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Jeremiah 38:1-4

1. Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying,

1. Et audivit Saphatias fillus Matthew tam, et Guadalias filius Passhur, et Juchal filius Selemiae et Passhur filius Malchiae, sermones quos Jere-mias loquutus fuerat ad toturm popu-lum, dicendo,

2. Thus saith the LORD, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prey, and shall live.

2. Sic dicit Jehova, Qui manebit in urbe hac morietur gladio, fame et peste; qui autem egressus fuerit ad Chaldaeos, rivet et erit ei anima sua in spolium et vivet.

3. Thus saith the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.

3. Sic dicit Jehova, Ecce tradendo tradetur haec urbs in manum exer-citus regis Babylonis, et capiet eam.

4. Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt.

4. Et dixeunt principes ad regem, Moriatur nunc (vel, agedum, est hor-tantis particula נא) vir iste, quoni-am propterea (vel, hoc modo) solvit manus virorum bellicosorum, qui residui sunt in urbe hac, et manus totius populi, loquendo ad ipsos se-cundum istos sermones; quoniam hic vir non quaerit pacem (hoc est, non spectat ad pacem) populo huic (populi hujus) quin potius ad malum.


The Prophet now shews that he was again dragged from the court of the prison to the inner part, which was dark, filthy, and like a grave. The cause of this he states: it was because four of the princes had heard his words. It is probable that many of the people had come there for the purpose of hearing the Prophet, and that he, having received a message, delivered it to every one that came to him. Though then he was shut up in prison, yet the word of God could not be bound, as Paul says, who gloried in the fact, that though he was in chains, yet the truth spread far and wide. (2 Timothy 2:9.) Such was the case as to Jeremiah; though he was retained as a prisoner, he yet ceased not to discharge his office; and yet there is no doubt but that the purpose of the king was in this way to restrain him. The prison was, as it were, the captivity of prophetic truth. But the king and his counselors were mistaken; for Jeremiah was not less free in the court of the prison, than if he had walked through the city all the day, nay, he had many heralds.

But the four princes mentioned here watched him, even Shephatiah, Gadaliah, Jucal, and Pashur. Then the four princes he names, having insidiously watched what he said, immediately made a commotion. They had, no doubt, contrived the ruin of the Prophet before they came to the king; for the unprincipled and wicked, we know, discuss matters together when intent on mischief, and their courtly arts must be taken to the account. As, then, the four were in authority, they must, doubtless, have influenced the greatest part of the king’s council, and led astray easy men, or such as were not of themselves bent on evil. The matter was at length brought before the king; and therefore he adds, that they came to the king But he first explains the doctrine, on account of which these unprincipled men created so much ill-will to him, and endangered his life. Hence he says that the accusation was, that he had not only threatened with ruin all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but that he had also pro-raised life to all that would go out to the Chaldeans: Every one who abides in the city shall die by the sword, famine, or pestilence; but every one who goeth out to the Chaldeans shall live This was the accusation.

We have seen elsewhere that the Prophet had before said the same; it was not, then, a new thing, for he had thirty years before that time dearly pronounced the same in the Temple, and it was then written as a prophecy and fixed to the doors of the Temple. It was, therefore, nothing new to hear all this from the mouth of Jeremiah. But as I have already said, the king and his couriers thought that he was so subdued by evils that he could hardly open his mouth. In short, they thought that the holy man had, in a manner, lost his tongue since he had been in prison. This, then, was the reason why they now accused him so gravely to the king, and declared him worthy of death. He had deserved death many years before, if he had now committed a capital offense. But as I have already stated, they regarded the Prophet as having designedly despised the king’s authority, and they were indignant because he could not be subdued, when yet he was a prisoner and might see danger at hand every hour. This, then, was the reason why they regarded as a new thing what Jeremiah said, Whosoever abides in the city shall perish, etc.

As to these threatenings, we have elsewhere said, that all those who expected help from the Egyptians were willful despisers of God; for the Prophet had often exhorted them all, quietly and submissively to bear that temporary punishment which God had resolved to inflict on them. They wished in their perverseness to drive to a distance God’s judgment, and then when they saw that God was their enemy, they deemed it enough to have the Egyptians as their friends. It was then no wonder that the Prophet allotted to them the sword, and famine, and pestilence.

He then adds, Whosoever passeth over to the Chaldeans shall live The condition, however, was very hard; his soul, he says, shall be for a prey, as though he had said, “He who flees to the Chaldeans shall only save his life, but must suffer the loss of all his property,” as when a shipwreck is dreaded, there is no one who is not ready to save his life at the loss of all his goods; and, therefore, in extreme danger the merchants are wont to cast into the sea all that they have, for they prefer to escape to the harbor empty and destitute of everything, than to perish together with their riches. It was, then, a hard condition; but the Prophet shews that they could not otherwise escape; they were to give up their own country, and all other things, and could only preserve their life. For this reason he says, that their life would be for a prey to them, as when anything is snatched from the fire, or as when one is exposed to plunder, he were content to take something away by stealth, for otherwise, if he sought to take away many things, he would have to contend with many enemies. The Prophet then intimates that the Jews could not save themselves from death in any other way than by casting away all they had, and by being solicitous only to save life. He again repeats, he shall live. By this repetition he more pressingly urged them, and with more earnestness exhorted them to save their life.

Then follows a confirmation, Given up shall be this city into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon, and they shall take it The Prophet shews the reason why he exhorted the Jews to flee, because the city would at length be taken. This is substantially what he says.

Now the princes add, Die let this man, because in this manner, or therefore, that is, on account of his bad counsel, he weakens the hands of the men of war, etc. Here hand is to be taken for valor, for deeds are mainly performed by the hands. Hence to loosen or weaken the hands means the same as to render men inert, or so idle as not to move a finger. Then the princes accused Jeremiah on this account, that he terrified the men of war and thus rendered them listless. It was a specious charge; but the slander had nothing to support it; for Jeremiah could not have been condemned as a public enemy to his country, when he earnestly exhorted them to flee and gave no hope to the people, in order they might all, despairing of deliverance, willingly surrender themselves to their enemies.

A question may be raised here, whether it is lawful for a private individual to persuade subjects to violate their oath of allegiance to their king or prince. I now call Prophets private persons; for I have in view civil order. Jeremiah, indeed, sustained a public character, for he was God’s Prophet; but as to the government of the city he was a private individual, one of the people. It seems, then, that the Prophet had passed over the limits of what is right, when he persuaded the people to revolt, for that could not have been done without forfeiting allegiance to the king. To this I answer, that the Prophet was invested with a special command, and that, therefore, he did nothing presumptuously or rashly. Though, then, the people had pledged to the end their faith to the king, yet as God had now delivered the city to the Chaldeans, the obligation of the oath ceased; for when governments are changed, whatever the subjects had promised is no longer binding. As, for example, when any country has a prince, he binds the whole people to himself by an oath, so that they may all abide in their allegiance. When any one invades that country, the subjects incur the charge of perfidy if they come not forward and assist their prince, as they had promised; but when a foreign enemy takes possession of the whole land, the obligation of the oath ceases; for it is not in the power of the people to set up princes, because it belongs to God to change governments as he pleases. Since, then, this power belongs to God alone, while a prince rules, the people ought resolutely to continue obedient to him, as their legitimate prince, set over them by God. But this was not at that time the case with the Jews; for though the Chaldeans had not yet entered the city, yet God had declared that they were its masters. The people, then, were not to wait until the Chaldeans broke in into the city, burnt its houses, and killed all they met with; but it ought to have been sufficient for them that the prediction of the Prophet was the decree or sentence of God, by which they were given up to the Chaldeans.

The question as to Jeremiah and all others in similar circumstances, is now answered: for when any one sees only some danger at hand, he ought not, on that account, to persuade the people to forsake their prince; but every one who seeks to be God’s faithful servant, will risk his own life in the defense of his king. When called to his council, he will advise what is useful and right; but he will not stir up commotions and tumults: on the contrary, he would rather die a hundred times than cause the people to revolt either by his counsels or by his influence. But the case of Jeremiah, as it has been said, was peculiar; for God had made known his purpose as to the Chaldeans. Hence Jeremiah did not only prudently persuade the people to do what he deemed necessary, but he also discharged faithfully his office as a Prophet: nor did he give any other counsel than what he had been commanded to give: nay, he commanded them, by authority, to pass over to the Chaldeans, for it was according to God’s will.

The princes, however, brought this charge against him, that he weakened the hands, etc.; and added, In this manner he seeks not the good of the people, when he thus speaks, (peace here is to be taken for what is good or useful,) but he seeks evil This they slanderously added, for Jeremiah, as far as he could, consulted the public good, he wished the city to continue safe; had it been in his power, he would have put to flight all the Chaldeans; but he could not carry on war with God, under whose banner the Chaldeans fought. Jeremiah then sought the good of the people, but he could not resist God, and therefore he gave way to the divine decree: he saw no other remedy than this, that the Jews should undergo a temporary punishment, and be chastised by an exile, so that they might return afterwards into their own country. Had it been possible, as I have said, he would have kept the people from every injury; but this was not now practicable; for God had pronounced that it was all over with the kingdom and the city, until the Jews were punished by an exile of seventy years. There was then a second good or benefit, so that exile might be: more tolerable to the miserable, or captivity become milder: and this good was, to come of their own accord to King Nebuchadnezzar, and to suffer themselves to be led forth to the Chaldeans. This was the second good.

Jeremiah then, seeing that the city, the kingdom, and the Temple were not to stand, was anxious to urge with all his might what remained to be done, in order that the city might at least continue as it was, while the inhabitants migrated into another land, so that afterwards they might return to it. This was the best thing for the people, because God had determined to drive them all into exile. It was then absurd to bring against him this unjust charge, that he sought not the good of the people, but their ruin.

But as we said yesterday, all the sayings and doings of the saints have been always unjustly condemned. And if the same thing happen to us at this day, let us patiently bear it. We also see that it has been always objected to the Prophets and faithful teachers, as a crime, that they did not consult the public good, as all ungodly men at this day bring the same charge against us, especially the couriers, who take it as granted, that were anything changed, it would be the cause of all kinds of disturbances; and hence they think, that their religion could not possibly fall without ruin to the public good. Hence it comes, that the free preaching of the Gospel is disliked by them, as though it brought with it some public calamity. Therefore they call us turbulent; and they say that we go astray through ignorance: though we are not avowedly enemies to the public good, yet we do not understand how kingdoms are to be governed; and hence we rashly stir up the greatest tumults. All these reproaches we have to bear, as Jeremiah did, when, with a quiet mind, he endured the hatred which the princes unjustly produced against him, on account of his doctrine, which yet he had announced by God’s command, and which was necessary for the safety of the city and people; for the Jews could not, against God’s will, remain in their city, from which God had resolved to remove them. When, therefore, Jeremiah saw that the city could not be defended against the Chaldeans, even had he been the only counselor of the king, and not God’s Prophet, what could he have advised better or more beneficial, than to anticipate the extreme cruelty of their enemies, and at least to do all they could, that the city might not be burnt with fire, and that the slaughter of the people might not be universal, but that they might continue alive, with the loss only of their property? He could not then have brought a better counsel. But, as I have already said, nothing is deemed good or useful by the ungodly, except liberty perversely to resist God. This was the reason why they so unjustly accused God’s Prophet. It follows —

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