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Jeremiah 31:20

20 ls Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.

20. An filius pretiosus mihi Ephraim? an filius oblectationum? tamen ex quo tempore loquutus sum de eo, recordando recordabor filius (אזכרנו, vel, quia a termpore loquutus sum cum eo, reeordando recordabor illius; dicemus postea de sensu) propterea sonuerunt viscera mea illi (id est, super ipsum) miserando miserabor illius, dicit Jehova.

 

God here complains of the Israelites, because he had produced so little an effect on them by his great goodness: for the adoption with which he had favored them was an immense benefit;but by their ingratitude they had in a manner annihilated that favor. God then here asks, what sort of people the Israelites had been. But a question makes a thing stronger; for he who asks a question shews that he speaks not of a thing uncertain, but the knowledge of which is so conspicuous that it cannot be denied. It is then the same as though he had said, that Ephraim was unworthy of any honor or esteem, and that he was no object of delight. We now then perceive what God means in the beginning of the verse, even that the people were unworthy of any mercy, because they had abolished, as far as they could, the favor of adoption: for by the word son, he refers to that special favor, the covenant which he had made with the seed of Abraham.

In the first place, he calls him a son, בן, ben, and then a child, ילד, ilad, which refers to his birth: but by these two names, God here intimates that they were to him a peculiar people, as he everywhere calls those his sons who were the descendants of Abraham; for circumcision was to them a symbol and pledge of the covenant; and so the time is a circumstance that ought to be noticed, because God does not shew here what the Israelites were before he had chosen them to be his people. But as I have already said, he charges them with ingratitude, since the time they had been adopted by him as his children. He then calls them sons, or children, by way of concession, and with regard to their adoption, as Jerusalem was called the holy city, because it was God’s habitation. There is then a concession as to the name given to them. But he afterwards adds, that this son was not precious, that is, worthy of any honor, and that he was not an object of delight; as though he had said, that he was of a perverse and wicked disposition, so that he could not take any delight in him, as by another simile he complains in Jeremiah 2:21, as we have seen, that the Jews were become bitter to him,

“My vine have I planted thee;
why then art thou turned to me into bitterness?”

So also now he says, that the Israelites were indeed his sons, but that they were evil-disposed sons, disobedient sons, sons who only vexed their father, who wounded his feelings, who filled him with sorrow.

He then adds, For from the time I spake in him, so it is literally. It is commonly agreed that these words are to be read with those which follow. “For from what time I spake;” and thus the relative אשר, asher, is to be understood; but literally it is, “For from the time I spake in him,” בו, bu, or, as some render it, “concerning him;” but it may suitably be rendered “with him.” Then they read, in connection with this, Remembering I will yet remember him

This passage, on account of its brevity, is obscure, and therefore ambiguous; but the common opinion is this, — that though Ephraim was not a child of delight, yet God would be merciful towards him; and thus they take כי ki, in an adversative sense, “notwithstanding,” or yet: “Is Ephraim a precious son? Is he a child of delight? yet remembering I will still remember him;” as though he had said, that he would not be prevented by the people’s wickedness, for he would still pity him according to his infinite goodness, or that his goodness would surpass their wickedness. This sense is plausible; yet it may be doubted whether this be the meaning. Some read the words, “From the time I spake concerning him,” that is, while I now speak of him: but I know not whether this explanation can stand. I am therefore inclined to the opinion of those who refer this to threatenings, even that from the time God had spoken against Israel, he was yet ready to be reconciled to them, according to what is said by the Prophet Habakkuk,

“In wrath wilt thou remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

But this ought to be rather understood of the covenant, as though God had said, “From the time I spake with him, I will remember him;” that is, that he might shew the reason why he dealt so mercifully with the people. For as their wickedness and corruption were so great, a doubt might arise, “Can God still patiently endure them?” Here then our attention is called back to the fountain of gratuitous mercy, even that God would forgive his people, because he had once chosen them.

But still when I narrowly weigh everything, I think the meaning of the Prophet to be different. I therefore separate the two clauses, “From the time I spake with him,” and, “Remembering I will yet remember him;” for the sentence is harsh, when we say, “From the time I spake with him,” and then add, “I will yet remember him.” But the exposition, the most suitable in my opinion, is this, “From the time I spake with him,” (for ב means with) that is, I desisted not continually to exhort him to repentance, and yet I effected nothing; notwithstanding I will still remember him; that is, “Though I have found this people very perverse, and though they have long given many proofs of their obstinacy, for I have spoken to them for a long time, nevertheless I will still remember them.” For the people deserved eternal ruin who had been so often warned; but God declares that he would still be propitious to them, though he had spoken to them for a time, that is, a long time; for he had not ceased for a long space of time to exhort that people by his Prophets, but with no success. So then I read the words, “From the time I spake with him,” separately from what follows, and connect them with the former clauses, “Is he a precious son? Is he a child of delight?” For he complains that they had been rebellious and untameable, not only from the time he had only once addressed them and sought to do them good, but for several ages. He therefore declares that the people themselves had no hope, because they had been intractable for a long time. He yet adds, though it was so, Remembering I will still remember him 4040     This verse has been variously explained. The two questions are taken by Calvin and by others as strong negatives: but this is not always the ease; both ה and אם are often taken as strong affirmatives. See Jeremiah 3:6; 1 Samuel 2:27; Ezekiel 20:30; Amos 6:2. This sense is what the context requires; for this verse is an answer to penitent Ephraim. Neither the Sept., nor the Vulg., nor the Syr., nor the Targ. retain the interrogatory form: but they retain the meaning, if the questions be taken affirmatively, not otherwise. The next words I render thus, —
   For since my words are in him,
Remembering I will still remember him.

   This is according to the Sept., and the general drift of the Targ. The Syr. gives another meaning, —

   For at the time when I speak against him,
Remembering I still remember him.

   There are no other versions which come so near to the original. — Ed.

And he enhances the benefit of this reconciliation, and says, Therefore sounded have my bowels for him, 4141     The word for “sounded,” means to tumultuate, to be agitated, to be greatly moved or disturbed. It is rendered by the Vulg., “are troubled — conturbata;” by the Syr. and Targ., “are moved.” It may be rendered “trouble” here. See Isaiah 16:1 l, where the action of the bowels is compared to the harp, not surely to its sound, but to the vibration of its cords. See also Isaiah 63:15, and Cant. v. 4. — Ed. pitying I will pity him Here God ascribes to himself human feelings; for the bowels are moved and make a noise under immoderate grief; and we sigh and groan deeply, when we are pressed down by great sorrow. So also when God expresses the feelings of a tender father, he says that his bowels made a noise, because he wished to receive his people again into favor. This, indeed, does not properly belong to God; but as he could not otherwise express the greatness of his love towards us, he thus speaks in condescension to our capacities. It follows —


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