Jeremiah 29:24-27

24. Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying,

24. Et ad Semaiah Nehelamitem dices, dicendo, (sic dices,)

25. Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying,

25. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, dicendo, Propterea quod tu misisti in nomine meo literas ad totum populum, qui est Jerosolymae, et ad Zephaniam filium Maassiae, et ad cunctos sacerdotes, dicendo,

26. The Lord hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the Lord, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.

26. Jehova posuit to (vel, constituit to) sacerdotem pro Jehoiada sacerdote, ut sitis praefecti domus Jehovae super omnem virum insanum (vel, arreptitium) et prophetantem, ut ponas ipsum in carcem (alii vertunt, in cippum) et in compedes (vel, manicas, quod aliis magis placet.)

27. Now therefore why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you?

27. Et tu quare non increpuisti Jeremiam Anathotitem, qui prophetat vobis?


Here Jeremiah prophesies respecting a third person, who had written a letter to the priests and to the whole people against himself, and had expostulated with the chief priest and with others, because Jeremiah had, with impunity, long exhorted the people to bear their long exile. This is the import of the passage; but as to his punishment we shall see what it was at the end of the chapter. I did not wish to give the whole, because I cannot finish this prophecy today. I have therefore taken the former part only, even that Shemaiah had not only encouraged the people, as others did, to hope for a return, and to raise a commotion, but had also scattered his poison at Jerusalem, and had endeavored to load Jeremiah with ill-will, that he might be slain as a false prophet, and an enemy to the public good, as well as to the Law and the Temple.

Thou shalt then say to or of Shemaiah, for la, al, may be taken in either sense.1 His crime is now related, we shall hereafter see what his punishment was. His crime was, that he wrote in God's name. Had he only been a fanner of cruelty, he would have deserved no pardon; but his crime was doubled, for he dared to pretend the authority of God, and to boast that he was as it were his scribe, as though he had said that his letter had been dictated by the Holy Spirit, that he had not spoken his own thoughts, or presumptuously, but that God could not endure the liberty given to Jeremiah; for though he continually preached of long exile, yet the chief-priest suffered him, and no one of the whole priestly order opposed him; and at the same time he blames the people for their indulgence. That he did all this in God's name was far more grievous than if he had written as a private individual. And it is said that he had written to the whole people, even in order that they might all in a body unite against Jeremiah. For, had he written only to the priests, they might have objected that they were not at liberty to act so violently against Jeremiah, as sedition might be raised. We hence see the craft of this base man; though he despised the people, yet that all of them, even the least, might help the priests to do this act of cruelty, and that there might be the union of all, he included the whole people in his letter.

He afterwards mentioned the priest and all the priests. The word priest, in the singular number, meant the high-priest: then the priests were not only those descended from Aaron, but all the Levites. There was the high-priest, and then the descendants of Aaron were the chief, and, as it were, the colleagues of the high priest; but the Levites were an inferior order, though here by the priests he means also the Levites.

Here follows the subject of the letter, Jehovah hath made thee a priest, etc. Here the impostor Shemaiah accuses the high-priest of ingratitude, because he had been chosen in the place of another. For it is probable that Jehoiada was still living, but that he had been led away into Chaldea with the other exiles. As then so high a dignity had, beyond hope, and before the time, come to the high-priest, the false prophet reproves him, because he did not rightly acknowledge this favor of God, as though he had said, that he was rendering an unworthy reward to God, who had raised him to that high station: God, he said, hath made thee a priest in the place of Jehoiada the priest. Thus the ministers of Satan transform themselves into angels of light; and yet they cannot so dexterously imitate God's servants, but that their deceit makes itself presently known; for craftiness is very different from a right and prudent counsel. God endues his servants with counsel and wisdom; but Satan, with craft and guile. Though, then, at the first view, some artifice appears in this letter of the false prophet, yet we may gather from its contents, that he falsely pretended the name of God, that he falsely alleged that the chief priest was chosen in the place of Jehoiada. That ye should be, he says: at first he addresses the high-priest, but now he includes also others, that ye should be the keepers, or the rulers of the house of God.2 For though the chief power was in the high-priest, yet as he could not alone undertake everything, it was necessary for him to have others connected with him. This is the reason why Shemaiah not only says that the high-priest was a ruler in the Temple of God, but after having placed him in the highest honor, mentions also others.

He says against every man that is mad; so egsm, meshego, is rendered by Jerome, and I think not unsuitably; for the word means properly one that is insane: but this was applied to false teachers, because they boasted that they were under a divine impulse, when they spoke their own thoughts. This appears evident from the ninth chapter of Hosea, where it is said that the people would at length acknowledge that the prophets, who had flattered them, were insane, and that the men of the Spirit were mad. The Prophet conceded to them both names, that they were prophets and men of the Spirit, that is, spiritual; but he proved that they had only the names and not the reality: for prophets were called spiritual men, because God inspired them with his Spirit; but the ungodly, when they wished to revile the true prophets, called them mad. So did they speak who were with Jehu, when a prophet came to anoint him, "What means this mad fellow?" this word egsm, meshego, is what they used; and they called him in contempt mad, who had yet spoken by the secret impulse of the Spirit. (2 Kings 9:11.) So, in like manner, do the ungodly rave in contempt of God against everything found in Scripture.3

But as it has been already stated, it was necessary to distinguish between the true servants of God and those only in name; for many boasted that they were called by God, and yet were impostors. God then called these mad and insane; but what did the ungodly do? they transferred the reproach to the lawful servants of God. So, in this place, Shemaiah says, that Jeremiah was mad, who falsely pretended the name of God, and prophesied falsely.

He adds, That thou shouldest put him in prison, or cast him into prison or the stocks, as some render the word. Then he says, in manacles, that is, thou shouldest bind him, until his impiety be known, so that thou mayest detain him in prison.4 It is, indeed, probable that the chief priests had assumed this power during the disordered state of things. This proceeding no doubt resulted from a good principle; for God ever designed that his Church should be well governed: he therefore commanded in his Law, that when any dispute or question arose, the chief priest was to be the judge, (Deuteronomy 17:8, 9; ) but when mention is here made of prison and of manacles, it: was an act, no doubt, beyond the Law. It is therefore probable that it was added to the Law of God when the state of things was in disorder and confusion among the Jews. And whence was the origin of the evil? from the ignorance and sloth of the priests. They ought to have been the messengers of the God of hosts, the interpreters of the Law, the truth ought to have been sought from their mouth; but they were dumb dogs, nay, they had so degenerated, that nothing priestly was found in them; they had forgotten the Law, there was no religion in them. As then they had neglected their office, it was necessary to choose other prophets: and as we have said elsewhere, it was as it were accidental that God raised up prophets from the common people. There was, indeed, a necessity of having prophets always in the ancient Church; but God would have taken them from the Levites, except that he designed to expose them to reproach before the whole people, when he made prophets even of herdsmen, as in the case of Amos.

As then the priests suffered the prophetic office to be transferred to the common people, a new way was devised, that it might, not be any loss to them, as under the Papacy; for we know that bishops are for no other reason made rulers in the Church, but that there might be pastors and teachers. For of what use could these asses be, whom we know to be for the most part destitute of any learning? What could these men do, who are profane, and given up to their own pleasures and enjoyments? In short, what could gamesters and panders do? for such are almost all the Papal bishops. It was therefore necessary to give up their office to brawling monks, "You shall teach, for we resign to you the pulpits." But, at the same time, they retained the power of judgment in their own hands: when any controversy arose, neither the noisy brawlers nor the dumb beasts could of themselves decide anything; for ignorance prevented the latter, and power was wanting to the former. How, then, did the bishops formerly condemn heretics? and how do they condemn them still? Why, thus: When one was a Carmelite, they called in the Franciscans; and when one was an Augustinian, the Dominicans were summoned. For, as I have said, these mute animals had no knowledge nor wisdom. And yet a certain dignity was maintained by the bishops or their vicars, when they pronounced sentence in condemning heretics. And such was probably the case among the ancient people; for those who pretended to be prophets were summoned, and that by the authority of the high-priest, under the pretext of law, but not without some corruption added to it; for God had not given fetters and manacles to the priests, that they might thus restrain those who might create disturbance and corrupt the pure truth. But what remains I shall defer to the next Lecture.


Grant, Almighty God, that since we are prone to what is false, and wholly devoted to vanity, we may be governed by thy Spirit, and desire no other thing than to be obedient to thee; and as we offer ourselves to thee, as thy disciples, grant that having the light of thy word shining before us, we may follow the way which thou shewest to us, and thus persevere in a right course, until we shall at length come to that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. -- Amen.

Lecture One Hundred and Thirteenth

We saw in the last Lecture the substance of the letter which Shemaiah had written to the chief priest. He reproved him for his neglect, because he did not silence Jeremiah according to the right and duty of his office. This had a plausible appearance; but it was a false principle which he assumed, -- that Jeremiah falsely pretended God's name, and was not sent, and had no command to prophesy;5 this was false. Justly then does the Prophet now oppose him, and pronounce the punishment which he deserved. It then follows, --

1 He is called the "Nehelamite." Some render the word "a dreamer:" but, as Blayney observes, "the termination speaks it to be a patronymic." It refers probably to the place of his birth. -- Ed.

2 The Hebrew is, "that there might be overseers in the house of Jehovah for every one," etc. He was a priest under the high-priest for this purpose. Zephaniah was second in authority, as it appears from chapter 52:24. He was probably the ruler or governor of the Temple, as Pashur was, Jeremiah 20:1. Hence the paraphrase of the Targum as to this clause, "That thou mightest be made the chief of the priests in the house of the sanctuary of the Lord for every one," etc. Blayney thinks it probable that Zephaniah succeeded a priest called Jehoiada, in that office, who had been either deposed for bad conduct or carried away into exile. Gataker and Grotins think that the reference is to Jehoiada the priest, the zealous reformer in the reign of Jehoash, 2 Kings 11 and 12; and that Shemaiah's object was to rouse Zephaniah to shew similar zeal for the house of God. If so, here is an instance, not uncommon, in which a good example of zeal was perverted for the purpose of encouraging zeal in exercising tyranny and suppressing the truth.

It is somewhat singular that all the ancient versions, as well as the Targum, give "overseers," or officers, in the singular number; the Vulg. is, "That thou mightest be a commander... over every one;" the Sept., "That thou mightest be an umpire;" the Syr., "That thou mightest be a censor." But there are no MSS. in favor of such a reading. -- Ed.

3 The word ensm is rendered "frantic" by the Sept., -- "mad," by the Vulg., -- "raving in lies," by the Syr., -- and "foolish," by the Targ. As applied to prophets it means one in an ecstasy, or in raptures, whether true or false, -- an enthusiast, but taken mostly in a bad sense.

The next word is in Hithpael, "self-prophesying," or prophesying of himself, not made a prophet by God; imperfectly rendered, "prophesying," by the Sept., Vulg., and Syr. It may be rendered "pretending to be a prophet." -- Ed.

4 The last word is found only here, and is rendered "dungeon" by the Sept., and "prison" by the Vulg., Syr., and Targ. The Samaritan version, says: Parkhurst, uses it as a verb in Exodus 14:3, in the sense of confining, shutting up. The noun, therefore, may well designate a prison. -- Ed.

5 The verb for prophesying is in Hithpael as before; he still represents Jeremiah as one who made himself a Prophet, -- "Who of himself prophesies to you;" and not as Blayney renders the clause, "Who giveth himself out as a Prophet among you." What he meant is, that what Jeremiah prophesied came from himself, the very thing which God ascribed to the false prophets; thus wicked men impute to the good the very sin of which they themselves are guilty. -- Ed.