Lecture Thirty-First

Jeremiah 7:31

31. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.

31. Et aedificavit excelsa Topheth, quae in valle filii Hinnom, ut comburerent filios suos et filias suas igni; quod non mandavi, et non ascendit super cor meum.


Jeremiah in this verse also inveighs against those superstitions by which the Jews had corrupted the true and pure worship of God. He says, that they had builded high places, which was prohibited in the law. (Leviticus 26:30.) Now God, as it has been before said, prefers obedience to all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22:) hence the Prophet justly condemned them, that they forsook the Temple and built for themselves high places or groves, and also altars.

He then mentions one particular place, even Tophet in the valley of Hinnom. The prophets, in order to render the place detestable, no doubt designated the infernal regions by tpt, Tophet, and Mnh ayg, gia enom. For when Isaiah speaks, in the thirtieth chapter, of the eternal punishment of the wicked, he mentions Tophet, which is the same word as we find here. As to the valley of Hinnom, it is called in Greek Gehenna, and is taken to designate eternal death, or the torments which await all the wicked. In a similar manner the word Paradise is metaphorically taken for the blessed state and for the eternal inheritance; for God so placed man at first in that eastern garden, that he might in a manner protect him under his own wings. As then the blessing and favor of God shone on that place where Adam first dwelt, that it might be a certain image of celestial life and of true happiness, so they called the glory, prepared for all God's children in heaven, Paradise. So also on the other hand the prophets called hell Mnh ayg, gia enom, in order that the Jews might detest those impious and sacrilegious modes of worship by which their fathers had polluted themselves. And for the same reason they call hell, Tophet. The ancients also say, that it was a place in the suburbs of the city. They were not wont then to assemble afar off for the sake of these abominations, since the place was within sight of the Temple, and they knew that there was the only true altar approved by God, and that it was not lawful to offer sacrifices anywhere else. Since they knew this, and God had set such a place before their eyes, the greater was their madness, when they preferred a filthy spot in which to worship God according to their own will, or rather according to their own wantonness.

Of this so great an audacity Jeremiah now complains: They builded for themselves high places, in Tophet, even in the valley. He introduces the word son; but it is called ayg Mnh, gia enom, the valley of Hinnom; whence comes the word Gehenna, as we have already said.

He adds, that they might burn their sons and their daughters. It was a horrible and prodigious madness for parents not to spare their own children, but to cast them into the fire; for they must have been so seized with a diabolic fury as to divest themselves of all human feelings: and yet they had a plausible reason, as they supposed; for it was a zeal worthy of all praise to prefer God to their own children. When therefore they cast their children into the fire, this kind of zeal might have deceived the simple; and to this was added a pretext derived from example, for Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his own son. But it hence appears what men will do when they are led away by an inconsiderate zeal; for from the beginning of the world the source of all superstitions has been this, -- that men have devised for themselves various modes of worship, and have given themselves the liberty to seek a way of their own to pacify God.

As to the pretended example, they were so blind as not to distinguish between themselves and Abraham; for he was commanded to offer his son, (Genesis 22:2;) but they, without any command, attempted to do the same thing; this was extreme presumption. As to Abraham, he obeyed God; and he could not have been led astray, when he knew that such a sacrifice was approved by God. But when the Jews emulated his zeal, it was an extreme folly; and they were especially culpable, because they neglected God's command and wholly disregarded it. They were, however, so far carried away by their own wantonness as to cast their own children into the fire, and under the pretense of piety: so great and so savage a cruelty prevailed among them. We hence perceive that there is no end of sinning, when men give themselves up to their own inventions; for God surrenders those to Satan, that they may be led by the spirit of giddiness and of madness and of stupidity. Let us therefore learn ever to regard what God approves: and let this be the very beginning of our inquiry, whenever we undertake anything, whether God commands it; and this course ought especially to be observed with regard to his worship; for, as it has been already stated, religion is especially founded on faith, and faith is based on the word of God: and hence it is here added --

Which I commanded them not, and which never came to my mind. This reason ought to be carefully noticed, for God here cuts off from men every occasion for making evasions, since he condemns by this one phrase, "I have not commanded them," whatever the Jews devised. There is then no other argument needed to condemn superstitions, than that they are not commanded by God: for when men allow themselves to worship God according to their own fancies, and attend not to his commands, they pervert true religion. And if this principle was adopted by the Papists, all those fictitious modes of worship, in which they absurdly exercise themselves, would fall to the ground. It is indeed a horrible thing for the Papists to seek to discharge their duties towards God by performing their own superstitions. There is an immense number of them, as it is well known, and as it manifestly appears. Were they to admit this principle, that we cannot rightly worship God except by obeying his word, they would be delivered from their deep abyss of error. The Prophet's words then are very important, when he says, that God had commanded no such thing, and that it never came to his mind; as though he had said, that men assume too much wisdom, when they devise what he never required, nay, what he never knew. It is indeed certain, that there was nothing hid from God, even before it was done: but God here assumes the character of man, as though he had said, that what the Jews devised was unknown to him, as his own law was sufficient.

Now, as the words Tophet and Gehenna were so stigmatized by the prophets, we may hence learn how displeasing to God is every idolatry and profanation of his true and pure worship: for he compares these notorious places in which the Jews performed so sedulously their devotions, to the infernal regions. And hence at this day, when the Papists boast of what they call their devotions, we may justly say, that there are as many gates, through which they throw themselves headlong into hell, as there are modes of worship devised by them for the purpose of conciliating God. It follows --