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Jeremiah 21:8-9

8. And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.

8. Et ad populum hunc dices, sic dicit Jehova, Ecce ego propono coram vobis (coram faciebus vestris) viam vitae (vitarum, ad verbum) et viam mortis:

9. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey.

9. Qui habitabit in urbe hac morietur gladio et fame et peste; qui autem egressus fuerit et habitaverit (vertunt quidam, qui ceciderit; sed dicemus de hoc verbo postea) apud Chaldeos, qui obsident vos, vivet et anima illi erit in spolium.


God here declares that he proposed to the people the way of life and the way of death, in order that they might surely know that all who remained in the city would soon meet with death, and that those who willingly surrendered to their enemies would have their life spared. Moses says in another sense that he set before them the way of life and the way of death; he spoke of the Law, which contains promises of God’s favor, and threatenings to transgressors. But the Prophet means here another thing, that is, that there was no hope of safety except the Jews submitted their neck to the yoke, and surrendered of themselves to their enemies; for if they pertinaciously defended themselves, God would be their enemy, for he had led the Chaldeans to assail them, and directed their counsels and their forces. He indeed confirms what he had said before, but at the same time he more particularly describes what was to be, that the Jews might lay aside their perverseness, and acknowledge that they could not escape the correction which they deserved.

The import of what is said is, that as the Chaldeans fought under the authority of God, they would be victorious; it was then in vain for the Jews to resist, as they could not escape, unless they overcame God himself, which was impossible. He leaves then but one hope to them, that is, humbly to acknowledge God’s just judgment by submitting of themselves to a temporal punishment, and by enduring exile with a resigned mind. This then is the meaning, and it is not different discourse, but the Prophet confirms what he had said before, and at the same time applies God’s threatenings to the state of the people, so that they might humble themselves, and not think it of any use to resist God in their obstinacy, as they would at length be constrained to succumb.

Thou shalt say to this people, Thus saith Jehovah, Behold I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Which was the way of death? Whosoever, he says, abides in this city, shall die by the sword, or by famine, or by pestilence This was incredible to the Jews, and they were no doubt inflamed with rage when they heard that they were to perish in the holy city which God protected; for there he had his sanctuary, and there his rest was. But the Prophet had already dissipated all these delusions; he could, therefore, boldly threaten them, though they still alleged their vain pretences: he had shewed reasons enough why they could hope for nothing less than exile from God, for they had so many times, and so obstinately, and in such various ways provoked him. This, then, he says, is the way of death, it is by remaining in the city. And he mentions several kinds of evils, and shews that God was armed not only with a hostile sword, but would also employ famine and pestilence, so that he would kill some with the sword, consume some with famine, and destroy some with pestilence. Hence he shews that they would be so assailed on every side, that it would be in vain to attempt to escape; for when they shunned the sword, pestilence would meet them; and when they were preserved from the pestilence, the famine would consume them.

He then adds, But he who went out to the Chaldeans, who besieged the city, etc., that is, who willingly surrendered himself; for it was a sign of obedience when the Jews with a resigned mind received correction; and it was also an evidence of repentance, for they thus confessed that they were worthy of the heaviest punishment. This is the reason why the Prophet represents it as the way of life to go out willingly, and to make a surrender of themselves of their own accord to their enemies. And by saying, who besiege you, הצרים עליכם, etserim olicam, he wished to anticipate objections which any one of the people might have alleged, — “How can I dare thus to expose myself? for the Chaldeans besiege us, and it will be all over with me as to my life if I go forth as a suppliant to them.” By no means, says the Prophet, for though they carry on a deadly war with the city, yet every one who of his own accord goes forth to them shall be safe, and shall find them ready to shew mercy. God would not have promised this had he not the Chaldeans in his own power, so that he could turn their minds as he pleased.

As to the verb נפל, nuphel, it means strictly to fall; but I consider that it signifies here to dwell, as in Genesis 25:27, where it is said that Ishmael dwelt in the sight of, or over against his brethren. They who render it “died” touch neither heaven nor earth. Some read, “his lot fell among his brethren;” but this is an unnatural rendering. There is, then, no doubt but that the verb means often to lie down, and hence to dwell; and yet I allow that the Prophet alludes to subjection; for we must remember what must have been their condition when they went over to the Chaldeans; they must have been subjected to great reproach. It was then no small humiliation; but yet we may properly render the verb to dwell. He, then, who went out to the Chaldeans and dwelt with them, 2424     “Shall go to,” is the Sept.; “shall fly to,” the Vulg.; “shall obey,” the Targ.; it is omitted in Syr. Blayney is, “surrendereth himself.” The verb, followed by על, as here, means to fall away to, or to join. See 2 Kings 25:11. “But he who goeth out and joins the Chaldeans, who besiege you, shall live,” etc. — Ed that is, who suffered himself to be led into exile, or who migrated according to their will from his own country to a foreign land — he, he says, shall live, and his life shall be for a prey, that is, he shall save his life, as when any one finds a prey and takes it as his own by stealth; for prey is to be taken here as an accidental gain. Whosoever, then, he says, shall not deem it too grievous a thing to submit to the Chaldeans, shall at least save his life.

In short, God intimates that the wickedness of the people had advanced so far, that it was not right to forgive them. What, then, was to be done by them? to submit with resignation and humility to a temporal punishment, and thus to cease to shut up the door of God’s mercy. He, however, teaches them at the same time that no salvation could be hoped for by them until they were chastised. And hence we may learn a useful doctrine, and that is, that whenever we provoke God’s wrath by our perverseness, we cannot be exempt from all punishment; and that we ought not to be impatient, especially when he punishes us moderately; and that provided we obtain eternal mercy, we ought submissively to bear paternal corrections. It follows, —

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