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Jeremiah 17:16

16. As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.

16. Ego autem non festinavi, ut essem pastor post te, et diem doloris non concupivi, tu nosti: quod egressum est e labiis meis, coram facie tua fuit.


The Prophet here implores God as his defender, having found his own nation so refractory, that they could in no way be brought to a right mind. There is yet no doubt but he intended to double their fear in thus testifying that he brought nothing of his own, but faithfully executed the command of God, that he did not presumptuously undertake the office of a teacher, but obeyed the call of God, as though he had said, that they (as we shall find in another place) did not resist a mortal man, but God himself. He therefore refers the matter to God, as though he had said, “Contend with God; for what have I to do with you, or you with me? For I do not plead my own cause, nor came I forth through any desire of my own; but as God has committed to me this office, it was necessary for me to obey. As then I am only the instrument of God, what will you at last gain after having quarrelled ever so much? No doubt God will shew that he is an adversary to you, and can ye conquer him?” We now understand the object of the Prophet.

But we have said elsewhere that the Prophet fled to God when he found no equity or rectitude in the world; yea, when all were deaf and so blinded that there was no hope of obtaining notice. When therefore men are thus perverted in their minds, we must necessarily have recourse to God. So the Prophet does now, as he had done before, leaving men he addresses his words to God; and this kind of apostrophe has more force than if he had charged them with perverseness.

But I, he says, I have not hastened. Here interpreters differ; for אוף, auts, means sometimes to hasten, and sometimes to be slow, two contrary things. It signifies also to be careful and to abominate or to dislike; and so some render it here, “I have not disliked, so as not to become a pastor;” for מן men, in Hebrew is often taken as a negative. Others give this version, “I have not been careful,” or anxious, “I have not cared to become a pastor.” But a meaning more suitable to the context may be given to the words, that the Prophet hastened not, for it follows, and I have not coveted. These two expressions, לא אצתי la atsati, hastened,” and, לא התאויתי la ethaviti, correspond the one with the other, I have not hastened,” and “I have not coveted;” and both is a denial of his temerity. Many indeed thrust themselves, as we shall see in the twenty-third chapter, without being called by God; they run of themselves, and are led astray by foolish imaginations.

The Prophet says first, that he had not hastened to be a pastor after God, literally; for many are ruled by ambition, which leads them to undertake more than what is right for them, and they do not regard what may please God. Hence the Prophet says in the first place, that he had not hastened, and then that he had not coveted, which is not different in meaning, but is a confirmation of the same thing. But let us first bear in mind that he thus proves the impiety of the people, for they fought against God himself the author of his call. How so? had he hastened, that is, had he through foolish zeal obtruded himself, the Jews might have justly contended with him, and might have done so with impunity; but as he had waited for the call of God, they had no ground to contend with him, and by opposing the servant of God, they discovered their own impiety. 183183     It is singular how variously the early versions and the Targum have rendered the first half of this verse. Various, too, have been the opinions of critics. The first verb means to hasten, in a transitive, and in an intransitive sense, to urge, and to be urgent, forward, or hasty. It is used here evidently intransitively. Then the literal rendering seems to be this, —
   But I have not been more forward than a pastor
after thee, or following thee.

   The meaning seems to be, that he did not exceed his commission; and this is confirmed by the latter part of the verse. The preposition מ has often the meaning of “more than,” or above.

   The word “woeful” is the same with what is rendered “desperately wicked” in Jeremiah 17:9. Its meaning is, to be bad beyond recovery; and when applied to day, it may be properly rendered “irretrievable.” I thus render the two lines, —

   But I — I have not been forwarder than a pastor following thee, And the irretrievable day have I not desired.

   This day was the day of exile which he had foretold. Then the words, “thou knowest,” stand connected with what follows. — Ed.

Jeremiah prescribes here a law for all prophets and teachers, and that is, that they are not to aspire to this office as many do, who, as we have already said, are guided by ambition. He then alone is to be deemed a lawful minister and prophet of God and a teacher in his church who is not led by the impulse of his own flesh, nor by inconsiderate zeal, but to whom God extends his hand, and who being called obeys. The beginning then is obedience, if we wish to become lawful teachers. This is one thing.

In the second place he shews, that those who are called to the office of teaching are not endued with a sovereign power, so that they can announce whatever pleases them, but that they are pastors for God. God indeed would have his prophets to take the lead, so as to point out the way to the rest of the people, and he thus honors them with no common dignity. He would have them to be heads or leaders, or ensign-bearers, but still he himself retains his own peculiar honor; hence no one ever so presides over God’s Church as to be the chief pastor, for God takes away nothing from himself by transferring the office of teaching to his ministers, but on the contrary he remains complete in his own authority. In short, he does not resign, as they say, his own right, but substitutcs those who teach in his own place, and in such a way as still to retain what peculiarly belongs to him. Hence these words ought to be carefully noticed, I have not hastened to become a pastor after thee, that is, that he might follow God. Whosoever then takes so much liberty as not to follow God, but is carried away by his own spirit, is to be repudiated, and deserves not to be reckoned among lawful pastors.

But this passage seems to militate against what is declared by Paul when he says, that he who desires the episcopate seeks an excellent work. (1 Timothy 3:1.) Paul does not there condemn, it is said, the desire, he only reminds us how difficult and arduous is the office of a bishop. To this we may readily answer, that Paul there does not speak of that foolish ardor by which many are inflamed, while they do not consider their own abilities, or rather their own weakness; but he says, that if any offers himself to God for the office of teaching, he is to think and duly to consider that it is no common work. He ought then rather to restrain himself, while bearing in mind how difficult it is to fulfill all the duties of a good bishop. But Jeremiah here refers to what we have seen in the first chapter, for he even dreaded the prophetic office, and confessed that he was not able to speak. As then he alleged his own stammering, he was very far from having any corrupt desire. There is then nothing inconsistent in the words, that Jeremiah did not desire the office of a pastor, and that whosoever desires the episcopate desires an excellent, work.

He now adds a confirmation, The day of grief, he says, have I not desired. Some think the verb to be passive, but I have rendered it with others as an active verb, yet some read, “And the day of affliction, or of sorrow, has not been wished for by me.” But there is, in reality, no difference. He confirms what he had said, for he saw clearly, when God chose him a Prophet, that he would be drawn into hard contests; “Why, he says, should I covet the prophetic office? It would have been an insane ambition.” He found out from the very beginning the consequence of undertaking the office, that he had to contend with the whole people, yea, with every one of them, “I knew how great would be their stubbornness, and how great also would be their cruelty; how then could I have wished of mine own accord to run into danger, and to throw mysdf into so many troubles and so many sorrows?” Jeremiah then shews from what he had apprehended as to the issue, that he had not, been led by any hasty desire.

If one objects and says, that many are notwithstanding led away by a foolish ambition to undergo dangers and troubles which they cannot but foresee. To this I answer, that the Prophet assumes the fact as it was, that not only known to him from the beginning was whatever he after-wards experienced, for he had well considered what the people were, but that he had been also constrained by God’s command to renounce his own will. Many hasten because they consider not the difficulties of the office, hardly one in a hundred at this day duly considers how difficult and arduous it is rightly to discharge the pastoral office. Hence many are led to undertake it as an easy duty, and of no great importance. Afterwards experience too late teaches them, that they have foolishly desired what was unknown to them. Some think that they possess great skill and activity, and also promise themselves great things on account of their own capacities, learning, and judgment; but they afterwards very soon find how scanty is a furniture, as they say, of this kind, for aptness for the work fails them at the very outset, and not in the middle of their course. Some also, while seeing that they are to have many and grievous contests, dread nothing and put on an iron front, as though they were born to fight. Others there are who, in desiring the office of teachers, are mercenaries. We indeed know that all God’s servants are miserable as to this world, and according to the perceptions of men, for they must carry on war against the prevailing dispositions of all, and thus displease men that they may please God; but mercenaries, who have no religion and adulterate God’s word, desire the office, and why? because they see that they can deal in a pleasing manner with men, for they will carefully avoid everything that may offend, But this was not the case with the Prophet; hence he assumes, as I have said, this fact, that he sincerely engaged in his office of teaching, and was not induced by any other motive than that of promoting the well-being of the people.

He say’s that he hastened not; how so? “I should have been,” he says, “altogether insane had I been led by an inconsiderate zeal, for I know that I should have to contend, and to contend not with one man only, but with the whole people, yea, with every one of them.” Hence he calls the warfare which awaits all true pastors, the day of sorrow, for if they please men they cannot be the servants of God. And of this fact he makes God a witness, Thou knowest. Men of wind profess boldly enough that they have nothing in view but to serve God, that they do not rashly enter on their course; but the Prophet here sets himself in God’s presence, and is not anxious to secure the approbation of men, being content with that of God alone. 184184     The Targum connects “thou knowest” with what follows; and such is the version of Blayney, and more suitable it is to the passage, —
   Thou knowest what has gone forth from my lips, Before thy face has it been.— Ed.

And then he adds, Before thy face has been whatever has proceeded from my lips. By these words he intimates, that he had not vainly spoken whatever came to his mind, but what he had received from God himself, and that before God was everything which had proceeded from his mouth. We hence learn, that it is not enough for one to have been once called, except he faithfully delivers what he has received from God himself, It now follows —

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