Lecture Seventeenth

Jeremiah 4:23-26

23. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

23. Vidi terram, et ecce vasta et deformis, et coelos, et nulla lux eorum:

24. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly.

24. Vidi montes, et ecce contremiscentes (contremiscebant), et omnes colles movebantur:

25. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.

25. Vidi, et ecce nullus homo, et omnes aves coelorum evolaverant:

26. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger.

26. Vidi, et ecce regio foecunda (vel, carmelus) desertum, et omnes urbes ejus destructae a facie Jehovae, et a facie excandescentiae irae ejus.


The Prophet in this passage enlarges in a language highly metaphorical on the terror of God's vengeance, that he might rouse the Jews, who were stupid and careless: nor is the repetition in vain, when he says four times, that he looked. He might have spoken of the earth, heaven, men, and fertile places in one sentence: but it is the same as though he had turned his eyes to four different quarters, and said, that wherever he looked, there appeared to him dreadful tokens of God's wrath, and which threatened the Jews with utter ruin. Nor is it a wonder that the Prophet is so vehement; for we know that men would have heedlessly received all threatenings, except they were violently roused. And this mode of teaching ought to be well known to us; for all in any degree acquainted with the writings of the prophets, must know that they especially pursued this course, in order to rouse hypocrites, and the despisers of God, who, with a stiff neck and a hardened heart, were not moved by any apprehension of punishment. But this passage is remarkable above most others: we ought therefore to consider the import of the Prophet's words.

He says first, that he looked on the earth, and that it was wht, teu, and whb, beu. He employs the very words which Moses adopted in his history of the creation; for before any order was introduced, he says that the earth was wht, teu, and whb, beu, that is, waste and unformed chaos; and it had no beauty pleasing to the eye.1 It is the same as though He had said, that the order, which had been so beautifully arranged, had now disappeared through God's wrath, and that there was nothing but confusion everywhere. Thus he amplifies the atrocity of their sins; as though he had said, that men had become so fallen, that they had changed the whole form of the world, and blended heaven and earth together, so that now there was no distinction between things. As to the heavens, he says, that there was no light in them: he intimates that the light of the sun, moon, and stars, was in a manner extinguished, because men were unworthy to enjoy such a kindness from God; and as though the sun and moon were ashamed to be witnesses of so many sins and vices.

We now then apprehend what Jeremiah chiefly means in the first verse: He says, that he looked on the earth, and that nothing appeared in it but dreadful chaos and waste, there being no form nor beauty; for the Jews had by their sins subverted the order of nature and the creation of God. And he says, that he looked on the heavens, and that they had no light; for the Jews had deserved to be deprived of that benefit which God had designed the sun and the moon to convey: and it is indeed a singular instance of God's kindness, that he has made such noble objects to be of such service to us. The Prophet, in short, means that such awful tokens of God's wrath appeared in heaven and on earth, as though the whole world had been thrown into confusion. This mode of speaking often occurs in the other prophets, especially in Joel 2:2. Though the words are hyperbolical, yet they do not exceed what is suitable, if we take to the account the extreme insensibility of men: for except God arms heaven and earth, and shews himself ready to take away all the blessings with which he favors mankind, they will, as we have lately said, laugh to scorn all his threatenings.

Jeremiah descends afterwards from heaven to mountains, and says that they trembled, and that all the hills moved or shook; some say, destroyed, but I know not for what reason, for the Prophet no doubt confirms the same thing by another phrase: and as he had said, that mountains trembled, so he also adds, that hills shook; and this is the proper meaning of the verb. Now the reason why he speaks of mountains and hills is evident; for a greater stability seems to belong to them than to level grounds, inasmuch as mountains are for the most part stony, and have their roots most firmly fixed in rocks. Were indeed the whole world to be thrown into confusion, the mountains seem to be so firmly based that no commotion could affect them: but the Prophet says, that they trembled, and that the hills shook.

What he saw the third time was solitude; for he says that there were no men, and that all birds had fled away. The principal ornament of the world, we know, consists of men and of living creatures. For why was the earth made so productive, that it brings forth fruits, so many and so various, except for the sake of men and of animals? Though, then, the earth appears very beautiful on account of its trees, herbs, and every kind of fruit, yet its principal ornaments are men and animals. By stating a part for the whole, the Prophet, by mentioning birds, includes all earthly animals: he says then, that the earth was emptied of its inhabitants.

What he saw the fourth time was this -- that the fertile land was turned into a desert. I indeed think that Carmel is to be taken here as meaning the place. That part of the holy land, we know, received its name from its fertility: Carmel means any rich and fruitful spot of ground. But, as I have just said, the mount was so called because it abounded in all kinds of produce; for there were on it fruitful pastures and fertile fields, and every part of it was remarkably pleasant and delightful. I am therefore inclined to consider Carmel itself to be meant here; and my reason is, because he immediately adds, that its cities were destroyed; and this can be more fitly applied to Carmel than generally to all fruitful regions. As to myself, I think that the Prophet speaks of Carmel; and yet he alludes to what the word means.2 Even in this verse he mentions a part for the whole, as though he had said, that Carmel, which excelled in fertility, had become like a desert. When Isaiah speaks of the renovation of the Church, he says,

"The desert shall be as Carmel, " (Isaiah 32:15)

as though he had said, that the blessing of God would be so abundant through the whole world, that deserts would bear fruit like Carmel, or those regions which are remarkable for their fertility. But Jeremiah, speaking here of a curse, says, that Carmel would be like the desert; and that all its cities would be demolished, even at the presence of Jehovah, and by the great heat of his wrath.

Some render Nwrx, charun, fury: and this kind of language is not without its use; for men, as we have said, except God terrifies them as it were by thunders, will sleep and will not perceive his judgment, so that all threatenings become useless to them. This is the reason why Scripture speaks so often of the fury or of the great heat of God's wrath. Either of the two words might indeed be sufficient; either Nwrx, charun, which means fury or great heat; or Pa aph, which signifies anger or wrath. Why then are both mentioned? because it is necessary, as I have said, to tear in pieces our hardness as with hammers; for otherwise God could never turn us to fear him. This repetition then ought to avail for the purpose of subduing the perverseness of our nature; not that these turbulent feelings belong to God, as it is well known; but as we cannot otherwise conceive how dreadful his vengeance is, it is necessary that he should be set before us as one who is angry and burning with wrath: in a like manner, eternal death is described to us under the metaphor of fire.

Now, as to the sum of what is here said, the Jews at that time no doubt enjoyed great abundance and indulged their pleasures; in short, they were fully pleased with their condition. But the Prophet here declares that he saw at a distance what these blind Jews did not see, even God's vengeance approaching, which would deprive them of that abundance, on account of which they were so swollen with pride, and which would reduce them all into such a state of desolation that nothing would remain above or below, but a disordered confusion, such as existed before nature was brought to order, when the earth was not separated from the heavens, and there was only a confused mass, including all the elements, and without any light. He afterwards adds --

1 These two words are viewed as synonymous by some, and the versions render them often by the same terms. As to the first, wht, there can be no doubt as to its meaning, for it occurs about twenty times, and in all these places the idea of emptiness is chiefly conveyed: hence it is most commonly rendered in our version, vain, vanity, in vain, nought, etc., 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 49:4. It is improperly rendered "without form, "in Genesis 1:2, and "confusion" in Isaiah 34:11. When applied to the earth, as in Genesis 1:2, it imports emptiness, as it was then unfurnished either with productions or with any inhabitants. This appears evident from Isaiah 45:18, "He created it not in vain, "rather, "not empty did he create it-harb whtaal;" "he formed it to be inhabited, "or more literally, "for a habitation he formed it." As to the other word, wwb, it only occurs three times, Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 34:11; and here. As the former evidently means emptiness, this may be taken to mean confusion or chaos, according to Symmachus, "sugkecume>nh,-confused." Then the right rendering here would be,-

23. I looked on the land, And behold emptiness and confusion; And towards the heavens, And they were without their light.

It is not the earth, but the land of Judea is what is meant. The whole passage being so striking, shall be here given,-

24. I looked at the mountains, And, behold, they were shaking, And all the hills made quick motions:

25. I looked, and, behold, there was no man; And every bird of heaven had fled away:

26. I looked, and, behold, Carmel a desert; And all its cities had been demolished By the presence of Jehovah, By the indignation of his wrath.

The whole is represented as already done. The Prophet speaks of what he had seen in the vision.-Ed.

2 All the early versions, as well as the Targum, retain the word "Carmel." Blayney renders it "the fruitful field."-Ed.