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Jeremiah’s Celibacy and Message


The word of the Lord came to me: 2You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. 3For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bear them and the fathers who beget them in this land: 4They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried; they shall become like dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall become food for the birds of the air and for the wild animals of the earth.

5 For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament, or bemoan them; for I have taken away my peace from this people, says the Lord, my steadfast love and mercy. 6Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them; there shall be no gashing, no shaving of the head for them. 7No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers. 8You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. 9For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to banish from this place, in your days and before your eyes, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

10 And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” 11then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; 12and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. 13Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.

God Will Restore Israel

14 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 15but “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.

16 I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. 18And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.



O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,

my refuge in the day of trouble,

to you shall the nations come

from the ends of the earth and say:

Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies,

worthless things in which there is no profit.


Can mortals make for themselves gods?

Such are no gods!


21 “Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”


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This verse contains nothing new, but is a confirmation of the promise which we have seen. God had promised to be with the Prophet; he now shews that there was sufficient strength in his hand to deliver him. How much soever then the Jews might oppose him, God declares here that he alone would be sufficient to break them down. We hence see that there is more expressed in these words than in what he had said before, I will be with thee to deliver thee; he now shews the act itself as by the finger. I will deliver thee He had promised his aid; he now says, that his aid would be strong enough to deliver him from the hands of his enemies.

He says first, from the hand of the wicked, that the Jews might know that all their disguises would avail them nothing, for they were condemned by the mouth of God. In the second place, he calls them strong, that the Prophet might not be terrified by their power, as was usually the case. For it is very difficult for us not to be disturbed, when we are assailed on every side, and when threats and dangers are in our way. God then here reminds Jeremiah in time, that he would have to fight with the strong and valiant, but that all their strength in opposing him would be unavailing, for divine aid would be much stronger. Now follows —

This is a new discourse, which yet is not unlike many others, except in this particular, that the Prophet was not to marry a wife nor beget children in the land But as to the general subject, he repeats now what he had often said before and confirmed in many places. But the prohibition to marry was full of meaning; it was to shew that the people were wholly given up to destruction. The law of man’s creation, we know, was this,

“Increase and multiply.” (Genesis 1:22; Genesis 8:17; Genesis 9:1, 7)

As then mankind are perpetuated by marriage, here on the contrary God shews that that land was unworthy of this common and even general blessing enjoyed by the whole race of man. It is the same as if he had said, “They indeed as yet live, but a quick destruction awaits them, for I will deprive them of the universal favor which I have hitherto shewed to all mankind.”

Marriage is the preservation of the human race: Take not to thee a wife and beget no children We hence see that in the person of Jeremiah God intended to shew the Jews that they deserved to be exterminated from the earth. This is the import of this prophecy.

It may however be asked, whether the Prophet was unmarried? But this has nothing to do with the subject, for he received this command in a vision; and though he might not have been unmarried, he might still have proclaimed this prophecy, that God had forbidden him to marry and to beget children. At the same time, I think it were probable that the Prophet. was not married, for as he walked naked, and as he carried on his neck a yoke, so also his celibacy might have been intended to be, as it were, a living representation, in order to produce an effect on the Jews. But, as I have already said, we need not contend about this matter. Every one then is at liberty to judge as he pleases, only I suggest what I deem most probable.

But the reason why God forbad his Prophet to marry, follows, because they were all consigned to destruction. We hence learn that celibacy is not here commended, as some foolish men have imagined from what is here said; but it is the same as though God had said, “There is no reason for any one to set his mind on begetting an offspring, or to think that this would be to his advantage: whosoever is wise will abstain from raarriage, as he has death before his eyes, and is as it were near to his grave.” The destruction then of the whole people, and the desolation and solitude of the whole land, are the things which God in these words sets forth.

At the same time, they are not threatened with a common kind of death, for he says that they were to die by the deaths of sicknesses He then denounces on them continual languor, which would cause them to pine away with the greatest pain: sudden death would have been more tolerable; and hence David says, while complaining of the prosperity of the ungodly, that there

“were no bands in their death.” (Psalm 73:4)

And the same thing is found in the book of Job, that

“in a moment of time they descend to the grave,”

that is, that they flourish and prosper during life, and then die without any pain. (Job 21:13) Hence Julius Caesar, shortly before he was killed, called this kind a happy death, (εὐθανασίαν,) for he thought it a happy thing to expire suddenly. And this is what is implanted in men by nature. Therefore Jeremiah, in order to amplify God’s vengeance, says that they would die by the deaths of sicknesses; 155155     More literally, “By the deaths of wastings.” The reference is to the famine and also to the sword. Calvin has followed the Vulgate; “by a pestilential death” is the Septuagint by the death of those who languish by famine” the Syriac; and “by a dreadful death” the Arabic. The “mortal diseases” of Blayney is not proper, for they were not “diseases” but wastings or devastations by the famine and the sword, as stated afterwards. — Ed. that is, that they would be worn out by daily pains, and pine away until they died.

He adds, They shall not be lamented nor buried We have seen elsewhere, and we shall hereafter see, (Jeremiah 22) that it is a proof of a curse when the dead are not buried, and when no one laments their death: for it is the common duty of humanity for relations and friends who survive, to mourn for the dead and to bury them. But the Prophet seems to mean also something further. I do not indeed exclude this, that God would deprive them of the honor of sepukure and of mourning; but he seems also to intimate, that the destruction of men would be so great that there would be none to perform these offices of humanity. For we lament the dead when leisure is allowed us; but when many are slain in war they are not individually lamented, and then their carcases he confused, and one grave is not sufficient for such a number. The Prophet there means, that so great would be the slaughter in Judea, that none would be buried, that none would be lamented. The verb which he uses means properly to lament, which is more than to weep: and we have said elsewhere, that in those countries there were more ceremonies than with us; for all the orientals were much given to various gesticulations; and hence they were not satisfied with tears, but they added lamentation, as though they were in despair.

But the Prophet speaks according to the customs of the age, without approving of this excess of grief. As they were wont not simply to bewail the dead, but also to shew their grief by lamentation, he says, “Their offices shall now cease, for there will not be graves enough for so many thousands: and then if any one wish to mourn, where would he begin?” We also know that men’s hearts become hardened, when many thus die through pestilence or war. The import of the whole is, that God’s wrath would not be moderate, for he would in a manner empty the land by driving them all away, so that there would be none remaining. God did indeed preserve the elect, though as it were by a miracle; and he afterwards preserved them in exile as in a grave, when they were removed from their own country.

He then adds, That they would be as dung on the face of the land He speaks reproachfully of their carcasses, as though he had said, “They shall be the putridity of the land.” As then they had by their faith contaminated the land during life, God declares that after death they would become foetid like dung. Hence we learn, as I have before said, that it was an evidence of God’s curse, when carcases were left unburied; for as God has created us in his own image, so in death he would have some evidence of the dignity and excellency with which he has favored us beyond brute animals, still to remain. We however know that temporal punishments happen even to the faithful, but they are turned to their good, for the Psalmist complains that the bodies of the godly were cast forth and became food to the birds of heaven. (Psalm 79:2) Though this is true, yet these two things are by no means inconsistent, that it is a sign of God’s wrath when the dead are not buried, and that a temporal punishment does no harm to God’s elect; for all evils, as it is well known, turn out to them for good.

It is added, By the sword and by famine shall they be consumed; that is, some shall perish by the sword, and some by famine, according to what, we have before seen,

“Those for the sword, to the sword;
those for the famine, to the famine.” (Jeremiah 15:2)

Then he mentions what we have already referred to, Their carcases shall be for food to the beasts of the earth and to the birds of heaven 156156     I would render the fourth verse thus, —
   By deaths of wastings shall they die; They shall not be lamented, nor buried; As dung on the face of the ground shall they be: Yea, by the sword and by the famine shall they be consumed, And their carcase shall be for meat To the bird of heaven and to the beast of the earth.

   The latter part is a fuller explanation of what was to take place. “As dung,” so the Syriac; they were scattered like dung. They were to be cast here and there, to be devoured by rapacious birds and beasts. — Ed.
He here intimates, that it would be a manifest sign of his vengeance, when the Jews pined away in their miseries, when the sword consumed some of them, and famine destroyed others, and not only so, but when another curse after death followed them, for the Lord would inflict judgment on their carcases by not allowing them to be buried. How this is to be understood I have already stated; for God’s judgments as to the reprobate are evident; but when the godly and the righteous fall under similar punishment, God turns to good what seems in itself to be the sign of a curse. Though famine is a sign of a curse, and also the sword, yet we know that many of God’s children perish by famine and by the sword. But in temporal punishments this modification is ever to be remembered, — that God shews himself to be a righteous Judge as to the ungodly and wicked; — and that while he humbles his own people, he is not yet angry with them, but consults their benefit, so that what is in itself adverse to them is turned to their advantage.

As Jeremiah was forbidden at the beginning of the chapter to take a wife, for a dreadful devastation of the whole land was very nigh; so now God confirms what he had previously said, that so great would be the slaughter, that none would be found to perform the common office of lamenting the dead: at the same time he intimates now something more grievous, — that they who perished would be unworthy of any kind office. As he had said before, “Their carcases shall be cast to the “beasts of the earth and to the birds of heaven;” so now in this place he intimates, that their deaths would be so ignominious, that they would be deprived of the honor of a grave, and would be buried, as it is said in another place, like asses.

But when God forbids his Prophet to mourn, we are not to understand that he refers to excess of grief, as when God intends to moderate grief, when he takes away from us our parents, or our relatives, or our friends; for the subject here is not the private feeling of Jeremiah. God only declares that the land would be so desolate that hardly one would survive to mourn for the dead.

He says, Enter not into the house of mourning Some render מרזה, merezach, a funeral feast; and it is probable, nay, it may be gathered from the context, that such feasts were made when any one was dead. 157157     The word is of a general import, to cry aloud or to shout, either for grief or for joy: it is here for grief, and in Amos 6:7, for joy. The literal rendering here is, “Enter not the house of shouting.” The version of the Septuagint is wide of the mark, “Enter not into their bacchanalian assembly, (θίασον.)” The Syriac omits the word, and the Vulgate and Targum have “feast.” — Ed. And the same custom we see has been observed by other nations, but for a different purpose. When the Romans celebrated a funeral feast, their object was to shake off grief, and in a manner to convert the dead into gods. Hence Cicero condemns Vatinius, because he came clothed in black to the feast of Q. Arius, (Orat. pro L. Mur.) and elsewhere he says, that Tuberonis was laughed at and everywhere repulsed, because he covered the beds with goat’s skins, when Q. Maximus made a feast at the death of his uncle Africanus. Then these feasts were among the Romans full of rejoicing; but among the Jews, as it appears, when they lamented the dead, who were their relatives, they invited children and widows, in order that there might be some relief to their sorrow.

However this may be, God intimates by this figurative language, that the Jews, when they perished in great numbers, would be deprived of that common practice, because they were unworthy of having any survivors to bewail them.

Neither go, he says, to lament, nor be moved on their account 158158     The verb means to move, or to nod, either in contempt or in sympathy. The latter is the meaning here: hence to condole is the sense. He was not to go for the purpose of lamenting the dead, or of condoling with the living. To “mourn” is the Septuagint, a word of a similar meaning with the preceding; more correct is to “console,” as given by the Vulqate and the Targum.Ed. and why? For I have taken away my peace from this people, that is, all prosperity; for under the term, peace, the Jews included whatever was desirable. God then says, that he had taken away peace from them, and his peace, because he had pronounced that wicked nation accursed. He then adds, that he had taken away his kindness and his mercies. 159159     These words are omitted by the Septuagint, but given by the other versions, and are left out in no copies. The “and” before “kindness” is found in two MSS., and in the Syriac, but not in the Vulgate: it seems necessary. The passage I thus render, —
   For withdrawn have I my peace From this people, saith Jehovah, My mercy also and my compassions.

   There is here a reason given for the preceding prohibitions: the Prophet was to shew no favor, no kindness to the people, and no sympathy with them: for God had withdrawn from them his “peace,” which means here his favor, and also his mercy or his benignity, as some render the word, and his compassions. — Ed.
For the Prophet might have raised an objection and said, that this was not consistent with the nature of God, who testifies that he is ready to shew mercy; but God meets this objection and intimates, that there was now no place for kindness and mercy, for the impiety of the people had become past all hope. It follows —

He pursues the same subject: he says that all would die indiscriminately, the common people as well as the chief men, that none would be exempt from destruction; for God would make a great slaughter, both of the lower orders and also of the higher, who excelled in wealth, in honor, and dignity; Die shall the great and the small. It often happens in changes that the great are punished; and sometimes the case is that the common people perish, while the nobles are spared: but God declares, that such would be the destruction, that their enemies would make no difference between the common people and the higher ranks, and that if they escaped the hands of their enemies, the pestilence or the famine would prove their ruin.

He adds, They shall not bury them, nor beat their breast for them; and then, they shall not eat themselves, nor make themselves bald for them 160160     The first clause of the verse, as well as the last of the preceding, is omitted in the Septuagint, but retained in the Vulgate, Syriac, and the Targum. The verbs in the next clause ought to be rendered as transitives, —
   They shall not bury them nor lament for them.

   Then the two concluding verbs are to he rendered as impersonals, —

   And there shall be no cutting nor making bald for them.

   The Welsh is a literal version of the Hebrew, —

   Ac nid ymdorrir ac nid ymfoelir drostynt.

   Nothing can be much more literal. The first verb is in Hithpael, and so the Welsh is; for like Hebrew it has a reciprocal form for its verbs. The last verb is also in Welsh in this form; but it needs not be so, for it might be, ac ni foelirEd.
This is not mentioned by the Prophet to commend what the people did; nor did he consider that in this respect they observed the command of the law; for God had forbidden them to imitate the corrupt customs of the heathens. (Leviticus 21:1) We have already said, that the orientals were much given to external ceremonies, so that there was no moderation in their lamentations: therefore God intended to correct this excess. But the Prophet here has no respect to the command, that the Jews were to moderate their grief, — what then? He meant to shew, as I have already reminded you, that the slaughters would be so great, that they — would cause hardness and insensibility, being so immense as to stun the feelings of men. When any one dies, friends and neighbors meet, and shew respect to his memory; but when pestilence prevails, or when all perish by famine, the greater part become hardened and unmindful of themselves and others, and the offices of humanity are no longer observed. God then shews, that such would be the devastation of the land, that the Jews, as though callous and hardened, would no longer lament for one another. In short, he shews, that together with these dreadful slaughters, such insensibility and hardness would prevail among the Jews, that no husband would think of his wife, and no father of his children; but that all of them would be so astonied by their own evils as to become like the wild beasts.

He says further, They shall not cut themselves nor pull off their hairs, as they had used to do. These things are mentioned, as they were commonly done; it cannot be hence concluded, that they were approved by God; for God’s design was not to pronounce a judgment on their lamentation, on the tearing off of the hair, or on their incisions. It is indeed certain that these practices proceeded from the impetuous feelings of men, and were tokens of impatience; but as I have said, God does not speak here of what was lawful, but of what men were wont to do.

As to that part, where he says, that he had taken away his kindness and his mercies, he does not mean that he had changed his nature, but his object was to cut off occasion from all who might complain; for men, we know, whenever God’s hand presses hard on them, to make them to deplore rightly their miseries, are stifficiently ready to say, that God visits them with too much severity. He therefore shews that they were unworthy of kindness and mercies. At the same time he reminded them that there was no reason for hypocrites to entertain any hope, because Scripture so often commends the kindness of God and his mercy; for since they accumulated sins on sins, God could not do otherwise than come to an extremity with them.

With regard to the seventh verse, 161161     Calvin, having in his version explained the beginning of this verse, passes it by here. His rendering is, “And they shall not beat their hands together for them, to console any one for the dead.” He omits one word, rendered, “in mourning” in our version. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Arabic and the Targum give another meaning. They must have read לחם “bread,” instead of להם “for them.” The difference is so small that we are inclined to think it the true readIng, though there be but two MSS. in its favor. The passage itself seems to require this reading, — the verb which precedes it, and the correspondence between the former and latter part of the verse — bread and drink. The verse then would read thus, —
   7. And they shall not divide bread to the mourner, To console him for the dead: Nor shall they give them to drink the cup of consolations, Each one for his father and for his mother.

   Blayney quotes Jerome, who says, “It was usual to carry provisions to mourners, and to make an entertainment, which sort of feasts the Greeks call περιδειπνα, and the Latin parentalia.”Ed.
we may learn from it what I have already referred to, — that the Jews made funeral feasts, that children and widows might receive some relief to their sorrow; for the Prophet calls it the cup of consolations, when friends kindly attended; they had also some ridiculous gesticulations; for no doubt laughter was often excited by mourners among the Jews. But we see that men vied with one another in lamenting for the dead; for it was deemed a shame not to shew grief at the death of their friends. When tears did not flow, when the nearest relations did not howl for the dead, they thought them inhuman; hence it was, that there was much dissimulation in their mourning; and it was foolishly regarded an alleviation to extend the cup of consolation. But as I have said before, the Prophet here did not point out what was right, but borrowed his words from what was commonly practiced. It follows —

Here the Prophet refers to other feasts, where hilarity prevailed. The meaning then is, — that the people were given up to destruction, so that nothing was better than to depart from them as far as possible. So Jeremiah is prohibited from going at all to them, so that he might not be their associate either in joy or in sorrow; as though he had said, — ‘Have no more anything to do with this people; if they lament their dead, leave them, for they are unworthy of any act of kindness; and if they make joyful feasts, be far from them, for every intercourse with them is accursed.” We now then understand why the Prophet spoke of grief, lamentation and mourning, and then mentioned joy. He afterwards adds, —

This verse contains a reason for the preceding, — that every connection with that people would be accursed. Yet he states one thing more expressly, — that the time was come in which they were already deprived of all joy; for the ungodly, even when God most awfully threatens them, strengthen themselves in their security, hence God intended to give them some presage, that they might before the time know that the saddest calamities were at hand, by which every joy and gladness were to be taken away.

He then says, that the God of hosts and the God of Israel had spoken. He at the same time deprived them of all hope, though he called himself the God of Israel. Hypocrites were wont either to despise the power of God, or to abuse his goodness. Had not God checked them, they would have deemed as nothing what the prophets threatened; and how so? Because they depreciated, as far as they could, the power of God. Hence God says, that he is the God of hosts. But when they could not in their pride and haughtiness throw down, as it were the power of God, then they betook themselves to another asylum; they promised to themselves that he would deal indulgently with them; and thus they deceived themselves. Hence, on the other hand, God calls himself here the God of Israel, in order that they might know, that it was of no avail to them, that he had adopted the seed of Abraham; for they were not the children of Abraham, but aliens, as they had departed from his piety and faith. This served as a preface.

Now when he says, הנני, enni, Behold me, he shews that the Jews had no reason to put off the time, and to indulge avain confidence; for vengeance was already come. Behold me, he says, he thus comes forth and testifies that he is already prepared to execute his judgment. Behold me,, he says, taking away from this place, before your eyes, and in your days, etc.; their destruction would happen in a short time and before their eyes. I am taking away, he says, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, 162162     Rather, “The voice of exultation and the voice of joy;” the most manifest display first — exultation; and then the most hidden feeling — joy. — Ed. the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride Here by stating a part for the whole, he intimates that they would become like the dead rather than the living; for the continuance of the human race is preserved by marriage, as in the offspring mankind are as it were born again, who would otherwise perish daily. Since then there was no more time left for marriages, it was a token of final destruction. This is what the Prophet intimates, when he says, that God would cause the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride to cease, so that there would be no more any congratulations. It follows, —

He shews here what we have seen elsewhere, — that the people flattered themselves in their vices, so that they could not be turned by any admonitions, nor be led by any means to repentance. It was a great blindness, nay, even madness, not to examine themselves, when they were smitten by the hand of God; for conscience ought to have been to them like a thousand witnesses, immediately condemning them; but hardly any one was found who examined his own life; and then, though God proved them guilty, hardly one in a hundred winingly and humbly submitted to his judgment; but the greater part murmured and made a clamor, whenever they felt the scourges of God. This evil, as Jeremiah shews, prevailed among the people; and he shewed the same in the fifth chapter.

Hence it is that God says, When thou shalt declare these words to this people, and they shall say, Wherefore has Jehovah spoken all this great evil against us; what is our iniquity? what is our sin, that he so rages against us, as though we had acted wickedly against him? God no doubt intended to obviate in time what that perverse people might have said, for he knew that they possessed an untameable disposition. As then he knew that they would be so refractory as to receive no reproof, he confirms his own Prophet, as though he had said, “There is no reason for their perverseness to discourage thee; for they will immediately oppose thee, and treat thee as one doing them a grievous wrong; they will expostulate with thee and deny that they ought to be deemed guilty of so great crimes; if then they will thus petulantly cast aside thy threatenings, there is no reason for thee to be disheartened, for thou shalt have an answer ready for them.”

We now see how hypocrites gained nothing, either by their evasions, or by wantonly rising against God and his Prophets. At the same time all teachers are reminded here of their duty, not to vacinate when they have to do with proud and intractable men. As it appeared elsewhere, where God commanded his Prophet to put on a brazen front, that he might boldly encounter all the insults of the people; (Jeremiah 1:18) the same is the case here, they shall say to thee, that is, when thou threatenest them, they will not winingly give way, but they will contend as though thou didst accuse them unjustly, for they will say, “What is our sin? what is our iniquity? what is the wickedness which we have committed against Jehovah our God, that he should declare this great evil against us?” Thus we see that hypocrites vent their rage not only against God’s servants, but against God himself, not indeed that they profess openly and plainly to do so. But what is the effect when they cannot bear to be corrected by God’s hand, but resist and shew that they do not endure correction with a resigned mind? do they not sufficiently prove that they rebel against God?

But Jeremiah here graphically describes the character of those who struggled with God, for they dared not wholly to deny that they were wicked, but they extenuated as far as they could their sin, like Cain, who ventured not to assert that he was innocent, for he was conscious of having done wrong; and the voice of God, “Where is thy brother?” strengthened the voice of conscience, but in the meantime he ceased not to utter this complaint,

“Greater is my punishment than I can bear.”
(Genesis 4:9, 13)

So also Jeremiah introduces the people as speaking, “O, what is our iniquity? and what is the sin which we have committed against Jehovah our God, that he should speak this great evil against us?” They say not that they were wholly without fault, they only object that the atrocity of their sins was not so great as to cause God to be so angry with them, and to visit them with so grievous a punishment. They then exaggerated the punishment, that they might obtain some covering for themselves; and yet they did not say that they were innocent or free from every fault, but they speak of their iniquities and sins as though they had said, “We indeed confess that there is something which God may reprehend, but we do not acknowledge such a mass of sins and iniquities as to cause him thus to thunder against us.”

But he then says, Thou shalt answer them, Because your fathers forsook me; they went after foreign gods, served and worshipped them; and me they forsook and my law they kept not, and ye have done worse 163163     The division of these verses, the 11th and the 12th (Jeremiah 16:11-12), seems incorrect. Were the latter part of the 11th connected with the 12th, the repetition which now appears would not be perceived. I render the verses thus —
   11. Then say to them, Because your fathers forsook me, saith Jehovah, And walked after foreign gods, And served them and bowed down to them: Yea, me they forsook and my law kept not,

   12. And ye have become evil by doing worse than your fathers; For lo, ye are walking, every man, After the resolutions of his own evil heart, So as not to hearken to me.

   In the first part their fathers’ conduct is set forth; in the second their fathers’ conduct and their own. And their “worse” conduct was in not hearkening to the voice of God by his Prophets. — Ed.
God in the first place accused their fathers, not that punishment ought to have fallen on their children, except they followed the wickedness of their fathers, but the men of that age fully deserved to be visited with the judgment their fathers merited. Besides well known is that declaration, that God reckons the iniquities of the fathers to their children; (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 5:9) and he acts thus justly, for he might justly execute vengeance for sins on the whole human race, according to what Christ says,

“On you shall come the blood of all the godly, from righteous Abel to Zachariah the son of Barachiah.” (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51)

Thus then the Scripture often declares, that children shall be punished with their fathers, because God will at one time or another require an account of all sins, and thus will make amends for his long forbearance, for as he waits for men and kindly invites them through his patience to repent, so when he sees no hope he inflicts all his scourges. It is hence no wonder that children are more grievously punished after iniquity has prevailed for many ages.

We hence see that these two things are not inconsistent — that God connects the punishment of children with that of their fathers, and that he does not punish the innocent. We indeed see this fulfilled,

“The soul that sinneth it shall die; the children shall not bear the iniquity of their fathers, nor the father the iniquity of his child,” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)

for God never blends children with their fathers except they be their associates in wickedness. But yet there is nothing to prevent God to punish children for the sins of their fathers, especially when they continually rush headlong into worse sins, when the children, as we shall hereafter see, exceed their fathers in all kinds of wickedness.

We further learn from this passage, that they bring forward a vain pretense who allege against us the examples of the Fathers, as we see to be done now by those under the Papacy; for the shield they boldly set up against us is this, that they imitate the examples of the fathers. But God declares here that they were worthy of double punishment who repented not when they saw that their fathers had been ungodly and transgressors of the law.

Let us now notice the sins which God mentions: he says, that they had forsaken him. That people could not make any excuse for going astray, like the unhappy heathens, to whom no Prophet had been sent, and no law had been given. Hence the heathens had some excuse more than the Jews. The truth indeed respecting all was, that they were all apostates, for God had bound the human race to himself, and all they who followed superstitions were justly charged with the sin of apostasy; there was yet a greater atrocity of wickedness in the Jewish people, for God had set before them his law, they had been brought up as it were in his school, they knew what true religion was, they were able to distinguish the true God from fictitious gods. We now then see the meaning of the expression, They have forsaken me: and it is twice repeated, because it was necessary thus to prove the Jews guilty, that their mouths might be stopped; for we have seen that they were to be thus roused from their insensibility, inasmuch as they would have never yielded nor acknowledged their sins, were they not constrained.

He says further, that they went after foreign gods, served them, and worshipped them Now this statement enhances again their sins, for the Jews preferred their own inventions to the true God, who had by so many signs and testimonies manifested his glory and made known his power among them. As then God had abundantly testified his power, it was by no means an endurable ingratitude in them to follow strange gods, of whom they had only heard. The heathens indeed vainly boasted of their idols, and spread abroad many fables to allure unhappy men to false and corrupt worship, but the Jews knew who the true God was. To believe the fables of the heathens, rather than the law and their own experience, was not this the basest impiety? This then was the reason why God complained that foreign gods were worshipped by them.

Then he adds, They served and worshipped them The verb to serve is often used by the Hebrews to express worship, as we have stated elsewhere; and thus is refuted the folly of the Papists who deny that they are idolaters, because they worship pictures and statues with dulla, that is, with service, if we may so render it, and not with latria, as though Scripture in condemning idolatry never used this verb. But God condemns here the Jews because they served strange gods, because they gave credit to the false and vain fictions of the heathens; and then he adds the outward action, that they prostrated themselves before their idols.

At the end of this verse he shews how he had been forsaken, even because they kept not his law. He then confirms what I have already stated, that there was on this account a worse apostasy among the Jews, for they had knowingly and wilfully forsaken the fountain of living water, as we have seen in the second chapter: hence simple ignorance is not what is here reprehended, as though they had sinned through error or want of knowledge, but they had rejected the worship of God as it were designedly. The rest I shall defer till to-morrow.

I was constrained yesterday to leave unfinished the words of the Prophet. He said that the children were worse than their fathers, and gave the reason, Because they followed the wickedness of their evil heart, and hearkened not to God He seems to have said before the same thing of the fathers: it might then be asked, Why does he say that the children had done worse than their fathers, and pronounce their sins worse? Now we have already seen that sins became worse before God, when the children strengthened themselves in wickedness by following the examples of their fathers. We must also notice, that not only the law had been set before them, but that also Prophets had been often sent to them, who added their reproofs: and this is what Jeremiah seems to have expressed at the end of the verse, by saying that they hearkened not, though daily spoken to by the Prophets. It was then their obstinacy that God so severely punished: they had imitated their wicked fathers, and then they not only had despised, but also through their obstinate wickedness had rejected all the warnings which the Prophets gave them.

Then follows a commination, I will eject you, he says, or remove you, from this land to a land which ye know not, nor your fathers, for they had followed unknown gods, and went after inventions of their own and of others. God now declares that he would be the vindicator of his own glory, by driving them to a land unknown to them and to their fathers. He immediately adds, There shall ye serve other gods day and night We must take notice of this kind of punishment, for nothing could have happened worse to the Jews than to be constrained to adopt false and corrupt forms of worship, as it was a denial of God and of true religion. As this appears at the first view hard, some mitigate it, as though the worship of strange gods would be that servitude into which they were reduced when they became subject to idolators: but this is too remote. I therefore do not doubt but that God abandoned them, because they had violated true and pure worship, and had gone after the many abominations of the heathens; and thus he shews that they were worthy to be thus dealt with, who had in every way contaminated themselves, and as it were plunged themselves into the depth of every thing abominable: and it is certainly probable that they were led by constraint into ungodly ceremonies, when the Chaldeans had the power to treat them, as they usually did, as slaves, without any measure of humanity. It is then hence a probable conjecture that they were drawn to superstitions, and that interminably; so that they were not only forced to worship false gods, but were also constrained to do so by way of sport, as they daily triumphed over them as their conquerors.

And he confirms this clause by what follows, For I will not, etc., for the relative אשר asher, is here to be taken for a causative particle, For I will not shew you favor, or mercy; that is, I will not turn the hearts of your enemies so as to be propitious or kind to you. 164164     The Targum and the versions, except the Syriac, apply this clause to their enemies, “who will not shew you favor,” or mercy; and no doubt this reads better; and the verb in that case would be יתנו but there is no MS. in its favor. The relative may be regarded in the same way as at the second verse of the first chapter, (To whom the word, etc.,) “To whom I will not shew favor.” This kind of idiom evidently exists in Hebrew. However the sense is the same as given in the ancient versions, only according to the Hebrew reading the original cause of the favor is expressly mentioned. The denial of favor proceeded from God’s providence, though it was through the instrumentality of their enemies. — Ed. By these words God shews that he would not only punish them by subjecting them to their enemies, or by suffering them to be driven into exile; but that there would be an additional punishment by rendering their enemies cruel to them; for God can either tame the ferocity of men, or, when he pleases, can rouse them to greater rage and cruelty, when it is his purpose to use them as scourges.

We now then understand the whole design of what the Prophet says, that the Jews who had refused to worship God in their own land would be led away to Chaldea, where they would be constrained, wining or unwining, to worship strange gods, and that without end or limits. It now follows —

Jeremiah seems here to promise a return to the Jews; and so the passage is commonly expounded, as though a consolation is interposed, in which the faithful alone are concerned. But I consider the passage as mixed, that the Prophet, in part, speaks in severe terms of the dreadful exile which he foretells, and that he in part blends some consolation; but the latter subject seems to me to he indirectly referred to by the Prophet. I therefore think this to be an amplification of what he had said. This is to be kept in mind. He had said, “I will expel you from this land, and will send you to a land unknown to you and to your fathers.” Now follows a circumstance which increased the grievousness of exile: they knew how cruel was that servitude from which God had delivered their fathers. Their condition was worse than hundred deaths, when they were driven to their servile works; and also, when all justice was denied them, and when their offspring were from the womb put to death. As then they knew how cruelly their fathers had been treated by the Egyptians, the comparison he states more fully shewed what a dreadful punishment awaited them, for their redemption would be much more incredible.

We now perceive what the Prophet meant, as though he had said, “Ye know from what your fathers came forth, even from a brazen furnace, as it is said elsewhere, and as it were from the depth of death, so that that redemption ought to be remembered to the end of the world; but God will now cast you into an abyss deeper than that of Egypt from which your fathers were delivered; and when from thence he will redeem you, it will be a miracle far more wonderful to your posterity, so that it will almost extinguish, or at least obscure the memory of the first redemption: It will not then be said any more, Live does Jehovah, who brought the children of Israel from Egypt, for that Egyptian captivity was far more endurable than what this latter shall be; for ye shall be plunged as it were into the infernal regions; and when God shall rescue you from thence, it will be a work far more wonderful.” This I consider to be the real meaning of the Prophet. 165165     No particular notice is taken of לכן rendered “therefore,” at the beginning of the verse. Gataker renders it “notwithstanding;” Lowth, “nevertheless,” and Blayney, “after this.” What suits the passage best is “nevertheless.” The verse appears to be parenthetic, introduced for the purpose of keeping the people from despair under their sufferings. — Ed.

Yet his object was at the same time indirectly to give them some hope of their future redemption; but this he did not do avowedly. We ought then to regard what the Prophet had in view, even to strike the Jews, as I have said, with terror, so that they might know that there was an evil nigh at hand more grievous than what their fathers suffered in Egypt, who yet had been most cruelly oppressed. Then their former liberation would be rendered obscure and not celebrated as before, though it was nevertheless an evidence of the wonderful power of God.

But, it will be rather said, Live does Jehovah, for he has brought his people from the land of the north; and for this reason, because there will be less hope remaining for you, when the Chaldeans shall subdue and scatter you like a body torn asunder, and when the name of Israel shall be extinguished, when the worship of God shall be subverted and the Temple destroyed. When therefore all things shall appear to be past remedy, this captivity shall be much more dreadful than that by which your fathers had been oppressed. Therefore, when God restores you, it will be a miracle much more remarkable. And that the Prophet took occasion to give thom some hope of God’s favor, may be gathered from the end of the verse, when he says, And I will make them to return to their own land: but the copulative ought to be rendered as a conditional particle, as though he had said, When I shall restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers It now follows —

Some explain this of the apostles; but it is wholly foreign to the subject: they think that Jeremiah pursues here what he had begun to speak of; for they doubt not but that he had been speaking in the last verse of a future but a near deliverance, in order to raise the children of God into a cheerful confidence. But I have already rejected this meaning, for their exposition is not well founded. But if it be conceded that the Prophet had prophesied of the liberation of the people, it does not follow that God goes on with the same subject, for he immediately returns to threatenings, as ye will see; and the allegory also is too remote when he speaks of hunters and fishers; and as mention is made of ‘hills and mountains, it appears still more clearly that the Prophet is threatening the Jews, and not promising them any alleviation in their miseries. I therefore connect all these things together in a plain manner; for, having said that the evil which the Jews would shortly have to endure would be more grievous than the Egyptian bondage, he now adds a reason as a confirmation, —

Behold, he says, I will send to them many fishers, that they may gather them together on every side. He mentions fishers, as they would draw the children of Israel from every quarter to their nets. He then compares the Chaldeans to fishers, who would so proceed through the whole land as to leave none except some of the most ignoble, whom also they afterwards took away; and to fishers he adds hunters. Some understand by fishers armed enemies, who by the sword slew the conquered; and they consider that the hunters were those who were disposed to spare the life of the many, and to drive them into exile; but this appears too refined. Simple is the view which I have stated, that the Chaldeans were called fishers, because they would empty the whole land of its inhabitants, and that they were called hunters, because the Jews, having been scattered here and there, and become fugitives, would yet be found out in the recesses of hins and rocks.

The two similitudes are exceedingly suitable; for the Prophet shews that the Chaldeans would not have much trouble in taking the Jews, inasmuch as fishers only spread their nets; they do not arm themselves against fishes, nor is there any need; and then all the fish they take they easily take possession of them, for there is no resistance. Thus, then, he shews that the Chaldeans would gain an easy victory, for they would take the Jews as fishes which are drawn into nets. This is one thing. Then, in the second place, he says, that if they betook themselves into recesses of mountains, that if they hid themselves in caverns or holes, their enemies would be like hunters who follow the wild beasts in forests and in other unfrequented places; no brambles, nor thorns, nor any obstructions prevent them from advancing, being led on by a strong impulse; so in like manner no recesses of mountains would be concealed from the Chaldeans, no caverns where the Jews might hide themselves, for they would all be taken. We hence see that he confirms by two similitudes, what he had said in a preceding verse. He afterwards adds —

The Prophet now shews that the grievous calamity of which he had spoken would be a just reward for the wickedness of the people; for we know that the prophets were endued with the Spirit of God not merely that they might foretell things to come — for that would have been very jejune; but a doctrine was connected with their predictions. Hence the prophets not only foretold what God would do, but at the same time added the causes. There is then now added a doctrine as a seasoning to the prophecy; for the Prophet says that the destructiorl of the Jews was at hand, because they had long greatly provoked the wrath of God. As there is no end to the evasions of hypocrites, according to what we observed yesterday, God here reminds them of his judgment, as though he had said, “This one thing is sufficient, he knows their iniquities, and he is a fit judge; so they contend in vain, and try in vain, to excuse or to extenuate their fault.”

Hence he says that the eyes of God were on all their ways: and he mentions all their ways, because they had not offended only once, or in one way, but they had added sins to sins. Nor are they hid, he says: the Prophet presses the matter on their attention; for had he allowed their false pretences, they would have made no end of excuses. He therefore says that their ways were not hid, nor their iniquities concealed from the eyes of God. Now follows a confirmation —

Jeremiah introduces here nothing new, but proceeds with the subject we observed in the last verse, — that God would not deal with so much severity with the Jews, because extreme rigor was pleasing to him, or because he had forgotten his own nature or the covenant which he had made with Abraham, but because the Jews had become extremely obstinate in their wickedness. As, then, he had said that the eyes of God were on all their ways, so now he adds that he would recompense them as they deserved.

But every word ought to be considered: He says ראשונה rashune, which I render “From the beginning.” Some render it more obscurely, “at first,” — I will first recompense them. The word means formerly, and refers to time. The Prophet then, I have no doubt, means what I have already referred to, — that God would punish the fathers and their children, and would thus gather into one mass their old iniquities. We have quoted from the law that God would recompense unto the bosom of children the sins of their fathers; and we have also quoted that declaration of Christ,

“Come upon you shall righteous blood from Abel to Zachariah, the son of Barachiah.” (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51)

The Prophet now repeats the same thing, — that God, in allotting to the Jews their reward, would collect together as it were all the iniquities which had been as it were long buried, so that he would include the fathers and their children in one bundle, and gather together all their sins, in order that he might consume them as it were in one heap. In this way I explain the term “From the beginning.” 166166     The Septuagint omit this word, and give this rendering, “And I will recompense their twofold iniquities,” etc., so does the Vulgate, only it retains this word, and renders it “first.” But the Hebrew will not admit the connection of “two-fold” with “iniquities.”
   Venema gives the best exposition of this passage, from Jeremiah 16:14 to the end, he considers it a prophecy of the restoration of the people from Babylon. The “fishers” and “the hunters,” in Jeremiah 16:16, he regards as the indibviduals employed by God to gather them from the countries to which they had been dispersed, suych as Zerubbabel, Joshuah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. He connects this verse more especially with the latter part of Jeremiah 16:17. Having stated that their ways would not be hid from God in their dispersion, the Prophet refers to their previous iniquity as having not been hid from them, and then says in God’s name, “And I will first recompense doubly their iniquity,” etc., that is before I restore them. These two verses may be thus rendered, the first line being connected with the previous verse, —

   17. For mine eyes shall be on all their ways. Concealed have they not been from me, Nor hid has been their iniquity from my eyes;

   18. And I will first doubly recompense Their iniquity and their sin, Because they have polluted my land With the vileness of their detestable things, And with their abominations have fined mine inheritance.

   As the previous verse is in the future tense, so the first line in Jeremiah 16:17. The “detestable things” were their idols. The version of the Septuagint is, “with the dead bodies (θνησιμαίοις) of their abominations;” of the Vulgate, “with the carrions (morticinis) of their idols;” and of the Syriac, “with the sacrifices of their idols.” Blayney’s rendering is, “by the vileness of their odious practices.” The word “carcases” is derived from the Targum. Idolatrous practices are evidently the things referred to. — Ed

He then adds, The double of their iniquities and their sins The Prophet does not mean that there would be an excess of severity, as though God would not rightly consider what men deserved; but “double” signifies a just and complete measure, according to what is said in Isaiah 40:2,

“The Lord hath recompensed double for all her sins;”

that is, sufficiently and more, (satis superque) as the Latins say. There God assumes the character of a father, and, according to his great kindness, says that the Jews had been more than sufficiently punished. So also in this place, in speaking of punishment, he calls that double, not what would exceed the limits of justice, but because God would shew himself differently to them from what he had done before, when he patiently bore with them; as though he had said, “I will to the utmost punish them; for there will be no remission, no lenity,no mercy.” We hence see that what is here designed is only extreme rigor, which yet was just and right; for had God punished a hundred times more severely even those who seemed to have sinned lightly, his justice could not have been questioned as though he had acted cruelly. Since, the Jews, then, had in so many ways, and for so long a time, and so grievously sinned, God could not have been thought too severe, when he rendered to them their reward; and he calls it double because he omitted nothing in order to carry it to the utmost severity. Probably he alludes also to the enemies as being ministers of his vengeance, whose cruelty would be more atrocious than the Jews thought, who imagined some slight remedies for slight sins, as we say, Il n’y faudra plus retourner, or, tote outre.

He mentions sins and iniquities, for Jeremiah had introduced them before as speaking thus, “What is our iniquity? and what is our sin?” Though they could not wholly exculpate themselves, they yet continued to allege some pretences, that they might not appear to be altogether wicked. But here God declares that they were wholly wicked and ungodly; and he adds a confirmation, that they had polluted the land with the carcases of their abominations The Prophet mentions a particular thing, for had he spoken generally, the Jews would have raised a clamor and said, that they were not conscious of being so wicked. That he might then bring the matter home to them, he shews as it were by the finger that their sin was by no means excusable, for they had polluted the land of God with their superstitions; they have polluted, he says, my land He exaggerates their crime by saying, that they polluted the holy land. The earth indeed is God’s and its fullness. (Psalm 24:1) Hence it might be said justly of the whole world, that the land of God is polluted when men act on it an ungodly part. But here God distinguishes Canaan from other countries, because it was dedicated as it were to his name. As God then had set apart that land for himself, that he might be there worshipped, he says, they have polluted my land

And he adds, With the carcases of their abominations It is probable that he calls their sacrifices carcases. For though in appearance their superstitions bore a likeness to the true and lawful worship of God, yet we know that the sacrifices which God had commanded were seasoned by his word as with salt; they were therefore of good odor and fragrance before God. As to the sacrifices offered to idols, they were foetid carcases, they were mere rottenness, yet the ceremony was altogether alike. But God does not regard the external form, for obedience is better before him than all sacrifices. (1 Samuel 15:22) We hence see that there is to be understood a contrast between the carcases and the sweet odor which lawful sacrifices possessed. For as sacrifices, rightly offered according to the rule of the law, pleased God and were said to be of sweet savor so the victims superstitiously offered having no command of God in their favor, were called filthy carcases.

And he says further, With their defilements have they filled mine inheritance The land of Canaan is called the inheritance of God in the same sense in which the land is before called his land. But in this second clause something more is expressed, as it is the usual manner of Scripture to amplify. It was indeed a grievous thing that the land dedicated to God should be polluted; but when he says, This is mine inheritance, that is, the, land which I have chosen to dwell in with my people, that it might be to me as it were a kind of an earthly habitation, and that this land was fined with defilements, it was a thing altogether intolerable. We now then see that the Jews were so bridled and checked that they in vain attempted to escape, or thought to gain anything by evasions, for their impiety was intolerable and deserved to be most severely punished by God. I will not proceed further, for it is a new discourse.

What the Prophet has said hitherto might appear contrary to the promises of God, and wholly subversive of the covenant which he had made with Abraham. God had chosen to himself one people from the whole world, now when this people were trodden under foot what could the most perfect of the faithful suppose but that that covenant was rendered void, since God had resolved to destroy the Jews and to obliterate their name? This was then a most grievous trial, and sufficient, to shake the strongest minds. The Prophet therefore now returns to the subject, and obviates this temptation; and seeing men in despair he turns to God, and speaks of the calling of the Gentiles, which was sufficient wholly to remove that stumbling — block, which I have mentioned respecting the apostasy and ruin of the chosen people. We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning.

When any one reads the whole chapter, he may think that Jeremiah abruptly turns to address God; but what I have stated ought to be borne in mind, for his purpose was to fortify himself and the faithful against the thought I have mentioned, which would have otherwise shaken the faith of them all. And he shews what is best to be done in a troubled and dark state of things, for Satan hunts for nothing more than to involve us in various and intricate disputes, and he is an acute disputant, yea, and a sophist; we are also very ready to receive what he may suggest, and thus it happens that the thoughts which we either attain ourselves or too readily receive when offered by the artifice of Satan, often overwhelm us. There is then no better remedy than to break off such disputes and to turn our eyes and all our thoughts to God. This the Prophet did when he said, O Jehovah, to thee shall the Gentiles come

We now see that Jeremiah sets the conversion of the Gentiles in opposition to the destruction which he had before denounced; for the truth of God and his mercy were so connected with the salvation of the chosen people, that their destruction seemed to obliterate them. Therefore the Prophet sets forth in opposition to this the conversion of the Gentiles, as though he had said, “Though the race of Abraham perishes, yet God’s covenant fails not, nor is there any diminution of his grace, for he will convert all the Gentiles to himself.” If any one objects and says, that though the Gentiles be converted, yet the covenant of God could not have been valid and perpetual, except the posterity of Abraham were heirs of that grace which God had promised to him. To this there is a ready answer, for when God turned the Gentiles to himself he was mindful of his promise, so as to gather a Church to himself both from the Jews and the Gentiles, as we also know that Christ came to proclaim peace to those afar off and to them who were nigh, according to what Paul teaches. (Ephesians 2:17) Jeremiah then includes in the calling of the Gentiles what is said elsewhere,

“A remnant according to the election of grace.”
(Romans 9:5)

It is an argument from the greater to the less; “God will not retain a few men only, but will gather to himself those who now seem dispersed through the whole world; much more then shall all those of the race of Abraham, who are chosen by God, be saved; and though the great body of the people perish, yet the Lord, who knows his own people, will not suffer them to perish even in the worst state of things.”

But as the struggle was difficult, he calls God his strength, and fortress, and refuge. He says עזי ומעזי ozi vemozi, ma force et forteresse, for the two words come from the same root, and we cannot in Latin thus fitly translate them. He then calls God his strength and his fortress, but both words are derived from a verb which means to be strong. He then adds, my refuge in the day of affliction We here see that God according to circumstances is adorned with names, such as are fit to give us confidence, and as it were to arm us for the purpose of sustaining all the assaults of temptations, for there was not sufficient force and power in that plain declaration, “O Jehovah, the Gentiles shall come to thee,” but as the Prophet was reduced to the greatest straits, and, as I have said, his faith nmst have been greatly tried, he calls God his strength, his fortress, and his refuge in the day of affliction; as though he had said, “Now is the time when I find how necessary is thy protection, thy strength, thy power; for though my present miseries, and the approaching ruin dishearten me, yet thou wilt be to me a refuge.”

But he says, that the Gentiles would come from the ends of the earth 167167     Though the word rendered here “Gentiles” may be often so translated, yet it does not necessarily mean the heathens. It signifies a people associated together; and it may mean here the Jewish people in their dispersion, formed into companies or tribes, as Grotius thinks; and a due consideration of the context will lead us to this opinion. They are spoken of in Jeremiah 16:15 as “brought from all the lands” whither God had driven them; and as the idolatry of their fathers is continually mentioned in connection with their own, the confession in this verse seems appropriate to them; and the last verse, Jeremiah 16:21, clearly refers to the people of Israel. There is nothing in the whole passage (except it be this clause) that has any reference to the conversion of the heathens. I am aware that commentators take the same view of this clause with Calvin, yet I fully believe that the “nations” here were the Jews, scattered here and there, as distinct portions of the community, in various parts of the heathen world. The prophet, after having received an assurance of a restoration, makes a thankful acknowledgment to God, and tells us what would be the confession of the returned exiles, which includes the next verse. Then God assures him in the last verse, that such would be the effect of exile as to make them ever afterwards to acknowledge his power and his majesty, which has been remarkably fulfilled; for the Jews have never been guilty — of idolatry since their return from Babylon. — Ed. A contrast is to be observed here also; for the Jews at first worshipped God, as it were in an obscure corner; but he says, “When that land shall cast out its inhabitants, all nations shall come, not only from neighboring countries, but also from the extremities of the earth.” He adds, that the Gentiles would say, surely falsehood leave our fathers possessed; it was vanity, there was nothing profitable in them To possess, here means the same as to inherit; for we know that one’s own inheritance is valuable to him; and men are as it were fixed in their farms and fields. As then the Gentiles, before they were enlightened, thought their chief happiness to be in their superstitions, the Prophet says here, by way of concession, that they possessed falsehood, as though it was said, “Our fathers thought themselves blessed and happy when they worshipped idols and their own inventions.” It was therefore their heritage, that is, they thought nothing better or more to be desired than to embrace their idols and their errors; but it was falsehood, he says, that is, when they thought that they had a glorious inheritance it was only a foolish imagination; it was, in short, vanity, and there was nothing useful or profitable in them. This confession proves the conversion of the Gentiles by external evidences. When we offend God, not only secretly, but also by bad examples, repentance requires confession. Hence the Prophet shews a change in the Gentiles, for they would of themselves acknowledge that their fathers had been deceived by superstitions; for while they thought that they were acting rightly, they were only under the influence of inusions and fascinations.

But it is not to be doubted but that the Prophet here indirectly condemns the Jews, because they had not departed from the sins of their fathers, though they had been often admonished. The Gentiles then shall come, and the ignorance of their fathers shall not prevent them from confessing that they and their fathers were guilty before God. Since then the hinderance which from deliberate wickedness held fast the Jews, would not prevail with the Gentiles, it appeared evident how great was the contumacy of the people, who could not be persuaded to forsake the bad examples of their fathers. We now understand what the Prophet means, and for what purpose he introduced this prayer. It follows —

Some frigidly explain this verse, as though the Prophet said that men are doubly foolish, who form for themselves gods from wood, stone, gold, or silver, because they cannot change their nature; for whatever men may imagine, the stone remains a stone, the wood remains wood. The sense then they elicit from the Prophet’s words is this — that they are not gods who are devised by the foolish imaginations of men. But the Prophet reasons differently, — “Can he who is not God make a god?” that is, “can he who is created be the creator?” No one can give, according to the common proverb, what he has not; and there is in man no divine power. We indeed see what our condition is; there is nothing more frail and perishable: as man then is all vanity, and has in him nothing solid, can he create a god for himself? This is the Prophet’s argument: it is drawn from what is absurd, in order that men might at length acknowledge, not only their presumption, but their monstrous madness. For when any one is asked as to his condition, he must necessarily confess that he is a creature, and that he is also, as the ancients have said, all ephemeral animal, that his life is like a shadow. Since then men are constrained, by the real state of things, to make such a confession, how comes it that they dare to form gods for themselves? God does not create a god, he creates men; he has created angels, he has created the heavens and the earth, but yet he does not put forth his power to create a new god. Now man, what is he? nothing but vanity; and yet he will create a god though he is no God. 168168     Calvin in this instance follows the Syriac version, which is different from all the other ancient versions, and also the Targum. Blayney gives the same meaning with Calvin, which Horsley wholly disapproves, and which the Hebrew can hardly admit. The literal rendering is, —
   Shall man make for himself gods? But they are no gods.

   As the future may often be rendered potentially, the better version would be this, —

   Can man make for himself gods When they are no gods?

   That is, can he make gods of those who are not gods? This is, in my view, a continuation of the confession in the previous verse, which I render as follows, —

   “Truly, falsehood have our fathers inherited — vanity, And they had nothing that profited: Can man make for himself gods, When they are no gods?”

   “Falsehood” was false religion, the character of which was “vanity,” an empty and useless thing: and this is more fully asserted in the next line, which is literally, “And nothing in them,” or with them, i.e., the fathers, “that was profitable.” — Ed.

There is no doubt but that the Prophet here, as with new rigor, boldly attacks the Jews. For it seems evident that, when this temptation assailed him — “What can this mean t what will at length happen when God rejects the race of Abraham whom he had chosen?” he turned to God: but now, having recovered confidence, he inveighs against the ungodly, and says, can man create gods for himself while yet he is not a god? The change in the number ought not to be deemed strange; for when there is an indefinite declaration the nmnber is often changed, both in Greek and Latin. If some particular person was intended, the Prophet would not have said, And they themselves are not gods; but as he speaks of mankind generally and indefinitely, the sentence reads better when he says, “Shall man make a god? and they,” that is men, “are not gods.” This remark I have added, because it is probable, that those who consider idols to be intended in the last clause have been led astray by the change that is made in the number. It follows, —

The Prophet again threatens the Jews, because their impiety was inexcusable, especially when attended with so great an obstinacy, he therefore says that God was already present as a judge: Behold I, he says — the demonstrative particle shews the near approach of vengeance — I will shew at this time: the words are emphatical, for God indirectly intimates that the Babylonian exile would be an extraordinary event, far exceeding every other which had preceded it. At this time, he says — that is, if ye have hitherto been tardy and insensible, or, if the punishments I have already inflicted have not been sufficiently severe — I will at this time shew to them my hand and my power; and they shall know that my name is Jehovah 169169     As the captivity and the restoration of the people are expressly referred to in the previous verses, it seems necessary to connect here the display of God’s power with both these events. The restoration was as remarkable an instance of divine interposition as the captivity, if not more so. And the future effect on the people’s mind, their preservation from idolatry, is to be ascribed to the power manifested in their restoration as well as in their captivity. “Therefore,” at the beginning of the verse, seems to be an inference from what has been said of the captivity and the restoration; and this accounts for the repetition of making known to them his power: God first made known his power in driving them to captivity, and, secondly, in restoring them, —
   Therefore, behold I make known to them, at this time, And I will make known to them My hand and my power; And they shall know that my name is Jehovah.

   The Septuagint is as follows, —

   Therefore, behold I will manifest to them at this time my hand, And I will make known to them my power; And they shall know that my name is the Lord.

   To remove the word “hand” to the first line has no MS. in its favor; but it shews that they thought that the two verbs had a similar objective case, and the conjunction “and” is supplied before the second verb, as it is also in the Syriac and Arabic.

   It is probable that by the “hand” is meant the infliction of punishment, and is rendered “vengeance” in the Targum; and that by “power” or strength is intended what God manifested in the restoration of the people. The combined influence of both was to make them to know that God was really Jehovah, the only supreme, ever the same, true and faithful, without any change. How remarkably has this prophecy been accomplished! The Jews have ever since acknowledged Jehovah as the only true God. — Ed.

This way of speaking often occurs in Scripture; but God here, no doubt, reproves the false sentiments with which the Jews were imbued, and by which they were led astray from true religion — for they had devised for themselves many gods; hence he says, They shall know that my name is Jehovah, that is, that my name is sacred, and ought not to be given to others. But at the same time he intimates that he would shew to them his power by destroying them, which they had refused to acknowledge in the preservation promised to them. They would indeed have ever found the God of Abraham to be the same, had they not deprived themselves of his favor. As then they had wandered after their own delusions and inventions, God says now, I will shew to them my hand, that is, for their ruin; and they shall now know for their own misery what they had refused to acknowledge for their own safety — that I am the only true God.

Here let us first learn that it was wholly a diabolical madness, when men dared to devise for themselves a god; for had they regarded their own beginning and their own end, doubtless they could not have betrayed so much presumption and audacity as to invent a god for themselves. If this only came to the mind of an idolater, “What art thou? whence is thine origin? where goest thou, and what end awaits thee?” all his false imaginations would have instantly fallen to the ground; he would no longer think of forming a god for himself, nor of worshipping anything he might invent. How then does it happen that men proceed to such a madness as to devise gods for themselves, according to their own fancies, except that they know not themselves? It is then no wonder that men are blind in seeking God, when they do not consider nor examine themselves. It hence follows that God cannot be rightly worshipped except men are made humble. And humility is the best preparation for faith, that there may be a submission to the word of God. Idolaters do indeed pretend some kind of humility, but they afterwards involve themselves in such stupidity, that they are unwining to make any enquiry, so as to make any difference between light and darkness. But true humility leads us to seek God in his word.

But when the Prophet asks this question, “Shall man make a god for himself?” he does not mean, that either the Egyptians or the Assyrians were so ignorant as to think that they could give divinity to wood or stone; but that whatever men dared to invent for themselves as to divine worship, was nothing else but the creation of a god. As soon then as we allow ourselves the liberty to worship God in this or in that way, or to imagine God to be such and such a being, we create gods for ourselves. And as to that point where he says, They shall know that my name is Jehovah, we must observe, that what is his own is taken away from God, except we acquiesce in him alone, so as to allow no other divinities to creep in and to be received; for God does not retain his own right or his own glory, except he be regarded as the only true God. Now follows —