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Jeremiah 39:15-18

15. Now the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying,

15. Ad Jeremiam vero fuit sermo Jehovae, quum adhuc esset clausus in atrio custodiae, dicendo,

16. Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee.

16. Vade et dic Ebedmelech Aethiopi (hoc est, alloquere Ebed-melech, dicendo,) Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Ecce adduco sermones meos super urbem hanc in malum, et non in bonum; et erunt coram facie tua in die illo:

17. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the LORD: and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.

17. Et eripiam te in die illo, dicit Jehova, et non traderis in manum hominum, a quorum facie tu expavescis (ad verbum est, quos tu expavescis ab eorum facie;)

18. For I will surely deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee: because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the LORD.

18. Quia liberando liberabo te, in gladium non cades, et erit tibi anima tua in spolium, quia sperasti in me, dicit Jehova.

 

The Prophet tells us here that God was not unmindful of that Ethiopian, by whom he had been preserved, though he was an alien and from a barbarous nation. We have seen, however, that he alone undertook the cause of the Prophet, when others, being terrified by fear, did not exert themselves, or were avowedly enemies to God’s servant. Ebedmelech then alone dared to go forth in a case so hopeless, and undertook the defense of the holy man. The Prophet says now that this service was so acceptable, that it would not be without its reward. We have said that Ebedmelech had thus manifested his concern for the Prophet’s life, but not without evident danger; for he knew that the princes were united against him, and that these ungodly men had drawn to their side the greatest part of the court and also of the common people. Then Ebedmelech roused against himself both high and low; but God aided him, so that he was not overpowered by his adversaries. In his very danger he experienced the favor of God, and was protected and delivered from danger.

But now he finds that he had not ill employed his exertions; for he had not only been humane and merciful towards a mortal man, but had also done service for God; for whatever we do for God’s servants, he acknowledges as done to himself, and will have it to be laid to his account, according to what Christ says,

“He who gives a cup of cold water to one of the least of my disciples, shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

There is then no doubt but that the Spirit of God intended by the example of Ebedmelech to rouse us to the duties of humanity, even to teach us to sue-coup the miserable, and to give them help as far as we can, and not to shun the hatred of men or any dangers, which we may thereby incur. And as we are torpid and negligent in doing good, the reward given to the Ethiopian is set before us, so that we may know, that though nothing is to be hoped from men, when we are kind and liberal, yet we shall not lose our labor, for God is rich enough, who can render to us more than can be expected from the whole world. This then is the lesson conveyed here.

But the circumstances must be noticed: the Prophet says, that he was commanded to promise deliverance to Ebedme-lech, while he was yet confined in prison. This, at the first view, seems strange; for the Prophet might have objected and said, “Thou biddest me to go forth; why, then, are not the gates of the prison opened for me? and then thou wouldst have me to be the herald of thy favor; but my present miserable condition will prevent any credit to be given to my words: for how can Ebedmelech believe that I have been sent. by thee? for I am here confined and surrounded by many deaths.” But let us hence learn not to bring down God’s word to our judgment, when anything is promised beyond our expectation, and all our conceptions. Though, indeed, God seemed, as it were, to mock his servant, when he ordered him, a prisoner, to go to Ebedmelech; and yet the Prophet received and embraced this command, and performed it, no doubt, though this is not expressly mentioned.

This is the reason why he says, that a word came to him from Jehovah, while he was in the court of the prison

The word Ethiopian is now repeated, because God intended, in the person of an alien indirectly to reprove the Jews; for no doubt they despised him, because he was not of the holy seed of Abraham. But God shews that he peculiarly regarded him, while he rejected the masked and hypocritical children of Abraham, who were only born of him according to the flesh, but had, by their impiety, renounced him, so that they were wholly unworthy of so high an honor.

And he says, Go and say, Behold, I am bringing my words on this city for evil and not for good; and they shall be before thee in that day. We conclude, from these words, that this was spoken to Ebedmelech before the city was taken by the Chaldeans, in order that he might remain quietly at home, and not flee away with the king, who, as we have seen, tried to escape. God then intended to strengthen the confidence of Ebedmelech, so that he might not fear and tremble like others, and expose himself to death, in trying to secure his safety. For this is the design of all God’s promises, even to keep us from being disturbed, to give us quietness of mind, and to cause us to look for the help promised to us. For we know that when fear lays hold on our minds, there is no settled purpose, but we are harassed by disquietude, and, as it were, tossed to and fro. It was therefore God’s design to bring aid beforehand, so that Ebedmelech might not, with others, be hurried into despair. He says, Behold, I am bringing, etc. God here confirms Ebedmelech in the truth, that he would be the author of the calamity; for had Jerusalem been taken by chance, Ebedmelech might justly have feared; but when he was taught that it was to happen through God’s just judgment he would feel sure of his safety; for it would be in the power of the same God to save one man and even many, while he was destroying the whole people. This, then, is the reason why God declared that he was bringing his words for evil and not for good; for except Ebedmelech had been convinced that the city and its inhabitants were in God’s hand and power, he could never have been led to entertain good hope; but when he knew that the city would perish through the righteous vengeance of God, he would then be fully confident as to his own safety; for God promised to preserve him in the midst of the common ruin.

He says, Thou shalt see, my words shall be before thee, as though he had said, “Thou shalt be an eye-witness of my power.” It was indeed necessary, as I have said, that Ebedmelech should see God’s hand in the destruction of the city and people; for he would ever have vacillated, and would have known no rest, had he not before his eyes the hand and the vengeance of God, This is one thing. But as to the words, I am bringing my words for evil and not for good, we have explained them elsewhere. The word evil does not mean sin here, but according to a common usage, evil is said to be whatever men regard as adverse to them; so all punishments inflicted by God are called evils, as we find in Isaiah,

“I am God, who create light and darkness, life and death,
good and evil.” (Isaiah 45:7)

He then adds, But I will deliver thee in that day, and thou shalt not be given up into the hand of the men whose face thou fearest Here God promises that Ebedmelech would be saved through a special privilege; and the Prophet shews that this prophecy had not been without reason announced. For though Ebedmelech had, with an intrepid mind, undertaken the cause of Jeremiah, and boldly and perseveringly fronted all reproaches, he yet was not divested of all the feelings of nature, but he had his fears, especially when he saw the cause of fear set before him. Hence the Prophet says, that he feared the face of enemies: and this might, at the same time, avail to rouse him to receive with more alacrity, the promise offered to him; for we know that the blessings of God are, in a manner, deemed of no value by us, when we do not know how necessary to us they are. The prophecies and the promises, by which God comforts us and animates us to patience, are for the most part viewed as of no worth, until God really shews to us how miserable we must be, except he thus succors us. Then the Prophet wished to remind Ebedmelech of this, when he said that he feared. Thou fearest, he says. For if Ebedmelech had no fear, he might have disregarded this prophecy as being superfluous. But being reminded of his fear and anxiety, he became more ready to receive what God promised to him.

Then he says, that he would be safe, because the Lord would deliver him in that day And, again, he confirms the same thing, For delivering I will deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword The Prophet again calls the attention of Ebedmelech to God himself; for we know how all things are in a confusion when cities are taken by storm. Except then Ebedmelech had his mind fixed on God, he could never have retained any hope of deliverance. Hence the Prophet assures him again, that God would be his deliverer. And he adds, Thy soul shall be for a prey This mode of expression has been elsewhere explained. The comparison is taken from those who deem that a great gain which is yet but small, if they get it beyond their expectation, as when a man finds a prey which he had by no means hoped for: he becomes suddenly rich, or increased in his goods; and though the gain may not be great, he yet greatly rejoices. So they who escape alive from present death, have no small reason to be joyful, because their life has been preserved. In the meantime God alludes to those who regard it enough to escape from death, though they may be deprived of all other things. As those who, in shipwreck, cast forth their mer-chandize, and their money, and all they have, deem it enough if they can reach the harbor, and they prefer to beg their bread all their life rather than to sink in the midst of the sea, so he who escapes with his life; though poverty is bitter, yet the horror of death is so great, that he deems his life a great, gain, though stripped of all that he had.

The reason follows, because he trusted in God. Another reason might have been assigned, even because he had not been wanting in his kindness to a holy man, but had extended his hand to him in his extreme misery; but as that office of humanity proceeded from faith and piety, God does here express the chief cause. As then the mercy which Ebedmelech exercised towards the Prophet was an evidence of his piety and faith, here is found the fruit in its own tree, or in its root: and certain it is, that Ebedmelech would have never been so humane towards the Prophet, had he not relied on God and his aid; for unbelief is always timid. There is then no doubt but that the vigor which appeared in Ebedmelech, when he regarded his life in bringing aid to the Prophet, made manifest that faith which is now commended: because then thou hast trusted in me, therefore delivering I will deliver thee, says God. There is now then no doubt but that Ebedmelech had some of the elements of faith and piety. If then God has allowed us to make farther progress, we may feel the more assured that he will be our deliverer; for his grace and his power will ever exceed our faith, how much so ever it may be. Now follows —

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