Jeremiah 20:17-18

17. Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me.

17. Quare non occidisti me ab utero? et fuisset (hoc est, ut esset) mihi mater mea sepulchrum meum? et in utero ejus conceptus saeculi (id est, perpetuus, vel, uterus ejus fuisset in conceptu perpetuo; et hoec posterior expositio videtur reelins quadrare, ac si diceret, Fuisset uterus, matris meoe sterilis, ita ut non conciperet nisi post soeculum, id est, nunquam.)

18. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?

18. Quare ex utero egressus sum ad videndum molestiam et dolorem, ut consumantur in opprobrio dies mei?


After having denounced his imprecations on his birth-day, and on the messenger who had wished to convey joy to his father, Jeremiah now expostulates with God. It hence appears how great was his madness; for thus must we speak. But if Jeremiah spared not God, how should he spare a mortal man? There is then no doubt but that he raged furiously against God, for his expostulation is that of a man wholly desperate; he asks, why he was not slain from the womb, as though he did not regard it as a kindness that he came alive into light. But this life, though exposed to many sorrows, ought yet to be counted as an evidence of God's inestimable favor. As the Prophet, then, not only despised this goodness of God, but contended with God himself, because he had been created a man and brought into light, how great was his ingratitude!

He then adds, My mother might have been my grave;1 that is, "This light and life I value not; why then did I not die in my mother's womb? and why did she conceive me?" Then he says, Why came I forth from the womb that I might see trouble and sorrow, and that my days. might be consumed in, reproach? Here he gives a reason why he was wearied of life; but he could not have been cleared on this account, nor ought he to be so at this day; for what just cause can we have to contend with God? Jeremiah was created to sorrow and trouble: this is the condition of all; why, then, should God be blamed? his days were spent in reproach: there was nothing new in his case; for many who have received an honorable testimony from God had suffered many wrongs and reproaches. Why, then, did he not look to them as examples, that he might bear with patience and resignation what had happened to other holy men? but he seemed as though he wished to appear as it were in public, that he might proclaim his disgrace, not only to his own age, but to every age to the end of the world.

At the same time we must remember the object he had in view; for the Prophet, as we have said, was not seized with this intemperate spirit after he had given thanks to God, and exulted as a conqueror, but before; and in order to amplify the grace of God in delivering him as it were from hell itself, into which he had plunged himself, he mentioned what had passed through his mind. The drift of the whole description seems to be this, -- "I was lost, and my mind could conceive nothing but what was bitter, and with a full mouth I vomited forth poison and blasphemies against God." What the Prophet then had here in view, was to render more conspicuous the kindness of God in bringing him to light from so deep an abyss.

A similar mode of speaking is found in the third chapter of Job. But Job had not the reason which, as we have said, Jeremiah had; for Jeremiah was not influenced by any private grief when carried away by all insane impulse to speak against God. Whence, then, was his great grief? even because he saw he was despised by the people, and that the whole of religion was esteemed by them as nothing: in short, he saw that the state of things was quite hopeless. He was, then, inflamed with zeal for God's glory; and he also was extremely grieved at the irreclaimable wickedness of the people; but Job had only a respect to his own sufferings. There was, therefore, a great difference between Job and Jeremiah; and yet we know that both were endowed, as it were, with angelic virtue, for Job is named as one of three just men, who seemed to have been elevated above all mankind; and Jeremiah, if a comparison be made, was in this instance more excusable than Job; and yet we see that they were both inflamed with so unreasonable a grief, that they spared neither God nor man.

Let us then learn to check our feelings, that they may not break out thus unreasonably. Let us at the same time know that God's servants, though they may excel in firmness, are yet not wholly divested of their corruptions. And should it happen at any time to us to feel such emotions within us, let not such a temptation discourage us; but as far as we can and as God gives us grace, let us strive to resist it, until the firmness of our faith at length gains the ascendency, as we see was the case with Jeremiah. For when overwhelmed with such a confusion of mind as to lie down as it were dead in hell itself, he was yet restored, as we have seen, to such a soundness of mind, that he afterwards courageously executed his own office, and also gloried, according to what we observed yesterday, in the help of God. Let us proceed, --

1 Our version seems right in rendering the w in this sentence or; and so it ought to be rendered in the previous verse, otherwise there is an inconsistency in representing a man destroyed, and hearing an outcry, etc. The two verses may be thus rendered, --

16. And let that man be like the cities Which Jehovah overturned and repented not; Or a hearer of an outcry in the morning And of tumult at noon-tide.

17. Why not slay me did he from the womb? Or become to me did my mother my grave, And her womb a perpetual conception?

The last words are, literally, "a conception of perpetuity," -- the Vulg. has, "an eternal conception," -- the Syr., "a perpetual conception." Then the next verse is as follows, --

18. For what purpose has this been? From the womb I came forth To see labor and sorrow, And spent in shame are my days. -- Ed.