Jeremiah 8:8

8. How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.

8. Quomodo dicetis (pro dicitis; significat continuum actum) sapientes nos (hoc est, nos sumus sapientes,) et lex Jehovae nobiscum est (vel, penes nos, melius:) certe ecce frustra aptavit stylum (vel, calamum) scriptor; frustra sunt seribae.


Interpreters think that the Prophet here directs his words to the priests, and the false prophets, and the other chiefs of the people, because they proudly arrogated to themselves the knowledge of the law: but what is said may be no less extended to the whole people; for, as we shall presently see, all of them, from the least to the greatest, no doubt boasted that they were sufficiently wise. I hence think that the Prophet here inveighs against the whole body of the people; for all, almost without exception, rejected his teaching, as we see also to be done at the present day; for who is there that can bear to be admonished and reproved? All say that they are wise enough: "Oh! do you think that I am a child?" or, as it is commonly said, "Do you think that I am a goose? I know how I am to live, and I am not without reason." Thus the rudest and the most ignorant set up their own wisdom and sharpness of wit against God and his prophets. Such audacity and ferociousness prevailed no doubt in the time of Jeremiah. For when he sharply reproved them, they were ready with their answer, -- " Oh! thou treatest us as though we were barbarians, as though God's law was unknown to us, as though we had not been taught from our childhood how we are to live: does not God dwell in the midst of us?" Since, then, the Jews did set up as it were this shield against the doctrine of the Prophet, he attacks them here with great vehemence, --

How say ye, We are wise? He afterwards describes the kind of wisdom which they claimed, The law of God is with us: and doubtless, to attend to God's law is the way of becoming really wise. Had they justly boasted that they had the law, the Prophet would not have brought against them the charge, that they were doubly foolish. But as they falsely made this pretense, he says to them, How? and here he asks a question as to what was very strange, "How are you so foolish, "he says, "that ye think yourselves wise, as though the law of God were with you? Surely, if so, in vain has the law been written; for ye shew by your whole life that you have never known anything of what God by the law commands and sets before us, and what the design of it is."

Thus Jeremiah shows by their life that there was no ground for their foolish boasting; for they gave no evidence of their wisdom. It is indeed necessary for those who seek to be God's disciples to bring forth some fruit: but as there was among them so much impiety, so much contempt of God, and as, in short, their whole life proclaimed them to be wholly insane, he says, In vain has he prepared his pen, even the writer of the law; and in vain have been the scribes, that is, the teachers; for by scribes, in the second place, he understands teachers.1

I explain this passage somewhat different from other interpreters; for there seems to be implied a kind of irony, as we commonly say, Il faut bruler tous les livres. Hence Jeremiah derides their folly, in saying that they knew how they were to live, because the teaching of the law prevailed among them. "If it be so, "he says, "what is God's law? Doubtless, nothing, as the whole of its teaching must in this way be deemed as nothing." We now then see that the Jews are here reproved as false, for they claimed the law, as though it were a shadow without a body, and possessed not a particle of right knowledge. He afterwards adds --

1 The latter part of this verse has another meaning according to the ancient versions. They are substantially to this purport,-

Behold, surely to deceive is what the false pen of the scribes has done.

The Vulgate, with which the rest materially agree, is as follows,-

Verily, falsehood has the false pen of the scribes wrought.

As a proof of this it is added in the next verse, that those who pretended to be wise were made ashamed, etc. That the reference is made to the false glosses of the scribes, the expounders of the law, is confirmed by verse 11. I render the whole verse thus,-

8. How can ye say, "Wise are we, And the law of Jehovah is with us?" Indeed!-Behold, to deceive Has the deceptive pen of the scribes served.

He ironically admits that they had the law; but he refers to the false interpretation of the teachers; and in the next verse he mentions the effect on the pretended wise, and the fact as to God's law,-

9. Ashamed have become the wise, They have been dismayed and ensnared: Behold, the word of Jehovah have they despised; And wisdom, what have they!-- Ed.