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Jeremiah 10:4-5

4. They deck it with silver and with gold; the fasten it with nails and with the hammers, that it move not.

4. Argento et auro pulchrificant (hoc est, exornant) illud; clavis et malleis fortificant (hoc est, bene defigunt;) et non movebitur (hoc est, ut non moveatur.)

5. They are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.

5. Sicuti palma aequalis (hoc est, stat effigies illa aequalis tanquam palma, id est, assurgit in rectitudinem;) et non loquuntur; et tollendo tolluntur, quia non ambulabunt (hoc est, non possunt ambulare:) ne timeatis ab illis; quia non male faciunt, atque etiam bene facere non penes ipsos.

 

He goes on with the same subject, and borrows his words from the forty — fourth chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 44); for the passage is wholly similar. Jeremiah, being later, was induced to take the words from his predecessor, that his own nation might be more impressed, on finding that the same thing was said by two Prophets, and that thus they had two witnesses.

He then says that these wise men, who filled the Jews with wonder and astonishment, adorned their images, or statues, with silver and gold, and afterward fixed them with nails and with hammers, that they might not move Some refer the last word to the metal, “that the pieces might not come off,” as the verb sometimes means to depart. But the simpler meaning is, that the statues were fixed by nails and hammers, that they might not be moved. Then the Prophet adds by way of concession, They are indeed erect as the palm-trees; and thus there appears in them something remarkable: but they speak not; and then, being raised they are raised, that is, they cannot move themselves; for they cannot walk Then he says, Be not afraid of them; for they do no evil, nor is it in their power to do good

We now see what the Prophet meant to teach us, — that the wisdom of the Chaldeans, and also of the Egyptians, was celebrated throughout the world, and also so blinded the Jews, or so enraptured, them, that they thought that nothing proceeded from them but what deserved to be known and esteemed. In order therefore to remove and demolish this false notion, he shews that they were beyond measure foolish; for what could have been more sottish than to think that the nature of a tree is changed as soon as it receives a new form? How? By the hand of the artificer. Can it be in the power of man to make a god at his will? This is a folly which heathen authors have derided. Horace has this sentence: —

“When the workman was uncertain whether to make a bench or Priapus, He chose rather to make a god.” 55     Cum faber incertus scanmum faceretne Priapm, Maluit esse Demu.” Hor. Lib. 1, Sat. 8.

That poet, as he dared not generally to condemn the madness which then prevailed, indirectly shewed how shameful it was to make a log of wood a god, because the workman had given it a form. The very richest worshipped a wooden god, while he despised the artificer! He who would not have condescended to give the workman a cup of water, yet prostrated himself befbre the god which the workman had made! This then is what our Prophet now says, “Behold, with silver and gold do they adorn trunks of trees; they indeed stood up, for they are erect statues;” and he compares them to palm-trees, because they stood high: and he says, “but they speak not; they are raised up, for they have no life; hence fear them not:” and then he adds, “They cannot do evil, and it is not in their power to do good.”

The Prophet seems to speak improperly when he says that they were not gods, because they could do no evil; for it is wholly contrary to the nature of the only true God to do evil: but the Prophet, according to what is common, uses the word for the infliction of punishment. God, then, is said to do evil, not because he does harm to any one, not because he does wrong to any mortals, but because he chastises them for their sins. And it is a way of speaking derived from the common judgment of man, for we call those things evils which are afflictions to us; for famine, diseases, poverty, cold, heat, disgrace, and things of this kind, are called afflictions or adversities. Now, the Prophet says, that the idols of the Gentiles, or their fictitious gods, do no evil, that is, they have no power to inflict punishment on men. And this is taken from Isaiah. God uses there a twofold argument, while claiming divinity to himself alone: he says,

“I alone am he who foresees and predicts future things;”

and hence I am God alone; and then he says,

“I alone am he who do good and evil;”

hence I alone am God. (Isaiah 45:22; Isaiah 48:3, 5.) He says, that he doeth evil, because he is the Judge of the world. We hence see that this expression is not to be taken in a bad sense, but, as I have said, it is to be taken in a sense used by men; for we consider and call those punishments, with which God visits us, evils. It follows —


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