the miserable would inevitably perish; for they can never lay hold on his mercy except through his word. This, then, is the reason why Scripture so often connects these two things together, even God’s mercy and his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises. It now follows, —
24. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
24. Pertie inca Jehova, dixit my soul; anima mea; ideo sperabo in eo.
The Prophet intimates in this verse that we cannot stand firm in adversities, except we be content with God alone and his favor; for as soon as we depart from him, any adversity that may happen to us will cause our faith to fail. It is then the only true foundation of patience and hope to trust in God alone; and this is the case when we are persuaded that his favor is sufficient for our perfect safety. In this sense it is that David calls God his portion. (Ps 16:5.) But there is in the words an implied contrast, for most men seek their happiness apart from God. All desire to be happy, but as the thoughts of men wander here and there, there is nothing more difficult than so to fix all our hopes in God so as to disregard all other things.
This then is the doctrine which the Prophet now handles, when he says, that those alone could hope, that is, persevere in hope and patience, who have so received God as their portion as to be satisfied with him alone, and to seek nothing else besides him. But he speaks emphatically, that his soul had thus said. Even the unbelieving are ashamed to deny what we have stated, that the whole of our salvation and happiness is found in God alone. Then the unbelieving also confess that God is the fountain of all blessings, and that they ought to acquiesce in him; but with the mouth only they confess this, while they believe nothing less. This then is the reason why the Prophet ascribes what he says to his soul, as though he had said, that lie did not boast, like hypocrites, that God was his portion, but that of this lie had a thorough conviction. My soul has said, that is, I am fully convinced that God is my portion; therefore will I hope in him. We now understand the meaning of this passage.
It remains for us to make an application of this doctrine. That we may not then fail in adversities, let us bear in mind this truth, that all our thoughts will ever wander and go astray, until we are fully persuaded that God alone is sufficient for us, so that lie may become alone our heritage. For all who are not satisfied with God alone, are immediately seized with impatience, whenever famine oppresses them, or sword threatens them, or any other grievous calamity. And for this reason Paul also says,
“If God be for us, who can be against us? I am persuaded that neither famine, nor nakedness, nor sword, nor death, nor life, can separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ.”
(Rom. 8:31, 35.)
Then Paul lays hold of the paternal favor of God as a ground of solid confidence; for the words in Christ sufficiently show that those are mistaken interpreters who take this love passively, as though he had said, that the faithful would never cease to love God, though he exercised them with many afflictions. But Paul meant that the faithful ought so to fix their minds on God alone, that whatever might happen, they would not yet cease to glory in him. Why? because God is their life in death, their light in darkness, their rest in war and tumult, their abundance in penury and want. It is in the same sense our Prophet now says, when lie intimates that none hope in God but those who build on his paternal favor alone, so that they seek nothing else but to have him propitious to them. It afterwards follows, —
25. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
25. Bonus Jehova expectanti ipsum, (vel, speranti in eum,) animae quaerenti ipsum.
He continues the same subject: he however adds now something to it, even that God always deals mercifully with his servants, who recumb on him, mid who seek him. We hence see that the last verse is confirmed, where he said that he was content with God alone, while suffering all kinds of adversity: How so? for God, he says, is good to those who wait for him. 184 It might have been objected and said, that adversities produce sorrow, weariness, sadness, and anguish, so that it cannot be that they retain hope who only look to God alone; and it is no doubt true that, when all confess that they hope in God, they afterwards run here and there; and the consequence is, that they fail in their adversities. As, then, this might have been objected to the Prophet, he gives indirectly this answer, that God is good to those who wait for him, as though he had said, that the confidence which recumbs on God alone cannot disappoint us, for God will at length shew his kindness to all those who hope in him. In short, the Prophet teaches us here, that the blessings of God, by which he exhilarates his own children, cannot be separated from his mercy or his paternal favor. Such a sentence as this, “Whatever can be expected is found in God,” would be deemed frigid by many; for they might object and say, as before stated, that they were at the same time miserable. Hence the Prophet reminds us here that God’s blessings flow to us from his favor as from a fountain, as though he had said, “As a perennial fountain sends forth water, so also God’s goodness manifests and extends itself.”
We now, then, understand the Prophet’s meaning. He had indeed said, that we ought to acquiesce in God alone; but now he adds, by way of favor, regarding the infirmity of men, that God is kind and bountiful to all those who hope in him. The sum of what he states is, as I have said, that God’s goodness brings forth its own fruits, and that the faithful find by experience, that nothing is better than to have all their thoughts fixed on God alone. God’s goodness, then, ought to be understood, so to speak, as actual, even what is really enjoyed. As, then, God deals bountifully with all who hope in him, it follows that they cannot be disappointed, while they are satisfied with him alone, and thus patiently submit to all adversities. In short, the Prophet teaches here what the Scripture often declares, that hope maketh not ashamed. (Ro 5:5.)
But the second clause must be noticed: for the Prophet defines what it is to hope in God, when he says that he is good to the soul that seeks him. Many indeed imagine hope to be I know not what — a dead speculation; and hypocrites, when God spares them, go on securely and exult, but their confidence is mere ebriety, very different from hope. We must then remember what the Prophet says here, that they alone hope hi God who from the heart seek him, that is, who acknowledge how greatly they need the mercy of God, who go directly to him whenever any temptation harasses them, and who, when any danger threatens them, flee to his aid, and thus prove that they really hope in God. It now follows, —
26. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
26. Bonum et expectabit et silebit ad salutem Jehovae (ad verbum; vertunt tamen quidam, bonus sperabit et silebit ad Jehovae; sed potius it neutro genere accipio vocem, טוב, sicut in proximo versu qui sequetur, Bonum viro, et coetera.)
It is, indeed, an abrupt phrase when he says, Good and he will wait; for these words are without a subject; but as it is a general statement, there is no ambiguity. The Prophet means that it is good to hope and to be silent as to the salvation, of God. Then the verbs in the future tense ought to be rendered its subjunctives, as though it was said, “It is good when any one hopes in the salvation of Jehovah, and is silent, that is, bears patiently all his troubles until God succors him.” 185
But; the Prophet here reminds us, that we are by no means to require that God should always appear to us, and that his paternal favor should always shine forth on our life. This is, indeed, a condition sought for by all; for the flesh inclines us to this, and hence we shun adversities. We, then, naturally desire God’s favor to be manifested to us; how? In reality, so that all things may go on prosperously, that no trouble may touch us, that we may be tormented by no anxiety, that no danger may be suspended over us, that no calamity may threaten us: these things, as I have said, we all naturally seek and desire. But in such a case faith would be extinguished, as Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Romans,
“For we hope not,” he says, “for what appears, but we hope for what, is hidden.”
(Rom. 8:24, 25.)
It is necessary in this world that the faithful should, as to outward things, be miserable, at one time exposed to want, at another subject to various dangers — at; one time exposed to reproaches and calumnies, at another harassed by losses: why so? because there would be no occasion for exercising hope, were our salvation complete. This is the very thing which the Prophet now teaches us, when he declares that it is good for us to learn in silence to wait for the salvation of God.
But to express more clearly his mind, he first says, He will wait, or hope. He teaches the need of patience, as also the Apostle does, in Hebrew 10:36; for otherwise there can be no faith. It hence appears, that where there is no patience, there is not even a spark of faith in the heart of man; how so? because this is our happiness, to wait or to hope; and we hope for what is hidden. But in the second clause he explains himself still more clearly by saying, and will be silent To be silent means often in Scripture to rest, to be still; and here it signifies no other thing than to bear the troubles allotted to us, with a calm and resigned mind. He is then said to be silent to God, who remains quiet even when afflictions supply occasion for clamoring; and hence this quietness is opposed to violent feelings; for when some trouble presses on us, we become turbulent, and are carried away by our fury, at one time we quarrel with God, at another we pour forth various complaints. The same thing also happens, when we see some danger, for we tremble, and then we seek remedies here and there, and that with great eagerness. But he who patiently bears his troubles, or who recumbs on God when dangers surround him, is said to be silent or to rest quietly; and hence the words of Isaiah, “In hope and silence;” for he there exhorts the faithful to patience, and shews where strength is, even when we trust in God, so as willingly to submit to His will, and to be ready to bear his chastisements, and then when we doubt not but that he will be ready to bring us help when we are in danger. (Isa 30:15.)
We now perceive what the Prophet means when he says, that it. is good if we wait and be silent as to the salvation of God; even because our happiness is hid, and we are also like the dead, as Paul says, and our life is hid in Christ. (Col 3:3.) As then it is so, we must necessarily be silent as to God’s salvation, and cherish hope within, though surrounded with many miseries. It follows, —
27. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
27. Bonum viro, si tulerit jugum in pueritia sua.
This verse admits of two meanings; for the word yoke may be explained as signifying teaching, or the scourges of God. We, indeed, undertake or bear in two ways the yoke of God, even when we are taught to receive his doctrine, or when we are resigned when he chastises us, when we are not obstreperous, but willingly submit to his corrections. As then some take the word עול, for the yoke of instruction, and others for the yoke of chastisement, two explanations, as I have said, are given; and both are admissible. It is indeed truly said, that it is good for man to be accustomed from his youth to God’s corrections; but Jeremiah seems rather to speak of that obedience generally, which the faithful render to God when they submit to his will. It is then our true happiness when we acknowledge that we are not our own, and allow God, by his sovereign power, to rule us as he pleases. But we ought to begin with the law of God. Hence, then, it is, that we are said to bear the yoke of God, when we relinquish our own judgment, and become wise through God’s word, when, with our affections surrendered and subdued, we hear what God commands us, and receive what he commands. This, then, is what Jeremiah means by bearing the yoke.
And he says, in youth. For they who have lived unrestrained throughout their life, can hardly bear to be brought into any order. We indeed know, that, the aged are less tractable than the young; nay, whether we refer to the arts or to the liberal sciences, the youthful age is the most flexible. The aged are also much slower; and added to this is another evil, they are very obstinate, and will hardly bear to be taught the first rudiments, being imbued with a false notion, as though they must have lived long in vain. As, then, the disposition in the old is not easily changed, the Prophet says that it is good for us to be formed from childhood to bear the yoke. And this is also seen in brute animals; when a horse is allowed full liberty in the fields, and not in due time tamed, he will hardly ever bear the curb, he will be always refractory. The oxen, also, will never be brought to bear the yoke, if they be put under it in the sixth or eighth year. The same is found to be the case with men. Jeremiah, then, does not say, without reason, that it is good for every one to be trained from his youth in the service of God; and thus he exhorts children and youth not to wait for old age, as it is usually the case. For it has been a common evil, in all ages, for children and youth to leave the study of wisdom to the old. “Oh! it will be time enough for me to be wise, when I arrive at a middle age; but some liberty must be given to childhood and youthful days.” And for this reason, Solomon exhorts all not to wait for old age, but duly to learn to fear God in childhood. So also our Prophet declares that it is good for one to bear the yoke in his childhood. It then follows. —
28. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
28. Sedebit seorsum (vel, solus) et silebit, quia tulit super se.
Here he shews the fruit of teachableness; for when God deals severely with his children, they yet do not rebel, but even then they willingly submit to his authority. For whence comes it that so much impatience rages in men, except that they know not what it is to obey God, to prepare themselves to bear the yoke? so, then, men become furious like wild beasts, never tamed, therefore the Prophet now says, “Whosoever is thus habituated to the yoke of God, will also be silent in extreme evils, and remain quiet.” We now perceive what I have just said, that the fruit of docility and obedience is set forth in this verse.
But when he says that those who are thus trained to obey God will sit apart, he expresses most fitly the strength and character of patience. For they for the most part who wish to appear magnanimous make a great display, and think that their valor is nothing except they appear as on a theater; they allow themselves at the same time an unbridled liberty when they are alone; for they who seem the most valorous, except God’s fear and true religion prevail in their souls, rage against God and champ the bridle in adversities, though they may not make a clamor before men, for, as I have already said, they regard display. But here a very different account is given of patience, even that we are to sit alone and be silent, that is, even were no one present as a witness, whose presence might make us ashamed; were we even then to sit, and to submit with calm minds to God, and to take his yoke, we should thus prove our patience. This verse then distiguishes between the simplicity of the godly and that will display in which they delight who seek to obtain the praise of courage, patience, and perseverance, from the world; for these also sit and speak words as from heaven, and as though they had put off the flesh. He who has lost a son will say, that he had begotten a mortal: he who is stripped of all his goods will say, “All my things I carry with me.” Thus magnanimously do ungodly men speak, so that they seem to surpass in fortitude and firmness all the children of God. But when they give utterance to these swelling words, what they regard is the opinion which men may form of them. But the faithful, what do they do? They sit apart, that is, though they might shamelessly clamor against God, yet they are quiet and submit to his will. We now understand what is meant by sitting apart.
Then he says, because he will carry it on himself Some take נטל nuthel, in a transitive sense, “he will cast it upon him.” But this is a forced rendering. It would be a simpler meaning, were we to say, because he will carry or raise it on himself. The verb נטל, nuthel, means not only to carry, but also elevate or raise up. When, therefore, the Prophet says, that it is an example of real patience when we carry it on ourselves, he means that we succumb not under our adversities, nor are overwhelmed by them; for it is patience when it is not grievous to us to undergo any burdens which God may lay on us; and on this account we are said to regard his yoke as not grievous — how so? because it is pleasant to us. As, then, meekness thus extenuates the heaviness of the burden, which would otherwise overwhelm us, the Prophet says that those who raise up on themselves all their troubles sit apart.
I do not, however, know whether this passage has been corrupted; for the expression seems not to me natural. Were we to read עלו, olu, his yoke, it would be more appropriate, and a reason would be given for what goes before, that the faithful sit apart and are silent before God, because they bear his yoke; for the pronoun may be referred to God as well as to man. But this is only a conjecture. 186 It follows, —
29. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
29. Ponet in pulvere os suum, si forte sit spes.
He continues the same subject; for he describes to us men so subdued to obedience that they are ready to bear whatever God may lay on them. He then says that the sitting and the silence of which he spoke, so far prevailed, that the children of God, though in extreme evils, did not yet cease to persevere in their obedience. For it sometimes happens that those who have made some progress in the fear of God, give proof of their obedience and patience in some small trial; but when they are greatly tried, then breaks forth the impatience which they had previously checked. Then the Prophet teaches us here, that the children of God do not sufficiently prove their patience, when they bear with a calm mind a moderate correction, except they proceed to a higher degree of perseverance, so as to remain quiet and resigned even when the state of things appears hopeless.
By saying that the faithful put their mouth in the dust, he means that they lie down humbly before God and confess themselves to be as dead. The import of what is said is this: In time of extreme affliction the wise will put his mouth in the dust, while seeing things in such confusion that all his thoughts vanish away on account of the atrocity of evils; and thus he intimates that the wise would have nothing to say. To put the mouth, then, in the dust is to become mute, as though he had said, that the faithful shut their mouth, when they do not murmur against God nor abandon themselves to complaints, when they do not expostulate that injury is done them, nor allege what the unbelieving usually do when God deals severely with them. In short, to put the mouth in the dust, means to bring no complaints, and so to check ourselves that no clamorous words proceed from our mouth. Thus another phrase is used to set forth the silence mentioned before.
And that the Prophet here speaks of extreme trials, may be easily gathered from the next clause, If so be that there is hope; not that the faithful doubt whether God would give them hope, for they have no doubt but that God, who shines in darkness itself by his word, would at length by, the effect prove that he is not unfaithful. But the particle אולי auli, as it is well known, expresses what is difficult; for when anything appears to be incredible, the Hebrews say, If it may be. But here, as I have said, it does not intimate a doubt; for when the mind of a godly man fluctuates or doubts, how is it that he puts his mouth in the dust? but the Prophet shews that those who are taught to obey God, persevere even in extreme trials, so that while nothing but despair appears, they yet lie down humbly before God, and patiently wait until some hope shines forth. And here hope is to be taken for the ground or occasion of hope. 187 It afterwards follows, —
30. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
30. Dabit percutienti maxillam, saturbitur opprobriis.
Here he mentions another fruit of patience, that the faithful, even when injuries are done to them by the wicked, would yet be calm and resigned. For there are many who submit to God when they perceive his hand; as, for instance, when any one is afflicted with a disease, he knows that it is a chastisement that proceeds from God; when pestilence happens, or famine, from the inclemency of the weather, the hand of God appears to them; and many then conduct themselves in a suitable manner: but when an enemy meets one, and when injured, he instantly says, “I have now nothing to do with God, but that wicked enemy treats me disgracefully.”
It is then for this reason that the Prophet shews that the patience of the godly ought to extend to injuries of this kind; and hence he says, He will give the cheek to the smiter, and will be filled with reproaches 188 There are two kinds of injuries; for the wicked either treat us with violence, or assail us with reproaches; and reproach is the bitterest of all things, and inflicts a most grievous wound on all ingenuous minds. The Prophet, then, here declares that the children of God ought meekly to suffer when they are violently assailed, and not only so, but when they are dealt with reproachfully by the wicked. This, then, he says of patience. Now follows another confirmation, —
31. For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
31. Quia non respuet (vel, rejiciet) in perpetuum Dominus.
It is certain that there will be no patience, except there be hope, as it has already appeared. As, then, patience cherishes hope, so hope is the foundation of patience; and hence consolation is, according to Paul, connected with patience. (Ro 15:4.) And this is the doctrine which the Prophet now handles, — that the faithful bear the yoke with meek and calm minds, because they believe that God will at length be propitious to them: hence also arises patience; for the faithful are persuaded that all adversities are temporary, and that there will be a happy end, because God will at length be reconciled to them, though he gives them new evidences of his wrath. 189 The rest to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as it is expedient for us to be daily chastised by thy hand, we may willingly submit to thee, and not doubt but that thou wilt be faithful, and not prove us with too much rigor, but that thou wilt consider our weakness, so that we may thus calmly bear all thy chastisements, until we shall at length enjoy that perfect blessedness, which is now hid to us under hope, and as it were sealed, until Christ thy Son shall reveal it at his coming. — Amen.
32. But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
32. Quia si dolore affecerit, etiam miserebitur secundum multitudinem clementiarum suarum.
We saw in the last Lecture that the best and the only true remedy for sorrows is, when the faithful are convinced that they are chastised only by the paternal hand of God, and that, the end of all their evils will be blessed. Now this they cannot of themselves assume; but God comes to their aid, and declares that he will not be angry for ever with his children. For this promise extends generally to the whole Church,
“For a moment I afflicted thee, in the time of mine indignation, but with perpetual mercies will I follow thee,” (Isa. 54:7, 8)
“I will visit their iniquities with a rod, yet my mercy I will not take away from them”
(Psalm 89 33, 84.)
When therefore the faithful feel assured that their punishment is only for a time, then they lay hold on hope, and thus receive invaluable comfort in all their evils.
Jeremiah now pursues the same subject, even that God will shew compassion according to the multitude of his mercies, though he causes sorrow to men. This may indeed be generally explained as to all mankind; but, as we have said, God has promised this to his own Church. All miseries, regarded in themselves, are tokens of the wrath and curse of God; but as all things turn out for good and for salvation to the children of God, when they embrace this truth, that God, as the Prophet Habakkuk says, remembers mercy in wrath, (Hab 3:2,) so they restrain themselves and do not despond, nor are they overwhelmed with despair. We now then understand the Prophet’s object in saying, that though God afflicts he yet remembers mercy.
But we must at the same time bear in mind what I have before shewed, that the faithful are exposed to various evils, because it is profitable for them to be chastised by God’s hand. Hence appears the necessity of this doctrine, for were we exempt frown all adversities, this admonition would be superfluous. But as it cannot be but that God will smite us with his rods, not only because we deserve to be smitten, but also because it is expedient, it is necessary to flee to this consolation which is offered to us, even that God having afflicted us with grief will again shew us compassion, even according to the multitude of his mercies He confirms the truth of what he alleges by a reference to the very nature of God himself. Hence, that the faithful might not debate with themselves whether God would be propitious to them, after having inflicted on them a temporary punishment, the Prophet comes to their aid, and sets before them the mercy of God, or rather mercies, in the plural number; as though he had said, that it could not be that God should deny himself, and that therefore he would be always merciful to his people; for otherwise his mercy would be obliterated, yea, that mercy which is inseparable from his eternal essence and divinity.
And hence, when God is pleased briefly to shew what he is, he sets forth his mercy and patience; for except his goodness and mercy meet us, when we come to him, dread would immediately absorb all our thoughts; but when God comes forth as if clothed and adorned with mercy, we may then entertain hope of salvation; and though conscious of evil, yet while we recumb on God’s mercy, we shall never lose the hope of salvation. We not: apprehend the Prophet’s meaning. It follows, —
33. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
33. Quia non affligit ex corde suo, et delore afficit filios viri.
This is another confirmation of the same truth, that God takes no delight in the evils or miseries of men. It is indeed a strong mode of speaking which the Prophet adopts, but very suitable. God, we know, puts on, as it were, our form or manner, for he cannot be comprehended in his inconceivable glory by human minds. Hence it is that he transfers to himself what properly can only apply to men. God surely never acts unwillingly nor feignedly: how then is that suitable which Jeremiah declares, — that God does not afflict from his heart? But God, as already said, does here assume the character of man; for though he afflicts us with sorrow as he pleases, yet true it is that he delights not in the miseries of men; for if a father desires to benefit his own children, and deals kindly with them, what ought we to think of our heavenly Father?
“Ye,” says Christ, “who are evil,
know how to do good to your children,” (Mt 7:11;)
what then are we to expect from the very fountain of goodness? As, then, parents are not willingly angry with their children, nor handle them roughly, there is no doubt but that God never punishes men except when he is constrained. There is, as I have said, an impropriety in the expression, but it is enough to know, that God derives no pleasure from the miseries of men, as profane men say, who utter such blasphemies as these, that we are like balls with which God plays, and that we are exposed to many evils, because God wishes to have as it were, a pleasant and delectable spectacle in looking on the innumerable afflict, ions, and at length on the death of men.
That such thoughts, then, might not tempt us to unbelief, the Prophet here puts a check on us, and declares that God does not afflict from his heart, that is, willingly, as though he delighted in the evils of men, as a judge, who, when he ascends his throne and condemns the guilty to death, does not do this from his heart, because he wishes all to be innocent, and thus to have a reason for acquitting them; but. yet he willingly condemns the guilty, because this is his duty. So also God, when he adopts severity towards men, he indeed does so willingly, because he is the judge of the world; but he does not do so from the heart, because he wishes all to be innocent — for far away from him is all fierceness and cruelty; and as he regards men with paternal love, so also he would have them to be saved, were they not as it were by force to drive him to rigor. And this feeling he also expresses in Isaiah,
“Ah! I will take consolation from mine adversaries.”
He calls them adversaries who so often provoked him by their obstinacy; yet he was led unwillingly to punish their sins, and hence he employed a particle expressive of grief, and exclaimed Ah! as a father who wishes his son to be innocent, and yet is compelled to be severe with him.
But however true this doctrine may be, taken generally, there is yet no doubt but that the Prophet here addresses only the faithful; and doubtless this privilege peculiarly belongs to God’s children, as it has been shown before. It follows, —
34. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
34. Ad conterendum sub pedibus suis omnes vinetos terrae,
35. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
35. Ad pervertendum (ad declinandum) judisium viri coram conspectu excelsi,
36. To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
36. Ad pervertendumm hominem in lite sua, Dominus non videt (vel, non vidit)
Many interpreters think that these three verses are connected with the previous doctrine, and show the connection thus, — that God does not see, that is, does not know what it is to pervert the good cause of a man, and to oppress the innocent; and, doubtless, God is said not to know what iniquity is, because he abhors all evil; for what is the nature of God but the perfection of justice? It may then be truly said, that. God knows not what it is to turn man aside in judgment. Others take not to see, as meaning, not to approve.
If we subscribe to the opinion of those who say that injustice is contrary to the nature of God, there is here an exhortation to patience; as though the Prophet had said that afflictions ought to be borne with resignation, because the Jews had fully deserved them. For the liberty taken to complain arises from this, that men imagine that they are without fault; but he who is convicted dares not thus to rise up against God; for the chief thing in humility is the acknowledgment of sin. This, then, is one meaning. But they who give this explanation, that God does not approve of those who pervert judgment, think that there is here a ground of consolation, because God would at length succor the miserable who were unjustly oppressed. And doubtless it avails not a little to encourage patience when we are persuaded that God will be an avenger, so that he will at length help us, after having for a time suffered us to be severely treated.
But these expositions seem to me to be too remote; we may give a correcter explanation by supposing a concession to be made, as though the Prophet had said, “It is indeed true that the wicked take much license, for they imagine that God is blind to all evil deeds.” For this madness is often ascribed to the ungodly, that they think that they can sin with impunity, because God, as they suppose, cares not for the affairs of men. They then imagine that God is asleep, and in a manner dead, and hence they break out into all kinds of wickedness. And for this reason it was that David so vehemently rebuked them:
“He who has formed the ear, will he not hear? He who has created the heaven, will he not see?” (Ps 94:9.)
This explanation also I cannot approve of, it being forced and not obvious.
I therefore think that the reference is to the impious words of those who complain that God is not moved by any compassion. For this thought almost lays hold on us wheel pressed down by adversities, — that God has forgotten us, that he is either asleep or lies down inactive. In short, there is nothing more difficult to be assured of than this truth, that God governs the world by his counsel, and that nothing happens without a design. This is indeed what almost all confess; but when a trial comes, this doctrine vanishes, and every one is carried away by some perverted and erroneous thoughts, even that all things roll round fortuitously through blind fate, that men are not the objects of God’s care. Nor is there a doubt but that in Jeremiah’s time words of this kind were flying about; and it appears evident from the context that those Jews were reproved who thought that their miseries were disregarded by God, and hence they clamored; for men are necessarily carried away into a furious state of mind, when they do not believe that they have to do with God. The Prophet, then, refers to such impious words, or if they dared not to express in language what they thought, he refers to what was believed almost by all, — that the wicked perverted the judgment of man, that they turned aside a man in his cause, that they tore under their feet all the bound of the earth; 190 that is, that all those things were done by the connivance of God. The plain meaning, then, is, that judgment is perverted before the face of the Most High, — that the bound of the earth such as are helpless, are despised, trodden under foot by the wicked, — that a man in his cause is unjustly dealt with, and that all this is done because God does not see 191 We now, then, perceive what the Prophet means.
But whence came such madness? even because the Jews, as I have said, would not humble themselves under the mighty hand of God; for hypocrisy had so blinded them, that they proudly clamored against God, thinking that they were chastised with unjust severity,. As then, they thus flattered themselves in their sins, this expostulation arose which the Prophet mentions, that man’s judgment was perverted, that the innocent failed in a good cause, that the miserable were trodden under foot; and whence all this? because God did not see, or did not regard these things. Now follows the reproof of this delirious impiety, —
37. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
37. Quis iste, dixit; fuit, Deus non praecepit?
38. Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
38. Ex ore Excelsi non egredietur malum et bonum (vel, quasi non egrediatur malum et bonum ex ore Excelsi?)
The Prophet, after having mentioned the blasphemy which prevailed everywhere at that time, strongly condemns so gross a stupidity. Who is this? he says. He checks such madness by a sharp rebuke — for the question implies an astonishment, as though the Prophet had said, that it was like a prodigy to find men who imagined that God was content with his own leisure, and exercised no care over the world; for this was to annihilate him altogether. God is not a dead being, he is not a spectre; what then? God is the judge of the world. We hence see that it was a monstrous thing, when men entertained the notion that God is idle or forgetful, that he gives up the world to chance. This is the reason why the Prophet asks as of a thing absurd and extremely disgraceful. Who is this? he says; Could it be that men should give themselves up to such a degree of madness? for when they said, that anything could happen without God’s command, it was the same as if they denied his power; for what is God without his judgment?
The other verse may be explained in two ways; but as to the meaning, there is but little difference. It may, then, be read as a question, “Cannot good and evil proceed from the mouth of the most High?” or it may be rendered thus, “As though good and evil should not proceed from the mouth of God.” As to the substance of what is said, we see that there is no need of disputing, for the Prophet confirms what he had said, that men are to be abhorred who imagine God to be as it were dead, and thus rob him of his power and of his office as a judge. And, doubtless, except we hold this truth, no true religion can exist in us; for except all the sayings and doings of men come to an account before the tribunal of God, and also their motives and thoughts, there will be first. no faith and, secondly, there will be no integrity, and all prayer to God will be extinguished. For if we believe that God does not regard what is done in the world, who will trust in him? and who will seek help from him? besides, who will hesitate to abandon himself to cruelty, or frauds, or plunder? Extinguished, then, is every sense of religion by this impious opinion, that God spends his time leisurely in heaven, and attends not to human affairs. This is the reason why the Prophet is so indignant against those who said, that anything could be done without the command of God.
Let us now see how God commands what is wrongly and foolishly done by men. Surely he does not command the ungodly to do what is wicked, for he would thus render them excusable; for where God’s authority interposes, there no blame can be. But God is said to command whatever he has decreed, according to his hidden counsel. There are, then, two kinds of commands; one belongs to doctrine, and the other to the hidden judgments of God. The command of doctrine, so to speak, is an evident approbation which acquits men; for when one obeys God, it is enough that he has God as his authority, though he were condemned by a hundred worlds. Let us, then, learn to be attentive to the commands of doctrine, by which we ought to regulate our life, for they make up the only true rule, from which it is not right to depart. But God is said to command according to his secret decrees what he does not approve, as far as men are concerned. So Shimei had a command to curse, and yet he was not exempt from blame; for it was not his purpose to obey God; nay, he thought that he had offended God no less than David. (2 Sam. 16:5, 6.) Then this distinction ought to be understood, that some things are commanded by God, not that men may have it as a rule of action, but when God executes his secret judgments by ways unknown to us. Thus, then, ought this passage to be understood, even that nothing is carried on without God’s command, that is, without his decree, and, as they say, without his ordination.
It hence appears, that those things which seem contingent, are yet ruled by the certain providence of God, so that nothing is done at random. And what philosophers call accident, or contingent, (ἐνδεχόμενον) is necessary as to God; for God decreed before the world was made whatever he was to do; so that there is nothing now done in the world which is not directed by his counsel. And true is that saying in the Psalms, that our God is in heaven, and doeth whatsoever he pleaseth, (Ps 116:3;) but this would not be true, were not all things dependent on God’s counsel. We hence see that nothing is contingent, for everything that takes place flows from the eternal and immutable counsel of God. It. is indeed true, that those things which take place in this or that manner, are properly and naturally called contingencies, but what is naturally contingent, is necessary, as far as it is directed by God; nay, what is carried on by the counsel and will of men is necessary. Philosophers think that all things are contingent (ἐνδεχόμενα) and why? because the will of man may turn either way. They then, conclude, that whatever men do is contingent, because he who wills may change his will. These things are true, when we consider the will of man in itself, and the exercise of it; but when we raise our eyes to the secret providence of God, who turns and directs the counsels of men according to his own will, it is certain that how much soever men may change in their purposes, yet God never changes.
Let us then hold this doctrine, that nothing is done except by God’s command and ordination, and, with the Holy Spirit, regard with abhorrence those profane men who imagine that God sits idly as it were on his watch-tower and takes no notice of what is done in the world, and that human affairs change at random, and that men turn and change independently on any higher power. Nothing is more diabolical than this delirious impiety; for as I have said, it extinguishes all the acts and duties of religion; for there will be no faith, no prayer, no patience, in short;, no religion, except we believe and know that God exercises such care over the world, of which he is the Creator, that nothing happens except through his certain and unchangeable decree.
Now they who object, and say that God is thus made the author of evils, may be easily refuted; for nothing is more preposterous than to measure the incomprehensible judgment of God by our contracted minds. The Scripture cries aloud that the judgments of God are a great deep; it exhorts us to reverence and sobriety, and Paul does not in vain exclaim that the ways of God are unsearchable. (Ro 11:33.) As, then, God’s judgments in their height far surpass all our thoughts, we ought to beware of audacious presumption and curiosity; for the more audacious a man becomes, the farther God withdraws from him. This, then, is our wisdom, to embrace only what the Scripture teaches. Now, when it teaches us that nothing is done except through the will of God, it does not speak indiscriminately, as though God approved of murders, and thefts, and sorceries, and adulteries; what then? even that God by his just and righteous counsel so orders all things, that he still wills not iniquity and abhors all injustice. When, therefore, adulteries, and murders, and plunders are committed, God applies, as it were, a bridle to all those things, and how much soever the most; wicked may indulge themselves in their vices, he still rules them; this they themselves acknowledge; but for what end does he rule them? even that he may punish sins with sins, as Paul teaches us, for he says that; God gives up to a reprobate mind those who deserve such a punishment, that he gives them up to disgraceful lusts, that he blinds more and more the despisers of his word. (Ro 1:28; 2Th 2:10.) And then God has various ways, and those innumerable and unknown to us.
Let us then learn not to subject; God to our judgment, but adore his judgments, though they surpass our comprehension; and since the cause of them is hid from us, our highest wisdom is modesty and sobriety.
Thus we see that God is not the author of evils, though nothing happens but by his nod and through his will, — for far different is his design from that of wicked men. Then absurd would it be to implicate him as all associate ill the same crime, when a murderer, or a thief, or an adulterer is condemned, — and why? because God has no participation in thefts and adulteries; but the vices of men are in a way wonderful and incomprehensible as his judgments. In a word, as far as the heavens are from the earth, so great is the difference between the works of God and the deeds of men, for the ends, as I have said, are altogether different. 192
The Prophet says that from the mouth of the most High proceed good and evil By “mouth” he means his decree. God indeed does not always declare that he is a judge; he has often executed punishment on the wicked, as it were, in silence; for there were no prophets among the heathens to proclaim the judgments he brought on them. But though God does not always speak when he punishes the wickedness of men, it is yet said that good and evil proceed from his mouth; because he allots to men their punishment as it seems good to him; and then he spares others or bears with them for a time. It follows, —
39. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
39. Cur molestia se afficit homo vivens? Vir super peccato suo?
Some explain the verb יתאונן, itaunen, by giving it the sense of lying, “Why should man lie?” others, “Why should man murmur?” But I see not what sense there can be in rendering it lying or murmuring. Others translate thus, “Why should man harden himself?” but it is a mere conjecture. Now, this verb sometimes means to weary one’s self, in Hithpael. So in the eleventh chapter of Numbers, “The people murmured,” as some render the words; but I think differently; nor is there a doubt but that Moses meant that the people were wearied, so that they in a manner pined away; and this meaning is the most suitable here. For the Prophet had before rebuked those who imagined that God, having relinquished the care of the world, led an inactive and easy life in heaven; but now, in order to rouse the minds of all, he points out the remedy for this madness, even that men should not willingly weary themselves in their sins, but acknowledge that their wickedness is shewn to them whenever any adversity comes upon them. And surely men would not be so infatuated as to exclude God from the government of the world, were they to know themselves and seriously to call to mind their own deeds and words; for God would soon exhibit to them sure and notorious examples of his judgment. Whence then comes it, that we are so dull and stupid in considering the works of God? nay, that we think that God is like a spectre or an idol? even because we rot in our sins and contract a voluntary dullness; for we champ the bit, according to the old proverb.
We now, then, perceive why the Prophet joins this sentence, Why does a living man weary himself? 193 and a man in his sins? for as long as men thus remain in their own dregs, they will never acknowledge God as the judge of the world, and thus they always go astray through their own perverse imaginations. If, then, we wish to dissipate all the mists which prevent us from seeing God’s providence, (that is, by the eyes of faith,) let every one be his own witness and the judge of his own life, and carefully examine himself; it will then immediately occur to us, that God is not without reason angry with us, and that we are afflicted with so many adversities, because our sins will come forth before us. We here see the cause of that madness which makes men to exclude God’s providence from human affairs, even because they look not on themselves, but torment themselves without any benefit and become wearied in their sins, and do not raise up their eyes to God. The rest, connected with our subject, I must defer till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes, nothing but thick darkness meets us, — O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles, and to raise our eyes by faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by thy wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek thee, and know that help will be ready for us through thy mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
40. Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
40. Percontemur (scrutemur) vias nostras, et inquiramus, et convertamur ad Jehovam.
The Prophet now shews more clearly what the reproof meant which we shortly explained yesterday: he said that men act absurdly while they weary themselves in their sins; he now adds that they would do rightly if they inquired into their own life, and faithfully examined themselves.
For hence is trouble and weariness, when men feel and deplore their outward evils, but consider not the cause, that is, when they consider not that they are justly chastised by God’s hand. Then the examination now mentioned is set in opposition to the torpor and weariness with which men in vain torment themselves, and in which they pine away, because they reflect not on their vices. Hence it is that they attain nothing but weariness — and that is a sorrow to death, as Paul says; but sorrow to life proceeds from the self-examination to which the Prophet now invites and exhorts us.
He then says that the only true remedy in adversities is when men carefully examine themselves, and consider what they deserve. 194 He also mentions conversion; for they who are really touched with the fear of God do not stop at this examination, but rise higher; for as God calls them back to the right way, when they acknowledge that they have departed from him, they flee to his mercy, loathe themselves on account of their vices, and seek after newness of life. Thus our Prophet prescribes to us a certain order, — that we are to examine our whole life, and that, being influenced by the fear of God, we are to return to him; for while he treats us with severity, he still kindly invites us by ever offering to sinners a free pardon. He afterwards adds, —
41. Let us lift our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
41. Tollamus corda nostra cum manibus ad Deum in coelis.
To conversion he joins prayer; for we cannot be reconciled to God except he buries our sins; nor can repentance and faith be separated. Moreover, to taste of God’s mercy opens to us the door of prayer. And this ought to be carefully noticed, because the unbelieving seem at times to be very busy in seeking to return to God’s favor, but they only attend to the outward change of life; and at the same time they are not anxious about pardon, but go boldly before God, as though they were not exposed to his judgment.
And we see under the Papacy that while they make long sermons on repentance, they hardly ever make any account of faith, as though repentance without faith were a restoration from death to life.
Hence I said that we ought to notice the mode of teaching which our Prophet adopts: he begins with self-examination, then he requires conversion; but he does not separate it from faith. For when he exhorts us to pray, it is the same thing as though he had set before us the judgment of God, and had also taught us that we cannot escape death except God be propitious to us. How then is pardon to be obtained? by prayer: and prayer, as it is well known, must be always founded on faith.
By telling us to raise up our hearts to God together with our hands, he bids us to banish all hypocrisy from our prayers. For all without a difference raise up their hands to God; and nature itself, when we are pressed down with evils, leads us to seek God. But the greater part stifle this feeling of nature. When affliction comes, it is a common thing with all to raise up their hands to heaven, though no one should bid them to do so; but still their hearts remain fixed on the earth, and they come not to God. And the greater part of men are included in that class mentioned by Isaiah,
“This people come to me with their tongue,
but their heart is far away.” (Isa 29:13.)
As, then, men deal thus formally with God, and present a naked ceremony, as though God had changed and suffered his eyes to be covered, the Prophet bids all dissimulation to cease from prayer; Let us raise up hands, he says, to God, and also hearts. Joel speaks somewhat differently, when he says,
“Rend your hearts and not your garments,” (Joe 2:13;)
for he seems to exclude the outward rite, because men, wishing to shew that they were guilty before God, rent their garments. Joel says that this was superfluous and useless; and doubtless the rite itself was not so very necessary. But as prayers, when they are earnest, move the hands, our Prophet refers to that practice as useful. At the same time he teaches us that the chief thing ought not to be omitted, even to raise up the hearts to God: Let us, then, he says, raise up our hearts together with our hands to God; and he adds, to God who is in heaven: for it is necessary that men should rise up above the world, and to go out of themselves, so to speak, in order to come to God.
We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet, — that those who repent from the heart ought not to go before God, as though they were not guilty before his tribunal, but that on the contrary they ought to be penitent and humble, so that they may obtain pardon. He afterwards shews that the right way of praying is, when we not only perform the outward ceremonies, but when we open our hearts and raise them up as it were to heaven itself. It is, then, the right way of praying, when the inward feeling corresponds with the external posture. It follows, —
42. We have trangressed and we have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
42. Nos peccavimus et rebelles fuimus; tu non pepercisti.
The faithful do not here expostulate with God, but on the contrary acknowledge that God’s severity was just. That God then had dealt with them severely, they ascribe to their own sins, This is the substance of what is said.
We hence learn that an ingenuous confession ever accompanies repentance, as also Paul teaches us, (2Co 7:11.) For when a sinner is either secure or tries to cover his wickedness, and flatters himself, as we see but a few who willingly humble themselves before God, he contracts the hardness of obstinacy. For this reason the Prophet requires confession; nay, he suggests here the words suitable to be used, when we desire to obtain pardon from God. We have done wickedly, he says, and have been rebellious The pronoun, we, is here emphatical, as though the faithful had taken on themselves the blame of all the evils, which the greater part ever sought to disown. 195
Here then the Prophet shews that there is no other way of being reconciled to God, than by confessing ourselves to be the authors of all our evils; and he also teaches us, that it is an evidence of true repentance, when we do not allege vain pretences as it is commonly done, nor flatter ourselves, but confess that we are guilty. He now shows that guilt ought by no means to be extenuated, so that our confession may be real and complete: but in this respect the world trifle with God. The most wicked are, indeed, ashamed to deny that they are sinners; but as they are forced to make some kind of confession, this they do lightly; and it seems an extorted confession, and is therefore jejune, or at least not complete. But the Prophet here shews that they who seek to be reconciled to God, ought not only in words to acknowledge and confess their guilt, but also ingenuously to open their hearts. Hence he connects perverseness with sin: as though he had said, “We have not sinned simply or in one way, but we have exasperated God himself; and by sinning in many ways and constantly, we have provoked him against us.” He says, in short, that there is then an access open to us to obtain favor, when we do not murmur against God nor contend with him as though he had dealt severely with us, but when we confess that he has been hard and rigid with us, because he had a reason to be so on account of our sins and wickedness. He adds, —
43. Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
43. Obtexisti in ira et persequutus es nos; occidisti et non pepercisti.
At the first view, this complaint may seem to proceed from a bitter heart; for here the faithful complain that they had been slain, and then that God had executed his judgment as it were in darkness, without any indulgence; and the next verse confirms the same thing. But it is a simple acknowledgment of God’s righteous vengeance for in their extreme calamities the faithful could not declare that God dealt mercifully with them, for they had been subjected to extreme rigor, as we have before seen. Had they said that they had been leniently chastised, it would have been very strange, for the temple had been burnt, the city had been demolished, the kingdom had been overthrown, the people for the most part had been driven into exile, the remainder had been scattered, the covenant of God had been in a manner abolished; for it could not have been thought otherwise according to the judgment of the flesh. Had, then, the exiles in Chaldea said that God had smitten them leniently, would not such an extenuation have appeared very strange? and had also the Prophet spoken in the same strain? For the causes of sorrow were almost innumerable: every one had been robbed of his goods; then there were many widows, many orphans; but the chief causes of sorrow were the burning of the temple and the ruin of the kingdom. No wonder, then, that the faithful set forth here their aggravated evils: but yet they seek out no other cause than their own sins.
Hence they say now, that God had covered them over in wrath It is a most suitable metaphor; as though he had said, that God had executed his vengeance in thick darkness. For an object presented to the eye produces sympathy, and we are easily inclined to mercy when a sad spectacle is presented to us. Hence it is, that even the most savage enemies are sometimes softened, for they are led by their eyes to acts of humanity. The Prophet, then, in order to set forth the horrible vengeance of God, says that there had been a covering introduced, so that God had punished the wicked people in an implacable manner. But as I have said, he does not charge God with cruelty, though he says that he had covered them over in wrath. 196
He then says, Thou hast pursued us and killed us, and hast not spared They intimate, in short, that God had been a severe judge; but they at the same time turned to themselves and sought there the cause, even that they might not, by their own hardness, provoke God against themselves, as hypocrites are wont to do. And the consciousness of evil leads us also to repentance; for whence is it that men grow torpid in their sins, except that they flatter themselves? When, therefore, God suspends his judgments, or when he moderates them, and does not punish men as they deserve, then, if there be any repentance, it is yet frigid, and soon vanishes. This, then, is the reason why God inflicts deadly strokes, because we feel not his hand except the stroke be as it were deadly. As, then, simple chastisement is not sufficient to lead us to repentance, the Prophet introduces the faithful as speaking thus, “Behold, thou hast in wrath covered us over, so as not to look on us,” so that there might be no opportunity for mercy, that is, that they might be the judges of themselves, and conclude from the atrocity of their punishment how grievously they must have provoked the wrath of God. It follows in the same sense, —
44. Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
44. Obtexisti in nube tibi, ne transiret precatio.
The Prophet confirms the same thing, but the words are different. He again repeats the word to cover; but, that the metaphor might be clearer and more fully explained, he says, with a cloud. He simply intimates, that a cloud interposed, that God might more unrestrainedly punish the Jews, as they had deserved. Isaiah speaks somewhat otherwise, but for the same purpose:
“The hand of God,” he says, “is not shortened, nor are his ears more deaf; but your sins have interposed a distance between you and God.” (Isa. 59:1, 2.)
There is no doubt but that Isaiah meant the same thing as our Prophet, even that God’s nature never changes; and, therefore, that when he seems to rage against his people, the cause ought to be ascribed to their sins, because God ever remains like himself. We know what is said in the Psalms,
“Thou art God who hearest prayer.” (Ps 65:3.)
God, then, is always ready to hear his people, and he also possesses power sufficient to help them; but the distance arises from our sins. And so the Prophet now says that a cloud interposed.
Nearly the same sentence is found in the third chapter, as we have seen; for there the Prophet said, in the name of the whole people, that they had become separated from God, but that it was a separation, not because God had changed his purpose, but because the people had, in a manner, rejected his favor. Thou hast, then, he says, covered thyself with a cloud, that is, thou hast made for thyself a covering, that prayer may not pass through. This seems, indeed, very strange, because God advances to meet all the miserable, and promises to hear their prayers: what, then, can this mean, that a cloud interposed that prayer might not go through to him? even that the Jews did not pray aright, and that they had closed up against themselves every access by which God could admit them. In short, the faithful do not here contend with God, as though they had been deceived by his promises, but confess that they were unworthy to pray to God, and they also acknowledge that they did not pray aright. 197 And according to this sense they say, that they were hindered, as though a cloud interposed, so that their prayer could not ascend to God. It follows, —
45. Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
45. Quisquilias et rejectionem posuiti nos in medio populorum.
They say here that they were exposed to reproach, so as to become, as it were, the sweepings of the world. Some render סחי, sachi, “refuse;” some by other words; and some “filth:” But the word properly means sweepings or scraping’s, called by the Greeks περιψήματα. Paul says, that he and his associates were the offscouring (περιψήματα) of the world. (1Co 4:13.) He means that they were despised as offscourings or scrapings. The word is derived from sweeping. Whatever, then, is cleaned off by sweeping or scouring, that is, the filth of the house or the floor, is called סחי, sachi. What the Prophet had in view is not obscure; for he means that the degradation of the people was not hidden, but open Go all nations, as though God had erected a theater in Judea, and there exhibited a remarkable and an unusual example of his vengeance. To the same purpose is what he adds, —
46. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
46. Aperuerunt super nos os suum omnes inimici nostri.
He repeats what he had said, that the people were an offscouring, or scrapings, or sweepings, and also a refuse. The last word is, indeed, in the infinitive mood, מאוס, maus, but it is to be taken as a noun. They had become all this, because they had as many enemies as neighbors; for we know that the Jews were hated by all the neighboring nations. They had become, then, a refuse and filth among all people, for with an open mouth they spoke furiously against them. For the open mouth means that they spoke insolently, and took the liberty of cursing them all, as it has been stated elsewhere. Now it was the bitterest thing to the miserable people, when they found that the reproaches and taunts of enemies were added to their calamities: for we know how grievously does reproach wound those who are already afflicted.
47. Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
47. Pavor et fovea fuit nobis, destructio (alii vertunt, deceptio,) et contritio.
The Prophet largely dwells on the grievousness of the calamity which had happened. He compares here the anxieties into which the people had been brought, to a pitfall and dread. There is a striking alliteration in the words פחד and פחת, pechet and peched. But the meaning is, that the people had been reduced to such straits, that there was no outlet for them; as the case is with us, when we are filled with dread, and look here and there, and see nothing but pitfalls on every side; then we are at our wits’ end. Such then was the state of the people, as Jeremiah shews: filled with dread, they sought refuge, but saw pitfalls on every side.
He afterwards mentions desolation or destruction, and sorrow. It is probably a mistake in Jerome’s version, where the first; word is rendered “prophesying.” Some think that he was led astray by the letter ש, shin, which he seems to have read with a point on the left side; and he took the word as coming from נשא nusha. But another conjecture seems more correct, that the transcribers have committed a mistake; for what I have said is most appropriate to the passage, even that the people were overwhelmed with all kinds of evils, because there was nothing to be seen but desolation and sorrow, or bruising, or breach, שבר, shaber. It now follows, —
48. Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
48. Rivi (hoc est, tanquam rivi) aquarum descendit oculus meus super contrione (vel, afflictione, est idem nomen שבר) filii populi mei.
Interpreters give different explanations of the beginning of this verse: some render it thus, “My eye comes down unto rivers of waters;” others, “My eye flows down unto rivers of waters,” or, “rivers of waters flow down.” But as I have explained elsewhere, the Prophet rather means, that his eye came down like rivers; and to come down, or to descend, is a metaphor for flowing down; for water, as it is well known, descends when it flows. And there is a change of number when he says, “My eye descends;” there is also raider-stood the particle of comparison, כ, caph 198 The meaning is, that his eyes descended or flowed down as rivers. The last: word properly signifies divisions, but; he means that many streams flowed down, as though they were so many rivers.
For the bruising, or the breach, of my people: the Prophet speaks here in his own person, though there is no doubt but that he exhorts all others to join him in his sorrow. For the faithful would not have prayed to God with sufficient ardor, had they not been dreadfully broken and confounded; had not the calamity deeply affected them, as it ought to have done, there would have been no serious attention to prayer. This is the reason why the Prophet here mentions his own weepings, and groanings, and tears, even that he might rouse himself to prayer, and lead others also. It follows, —
49. Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission.
49. Oculus meus defluxit, et non quievit a non intermissionibus (hoc est, ut non sint intermissiones, vel ut nulla sit requies.)
He repeats the same in other words, — that his eyes flowed down with tears. He still retains the singular number, but this is common in Hebrew. He then says, that his eye without end flowed down, so that there was no rest But it afterwards follows —
50. Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
50. Donec aspiciat et videat Jehova e coelis.
The Prophet here makes a distinction between his weeping and that blind sorrow by which the unbelieving are affected and violently agitated: they have no regard to God. Then the Prophet says here that he not only wept, but that he also prayed and waited for God to put an end to evils. As I have already said, the unbelieving grieve abundantly in adversities, nay, they abandon themselves to sorrow; but they turn away wholly from God, and are like wild beasts. Then the Prophet points out the right way to mourn: our eyes must flow down to weariness and without rest, but at the same time we must wait until God be propitious to us. Therefore this verse connects well with the former, 199 until Jehovah look down and see from heaven; for otherwise tears would draw us to despair, and despair would become the cause of fury; for we see that the ungodly murmur against God.
Thus, then, ought we to weep, in order that we may at the same time cherish hope while we wait for God to look down on us and to see our miseries from heaven. The word heaven, is not added uselessly, because men in their evils, when they seek God, are filled with terror, for they do not think that they can ascend to him: hence, then, it is, that they despond, for they imagine that God is too remote from them. The Prophet therefore anticipates here this false notion, and says that we ought nevertheless to wait until God looks down from heaven; which corresponds with what is said in the Psalms: that God is high and yet has respect to low things. (Ps 113:4-6.) Though, then, the majesty of God is elevated above all the heavens, yet this does not prevent him familiarly to regard what is low and despised in the world. At length it follows, —
51. Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
51. Oculus meus dolore afficit animam meam propter omes filias urbis meae (vel pro omnibus filiabus urbis meae.)
He had said, that his eye flowed down, and then, that it was like a fountain, from which many streams or rivers flowed: he now adopts another mode of speaking, that his eyes grieved his soul; and it is a sign of the greatest sorrow when he who weeps seeks some relief, and is at the same time overpowered by that external feeling. For many indulge in grief and inflame themselves; then the soul of man is like a fan to rouse the burning. But when we weep and our eyes shed tears, and when the mind in a manner exhausts itself, it is a proof of the greatest grief. And this great. grief Jeremiah wished to express by saying, that his eye troubled or grieved his soul
The latter part is explained in two ways: sonic render thus, “Because of all the daughters of my city.” But though this meaning is generally taken, I yet prefer the opinion of those who render the words thus, “More than all the daughters of my city,” for מן, men, denotes a comparison, as it is also a causative. He says, then, that he was given to grief more than all the young women. As the female sex, as it is well known, are more tender and softer than men, the Prophet amplifies his lamentation by this comparison, that in weeping he exceeded all the young women of the city, so that he had almost forgotten his manhood. Had he said, the daughters of the people, it might be explained as before, as referring either to the cities, or to the whole people, that is, the whole community. But when he mentions all the daughters of his city, I cannot otherwise take the passage but as setting forth a comparison, that is, that he could not moderate his grief, but was so seized with it as women are, and also young girls, whose hearts, as it has been already said, are still more tender. 200 The rest to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast hitherto spared us, we may not grow torpid in our vices, and that since thou hast already begun to deal more severely with thy Church, we may be awakened by thy chastisements, and so humble ourselves under thy mighty hand, as yet not to doubt but that thou wilt be propitions to us, and that we may so loathe ourselves on account of our sins, as still to be fully persuaded that, provided we wait for thee, thou wilt at length be merciful to us, so as to afford us new reasons for joy and gratitude, through Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
52. Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
52. Venando venati sunt tanquam passerem (vel, avem) inimici mei sine causa.
We shall see to the end of the chapter the various complaints, by which the Prophet deplored the miseries of his own nation, that he might at length obtain the mercy of God. He takes here the comparison of a bird or a sparrow. He says that the Chaldeans had been like fowlers, and the Jews like sparrows: and we know that there is neither prudence nor courage in birds. He, then, means that the Jews had been destitute of all help, having been exposed as a prey to their enemies, who were like fowlers.
And he seems to allude to the words of Solomon, when he says, that without a cause is the net spread for birds (Pr 1:17;) and he means that innocent men are circumvented by the wicked, when they spread for them their snares as it were on every side, while they are like the birds, who have no prudence to avoid them.
We now, then, understand the drift of what the Prophet says: he amplifies the indignity of their calamity by this comparison, — that the Chaldeans at their pleasure plundered the miserable people, who were not able to resist them, who were indeed without any power to defend themselves. 201 It follows, —
53. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
53. Succiderunt (vel potius, constrinxerunt) in puteo vitam meam, et projecerunt lapidem super me.
He now employs other comparisons. Some improperly confine this to Jeremiah himself, as though he explained here before God the wrongs done to himself: but there is no doubt but that he undertakes the cause of the whole people; and his object was to encourage by his own example the faithful to lament their state so that they might obtain pardon from God.
He then compares himself to a man half-dead, cast into a pit, and there left for lost. Then some improperly interpret the words, “they cast stones;” for stoning was not in the mind of the Prophet; but having said that he was fast bound in a pit or dungeon, he adds that a stone was laid over him, that lie might not come forth, as we know was the case with Daniel. (Dan. 6:16, 17.) Daniel was cast into the den of lions, and then a stone was put on the mouth of the den. So also the Prophet says, that he was bound fast in the pit, and not only that, but that a stone was laid over him, that there might be no hope of coming out; and thus the pit was like a grave. Here, then, he means that lie was reduced to the last extremity, because he had not only been taken by his enemies, but had also been cast into a pit. And, as it is well known, it is a metaphorical expression or a similitude. He adds, —
54. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
54. Inundaverunt (ad verbum, alii, ascenderunt) aquae super caput meum; dixi, succisus sum.
He now adds a third comparison, — that he had been overwhelmed, as it were, with a flood of evils. This similitude occurs often in Scripture, especially in the Psalms; for when David wished to set forth his despair, lie said that he was sunk in deep waters. (Ps. 69:15, 16.) So also in this place the Prophet complains, that waters had flowed over his head, so that he thought himself lost. Though, indeed, this was the saying of a man in a hopeless state, it is yet evident from the context that the Prophet was firm in the hope of God’s mercy. But he speaks according to the judgment of the flesh; and we know that the faithful are as it were divided; for as they have not put off the flesh, they must necessarily be acquainted with adversities, be stormed by fear and feel anxieties; in short, when death hangs over them, they must in a manner be exposed to fear. In the meantime, faith in their hearts obtains the victory, so that they do not succumb under terrors, or cares, or anxieties.
When, therefore, the Prophet says that in his own judgment he was lost, he does not mean that his faith was so extinguished that he ceased to pray to God; for in the next verse he shews that he persevered in prayer. How, then, did he say or believe that he was lost? even, as I have already said, according to human judgment. And we often see that the faithful complain that they are forsaken, that God is asleep in heaven, that he has turned away from them. All these things are to be referred to the perception of the flesh. While, then, the faithful cast their eyes on dangers, when death comes, they not only tremble, but fear greatly and faint also. In the meantime, as I have said, they struggle by faith against all these temptations. So, then, is this passage to be understood, — that the Prophet believed that he was lost, that is, as far as he could judge by the aspect of things at that time, for no hope appeared then to the Church. But we yet see that the Prophet did not indulge himself in this despair; for he immediately adds, —
55. I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
55. Invocavi nomen tuum, Jehova, e puteo profunditatum.
We certainly see that the Prophet had an inward conflict, which also all the faithful experience, for the spirit fights against the flesh, as Paul teaches us. (Ga 5:17.) Though, then, he on the one hand apprehended death, he yet ceased not to flee to God; for faith strengthened his mind so that he did not succumb, but on the contrary he firmly rejected the temptation presented to him. Though, then, he was, according to the flesh, persuaded as to his own ruin, he on the other hand, called on the name of God; for the faithful do not measure the power and grace of God by their own thoughts, but give glory to God by recumbing on him even in the greatest extremities.
And this passage ought to be carefully noticed; for when Satan cannot in any other way turn us aside from prayer, he alleges our weakness; “What meanest thou, miserable being? will God hear thee? for what canst thou do? thou tremblest, thou art anxious, nay, thou despairest; and yet thou thinkest that God will be propitious to thee.” Whenever, therefore, Satan tries to shut the door against us so as to prevent us to pray, let this example of the Prophet come to our minds; for he, though he thought himself lost, did not yet cast aside the confidence he entertained as to God’s help and aid. For whence arose his perseverance, except that he in a manner rebuked himself when he found himself so overwhelmed, and as it were dead. These two states of mind are seen in this short prayer of David,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
For when he addressed God, and called him his God, we see his rare and extraordinary faith; and when he complains that he was forsaken, we see how, through the infirmity of the flesh, he thought that it was all over with him as to his salvation. Such a conflict, then, is described here; but faith overcame and gained the victory, for the Prophet ceased not to cry to God, even from the pit of depths — from the pit, that is, from death itself.
And this also ought to be carefully observed; for when God bears us on his wings, or when he carries us in his bosom, it is easy to pray; but when we seem to be cast into the deepest gulfs, if we thence cry to him, it is a real and certain proof of faith and hope. As such passages often occur in the Psalms, they may be compared together; but I touch but slightly on the subject, for it is not my object to heap together all the quotations which are appropriate; it is enough to present the real meaning of the Prophet. It follows, —
56. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
56. Vocem meam audisti; ne occultes (vel, occludas) aurem tuam ad respirationem meam (vertunt, ad clamorem meum) et ad precationem meam (sed prius nomen accipio potius pro gemitu, vel clamore.)
When the Prophet says that God heard, it is the same as though he said, that he had so prayed that God became a witness of his earnestness and solicitude; for many boast in high terms of their earnestness and fervor and constancy in prayer, but their boastings are all empty and vain. But the Prophet summons God as a witness of his crying, as though he had said that he was not so overwhelmed by his adversity, but that he always fled to God.
He then says, Close not, etc.; it is properly, “hide not;” but as this is not quite suitable to ears, I am disposed to give this version, Close not thine ear to my cry. The verb רוח ruch, means to dilate, to respire; hence almost all render the noun here, “breathing;” but what follows cannot admit of this sense, to my prayer or cry. I have no doubt but that these two words mean crying; for in groaning the spirit of man dilates itself, and the soul, compressed by grief, expands. But when we cast our cares and troubles into the bosom of God, then the spirit forcibly emerges. This, then, is what the Prophet means, when he asks God not to close his ear to his dilation or groaning, and to his cry. 202 It follows, —
57. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
57. Appropinquasti in die in quo clamavi ad te (vel, invocavi te,) dixisti, Ne timeas.
Here the Prophet tells us that he had experienced the goodness of God, because he had not suffered a repulse when he prayed. And this doctrine is especially useful to us, that is, to call to mind that we had not in time past prayed in vain. For we may hence feel assured, that as God ever continues like himself, he will be ever ready to help us when- ever we implore his protection. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet declares here that he had experienced the readiness of God to hear prayer: Thou didst come nigh, he says, in the day when I called on thee; thou didst say, Fear not And this approach or coming nigh refers to what was real or actually done, that God had stretched forth his hand and helped his servants. Since, then, they had been confirmed by such evidences, they had the privilege of ever fleeing to God. God, indeed, supplies us with reasons for hope, when he once and again aids us; and it is the same as though he testified that he will ever be the same as we have once and again found him to be.
He then adds an explanation, Thou didst say, Fear not He does not mean that God had spoken; but, as I have said, he thus sets forth the fact, that he had not sought God in vain, for he had relieved him. Though God may not speak, yet when we find that our prayers are heard by him, it is the same as though he raised us up and removed from us every fear. The sum of what is said is, that God had been propitious to his servants whenever they cried to him. It now follows, —
58. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
58. Disceptasti, Domine, disceptationes animae meae, redemisti vitam meam.
For the same purpose he now says, that God had been his judge to undertake his cause, and not only once, for he had contended for him as though he had been his perpetual advocate. The meaning is, that the Prophet (who yet speaks in the name of all the faithful) had found God a defender and a helper, not only in one instance, but whenever he had been in trouble; for he uses the plural number, and says, Thou hast pleaded the pleadings of my soul
He adds, Thou hast redeemed my life. It is the way of God’s pleading when he delivers us as it were from death. Friends do, indeed, sometimes anxiously exert themselves, interposing for our defense, but they do not always succeed. But God is such a pleader of our cause, that he is also a deliverer, for our safety is in his hand. It follows, —
59. O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
59. Vidisti, Jehova, oppressionem (subversionem, alii vertunt, iniquitatem) meam; judica judicium meum.
The word עותתי, outti, is rendered by some “iniquity,” but in an ironical sense, as though the Prophet had said, “Thou, God, knowest whether I have offended.” But the word is to be taken passively; the verb עות, out, means, to subvert, as we have elsewhere seen, even in this chapter. Then, by his subversion, he means oppression, even when his adversaries unworthily trod him under their feet. And hence he asks God at the same time to judge his judgment, that is, to undertake his cause, and to appear as his defender, as he had formerly done; for he saw his subversion, that is, he saw that he was unjustly cast down and laid prostrate by the wicked. It follows, —
60. Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
60. Vidisti omnes ultiones ipsorum, omnes cogitationes contra me.
This mode of speaking was often used by the saints, because God, when it pleased him to look on their miseries, was ever ready to bring them help. Nor were they words without meaning, when the faithful said, O Lord, thou hast seen; for they said this for their own sake, that they might shake off all unbelief. For as soon as any trial assails us, we imagine that God is turned away from us; and thus our flesh tempts us to despair. It is hence necessary that the faithful should in this respect struggle with themselves and feel assured that God has seen them. Though, then, human reason may say, that God does not see, but neglect and disregard his people, yet on the other hand, this doctrine ought to sustain them, it being certain that God does see them. This is the reason why David so often uses this mode of expression.
Thou, Jehovah, he says, hast seen all their vengeances By vengeances here he means acts of violence, according to what we find in Ps 8:2, where God is said “to put to flight the enemy and the avenger.” By the avenger there he simply means, not such as retaliate wrongs, but cruel and violent men. So also, in this place, by vengeances, he means all kinds of cruelty, as also by thoughts he means wicked counsels, by which the ungodly sought to oppress the miserable and the innocent. He again repeats the same thing, —
61. Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
61. Audivisti probra ipsorum, Jehova, omnes cogitationes eorum contra me.
We see that this is a repetition, but for vengeances he now mentions reproaches And in this way he sought again to turn God to mercy; for when he brings no aid, he seems to close his eyes and to render his ears deaf; but when he attends to our evils, he then soon brings help. The Prophet, then, having said that God saw, now refers to hearing: he had heard their reproaches. Adopting a language not strictly proper, he adds, that he had heard their thoughts; though he speaks not only of their secret counsels, but also of all the wicked conspiracies by which his enemies had contrived to ruin him. 203 He adds, —
62. The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
62. Labia (vel sermones, aut, linguas) insurgebtium contra me, et sermones eorum contra me tota die (vel, quotidie.)
Instead of thoughts, he now mentions lips, or words. The verb הגה, ege means to meditate, when no voice is uttered; but as the noun is connected here with lips, there is no doubt but that the Prophet refers to words, rather than to hidden meditations. 204 He then says, that such were the conspiracies, that they did not conceal what they had in their hearts, but publicly avowed their wicked purposes. Now this insolence must have moved God to aid his people, so unjustly oppressed.
He adds, every day, or daily. This circumstance also must have availed to obtain favor, so that God might the sooner aid his people. For had the ungodly made violent assaults, and soon given over, it would have been easy to persevere in so short a trial, as when a storm soon passes by; but when they went on perseveringly in their machinations, it was very hard to bear the trial. And hence we derive a ground of hope, supplied to us by what the Holy Spirit suggests to us here, that God will be merciful to us on seeing the pertinacity of our enemies. He then adds, —
63. Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
63. Sessionem eorum et surrectionem eorum aspice; ego canticum eorum (vel, pulsatio, ut alii vertunt
The Prophet repeats still the same thing, only in other words. He had spoken of the lyings in wait, and the conspiracies and the speeches of his enemies; he now adds, that nothing was hid from God. By sitting and rising, he means all the actions of life, as when David says,
“Thou knowest my sitting and my rising,” (Ps 139:2;)
that is, whether I rest or walk, all my actions are known to thee. By rising, then, the Prophet denotes here, as David did, all the movements or doings of men; and by sitting, he means their quiet counsels; for men either deliberate and prepare for work while they sit, or rise, and thus move and act.
He means, in short, that whether his enemies consulted silently and quietly, or attempted to do this or that, nothing was unknown to God. Now, as God takes such notice of the counsels and all the actions of men, it cannot be but that he restrains and checks the wicked; for God’s knowledge is always connected with his office as a judge. We hence see how the Prophet strengthens himself, as we have lately stated, and thus gathers a reason for confidence; for the wicked counsels of his enemies and their works were not hid from God.
He adds, I am become a song He again sets before God his reproach, east upon him by the ungodly. For that indignity also availed much to lead God not to suffer his people to be unworthily treated. It now follows, —
64. Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
64. Repende illis mercedem, Jehova, secundum opus manuum suarum
He adds here a conclusion; for he has hitherto been relating, as I have said, the evils which he suffered, and also the reproaches and unjust oppressions, in order that; he might have God propitious to him; for this is the way of conciliating favor when we are wrongfully dealt with; for it cannot be but that God will sustain our cause. He indeed testifies that he is ready to help the miserable; it is his own peculiar work to deliver captives from prison, to illuminate the blind, to succor the miserable and the oppressed. This is the reason, then, why the Prophet now confidently asks God to render to his enemies their reward, according to the work of their hands
Were any one to object, and say, that another rule is prescribed to us, even to pray for our enemies, even when they oppress us; the answer is this, that the faithful, when they prayed thus, did not bring any violent feelings of their own, but pure zeal, and rightly formed; for the Prophet here did not pray for evil indiscriminately on all, but on the reprobate, who were perpetually the enemies of God and of his Church. He might then with sincerity of heart have asked God to render to them their just reward. And whenever the saints broke forth thus against their enemies, and asked God to become an avenger, this principle must be ever borne in mind, that they did not indulge their own wishes, but were so guided by the Holy Spirit — that moderation was connected with that fervid zeal to which I have referred. The Prophet, then, as he speaks here of the Chaldeans, confidently asked God to destroy them, as we shall again presently see. We find also in the Psalms the same imprecations, especially on Babylon, — “Happy he who shall render to thee what thou hast brought on us, who shall dash thy children against a stone.” (Ps. 137:8, 9.) It follows, —
65. Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
65. Des illis impedimentum cordis (alii, obstinationem,) maledictionem tuam illis (vel maledictio tua illis.)
He expresses what the vengeance was to be, even that God would give them up to a reprobate mind; for by מגנת-לב, meganet-leb, he no doubt meant the blindness of the heart, and at the same time included stupidity, as though he had said, “O Lord, so oppress them with evils, that they may become stupified.” For it is an extremity of evil, when we are so overpowered as not to be as it were ourselves, and when our evils do not drive us to prayer. 205
We now then perceive what the Prophet meant by asking God to give to his enemies the impediment of heart, even that he might take away a sound mind, and smite them with blindness and madness, as it is said elsewhere. — I run on quickly, that I may finish, lest the hour should prevent us. The last verse of this triple alphabet follows, —
66. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
66. Persequere in ira et perde eos e sub coelis Jehovae (quidam in vocativo casu legunt, Jehova; sed quia non ponitur שמים, sed in constructione שמי, ideo retineo proprietatem.)
He first asks God to persecute them in wrath, that is, to be implacable to them; for persecution is, when God not only chastises the wicked for a short time, but when he adds evils to evils, and accumulates them until they perish. He then adds, and prays God to destroy them from under the heavens of Jehovah This phrase is emphatical; and they extenuate the weightiness of the sentence, who thus render it, “that God himself would destroy the ungodly from the earth.” For the Prophet does not without a design mention the heavens of Jehovah, as though he had said, that though God is hidden from us while we sojourn in the world, he yet dwells in heaven, for heaven is often called the throne of God, —
“The heaven is my throne.” (Isa 66:1.)
“O God, who dwellest in the sanctuary.”
(Ps 22:4; Ps 77:14.)
By God’s sanctuary is often meant heaven. For this reason, then, the Prophet asked here that the ungodly should be destroyed from under the heaven of Jehovah, that is, that their destruction might testify that he sits in heaven, and is the judge of the world, and that things are not in such a confusion, but that the ungodly must at length render an account before the celestial judge, whom they have yet long neglected. This is the end of the chapter.
Grant, Almighty God, that as at this day ungodly men and wholly reprobate so arrogantly rise up against thy Church, we may learn to flee to thee, and to hide ourselves under the shadow of thy wings, and fully to hope for thy salvation; and that however disturbed the state of things may be, we may yet never doubt but that thou wilt be propitious to us, since we have so often found thee to be our deliverer; and that we may thus persevere in confidence of thy grace and mercy, and be also roused by this incentive to pray to thee, until having gone through all our miseries, we shall at length enjoy that blessed rest which thou hast promised to us through Christ Jesus our Lord. — Amen.
The verses in this chapter are needlessly multiplied. It would have been better had each verse contained a letter, for the length of this chapter is the same with the two foregoing; the only difference is, that the lines, or alternate lines, begin with the same letter three times, as follows, —
א I am the man who hath seen affliction,
Through the rod of his indignation;
א Me hath he led and caused to walk
In darkness, and not in light;
א Surely against me he turns,
Upset me does his hand all the day.
The three next lines, or alternate lines, begin with ב, and so on to the end of the alphabet — Ed
The Sept., the Targ., and the Arab. render this “my head;” but the Vulg. and the Syr., “gall.” It occurs again in La 2:19, and is rendered “gall” by the Targ. and all the versions. He was “surrounded with gall,” with what was bitter to him, and “with faintness,” with what made him to faint. Hence, in the next verse, he represents himself as being like the dead. — Ed.
“Subverted” is the Vulg., “obstructed” the Sept., and “rendered oblique” the Syr. The meaning is, “turned aside.” he had built as it were a wall of hewn stones across his way, and thus he turned aside his goings or his paths, so that he was constrained to take some other course. — Ed.
The word, having the last letter doubled, means to turn aside again and again, “He has often turned aside my ways.” — Ed.
The word means grit or gravel, rendered “pebble” by the Sept., and “stones” by the Syr. and the Targ. It is rendered “gravel” in Pr 20:17. The verb only occurs here and in Psalm 119; and to wear out, is its most suitable meaning, —
And he hath worn out with grit my teeth.
The verb rendered “covered,” is found only here, and is translated “fed” by the Sept. and Vulg.; “tumbled” or laid low, by the Targ.; and “besprinkled,” by the Syr. As he had said, that his food had been as it were grit, he could not have said that he was fed with ashes. Therefore the arg. or the Syr. is the most suitable, that God had laid him low in ashes, Tr that he had besprinkled or covered him with ashes. — Ed
The word “strength” is rendered “victory” by the Sept., “end” by the Vulg, “splendor by the Syr., and valor by the Targ. means superiority, excellency, rather than strength, —
And I said, Perished hath my excellency,
And my expectation from Jehovah.
Whatever he had that was excellent had perished; and perished also had every good he expected from Jehovah. The meaning is not, that these things perished from Jehovah, but that his excellency and his expectation from Jehovah had perished. — Ed.
The verb “remember” is rendered as an imperative by the Targ., the Vulg., and the Syr.; and it is so rendered by Henderson. — Ed.
The pronoun “this” is by most referred to what the next verse contains; but as a clause intervenes, this can hardly be the meaning. The Lamentations Lam. 3:19, 20, 21, I render thus,
19. Remember my affliction and my abasement,
The wormwood and the gall.
20. Remembering thou wilt remember them,
For bowed down within me is my soul:
21. This I recall to my mind;
Therefore will I hope.
He prays, then he expresses his confidence that God would hear his prayer; and “this” refers to the assurance he felt that God would remember his afflicted state, and on this ground he entertained hope. In the next verse he states what confirmed this hope: — Ed.
So the Targ. and all the versions, except the Vulg; they read תמו. “The mercies of Jehovah” is the nominative case absolute, —
22. The mercies of Jehovah, verily they have no end,
For his compassion’s never fail.
23. Renewed (are they) in the morning;
Great is thy faithfulness.
“Renewed” refers to “mercies,” i.e., blessings, the fruit of mercy; and God’s mercies have no end, because his compassion’s ever continue. “In the morning,” that is, after a night of affliction. If the rendering be made literal, “in the mornings,” the meaning is the same; they follow the previous nights of trouble. Blessings, being as it were suspended or withheld during the night, are again renewed in the morning. — Ed.
There is more authority for the word for “wait” being in the singular than in the plural, as it is given in the Syr. — Ed.
It may be thus rendered, —
Good it is when he hopes and waits quietly
For the salvation of Jehovah.
The ו may often be rendered when. This verse, the preceding, and following, begin with “good,” which renders the passage very striking, —
25. Good is Jehovah to him who waits for him,
To the soul who seeks him:
26. Good it is when he hopes and waits quietly
For the salvation of Jehovah:
27. Good it is for man
That he bears the yoke in his youth.
It is so found in the Syr.; but it comes to the same thing, if the verb be taken passively. in Niphal, — “Because it (the yoke mentioned before) has been laid on him.” Blayney’s version is, “When it is laid on him.” — Ed.
To lay the mouth in the dust, is a token of entire submission. Agreeably with this, the following words may be considered as spoken by the individual, —
He will lay in the dust his mouth (and say) —
“It may be there is hope.”
It is better to render the verbs here as they are, in the future tense, as all the versions do; for he describes what is usually the character of the godly under severe trials. — Ed.
That is, he will suffer himself to be filled with reproaches; he will submit to all reproaches. — Ed.
This verse is connected with La 3:25: “Good is Jehovah to him who waits for him;” and the reason is given here, “For not reject perpetually (or, for ever) will the Lord.” “For,” as assigning a reason, is here repeated three times, in this verse and in the two following verses; and they seem all to be reasons given for the truth contained in La 3:25,
31. For not reject perpetually
Will the Lord:
32. For though he afflicts, yet he will shew compassion
According to the multitude of his mercies:
33. For he does not depress from his heart,
Nor afflict the children of men.
All these particulars explain and elucidate the truth, that God is good. “From his heart,” does not mean “willingly,” but at his will, that is, arbitrarily, without reason, but when constrained by man’s wickedness. — Ed.
The order is here reverted. It is a common thing in Scripture to state first the chief thing, the chief good or evil. Here the greatest evil is mentioned first, the tearing under foot of such as were already bound, or imprisoned; then the sparing of the guilty; and thirdly, the withholding of justice to the righteous. To turn aside or divert judgment, is not to punish the guilty; and to wrong a person in his cause, is to deny his right. By “the bound,” or “prisoners of the earth,” or land, Blayney understands persons imprisoned for debt, who were obliged to work as slaves until they satisfied their creditors. See Mt 18:30-34. Cruelty to such is referred to in Isa 58:3. — Ed.
The Targ. and the versions differ as to the import of this clause. The verb to see, has been taken to mean three things, — to know, to approve, and to regard or to notice. The Vulgate takes the first, our version the second, and Calvin the third. The context seems to favor the last meaning especially the following verses.
There is a difficulty as to the antecedent to the pronoun “his, before “feet.” It seems to refer to “man” in the last verse; for the words are, “the sons (or children) of man,” not of “men.” The verb ראה, when followed by ל, means to look on, at, or simply to see. Ps 64:5. Then the literal rendering of the passage would be as follows, —
On the tearing under his feet
Of all the bound of the land,
On the diverting of a man’s judgment,
In the presence of the most High,
On the wronging of a person in his cause
The Lord doth not look.
Or if the “on” be dropped, the last line may be,
The Lord doth not see.
This is manifestly the saying of unbelieving men, or of those weak in faith, as proved by the next verse, when rightly rendered. — Ed.
‘The construction of these two verses is variously given. The verb rendered, “It was, or, “It came to pass,” if in the third person, is feminine, while it is usually and probably always masculine, when it has this meaning. It may be taken to be here in the second person. The literal rendering of the verse then would be, —
Who-he-saying (i.e., Who is he who says,) That thou art Lord, ordering not, (i.e., who dost not order, or command.)
Then the following verse contains a continuation of what the objector said, —
From the mouth of the Highest
Cometh not the evil and the good.
The answer of the Prophet is in La 3:39, in which he intimates that God orders evil as a punishment for sin.
The objector’s declaration, that God as a Lord or Sovereign does not command or order events, and for this reason, because both evil and good cannot come from him, is a proof that not to see in La 3:36, is not to regard or notice the affairs of men. — Ed.
“Murmur” is the Sept. and the Vulg. The word only occurs here and in Nu 11:1; and “complain” is the most suitable rendering in both places, —
39. Why complain should man,
Any man alive, for his sin?
That is, on account of suffering for his sin. Thus God is justified in ordaining or commanding evil as well as good, that is, the evil of punishment. — Ed.
The words literally rendered are very expressive, —
Let us uncover our ways, and search.
The cover was first to be stripped off, and then was a search to be made as to the character of their ways. — Ed.
To give the proper emphasis to the pronoun, the version ought to be as follows, —
We, transgressed have we rebelled.
To “cover” is the idea given to the verb by the Sept., the Vulg, the Syr., and the Targ.; but Blayney and some others take it in the sense of fencing in, enclosing, in allusion to the practice of hunters; and the next verb, which means to pursue, to chase, favors this meaning, —
Thou hast in wrath enclosed and chased us,
Thou hast slain and not spared.
Then the same verb begins the next verse, —
Thou hast enclosed thyself in a cloud,
That prayer might not pass through.
There are circumstances, no doubt, according to God’s word, under which God does not hear prayer: and this seems to have been an instance of this kind. — Ed.
Let the verb have a causative sense, to cause to descend, to bring down, and there will be no difficulty in the clause; so the Sept. and the Vulg., —
Streams of water does mine eyes bring down
For the breach of the daughter of my people,
The connection of this verse with the preceding will be more evident from the following version, —
49. Mine eye hath poured down, and it will not cease,
With any intermissions,
50. Until Jehovah look down
And see from heaven.
To “see” here, as in La 3:36, means to regard, so as to interfere in the affairs of men. “with any,” etc., literally, “With no,” etc. But the English language not admit of the two negatives, though the Welsh will. — Ed.
The versions and the Targ. give the first meaning, “because of the daughters of my city;” and the last words, “of my city,” seem to favor it; for had women as a sex been intended, they would not have been thus designated. — Ed.
The words literally are, —
Hunting hunted me like a bird
have mine enemies without a cause.
Materially correct, no doubt, is this explanation. We may give this version, —
My voice hast thou heard, deafen not thy ear
To my sighing, to my cry.
The verb עלם means to veil, and hence to hide. To veil the eye is, not to look at what is set before it; and to veil the ear is, to render it deaf to what is said. The Prophet says that God had heard his voice, for he had prayed; but he further asks God not to turn a deaf ear to his sighing, or sobbing, as given by the Vulg, and to his cry. — Ed
There is no necessity, as some have supposed, of making לי in the former verse, and עלי in this verse, the same. The difference is occasioned by the verbs “thou hast seen,” and, “thou hast heard.” God had seen the thoughts or purposes effected “against” him; and he had heard the purposes formed “concerning” him. He refers first to the purposes carried into effect, and then, as it is common in the prophets, he refers to the purposes previously formed respecting him. — Ed
The best word is muttering, —
The lips of my adversaries,
And their muttering concerning me all the day.
It isn’t here, as in the previous verse, “concerning me,” not “against me.” — Ed.
The word meant “covering, as rendered by the Sept.; the Syr. Has “sorrow,” and the Vulg. “shield,” which has no meaning. What is no doubt meant is hardness or blindness —
Give them blindness of heart:
Thy curse be to them.