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Jeremiah 2:14-17

14 Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?

14. An servus Israel? An (vel, si) genitus domi? (hoc est, an verna? accipiunt enim puerum, domi natum pro verna:) quare factus est in praedam?

15. The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste: his cities are burned without inhabitant.

15. Super eum rugient (vel, rugiunt) leones (alii vertunt, catulos leonum, et soepe significat minores leones hoc nomen sed ubi adjungitur reliquis, ubi autem solum ponitur, ego semper interpretor generaliter pro leonibus,) miserunt vocem suam; posuerunt terram ejus in vastitatem; urbes ejus exustae sunt (vel, destructae, nam, צצץ tandem valet atque hoc loco) absque habitatore.

16. Also the children of Noph and Tahapanes have broken the crown of thy head.

16. Etiam filii Noph (hoc est, Mempheos, vocant enim Hebroei Noph urbem quae fuit olim metropolis Egypti) et Thaphanes (vel, Thaphis, ut vertunt Grraeci) frangent tibi verticem.

17. Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, when he led thee by the way?

17. An non hoc fuit tibi, deserere tuum, (hoc est, quod deserueris) Jehovam Deum tuum, quo tempore ducebat to per viam.

 

These verses are to be read together; for the Prophet first shews that Israel was not as to his original condition miserable, but that this happened through a new cause, and then he mentions the cause. He then first asks, whether Israel was a servant or a slave? God had adopted them as his people, and had promised to be so bountiful to them as to render them in every way happy; and what was more, as a proof of their happiness, he said, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14.) We then see what was the original condition of Israel; they excelled all other nations, because they were God’s peculiar people, they were his heritage, they were a royal priesthood.

Hence the Prophet, as though astonished at something new and strange, asks this question, Is Israel a servant? He was free beyond all nations; for he was the first — born son of God: it was therefore necessary to inquire for the cause why he was so miserable; for he says afterwards, that lions roared against him, and sent forth their voice; he says, that their cities were burnt, or destroyed; he says, that their land was reduced to desolation; and at length he adds, Has not this done these things to thee? This again is put as a question, but it is doubly affirmative, for it takes away every doubt: “What do you say is the cause why you are so miserable? for all are hostile to you, and you are exposed to the wrongs of all: whence can you say has all this proceeded, except from your own wickedness?” We now see what the Prophet means.

But that what he says may be more clear, we must remember that he reminds the people, by way of reproach, of the benefits which God had conferred on them. As then the children of Abraham had been honored with so many singular favors that they had the preeminence over all the world, this dignity is now referred to, but only for the purpose of exposing their base conduct, as though he had said, “God did not deceive you, when he promised to be bountiful to you; his adoption is not deceptive nor in vain: hence you would have been happier than all other nations, had not your own wickedness rendered you miserable.” We now see for what end the Prophet asked, Is Israel a servant or a slave? They were indeed on an equality with other people, as they were by nature; but as they had been chosen by God, and as he had favored them with that peculiar privilege, the Prophet asks, whether they were servants, as though he had said, “What is it that prevents that blessedness to appear among you, which God has promised? for it was not God’s design to disappoint you: it then follows that you are miserable through your own fault.” 4141     The difficulty of understanding this passage has arisen from not considering the questions in a negative sense, as implying a strong denial-”Is Israel a servant (or, rather a slave)?” No, by no means. “Is he one begotten in the house,” that is, in a state of bondage? No, by no means. Then the following question comes naturally; since he is neither a purchased slave, nor a slave born in the house, “why has he become a prey?” That there were two sorts of slaves of this kind is evident from many parts of Scripture. See Genesis 17:12, Genesis 17:23, Genesis 17:27; Exodus 21:4; Leviticus 22: 11. This is the view taken evidently in our version, by Jun and Trem., Piscator, Gataker, Grotius, Henry, and Scott.
   Blarney renders the two first lines thus, —

   Is Israel a slave? or if a child of the household, Wherefore is he exposed to spoil?

   He considers “the child of the household” to be the son and the heir, as Isaac was, and refers to Galatians 4:7. Horsley coincides with him. But the usus loquendi gives no countenance to this view, while it confirms the other. To refer to filiusfamilias in Latin is to no purpose. “The child of the house,” as the expression literally is, and similar phrases, ever mean in Scripture those who were born slaves in a family. — Ed.

And by saying, Why is he become a prey, he intimates that except Israel had been deprived of God’s protection, they would not have been thus exposed to the caprice of their enemies. They were not then become a prey except for this reason, because God had forsaken them, according to what is said in the song of Moses,

“How should one chase a thousand, and ten should put to flight as many thousands, except God had given us up as captives, except we had been shut up by his hand.”
(Deuteronomy 32:30.)

For Moses in that passage does also in an indirect manner remind the people how often and how wonderfully God had given them victories over their enemies, and thus he leaves it to their posterity, when in distress, to consider how the change came that one should chase a thousand; that is, how could it be, that they, possessing great forces, should yet be put to flight by their enemies; for they were not wont to turn their backs, but to conquer their enemies: it then follows, that they were made captives by God, and not by the men who chased them. So also here the Prophet shews, that Israel would not have been made a prey, had they not been deprived of God’s assistance.

He afterwards adds, Over him roar the lions. The Prophet seems not simply to compare the enemies of Israel to lions on account of their cruelty, but also by way of contempt, as though he had said, that Israel found that not only men were incensed against them, but also wild beasts: and it is more degrading when God permits us to be torn by the beasts of the field. It is then the same, as though he had said, that Israel were so miserably treated, that they were not only slain by the hands of enemies, but were also exposed to the beasts of prey. And then he adds, they have sent forth their voice; which is the same as to say, that Israel, whom God was wont to protect by his powerful band, were become the food of wild beasts, and that lions, as it were in troops, were roaring against them.

He then adds, without a metaphor, that his land was laid waste, and his cities burnt without an inhabitant This language cannot be suitably applied to lions or to any other wild beasts; but what he had figuratively said before, he now explains in a plain manner, and says, that the land was desolate, that the cities were cut off or burnt up. Now this, as we have said, could not have been the case, had not Israel departed from God, and had been on this account deprived of his help. 4242     The verse literally is as follows,-
   Over him shall young lions roar;
They have uttered their voice,
And have made his land a waste;
His cities are grown over with grass,
Without an inhabitant.

   The verb in the first line is future, the other verbs are in the past tense; and Blarney thinks that they are so put to denote the certainty of what is said, as it is often done by the prophets: and this is rendered probable by what is contained in Jeremiah 4:7, where the same judgment is spoken of. The verb נצתה, in the received text, ought evidently to be נצתו, according to the Keri and twenty MSS.; and so we find it in Jeremiah 9:10. Our version and Calvin give it the idea of “burning;” but according to Leigh and Parkhurst, its meaning is, to shoot forth, to produce grass, or to grow over with grass, as the case is with ruined cities; and the words connected with it here and in other places seem to favor this meaning. It is rendered in our version, “laid waste,“ in Jeremiah 4:7, and “desolate” in Jeremiah 46:19. — Ed

By way of amplification he adds, Also the sons of Noph and of Tephanes shall for thee break the head, or, the crown of the head. We shall hereafter see that the Israelites were wont to seek help from the Egyptians. The particle גם, gam, may be thus explained, “Not only those who have been hitherto professed enemies to thee, but even thy friends, in whose help thou didst confide, shall turn their power against thee and break for thee thy head.” Some think that their degradation is here enhanced, because the Egyptians were an unwarlike people; and ancient historians say that men there followed the occupations of women; but as this is not mentioned in Scripture, and as the Egyptians are not thus spoken of in it, I prefer to follow the usual explanation, that the Egyptians, though confederate with Israel, would yet be adverse to them, and had been so already. By the head, some understand the chief men among the people of Israel: but we may render it thus, they will break for thee the head, as we say in our language, Ils to romperont la tete, or, Ils to frotteront la tete; and this, in my judgment, is the real meaning. 4343     There have been many expositions of this latter clause, which may be seen in the Assembly’s Annotations, which were written, as to Isaiah and Jeremiah, by the learned Gataker. He gives the preference to the idea, that the crown of the head means the best and the principal part of the land, and to break the crown means the plunder of this portion. See Isaiah 28:4. This seems to correspond in meaning with the previous verse. It was the opinion of Blarney that an allusion is prophetically made to the slaying of Josiah by the Egyptians. The words literally are, —
   They shall break thee, the crown of the head.

   “The crown of the head” seems to be explanatory of “thee;” it might then be rendered, —

   They shall break thee, even the crown of thy head.

   The Septuagint mistook one letter for another, and took the verb to be, ידעוך, “they knew thee,” instead of ירעוך “they shall break thee;” but what they made the last word to be, it is hard to know, for they rendered it, “and searched thee.” The Vulgate has followed the Septuagint; and the idea is a very indecent one: and there is nothing in the context to favor it. The Targum’s paraphrase is this, “They shall slay thy brave men, and plunder thy riches;” which countenances the idea evidently conveyed by the figurative terms of the Hebrew.

   The next verse literally rendered is as follows, —

   Is not this what thou wilt do for thyself,
By thy forsaking of Jehovah thy God,
At the time he was leading thee in the way?

   The first verb is no doubt future, whether it be rendered in the second or third person. The sentence may be rendered in Welsh without “Is,” or the relative “what,” and word for word, —

   Ai nid hyn a wnai i’th hun?

   And the future is understood as the present. Blayney’s version is, —

   Shall not this be done unto thee,
Because thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God,
At the time that he led thee in the way?

   — Ed.

Now follows the cause; the Prophet, after having shewn that Israel were forsaken by God, now mentions the reason why it so happened, Has not this done it for thee? Some read in the second person, “Hast thou not done this for thee?” but the meaning is still nearly the same. More probable, however, is the rendering which others have given, “Has not this happened to thee, because thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God?” Jeremiah, in short, teaches us that the cause of all the evils was the defection of the people, as though he had said, “Thou hast concocted for thyself all this evil; then must thou swallow it, and know that the blame cannot be cast on God; for he would have been faithful to thee, except thine impiety had prevented him. God has not, indeed, chosen thee in vain, nor has he in vain preferred thee to other nations; but thou hast rejected his kindness. Thy condition then would have never been as it is, hadst thou not procured thine own ruin.” How so? “Because thou hast departed from thy God.”

And he further exaggerates this sin by saying, At the time when he led thee in the way To lead in the way, is rightly to govern, so as to make people happy. The Prophet then shews, that the people’s perfidy and defection were without excuse in rejecting the worship of their God, for they were happy during the time they served him. Had they been in various ways tempted, or tried, they might have reigned some pretense. “We thought ourselves deceived in hoping in the true God, for he concealed his favor from us; we were therefore compelled by necessity. There ought at least some indulgence to be shewn to our levity; for we could have formed no other conjecture but that God had removed far from us.” The Prophet meets this objection, as he does in the fifth verse, “What iniquity have your fathers found in me?” and, as it is done in another place,

“My people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I been troublesome to thee?”
(Micah 6:4)

for God in that passage shews that he was prepared to defend his own cause, and to clear himself from whatever the people might object to him. So also he does in this place, “I have led thee,” he says, “in the way;” that is, “Thou didst live happily under my government, and yet I could not retain thee by my goodness while I kindly treated thee; and thou knewest that nothing could be better for thee than to continue under my protection; but thou hast determined to go over into the service of idols. Now what excuse hast thou, or what pretense is left thee?” We hence see, that the sin of the people is greatly enhanced, for they were induced by no temptation or trial to forsake God, but through mere perfidy gave themselves up to idols: and a confirmation of this verse follows —


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