Lecture Thirty-Second

Jeremiah 8:4-5

4. Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?

4. Et dices ad eos, Sic dicit Jehova, An qui ceciderunt non resurgent? si quis aversus fuerit non revertetur?

5. Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.

5. Quare rebellis est populus hic Jerosolymae rebellione perpetua? (forti, ad verbum;) adhaeserunt fraudi (vel, apprehenderunt fraudem,) noluerunt reverti.


Though God had reminded his Prophet of the event, yet he still invites the Jews to repentance; not that there was any hope of restoring them to a right mind, (for he had said that they were wholly irreclaimable,) but that their perverseness might be less excusable; and it was also his object to afford some relief to the small number of the godly who still remained; for they had not all fallen away into impiety, though the great body of the people had become corrupt. God then, partly to aggravate the sin of the ungodly, and partly to provide for his faithful people, exhorts those to repentance, who were yet wholly intractable. And here we ought to consider that God's goodness, when abused, brings a much heavier judgment. God does here in a manner contend with the wickedness of his people, by setting before them the hope of pardon, if they repented.

Thou shalt then say to them; that is, "Though I have already testified to thee that thy labor would be in vain, yet thou shalt not give over thy work." Shall they who have fallen rise again? This sentence is variously explained; the greater part of interpreters confine it to the Jews only, "Shall the Jews who have fallen rise again?" As to the second clause, some give this explanation, "If Israel returns, will not God also return?" that is, from his wrath, or, "Will he not be propitious?" Or, "If Israel turns away, will not God also turn away?" Others understand both parts of the sentence of the people, "If the people have once turned away, will they not yet return to God?" For the verb bws, shub, has contrary meanings; it means, to fall away, to rebel, to go back; and it means also to return. But after having maturely considered the words and the design of the Prophet, I think it to be a general statement, as though he had said, "When any one falls, he immediately thinks of recovering his fall; when any one deviates from the right course, being warned of his going astray, he immediately looks for the road. This is what is usually done, what then means this so great a stupidity, that the people of Jerusalem do not repent, when yet they ought to have long ago acknowledged their fall and their wanderings?"

Whoever will impartially consider the discourse of the Prophet must see that this is the real meaning; for, in the second of these verses, he says, Why is this people of Jerusalem, etc.; he now first speaks, as it clearly appears, of the people. It then follows that the former verse ought not to be applied to the people; but it contains only a general statement. In short, Jeremiah condemns here the madness of the people, because they followed not the example of those who have either fallen or deviated from the way by mistake. For it is what is naturally implanted in all, that they do not willingly perish in their misfortunes. He then who falls immediately strives to rise again; and he who leaves the right way, tries if possible to return to it again. This then is what the most foolish will do; why then, says Jeremiah, do not this people imitate such an example? He therefore shews by this comparison, that their conduct was monstrous; for they obstinately adhered to their vices, and never thought that there was a hope of reconciliation if they from the heart returned unto God. And he emphatically mentions Jerusalem; for had such obstinacy prevailed among the Chaldeans or the Egyptians, it would indeed have been inexcusable; but not so strange as among a people to whom the law had been given, and to whom God had plainly revealed the way of salvation. When, therefore, this people so hardened themselves as to reject all warnings, was it not monstrous?1

Then he says, that they were rebellious with a pertinacious rebellion; that is, that they forsook God not only through levity or want of thought, or some sudden impulse, but so pertinaciously, that the prophets spent their labor in vain in teaching and exhorting them. Hence he calls it a strong rebellion, though the word may be taken here as in other places in the sense of perpetual. And he assigns the cause, because they laid hold on deception, that is, they adhered fast to deception. But the Prophet means by deception, not that by which a neighbor is deceived or circumvented, but hypocrisy, by which men so blind themselves, that they are unwilling either to attend to God's word, or to open their eyes to see the light. When, therefore, men through willful obstinacy bury themselves in darkness, they may be said to lay fast hold on deception.2

David says, in Psalm 32:2, that the man is blessed in whose spirit there is no guile: he entertains no guile, as we commonly do. Now, to entertain guile is to possess a deceitful heart. He had before said that they are blessed whose sins are forgiven and to whom iniquity is not imputed: he adds by way of explanation, provided there be no guile in the spirit; and why? Because wicked men seem to themselves to be blessed, for they perceive not their own misery, because they are enveloped in their own coverings: and this is the guile of which David speaks. According to the same meaning, our Prophet says, that those laid fast hold on deception, who were so involved in darkness or so blinded by their lusts, as to seek to deceive God; but they deceive themselves. This then is the cause why those whom God corrects and chastises feel no penitence; for they are willfully blind, they close their eyes and deafen their ears, and seek to be deceived by the devil; they attend not to the holy warnings given them for their salvation. If then, we wish to be healed of our vices, let us ever begin in this way, -- let us carefully examine our thoughts and our motives, and not please ourselves nor deceive ourselves by empty flatteries, but strive to shake off whatever is reprehensible and vicious. The very beginning of true repentance is to renounce all deceptions and fallacies and to seek the light, which can alone discover to us our evils. It afterwards follows --

1 Most agree in this view,-Gataker, Venema, Henry, Lowth, Blayney, and Scott. All the versions favor this view, giving two different meanings to bws, repeated in the last clause, except the Syriac, which gives this version, "Though they ought to repent, they yet do not repent."-Ed.

2 The idea of revolt or apostasy is given by the ancient versions to the verb used at the beginning of the verse, and also to the noun which follows, and not that of rebellion, as by Calvin. The same meaning is given by Gataker, Venema, and Blayney; and they consider that Jerusalem is in apposition with "this people, "in this manner,-Why has this people, Jerusalem, Revolted with perpetual revolt? As it has been already observed, the verb bws, with all its derivations, means strictly to turn, but is used in the sense of turning to or from, that is, of returning or of departing. The context is our guide. It can hardly be supposed to have these two meanings in the same passage. All agree in giving it the idea of returning, at the end of the fourth verse, and at the end of this verse, the fifth; and in the three other instances in which it occurs here, they give it the idea of turning away or departing. I am disposed to think that it has the first meaning throughout the passage. I would render these two verses thus,-

4 Thou shalt also say to them, Thus saith Jehovah,- Do men fall and not rise again? Does any one return and not return?-

5. Why,-often have this people returned, Jerusalem is returning continually!- They hold fast deceit, they have refused to return.

The hypocrisy of the people is the subject: they pretended to return, but did not really return; they were deceitful. It is a sort of a dialogue. The beginning of the next verse is an answer to the end of this,-

6. I hearkened and heard, "No: "thus they say: Yet no man has repented of his evil,- Saying, What have I done? Every one returns to his own course, Like a horse rushing into battle.

The charge of refusing to return was negatived. -- Ed.