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Jeremiah 32:16-18

16. Now when I had delivered the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the LORD, saying,

16. Et prcatus sum Jehovam postquam dedi librum emptionis Baruch filio Neriae, dicendo,

17. Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched-out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:

17. Heu Domine Jehova! Ecce tu fecisti coelos et terram in potentia tua magna et brachio tuo extento; non est ulla res abscondita a to, (vel, mirabilis)

18. Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: The Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of hosts, is his name,

18. Faciens (vel, tu facis) clementiam erga mille et rependis iniquitatem patrum in sinum filiorum eorum post ipsos; Deus fortis, potens, Jehova exercituum nomen ejus, (et quoe sequuntur)


Though the Prophet was discharging his own office, yet he confesses that he was himself perplexed at the vision. It hence appears that God’s counsel was not always made known in everything to the Prophets, but as far as it was expedient. However, the Prophets were not seized with ecstasies like heathen soothsayers, who pretended they were carried away beyond all their senses. There was not then this fanaticism in the Prophets, so that they spoke like sounding brass, or like the ass of Balaam; but the Lord discovered to them what they taught. They were then disciples, so that they delivered faithfully to the people, as if it were from hand to hand, what was committed to them. But the knowledge with which they were endued was not inconsistent with ignorance as to some things; as when the Prophet said, Houses, and fields, and vineyards shall yet be bought, he knew that God promised the restitution of the land and of the people, nor was the vision itself an obscure enigma; but yet the reason was hid from him, and hence the perplexity of which he now speaks; for being astonished at so wonderful a thing, he had recourse to prayer, and confessed that his mind was perplexed. The wonder then of the Prophet proceeded from his ignorance; but that ignorance was not incompatible with prophetic knowledge. For as far as it was necessary, and the office of a teacher required, he no doubt understood the counsel of God; but such was the height or the depth of this mystery, that he was constrained to confess that it was a work of God which surpassed all his thoughts.

We now then perceive how these two things are consistent, — the prophetic knowledge with which Jeremiah was endued, and the ignorance which compelled him to make this exclamation. He knew with certainty what had been shewn to him in the vision, but what was the design and how the work could be done by God, seemed incomprehensible, and hence his astonishment. He therefore says that he prayed: and by this we are taught, that whenever thoughts creep into our minds, which toss us here and there, we ought to flee to prayer. For many increase their anxieties by fomenting them, while they turn themselves to all quarters, and indulge their own thoughts, and weary themselves without any benefit. Whenever, therefore, any anxiety stealthily lays hold on our minds, let us know that the remedy ought to be in due time applied, that is, to pray to God; so that he may relieve us, and not suffer us to sink into the deep, as it usually happens to all who are curious, and give loose reins to their own imaginations.

We now see that the Prophet was greatly astonished, and yet in such a way as not to look for more than what was profitable; but he immediately prayed, that God would make him to understand what grieved his mind. His prayer follows, which, however, does not immediately discover the mind of the Prophet, for he does not shew the purpose of his prayer until he comes to the 25th verse (Jeremiah 32:25). But he seems here to refer to many things unconnected with his subject. His design must be ascertained from the conclusion of his prayer, “O Lord,” he says, “why hast thou bidden me to buy the field which is now in the hand of enemies? the Chaldeans possess it; and thou hast bidden me to throw away my money.” This was substantially his prayer.

But Jeremiah seems to wander and take long circuits when he says, “Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and stretched-out arm; nothing is wonderful to thee; thou shewest mercy to thousand generations; thou repayest the iniquity of fathers to their children; thy name is Jehovah of hosts; thou art great in council and excellent in work; thine eyes are open,” etc. These things seem not to belong in any degree to the present subject. But the Prophet’s object, no doubt, was to restrain himself, as it were, by putting on a bridle, so that he might acquiesce in the counsel of God, though it was hid and incomprehensible to him: for if he had immediately rushed into prayer, he might, at the first burst of his feelings, have contended with God; for such is the disposition and character of man, when he suddenly addresses God, that he boils over beyond all moderation. The Prophet then, who well understood that there is no such moderation in men as to judge rightly and calmly of God’s works, set up against himself these fences, and placed, as it were, barriers around him, that he might not take more liberty than what was right. Let. us then know that these high terms in which the Prophet spoke were designed for this end, — that he might produce moderation and humility in himself, so that he might check all those roving thoughts by which men are wont to divert themselves. Let us come now to the words:

Ah, Lord Jehovah! he says; behold, thou hast made heaven and earth. Were any one not to attend to the circumstances of the passage, he might think that the Prophet is here rambling, and does not connect his sentences, so that his prayer seems incoherent. But as I have already said, that as the Prophet knew that men take too much liberty when they speak of God’s works, he bridled himself in due time, before he came to his subject. He then made this sort of introduction, “O Lord, it does not behove me to contend with thee, nor is it right in me to require thee to give me a reason for thy doings, for thou hast made heaven and earth by thy great power and extended arm.” There is here then an implied contrast between God and mortal man; “For who am I to dare to summon thee to a contest! for thy power is justly to be dreaded by us; when we raise up our eyes to heaven, when we look on the earth, there is nothing which ought not to fill us with admiration of thy power, for its immensity appears above and below.” We hence see that the Prophet extols in high terms the power of God, in order that he might keep himself in a meek and humble state of mind, and not dare to clamor against God, nor presumptuously rush forward to pronounce a judgment on his works. Behold, he says; he sets before his eyes the wonderful workmanship of the world, in which the immeasurable power of God shines forth most conspicuously.

He then adds, Nor is there any thing hid from thee This clause admits of two meanings; for פלא, pala, means wonderful, and also hidden. Now the greater part of interpreters give this explanation, — that nothing is hid from God, because all things are before his eyes, for his knowledge penetrates to the deepest depths. It may then be a commendation of God’s knowledge, as an eulogy on his power has previously been given; and this meaning is not unsuitable.

I do not, however, reject the other meaning, given by Jerome, that there is nothing difficult to God, or wonderful, because all things are subject to his will. Thus the Prophet might say, continuing the same thought, that the power of God, which shines forth to our view in the heavens and in the earth, may at the same time be observed in the permanent government of the world; for he who has created the heavens and the earth can do all things, so that nothing is wonderful to him, that is, nothing is difficult for his power as soon as he has decreed this or that. The main object of the Prophet is, however, still the same. 6464     The Targ. and the versions, except the Vulg., give the first sense; but the latter is no doubt the true meaning, as the word never means properly to be hidden. The phrase here literally is, “Not harder (or more marvellous) than thou shall anything be,” that is, not harder than what thou canst do. Exactly the same phrase occurs in Genesis 18:14. The word, in a similar clause, in Deuteronomy 30:11, is rendered “hidden;” but the clause literally is, “It is not harder than thou,” that is, than what thou canst attain, or do, as the context proves, see Jeremiah 32:14. — Ed.

He now adds, Thou shewest mercy to thousands, and repayest the iniquity of the fathers to the bosom of their children Here the Prophet acknowledges God’s judgments to be right, though the reason for them escapes human minds. Both these things were necessary, that is, that Jeremiah should set before himself the awful power of God, and that he should also regard God’s judgments as right, though men often think otherwise. For God has hidden reasons for his judgments; and so it happens, that various thoughts disturb us, and every one is disposed to set himself up against God. Hence the Prophet, after having spoken of the immeasurable power of God, now declares also that he is a just judge of the world; and he again restrains himself by another bridle, lest he should pronounce a judgment on God’s works according to his own perceptions.

Thou, he says, shewest mercy to thousands This is taken from the Law of Moses, (Exodus 20:6) for the Prophets often borrowed their chief sentences from Moses, of whom they were the interpreters. Since God then under the Law declared that he is merciful to thousand generations, though it appears unnaccountable to us, yet nothing remains for us to do, but to learn reverently to receive what we cannot comprehend. The Prophet then here confesses that the method which God adopts as to his mercy is hid from the human mind. But the latter clause seems, however, less reasonable, — that God should repay the iniquity of fathers to their children Shortly before we saw that this was set forth as an impious blasphemy, (Jeremiah 31:29) when they said that their fathers had eaten sour grapes, and that their children’s teeth were set on edge; for it is always true that the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:2, 20; Deuteronomy 24:16) But if God repays the iniquity of fathers to their children, he punishes the innocent, and transfers to children what he ought to have rendered to their fathers. But the Prophet, regarding it a wicked thing to contradict what God had spoken by Moses, adores here this mystery, and thus brings himself to humility and meekness, so that he might not break forth into extremes when speaking of the hidden works of God.

We must at the same time briefly observe, that the innocent are not punished when God includes children with their fathers, and casts the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children, for he does not refer to the innocent and the righteous, but to the wicked. Some, when they saw that this truth militated against the common feelings of mankind, have laid hold of an evasion, that is, that God by a temporal punishment renders to children what their fathers had deserved. But God speaks without exception, that he repays to the bosom of children the reward due to their fathers. But how ought this to be understood? It is a part of this punishment, that God withholds from them his Spirit. When, therefore, his purpose is to punish the vices of fathers in their posterity, he withholds from their posterity the light and grace of his Spirit. It cannot then be but that they will ever accumulate evils on evils, and thus they are entangled in the guilt of their fathers. God then proceeds by degrees in the work of punishing sins; for when it is his purpose to forgive the son the punishment which he together with his father has deserved, he draws him to himself by his Spirit, so that he is freed from punishment; but if his purpose is to execute vengeance on sons and grandsons, he withholds from them, as I have already said, the gift of the Spirit, so that they do nothing but provoke his wrath more and more, and thus they become involved in the same guilt with their fathers; hence fathers and children receive in common the same punishment.

This indeed seems not at the first view to be just and right; but let us remember that God’s judgments are hid from us, and for this reason, — that we may cultivate meekness and humility and learn to be soberly wise, and so confess God to be a just judge as to know that our minds cannot penetrate into this deep abyss. But still the solution given seems plain enough, that is, that God never punishes the innocent. For when he visits the sins of fathers on their children, a part of that punishment is, as I have already stated, that he withholds from the children the light of his Spirit; being blind, they ever run headlong to their own ruin, and thus by the continual commission of new sins they provoke God’s vengeance against themselves. When therefore God renders to them the reward due to their fathers, he punishes them at the same time for what they themselves have deserved; nor have they any reason to complain, because they have been guilty in common with their fathers: there is, therefore, nothing strange that they share with them in their punishment. But it, however, depends on the hidden mercy of God, that. he favors some with pardon, and thus delivers them from ruin, while he forsakes others; and as they are wicked, they deserve all the punishment he inflicts on them: Thou, then, repayest into the bosom of their sons after them, that is, after their death.

He afterwards exclaims, God, strong and mighty! Jehovah of hosts is his name He again declares the greatness of God’s power, that he might restrain himself, and not rashly undertake any new inquiry, as the ease is with curious men, who indulge themselves in speculations, and thus summon God as it were to an account, as though there could be appointed a tribunal before which he might be found guilty. As then the insolence and arrogance of human nature are so great, the Prophet here sets barriers around himself, so that he might keep within the bounds of humility and soberness.

He afterwards changes the person, which is a proof of vehemence and ardor; for it is, as we have seen, a prayer. He does not now address God directly, but says, Jehovah of hosts is his name, speaking in the third person. 6565     The change of person seems to begin at the 18th verse (Jeremiah 32:18), and includes the first clause in the 19th, —
   18. He who sheweth mercy to thousands, And who returns the iniquity of fathers To the bosom of their children after them, Is God, the great, the powerful; Jehovah is his name, —

   19. Great in counsel and mighty in his doings: Who — thine eyes are open On the ways of the sons of men, To give to each according to his ways, And according to the fruit of his doings;

   20. Who, etc., etc.

   “God, the great,” etc., is connected with shewing mercy and requiting iniquity. His greatness is in counsel or wisdom, and his power or might is manifested in his doings. The ה after doings is the Chaldee for ו Then his omniscience is referred to, as necessary for carrying to effect his purposes and directing his doings. Here he returns to the second person, and the “who” is idiomatic, and the Welsh is exactly the same, Yr hwn y mae dy lygaid, etc.; and the “Who” is continued in the Jeremiah 32:20. In saying that each is to have “according to his ways,” he intimates what Calvin says, that the children like the fathers are guilty. — Ed
Had he continued in the same strain, he would have said, “Thou art God, strong and mighty,” etc., but he says, “Jehovah of hosts is his name.” We then see that the Prophet as it were turns aside; and this change of person, as I have stated, proceeded from the vehemence and ardor of his mind. And it often happens to the faithful, that they break off their direct address when they pray, while they contemplate God’s works, as displaying, now his power, then his goodness, or his wisdom. The faithful then do not always pray in a continued strain; but as feeling guides them, they now address God, then they turn aside and blend apostrophes. It follows, —

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