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Jeremiah 34:17

17. Therefore thus saith the LORD, Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the LORD, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.

17. Propterea sic dicit Jehova, Vos non audistis me ad promulgandam (hoc est, ut promulgaretis) libertatem quisque fratri suo, et quisque proximo suo (vel, propinquo, vel, sodali suo) ecce promulgo contra vos libertatem, dicit Jehova, gladio, pesti et fami, et dabo vos in commotionum cunctis regnis terrae (alii vertunt, ecce promulgo vobis libertatem ad gladium et ad pestera et ad famem; quantum ad summam rei pertinet, non multum est discriminis utrumvis legamus, nempe, promulgo vobis libertatem ad, etc., vel, promulgo contra vos libertatem gladio, etc., ut videbimus)

 

Here the Prophet shews that a just reward was prepared for the Jews, who robbed their brethren of the privilege of freedom, for they also would have in their turn to serve after the Lord had made them free. But he alludes to the way then in use in which they had granted freedom, and says, Ye have not proclaimed liberty They had indeed proclaimed it, as we have seen; but not in sincerity, for they who had been for a short time made free, were soon afterwards constrained to serve. God then makes here no reference to the outward act which the Jews had performed, but shews that faithfulness and integrity are so pleasing to him, that he makes no account of what is merely done outwardly. Hence the promulgation of liberty is not before God the verbal one, but that which is carried into effect. With men it is enough to profess a thing, but God regards as nothing all false professions. He therefore complains that the Jews did not obey his word. We have already said that it was not right according to the law to retain servants longer than six years; for in the seventh year the law ordered those who had given themselves up to servitude to be set free. But God restored this law as it were by way of recovery, as it had become almost obsolete. And this is the reason why he says that they hearkened not For he had not only taught by Moses what was right, but had also shewn by Jeremiah that the Jews impiously and wickedly disregarded this humane command. We hence learn what it is to obey God’s word, even when we not only embrace what he declares, but also persevere in obedience to him: for it is not enough to exhibit some kind of a right feeling for a short time, except we continue to obey God. The Jews had with their mouth made a profession, and gave some evidence of a disposition to obey; the servants were allowed their liberty; but as the masters shortly after returned to their previous injustice, we see the reason why God says that they had not hearkened to him

It is added, that he would proclaim liberty to them, that is, against them. If we read, “Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,” then the meaning is, “I will emancipate you,” that is, “I shall have nothing more to do with you; go and enjoy your own liberty; but ye shall immediately become a prey to other masters, even to the sword, to the pestilence, and to famine.” This meaning is not unsuitable; for it was the happiness of the ancient people alone to be under the protection of God: but when they became disobedient, he dismissed them, and would not have them under his guardianship. But nothing can be more miserable than such emancipation, that is, when God rejects those over whom he had been pleased to rule, and whose patron he had for a time been; for all kinds of evils will soon come upon them, and God will not interpose his hand. This, then, is the liberty of those who are not willing to bear, as it becomes them, the yoke of obedience to God, even to be exposed to all evils, for it is only by him we can be defended. We hence see that the meaning is very suitable, when we read “Behold, I proclaim to you liberty, but it is to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine.”

We may, however, take another view, “Behold, I proclaim liberty for you,” that is, against you; for ל, lamed, has this sense: “I proclaim liberty against you,” — how? to the sword, etc., that is, “I order the sword to exercise power against you, and I will permit also the same right to the pestilence, and I will permit a like dominion to the famine: the sword, then, and the pestilence, and the famine, shall rule over you, for ye cannot bear my authority.” For though the Jews boasted that they were God’s chosen people, yet as they were so refractory as to despise the Law and the Prophet, it is quite evident that what they wished was unbridled licentiousness. God then renounces here his own right, and says that it was their fault that they were not free, for he would no more defend them, as an advocate his clients, or as a master his servants. So also it is said in the Psalms,

“Behold, our eyes are to God, as the eyes of servants who look to their masters, as the eyes of a maid to her mistress.”
(Psalm 123:1, 2)

We indeed know that servants formerly were exposed to all sorts of wrongs; they dared not move a finger, when grievously treated; but if any servant was wronged by another man, his master would undertake his cause and defend him. Then the Psalmist compares the people to servants and slaves, and says that their whole safety depended on the help of God. But God now declares that he will be no longer their guardian; and when he dismissed them, all kinds of evils, as we have said, would come upon them, even the sword, the pestilence, and the famine.

He at length adds, And I will give you for a commotion to all the kingdoms of the earth The words may mean two things. Some take them as though God threatened that they should become unsettled, and vagrants through all the kingdoms of the world; and others, that they would be for a commotion, for every one either seeing or hearing of their miserable state would tremble. The passage is taken from Deuteronomy 28:25, where we read,

“I will give thee for a commotion.”

The latter meaning is what I mostly approve, — that the Jews would be for a commotion; for the vengeance which God would take on them would be so dreadful, that all would be greatly moved or affected, according to what is said by Isaiah,

“The, commotion shall be for amazement.” (Isaiah 28:19)

We then perceive what the Prophet means, — that God would so severely punish perjury and treachery, that the Jews would become an example to all people; for it would be a sad spectacle for all nations to see the children of Abraham, whom God had adopted, the most miserable of human beings. Their condition, then, would be an object of horror; and this is what the Prophet now declares and threatens. It follows, —

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