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Jeremiah 34:16

16. But ye turned, and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom he had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants and for handmaids.

16. Et reversi estis et polluistis nomen meum, et reduxistis quisque servum suum, et quisque ancillam suam, quos dimiseratis liberas animae suae (id est, arbitrio suo) et subegistis eos, ut essent vobis in servos et in ancillas.

 

The Prophet expostulates here with the Jews, as we said in the last Lecture, with regard to their perjury; for they had made in a solemn manner a covenant in the Temple of God, to set free their servants according to what the law prescribed. There would have been no need of such a ceremony, had they observed what they learnt from the Law; but neither they nor their fathers observed the equity prescribed to them by God. Hence there was a necessity for a new promise, sanctioned by sacrifice. The Prophet commended them for obeying God’s command. But he now shews, that they were the more inexcusable, because they soon after returned to their old ways. But ye turned, he says, that is, they soon repented of the obedience they had promised to render to God. Their promptitude was worthy of praise, when they promised that they would willingly obey; but by doing this in bad faith, they treated God with mockery.

He adds that God’s name was polluted We hence learn that whenever we misuse God’s name, it is a kind of sacrilege; for nothing is deemed more precious by God than truth; yea, as he himself is truth, and is so called, (John 14:6) there is nothing more adverse to his nature than falsehood. It is then an intolerable profanation of God’s name whenever it is falsely appealed to; and thus perjury is allied with sacrilege. God’s name is indeed polluted in other ways than by perjury, that is, when God’s name is taken in vain rashly, thoughtlessly, and without reverence. But the most heinous pollution of it is, when the truth is changed into a lie. This passage then contains a useful doctrine, which teaches us to act faithfully, especially when God’s name is interposed.

He afterwards adds, Ye have remanded every one his servant and every one his maid, whom ye have set free, etc. The crime was doubled by this circumstance, — that they had emancipated their servants, and then remanded them. For had they not dissembled, their obstinacy could by no means have been tolerated; but their rebellion became still more base, when they had pretended to obey God, and it became shortly known that they had perfidiously promised liberty to their servants. He says that they were set free to their own soul, that is, to their own will; for we call men free when it is in their power to choose what they please, for when they are under the power of another, they have no will, no choice of their own. 9595     Our version, “at their pleasure,” is the best, or we may render it, “to themselves,” as נפש often has this meaning. — Ed. And indignity is increased, when servants who have been made free are afterwards deprived of so great a privilege; for nothing is more desirable than liberty, as even heathens have declared. He adds that this was done by force, Ye have made them subject The verb כבש cabesh, means to subject and to oppress. The Prophet then shews, that those who had been made free, were not willing to return to their miserable condition, and that they were not constrained to submit to the yoke in any other way than by tyranny. 9696     The verb means here evidently to constrain or to force, —
   And ye have forced them to be to you For bondmen and for bondwomen.

   It would be better throughout the passage to retain the words bondmen and bondwomen — Ed.
It hence appears that their masters not only employed deceit, but also cruel and tyrannical violence; so that to perjury they added inhumanity, which more increased their crime. It now follows, —


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