Lecture Nineteenth

Jeremiah 5:4-5

4. Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God.

4. Et ego dixi, Certe (alii vertunt, forsan, Ka) pauperes sunt hi, stulte egerunt, quia non cognoscunt viam Jehovae, judicium Dei sui:

5. I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the Lord, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.

5. Ibo ad optimates (ad magnos, ad verbum) et loquar apud eos; quia ipsi cognoscunt viam Jehovae judicium Dei sui: atque ipsi fregerunt jugum, ruperunt vincula.


Some think that the Prophet here makes an excuse for the people, and, as far as he could, extenuates their fault; but they are greatly mistaken. For there is no doubt but that he, by this comparison, more clearly shews how past remedy was then the state of things. The sum, then, of what he says is, -- that corruptions so prevailed, not only among the multitude, but also among the chief men, that there remained no soundness, as they say, from the head to the sole of the foot. Nearly the same thing, only in other words, is stated by Isaiah in the twenty-eighth chapter; for after having spoken generally against the people, he assails the leading men, and says that they were inebriated no less than the common people, that they were inebriated with wine and strong drink. But the meaning is, that they were like drunken men, because they felt no shame, while they abandoned themselves to deeds the most disgraceful.

To the same purpose is what Jeremiah says here, when he declares, that he thought that they were the poor who had thus sinned, and obscure men and of no repute; but that he had found the same thing among the chief men as among the common people. He might, indeed, have only said, "Not only the lowest orders, the multitude, are become corrupt, but also the chief men, who ought to have excelled the rest." But much more striking is the comparison, when he says, "It may be, that these miserable men have thus sinned because they understood not the law of God, nor is it a matter of wonder; but greater integrity will be found in the chief men." By speaking thus the Prophet brings the reader into the midst of the scene, and shews to him that not only all the people were guilty, but also the priests and the prophets, and the chief men in the state. The design of the Prophet is thus evident.

I said, he says, not that he thought so; for he saw that all things were in such a disorder, that nothing better could be hoped from the chief men than from the common people. This was clearly seen by the Prophet: but, as I have said, he wished to shew here, by a striking representation, how wretched was the condition of the whole people. He says, Surely. The particle Ka, ak, is an affirmative, or, as in the next verse, an adversative. Some, indeed, take it here in the sense of ylwa, auli, perhaps, or, it may be; and regard it as signifying a concession, "Let us grant this," he says; "they are the poor, they are of no account, they are as it were the offscourings, who have thus sinned: it is nothing strange, if they conduct themselves thus foolishly, for they know not the way of Jehovah, nor the judgment of their God."1

The law was, indeed, given to all without any difference; so that the common people had no excuse. But this evil has prevailed almost in all ages, -- that few attend to the teaching of the law; for there is no one who is not inclined to shake off this yoke. The common people, indeed, think that they have some excuse for neglecting it, because they have no leisure, and are not born for high stations. The Prophet then speaks according to this prevailing opinion; but he does not extenuate their fault who pleaded ignorance as an excuse, because they had not been taught in schools; for, as it has been said, God intended his law for the whole people without exception.

By the way of Jehovah and the judgment of God, the Prophet means the same thing: such a repetition is very common in Hebrew. God, in prescribing to us the rule of life, shews to us the way in which we are to walk: our life, indeed, is like to a course; and it is not God's will that we should run at random, but he sets before us the goal to which we are to proceed, and also directs us in the only way that leads to it. For it is the office of the law to call us back from our wandering, and to lead us to the mark set before us. Hence the law is called the way of Jehovah; and judgment, tpsm, meshephet, as it was said yesterday, means rectitude, or a rule of life. What he calls in the first clause the law of Jehovah, he calls in the second the judgment of God. And thus he shews that they were inexcusable, who made the objection that they were miserably ignorant, and knew nothing; for it was God's purpose to shew to them, no less than to the most learned, how they were to live.

He now adds, I will go to the great. By the great he meant the priests and the prophets, as well as the king's counselors, and the king himself. I will go,2 then, he says, to the great, and will speak to them. It is the same as though he had said, that everywhere his labor was in vain, for not only he spoke to the deaf when addressing the illiterate vulgar, but also when addressing the chief men. I have said, that the Prophet did not make the inquiry as one doubtful, but his purpose was to make the chief men ashamed of themselves, and also to confirm what he had said before, -- that not one just and upright man could be found in Jerusalem.

For they know, he says, etc. He declares the same thing in the same words. But we must ever remember, that the Prophet did not believe this; but he speaks of it as a thing that appeared probable: for who could have then thought that there was so much ignorance in the chief men? for they were in great esteem among the people. Since then the opinion prevailed, that all those who were rulers were well acquainted with the law, Jeremiah speaks according to what was commonly thought, and says, that they knew the way of Jehovah.

He afterwards adds, But (for Ka, ak, is to be taken here adversatively, and its proper meaning is, nay or but) they have alike broken the yoke, they have burst the bonds; that is, "If any one thinks that the rulers are better than the common people, he is much deceived; for I have proofs enough to shew that their conduct is the same; they have broken the yoke of God no less than the most ignorant." By this repetition he more fully confirmed their defection, and at the same time reminded them how shameful it was, that prophets, priests, and rulers, who occupied the first places in the state, had become so unbridled in their vices. It follows --

1 It is better to take Ka here and in the next verse as an affirmative, Truly, surely, doubtless. Blayney, as well as Calvin, render wlawn, "have acted foolishly." The verb occurs in three other places, Numbers 12:11; Isaiah 19:13; Jeremiah 50:36. To be, or to become, foolish, or rather stupid, sottish, or stupidly ignorant, seems to be its meaning. It is here opposed to knowledge; and evidently refers to the state of the mind, and not to the conduct. Their sottishness was their idolatry. This is the special sin referred to throughout the passage,-

Then I said, Doubtless, the poor are these, they have become stupid, For they have not known the way of Jehovah, The judgment of their God.-Ed.

2 Literally it is, "I will go for myself,"-an idiomatic form of speech. The Welsh is exactly the same, af rhagof; which means, I will go forth; but it cannot be literally expressed in another language. After the verb, as in Hebrew, there is a preposition prefixed to "me."-Ed.