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Hananiah Opposes Jeremiah and Dies
In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 2“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”
5 Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”
10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it. 11And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went his way.
12 Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! 14For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they shall indeed serve him; I have even given him the wild animals. 15And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. 16Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.”
17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.
3. Within two full years will I bring again into this place the vessels of the LORD’S house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon:
3. Adhuc (in adhuc, ad verbum) anni duo dierum (hoc est, cum transierint anni dierum duo,) ego reducam ad locum hunc omnia vasa domus Jehovae (id est, Templi,) quae abstulit Nebuchadnezer, rex Babylonis, a loco hoc et transportavit Babylonem.
We now see that what Hananiah had in view was to promise impunity to the people, and not only this, but also to soothe them with vain confidence, as though the people would have their king soon restored, together with the spoils which the enemy had taken away. But he began by referring to the power of the king, lest that terrible sight should occupy the minds of the people so as to prevent them to receive this joyful prophecy. He then says, Further, when two years shall pass, 195195 It is better rendered in our version, “Within two full years;” literally, “in during (that is, in the space of) two full years:” not at the end, but within two years. He took the range of two years, without specifying any particular time — Ed. I will bring back to this place all the vessels which King Nebuchadnezzar has taken away Jeremiah had assigned to the people’s exile seventy years, as it has been stated before, and as we shall hereafter often see; but here the false prophet says, that after two years the exile of the king and of the people would come to an end, and that the vessels which had been taken away would be restored; he speaks also of the king himself, —
Hananiah promised as to the king himself, what he had just predicted respecting the vessels of the Temple and of the palace. But it may be asked, how did he dare to give hope as to the restoration of Jeconiah, since that could not have been acceptable to Zedekiah? for Jeconiah could not have again gained what he had lost without the abdication of Zechariah; but he would have never submitted willingly to lose his own dignity and to become a private man, and to allow him who had been deprived of this high honor to return again. But there is no doubt but that he relied on the favor of the people, and that he was fully persuaded that if Zedekiah could ill bear to be thus degraded, he would yet be constrained to shew a different feeling; for Zedekiah himself regarded his own reign as not honorable, as he sat not in David’s throne by the right of succession. He had been set on the throne by a tyrant, and he dared not to make any other pretense to the people than that he wished Jeconiah to return and to possess the kingdom of which he had been deprived. As then this impostor knew that the king dared not to shew any displeasure, but that his prophecy would be gratifying and acceptable to the people, he boldly promised what we here read respecting the return of Jeconiah.
He hence says in God’s name, Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, and all the captive people, who have been led away to Babylon, will I restore to this place. We see that he was ever inflated with the same arrogance, and that he wholly disregarded God, whose name he thus in sport profaned. But all this flowed from this fountain, even because he had been blinded by the righteous judgment of God.
he then confirms his own prophecy, repeating its beginning, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon 196196 The tense here is not correctly given, the words are, “For I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon; and so are all the Versions. — Ed. He had made open for himself an entrance, by saying that the destruction of the Babylonian monarchy was at hand; and now, after having given utterance to what seemed good to him on the whole affair, he refers again to that event. As then he promised that the monarchy would not stand longer than two years, the Jews might have supposed that they would become free, and might thus have hoped for a happy state of things; and this was the design of the impostor; but what was the answer of Jeremiah? His opposition to him was frank and firm; but as he saw that he had incurred the ill-will of the people, he was anxious to remove it; and before he repeated what he had said of their seventy years in exile, he shewed that he had not eagerly received his commission, as though he had been alienated from his people, or had disregarded their welfare, or had been carried away by some morbid feeling to bring a sad and mournful message. He therefore said, —
I have shortly reminded you of the design of the Prophet; for it was to be feared that the people would not hear him, or at least that they would not well receive him, as he had threatened them and handled them roughly and severely. We know that men ever seek to be flattered; hence adulations are ever delightfully received. Such is the pride of men, that they cannot bear to be called to an account for what they have done; and they become also indignant, when they see their crimes and vices brought to light; besides, they are so delicate and tender, that they avoid as much as they can all adverse rumors; and if any fear assails them, they instantly resist.
Now Jeremiah had been furnished with a twofold message, to expose the vices of the people, to shew that the Jews were unworthy to inherit the land, as they were covenant-breakers and despisers of God and of his Law; and then, as they had been so often refractory and perverse, he had another message, that they would not be suffered to escape unpunished, as they had in so many ways, and for so long a time continued to provoke God’s wrath; all this was very displeasing to the people. It was therefore Jeremiah’s object to turn aside the false suspicion under which he labored, and he testified that he desired nothing more than the well-being of the people; “Amen,” he said, “may it thus happen, I wish I were a false prophet; I would willingly retract, and that with shame, all that I have hitherto predicted, so great is my care and anxiety for the safety of the public; for I would prefer the welfare of the whole people to my own reputation.” But he afterwards added, as we shall see, that the promise of Hananiah was wholly vain, and that nothing would save the people from the calamity that was very near at hand.
We began in the last Lecture to explain the answer of Jeremiah, when he said to Hananiah, “May God confirm thy words, and may the vessels of the Temple be restored to this place and return together with the captive people.” We briefly stated what is now necessary again to repeat, that there were two feelings in the Prophets apparently contrary, and yet they were compatible with one another. Whatever God had commanded them they boldly declared, and thus they forgot their own nation when they announced anything of an adverse kind. Hence, when the Prophets threatened the people, and said that war or famine was near at hand, they doubtless were so endued with a heroic greatness of mind, that dismissing a regard for the people, they proceeded in the performance of their office; they thus strenuously executed whatever God had commanded them. But they did not wholly put off every humane feeling, but condoled with the miseries of the people; and though they denounced on them destruction, yet they could not but receive sorrow from their own prophecies. There was, therefore, no inconsistency in Jeremiah in wishing the restoration of the vessels of the Temple and the return of the exiles, while yet he ever continued in the same mind, as we shall hereafter see.
If any one objects and says that this could not have been the case, for then Jeremiah must have been a vain and false prophet; the answer to this is, that the prophets had no recourse to refined reasoning, when they were carried away by a vehement zeal; for we see that Moses wished to be blotted out of the book of life, and that Paul expressed a similar wish, even that he might be an anathema from Christ for his brethren. (Exodus 32:32; Romans 9:3.) Had any one distinctly asked Moses, Do you wish to perish and to be cut off from the hope of salvation? his answer, no doubt, would have been, that nothing was less in his mind than to cast away the immutable favor of God; but when his mind was wholly fixed on God’s glory, which would have been exposed to all kinds of reproaches, had the people been destroyed in the Desert, and when he felt another thing, a solicitude for the salvation of his own nation, he was at the time forgetful of himself, and being carried away as it were beyond himself, he said, “Rather blot me out of the book of life,” and the ease of Paul was similar. And the same view we ought to take of Jeremiah, when he, in effect, said, I would I were a false prophet, and that thou hast predicted to the people what by the event may be found to be true.” But Jeremiah did not intend to take away even the least thing from God’s word; he only expressed a wish, and surrendered to God the care for the other, the credit and the authority of his prophecy, he did not, then, engage for this, as though he ought to have made it good, if the event did not by chance correspond with his prophecy; but he left the care of this with God, and thus, without any difficulty, he prayed for the liberation and return of the people. But it now follows —
Jeremiah, having testified that he did not wish for anything adverse to his own people, but had a good will towards them, now adds that what he had predicted was yet most true. Here is seen more fully what I have said of his twofold feeling; for though the Prophet wished to consult the welfare of the people, he did not yet cease to render full obedience to God, and to announce those messages which were at the same time very grievous: thus Jeremiah did not keep silence, but became an herald of God’s vengeance against the people. On the one hand, then, he showed that he desired nothing more than the welfare and the safety of his people, and that yet it was not in his power nor in that of any mortal to change the celestial decree which he had pronounced. We hence see that God so influenced the minds and hearts of his servants, that they were not cruel or barbarous; and yet they were not made soft and pliable through the influence of humanity, but boldly declared what God had commanded them.
For this reason he said, Nevertheless, hear thou this word which I pronounce in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people By these words Jeremiah indirectly condemned the vanity of Hananiah, who sought to flatter the people, and by his adulations hunted for favor and applause, as it is usual with such impostors, he then said that it availed him nothing to give the people the hope of a near deliverance, for God had not changed his purpose. And Jeremiah now boldly and openly opposed him, as he had sufficiently rebutted that ill-will with which he was unjustly loaded; for impostors ever find out calumnies by which they assail the faithful servants of God. He might at the beginning have objected to Jeremiah and said, “Thou art alienated from thine own nation, thou art not touched by the many miseries by which we have been hitherto distressed, nor carest thou for what may happen to us in future.” Thus he might have kindled hatred against Jeremiah, had he not cleared himself. But after he had testified that he felt kindly and was well affected towards his own nation, he assailed the impostor himself, and hesitated not to assert what seemed very grievous, that the people would become captives.
Yet Jeremiah seems here to have been smitten in some measure with fear; for he did not confirm his own prophecy, but left that as it were in suspense; and yet he doubtless exposed the false declaration of Hananiah. But we know that the whole of what the Prophet said is not recited; for he only in a brief way records the heads or the chief things; and further, as we shall presently see, Jeremiah could not act as he wished in the midst of such a tumult, for he would have spoken to the deaf; and as Hananiah had prejudiced the minds of almost all, the holy Prophet would not have been listened to while there was such a confusion. He was therefore satisfied with the brief assertion, that God would soon shew that Hananiah was a false witness in promising so quick a return to the captives and exiles.
But he makes here only a general statement, The Prophets who have been before, me and thee, and prophesied against many (or great) lands, and against great kingdoms, have prophesied of war, and of evil, and of pestilence The word רעה, roe, evil, is placed between two other kinds of evil; but it is to be taken here no doubt for famine, as it is evident from many other passages.
More than twenty MSS. read רעב, “famine,” which may be considered as the true reading, though all the Versions favor the other.
It is rather difficult to render this verse. Calvin here repeats the word “prophesied,” which perhaps would be the best construction. There is a ו before “prophesied” in the text, which connects it with “have been.” I would then render it as follows, —
8. The prophets, who have been before me and before thee from the beginning, and have prophesied concerning many lands and against mighty kingdoms, have prophesied of war, and of famine, and of pestilence.
There were prophets who did not prophesy “concerning many lands,” etc.; he refers not to these, but to those who had done this. — Ed. Then he adds, changing the number, “When any prophet spoke of peace, the event proved whether or not he was a true prophet. 198198 It is not the past but the future tense is used here, “The prophet, who shall prophesy of peace,” etc.; so the versions, except the Vulg. In the former verse Jeremiah speaks of what all the previous prophets had predicted, that is, of war, famine, and pestilence, as to various kingdoms, and Judah no doubt as forming a part of them. Now, in this verse he seems to say, that if a prophet should be found speaking a different language, contrary to that of all former prophets, the event alone, the fulfillment of his prophecy alone could prove him a true prophet. He intimates that as Hananiah said things contrary to all former prophets, he was not to be believed until what he said came to pass. The verse may be thus rendered, —
9. The prophet who shall prophesy (or who prophesies) of peace, when the word of that prophet shall come, he will be known as the prophet whom Jehovah hath sent in truth.
The first word, “the prophet,” is a nominative case absolute, many instances of which are found in Hebrew. — Ed. Now, experience itself will shortly prove thee to be false, for after two years the people who are now in Babylon will be still there under oppression, and the condition of the residue will be nothing better, for those who now remain in the city and throughout all Judea shall be driven into exile as well as their brethren.”
Jeremiah seems here to conclude that those alone are to be deemed true prophets who prove by the event that they have been sent from above; and it not only appears that this may be gathered from his words, but it may also be shewn to be the definition of a true prophet; for when the event corresponds with the prophecy, there is no doubt but that he who predicted what comes to pass must have been sent by God. But we must bear in mind what is said in Deuteronomy 13:1, 2, where God reminds the people that even when the event answers to the prophecy, the prophets are not to be thoughtlessly and indiscriminately believed, as though they predicted what was true;
“for God,” he says, “tries thee,” that is, proves thy faith, whether thou wilt be easily carried away by every wind of doctrine.”
But there are two passages, spoken by Moses himself, which at the first sight seem to militate the one against the other. We have already quoted the first from Deuteronomy 13; we have the other in the Deuteronomy 18:18,
“The prophet who has predicted what is found to be true,
I have sent him.”
God seems there to acknowledge as his faithful servants those who foretell what is true. But Moses had before reminded the people that even impostors sometimes speak the truth, but that they ought not on this account to be believed. But we must remember what God often declares by Isaiah, when he claims to himself alone the foreknowledge of things,
“Go,” he says, “and inquire whether the gods of the Gentiles will answer as to future things.” (Isaiah 44:7)
We see that God ascribes to himself alone this peculiarity, that he foreknows future events and testifies respecting them. And surely nothing can be more clear than that God alone can speak of hidden things: men, indeed, can conjecture this or that, but they are often mistaken.
With regard to the devil, I pass by those refined disquisitions with which Augustine especially wearied himself; for above all other things he toiled on this point, how the devils reveal future and hidden things? He speculated, as I have said, in too refined a manner. But the solution of the difficulty, as to the subject now in hand, may be easily given. We first conclude, that future events cannot be known but by God alone, and that, therefore, prescience is his exclusive property, so that nothing that is future or hidden can be predicted but by him alone. But, then, it does not follow that God does not permit liberty to the devil and his ministers to foretell something that is true. How? As the case was with Balaam, who was an impostor, ready to let on hire or to sell his prophecies, as it is well known, and yet he was a prophet. But it was a peculiar gift to foretell things: whence had he this? Not from the devil any farther than it pleased God; and yet the truth had no other fountain than God himself and his Spirit. When, therefore, the devil declares what is true, it is as it were extraneous and adventitious.
Now, as we have said, that God is the source of truth, it follows that the prophets sent by him cannot be mistaken; for they exceed not the limits of their call, and so they do not speak falsely of hidden things; but when they declare this or that, they have him as their teacher. But these terms, as they say, are not convertible — to foretell what is true and to be a true prophet: for some, as I have said, predict what is found afterwards by trial and experience to be true, and yet they are impostors; nor did God, in the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, intend to give a certain definition by which his own prophets are to be distinguished; but as he saw that the Israelites would be too credulous, so as greedily to lay hold on anything that might have been said, he intended to restrain that excess, and to correct that immoderate ardor. Hence he commanded them to expect the event, as though he had said, “If any arise among you who will promise this or that in my name, do not immediately receive what they may announce; but the event will shew whether I have sent them.” So also, in this place, Jeremiah says, that the true prophets of God had spoken efficiently, as they had predicted nothing but what God had ratified and really proved to have come from him.
Thus, then, we ought to think of most, that is, that those who predict what is true are for the most part the prophets of God: this is to be taken as the general rule. But we cannot hence conclude, that all those who apparently predict this or that, are sent by God, so that the whole of what they teach is true: for one particular prophecy would not be sufficient to prove the truth of all that is taught and preached. It is enough that God condemns their vanity who speak from their own hearts or from their own brains, when the event does not correspond. At the same time he points out his own prophets by this evidence, — that he really shews that he has sent them, when he fulfils what has been predicted by them. As to false prophets there is a special reason why God permits to them so much liberty, for the world is worthy of such reward, when it willingly offers itself to be deceived. Satan, the father of lies, lays everywhere his snares for men, and they who run into them, and wish to cast themselves on his tenterhooks, deserve to be given up to believe a lie, as they will not, as Paul says, believe the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11.)
We now then see what was the object of Jeremiah: his design was not to prove that all were true prophets who predicted something that was true, for this was not, his subject; but he took up another point, — that all who predicted this or that, which was afterwards found to be vain, were thus convicted of falsehood. If then any one predicted what was to be, and the thing itself came not to pass, it was a sufficient proof of his presumption: it hence appeared, that he was not sent of God as he boasted. This was the object of Jeremiah, nor did he go beyond it; for he did not discuss the point, whether all who predicted true things were sent from above, and whether all their doctrines were to be credited and they believed indiscriminately; this was not the subject handled by Jeremiah; but he shewed that Hananiah was a false prophet, for it would appear evident after two years that he had vainly spoken of what he had not received from God’s Spirit. And the same thing Moses had in view, as I have already explained.
As to the prophets, who had been in all ages and prophesied respecting many lands and great kingdoms, they must be considered as exclusively the true prophets: for though there had been some prophets among heathen nations, yet Jeremiah would not have thought them worthy of so great an honor; and it would have been to blend together sacred and profane things, had he placed these vain foretellers and the true prophets in the same rank. But we know that all God’s servants had so directed their discourse to the elect people, as yet to speak of foreign kingdoms and of far countries; and this has not been without reason distinctly expressed; for when they spoke of any monarchy they could not of themselves conjecture what would be: it was therefore necessary for them thus to speak by the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Were I disposed to assume more than what is lawful, and to pretend that I possess some special gift of prophesying, I could more easily lie and deceive, were I to speak only of one city, and of the state of things open before my eyes, than if I extended my predictions to distant countries: when therefore Jeremiah says that the prophets had spoken of divers and large countries, and of most powerful kingdoms, he intimates that their predictions could not have been ascribed to human conjectures; for were any one possessed of the greatest acuteness, and were he to surpass angels in intelligence, he yet could not predict what is hereafter to take place in lands beyond the seas But whatever had been predicted by the prophets, God sanctioned it by the events of time. It then follows that their call was at the same time sanctioned; that is, when God as it were ratified from heaven what they had spoken on earth. Whether therefore the prophets spoke of peace, that is, of prosperity, or of war, famine, and pestilence, when experience proved that true which they had said, their own authority was at the same time confirmed, as though God had shewed that they had been sent by him.
We must also notice the word באמת, beamet, he says that God sent them in truth He condemns here the boldness which impostors ever assume; for they surpass God’s faithful servants in boasting that they have been sent. As then they were thus insolent, and by a fallacious pretense of having been called to their office, deceived unwary men, the Prophet adds here this clause, intimating that they were not all sent in truth. He thus conceded some sort of a call to these unprincipled men, but yet shewed how much they differed from God’s servants, whose call was sealed by God himself. It follows —
It was not enough for the impostor to resist the holy servant of God to his face, without laying sacrilegious hands on that visible symbol, by which it had pleased God to testify that the Prophet’s message was true. For such was the tardiness of the people, nay, their insensibility, that they could not be much moved by words; therefore God added a symbol, for Jeremiah carried cords or bands around his neck: and it was a sign of reproach before men, yet, in order to touch the people, he refused not to undergo that reproach.
The band then on the neck of Jeremiah was like a sacrament; for it was a visible sign to establish the credit of his message. And what did Hananiah do? After having insolently inveighed against Jeremiah, and promised deliverance to the people after two years, he violently broke and took off the cord or the band which Jeremiah had around his neck.
We hence see how great and how impetuous is the fury of those whom the devil impels: for when once they arrive at that degree of temerity as to dare to resist the word of God, and, were it possible, to cast him from his own throne, they spare no symbols of his power and glory. We ought especially to notice this madness of Hananiah; for he not only resisted God’s servant, and endeavored to subvert his prophecy, but also snatched away the bands, that he might set up the falsehood of the devil in opposition to the true sacrament. This sign, as we have said, availed to confirm the prophecy of which we have heard; but what was done by Hananiah? he not only took away that sign, but by breaking the bands he attracted the attention of men, and by such a representation made them to believe that there would be in two years a deliverance. Then Hananiah displayed his furious zeal in two ways; for he profaned that symbol which Jeremiah had adopted according to God’s command, and he also took it away, as though he aimed to be above God, and to overthrow his truth, and would triumph over it.
The same thing we now see done under the Papacy: for we know that what Christ had commanded has been either corrupted, or obscured, or blotted out by them; and they have also devised fictitious sacraments and innumerable pompous rites, by which they fascinate foolish and credulous men. The same did Hananiah; and therefore his disciples and imitators are the Papists; who not only reject or extenuate the testimonies which have come from God, but plainly dishonor his sacraments by arrogantly bringing forward their own devices and inventions.
We must also notice how craftily this impostor insinuated himself; for he seemed to imitate the true prophets of God, for he set a sign before the people, and then added a doctrine. The Papists have their empty signs, but they only delight the eyes, while yet they have no care nor concern for the ears. But Hananiah came still nearer to God’s servants, so that he might deceive even those who were not stupid. What, indeed, could we desire more in this man than that he should set forth a sign? He also added the name of God and declared what was his purpose, in this manner will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar: nor did he speak in his own name, but assumed the person of God, Thus saith Jehovah, I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar.
But as we have elsewhere said, this preposterous imitation of the devil ought not to disturb pious minds; for God ever supplies his own people with the spirit of discernment, provided they humbly pray to him. And therefore whenever Jeremiah repeated the word prophet, which he conceded to Hananiah, as he assumed it himself, for whenever he spoke of Hananiah, he honored him with this name, even that he was a prophet, — the holy man was not ignorant what an occasion of offense it was, when a prophet, who is so acknowledged in the Church of God, is yet the minister of Satan, a liar and an impostor. But his object was to warn us in due time, lest novelty should frighten us when any boasts of the title of a prophet. So the Papists brag that they are prelates and bishops, and boast that they are the successors of the Apostles: but the devil is their chief, who calls himself the Vicar of Christ on the earth. Then Jeremiah designedly called Hananiah so many times a prophet, so that our faith, when any such thing happens to us, may not fail, as though some new thing had taken place. I cannot to-day finish the last part of the verse.
It hence appears that Jeremiah had regard only to the common benefit of the people, and that he wisely kept silence for a time, that he might not throw pearls before swine, and thus expose in a manner the holy name of God to the insolence of the ungodly. He therefore waited until he might again go forth with new messages, and thus secure more credit to himself. For had he contended longer with Hananiah, contentions would have been kindled on every side, there would have been no hearing in a tumult, and the Jews would have wholly disregarded anything he might have then spoken. But as he had withdrawn from the crowd, and was afterwards sent by God, the Jews could not have so presumptuously despised him or his doctrine. This, then, was the reason why he was for a short time silent.
If he feared and trembled in the midst of these commotions, God in due time confirmed him by giving him new commands: The word of Jehovah, he says, came to Jeremiah, after Hananiah broke the band from his neck. By these words he intimates, that the ungodly, however insolently they may rise up against God, ever depart with shame and reproach. For Hananiah had not only opposed Jeremiah by his words and tongue, but had also broken the cords or bands from his neck. This, then, the Prophet now repeats, in order that he might shew, as it were by his finger, that Hananiah by his audacity gained nothing, except that he rendered his vanity more notorious.
Now it is an abrupt sentence when he says, Go and speak to Hananiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Thou hast broken the wooden bands; but make to thee iron bands; Jeremiah does not keep to the same point; for in the first clause he relates what he had been commanded to say to Hananiah; and in the second he relates
what God had commanded him to do, even iron bands. But there is no obscurity as to the meaning; for doubtless the Prophet might have arranged his words thus, “Thou hast broken the bands from my neck; but God has commanded me to make new ones from iron.”
It appears that the true reading has been retained here only by the Sept. when the verb “make” is given in the first person; the difference is only the addition of י; then the sentence would be, —
The yokes of wood thou hast broken, But I have made for them yokes of iron.
Or if the vau be considered conversive, the line would be, —
But I will make for them yokes of iron.
The exigency of a passage is one of our best guides. — Ed. Though Jeremiah, then, only tells us here that God commanded him to make iron bands, it may yet be easily concluded that when he spoke of wooden bands he at the same time added what he relates of iron bands, but in a different connection., Now follows the explanation, —
It would have been a vain spectacle, had Jeremiah brought only his iron band around his neck; but when he added an explanation of the symbol, he no doubt prevailed on many to believe his prophecy, and rendered those inexcusable who had hardened themselves in their wickedness. But it is worthy of being observed, that God replaced the wooden bands with iron bands; and he did this, because the whole people had through their foolish and wicked consent approved of the madness of that impostor, who had dared to profane that symbol, by which God had testified that he did not speak in vain, but seriously by the mouth of his servant.
A profitable doctrine may be hence elicited, — that the ungodly by barking against God gain nothing, except that they kindle more and more his wrath, and thus render double their own evils, like a dog, who being ensnared obstinately strives to extricate himself from the snare and to shake it off, and thus strangles himself. In like manner the ungodly, the more they resist God, the heavier judgment they procure for themselves. And, therefore, whenever God declares to us that he is offended with our sins, we ought to take heed, lest while we seek to break the wooden bands, he be preparing and forming for us iron bands. Our condition will ever become worse, unless we humbly deprecate God’s wrath as soon as it appears, and also patiently submit to his scourges when he chastises us for our offenses. We ought then to bear this in mind as to the wooden and iron bands.
He adds, Upon the neck of all these nations The Jews, as it has been stated, hoped that Nebuchadnezzar could be in a moment driven back beyond the Euphrates, and would be made to surrender other countries which he had occupied; and all the neighboring nations had conspired, and sent ambassadors here and there; and when the Amorites, the Moabites, and other nations gave encouragement to the Jews, they also in their turn animated others, so that they might all make an assault on the Babylonians. As, then, such a secret conspiracy gave courage to the Jews, this was the reason why the Prophet spoke of other nations. He says, And they shall serve him He had, indeed, already subdued all these countries; but the Prophet means, that the domination of the king of Babylon would continue, though Hananiah had said, that it would stand only for two years. Continuance, then, is set in opposition to a short time, as though the Prophet had said, “Let, indeed, the nations chafe and fret, but they shall abide under the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar, and in vain shall they attempt to extricate themselves, for God has delivered them up to bondage.”
This servitude may at the same time be explained in another way; the condition of these nations was bearable, as long as Nebuchadnezzar ordered tribute to be paid; and when he sent his prefects, the object was no other than to retain possession; but when he found that they could not be otherwise subdued than by a harder servitude, he began to exercise great tyranny, though he had been before an endurable master. The same thing may be also said of the Jews; for we know that they had been tributaries to the king of Babylon; and as he had spared them, his humanity might have been deemed a sort of liberty; but when he found that a hard wood could not be split but by a hard wedge, he began more violently to oppress them. Then that servitude began which is now mentioned. The Jews, therefore, began then really to serve the king of Babylon, when he saw that they would not endure that bearable yoke which he had laid on them, but in their obstinacy and pride ever struggled against it.
The Prophet adds, The beast of the field have 1 also given him By these words he indirectly upbraids the Jews, as we have before reminded you, with their perverseness, because they perceived not that it was the righteous judgment of God, that Nebuchadnezzar imposed laws on them as a conqueror; for they would have been defended by a celestial aid, as it is said by Moses, had they not deprived themselves of it. (Deuteronomy 29:25.) As, then, they had long rejected the protection of God, hence it was that Nebuchadnezzar invaded their country and conquered them. As they now continued to bite and champ their bridle, the Prophet exposes their madness; for they did not humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, while wild beasts, void of reason and understanding, perceived that it happened through God’s secret and wonderful providence, that Nebuchadnezzar took possession of these lands. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet expressly mentioned wild beasts, as though he said, that the Jews were so refractory, that there was in them less reason, humility, and solicitude than in lions, bears, and animals of the like kind; for through the secret impulse of God the wild beasts submitted to the authority of King Nebuchadnezzar, while the Jews became more and more insolent. It was the highest madness not to acknowledge God’s judgment, while this was done by wild and savage animals. It follows, —
There would not have been weight enough in the plain teaching of Jeremiah had he not confronted his adversary, as the case is at this day with us; when insolent and unprincipled men rise up and dare to vomit forth their blasphemies, by which they darken and degrade the doctrines of true religion, we are under the necessity to contend with them, otherwise what we teach would be ineffectual; for the minds of many, I mean the simple, are in suspense and fluctuate when they see a great conflict between two contrary parties. It was therefore necessary for the holy man to expose the lies of Hananiah, for he ever vaunted himself and boasted of his own predictions.
But what did Jeremiah say? Jehovah hath not sent thee This refutation ought to be noticed whenever we contend with Satan’s ministers and false teachers; for whatever they may pretend, and with whatever masks they may cover their lies, this one thing ought to be more than sufficient to put an end to their boastings, — that they have not been sent by the Lord. Jeremiah might have contended in a long speech with Hananiah, for he might have been made sufficiently eloquent through the Holy Spirit suggesting and dictating whatever was needful on the subject; but this concise brevity produced much greater effect than if he had made great display and used many words. Let this, then, be borne in mind, that wherever there is a controversy about religion, we ought ever to ask whether he who speaks has been sent by God; for whatever he may babble, though the most acute, and though he may talk things which may fill with wonder the minds of the simple, yet all this is nothing but smoke when his doctrine is not from God. So also we ought at this day to deal in a brief manner with those mercenary dogs of the Pope who bark against the pure truth of the Gospel; we ought to be satisfied with this compendious answer, — that God is not their master and teacher. But as our state now is different from that of the ancient people, we must observe that sent by the Lord is he only whose doctrine is according to the rule of the Law, and of the Prophets, and of the Gospel. If, then, we desire to know whom the Lord has sent, and whom he approves as his servants, let us come to the Scripture, and let there be a thorough examination; he who speaks according to the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, has a sure and an indubitable evidence of his divine call; but he who cannot prove that he draws what he advances from these fountains, whatever his pretences may be, ought to be repudiated as a false prophet. We hence see what an important instruction this passage contains.
He then adds, Thou hast made this people to rely on falsehood They pervert the meaning of the Prophet who thus render the words, “Thou hast falsely rendered this people secure,” at least they lessen by one half what the Prophet intended to express; for not only is Hananiah condemned because he vainly and falsely pretended God’s name, but the word שקר, shicor, is introduced, the very thing employed; as though he had said, “Thou feedest this people with a vain hope which thou hast formed in thine own brains; therefore thy fictions make this people to go astray.” Hence Jeremiah not only accused this impostor that he by his fictions deceived the people, but also that he brought forward his prophecies in God’s name; and these removed their fear and gave them some hope, so that the people became torpid in their security.
Let us learn from this passage that we ought especially to take heed when the ground of trust is the subject, lest we rely on any empty or perishable thing, like wretched hypocrites who devour shadows only, and afterwards find nothing solid in their own fictions. But when we refer to trust, let there be something solid on which we can safely rely; and we know that we cannot possibly be disappointed, if we look to God for all things, if we recumb on his mercy alone; for there is no rest nor peace for us anywhere else but in Christ. Let us then retain this object of trust, and let it be our only support. It follows, —
Here is added the punishment which confirmed the prophecy of Jeremiah; for it was God’s purpose to have regard to the ignorance of many who would have otherwise stumbled, or made their ignorance a pretext, for they could not determine which of the two had been sent by God, Hananiah or Jeremiah. It was then God’s design, in his paternal indulgence, to stretch forth his hand to them, and also in an especial manner to render inexcusable
the unbelieving who had already given themselves up, as it were, to the devil; for the greater part were not moved by an event, so memorable;
The last clause of this verse is not here explained. Calvin’s version is, “revolt hast thou spoken against Jehovah;” the Vulg., “against the Lord hast thou spoken;” the Syr., “iniquity hast thou spoken before the Lord;” and the Targ., “perverseness hast thou spoken before Jehovah.” Blayney’s version is, “thou hast spoken prevarication concerning Jehovah.” Gataker renders it the same with Calvin, and explains it thus, — “Because by thy lying tales
thou hast heartened and encouraged men to stand out against God’s word, and against his admonitions and menaces by his prophets.” Henry gives the same view.
Blayney says that, סרה properly signifies declining or turning aside from the straight path, the path of truth and right, and that here it means the presumption of uttering as a revelation from God what a man knew to be not so. The same phrase occurs in two other places, Deuteronomy 13:5; Jeremiah 29:32. The אל here before Jehovah is על in several MSS.; but the prepositions are sometimes the same. The rendering that would suit the three places would be the following: — “For of turning aside hast thou spoken contrary to Jehovah,” that is, to his expressed will or command. The meaning might be thus conveyed, — “for thou hast encouraged disobedience contrary to the express command of God.” — Ed for it follows immediately, —
All those who had disregarded Jeremiah saw, in a manner, before their eyes the judgment of God. No surer confirmation could have been expected by the Jews, had they a particle of understanding, than to see the impostor slain by the word of Jeremiah alone; for he never touched him with a finger, nor caused him to be led to punishment, though he deserved this; but he drove him out of the world by the mere sound of his tongue. As, then, the word of the holy Prophet had a celestial and divine power, as though God himself had fulminated from heaven, or with an armed hand had slain that ungodly man, how great was their blindness not to be moved! However, they were not moved; hence some of the Rabbins, wishing to conceal, as their manner is, the reproach of their own nation, imagine that the disciples of Hananiah secretly took away his body, and that then the people knew nothing of his death. But what need is there of such an evasion as this? for Jeremiah says no such thing, but speaks of the event as well known; it was indeed a sure testimony of his own call. It hence follows that it was not unknown to the Jews; and yet the devil had so blinded the greatest part of them, that they paid no more attention to the holy man than before; on the contrary, they wholly disregarded those threatenings of which he had been the witness and herald.
But how does this appear? the greatest part of the people often rose up against him as though he was the most wicked of men; he was accused as the betrayer of his country, and hardly escaped, through the clemency of. a cruel king, when he was cast into a dungeon as one half-dead. Since, then, the Jews thus pertinaciously raged, we hence understand what the Prophet so often threatened them with, even with the spirit of giddiness, and of fury, and of madness, and of stupor, and of drunkenness. Moreover, it was needful for that small portion which was not wholly irreclaimable to be restored to the right way; and this was done by this manifest proof of Jeremiah’s call. It was also necessary on the other hand that the unbelieving should be more restrained, so that they might be condemned by their own conscience, as Paul calls heretics self-condemned who were become fixed in their own perverseness, and had willingly and designedly sold themselves as slaves to the devil.