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The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2to whom the word of the L ord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

4 Now the word of the L ord came to me saying,


“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord G od! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the L ord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;

for you shall go to all to whom I send you,

and you shall speak whatever I command you.


Do not be afraid of them,

for I am with you to deliver you,

says the L ord.”

9 Then the L ord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the L ord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.


See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,

to pluck up and to pull down,

to destroy and to overthrow,

to build and to plant.”

11 The word of the L ord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” 12Then the L ord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” 13The word of the L ord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north.”

14 Then the L ord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. 15For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the L ord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the L ord, to deliver you.

As to the beginning of his time and its termination, it has been briefly shewn, why he says that he had been chosen a prophet in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and that he discharged his office till the eleventh year of Zedekiah.

Now that Josiah is called the son of Amon, it is doubtful whether Josiah was properly his son. Amon began to reign in his twenty-second year, and reigned only two years. Josiah succeeded him in the eighth year of his age. If we number the years precisely, Josiah must have been born when Amon was in his sixteenth year; but it does not appear likely, that Amon was a father when he was sixteen years of age, for in this case he must have begotten a son in his fifteenth year; as the birth must have taken place nine months after. Then Josiah must have been begotten in the fifteenth year of Amon’s age. It is hence a probable conclusion, that he was a son by law and not by nature, according to what is afterwards said of Zedekiah, that he was Josiah’s son, because he was his successor, while he was, as many think, his nephew, a brother’s son. But it was a common thing to call the successors of kings their sons, who were their sons by law, and not, as I have said, by nature. It now follows-

Here Jeremiah explains more fully what he had already mentioned that he had been called from above, for otherwise he would have presumptuously obtruded himself: for no one, as the Apostle says, takes this honor to himself; but the call of God alone raises up prophets and teachers to their dignity {see Hebrews 5:4}. Hence, that Jeremiah might secure attention, he declares that he had been called to the prophetic office, and that by the clear voice of God. For this purpose, he says, that this word was given him, Before I formed thee in the womb 99     More strictly, “in the inside,” or belly, בטן. The specific term for womb is in the next sentence, רחם. — Ed I knew thee He introduces God as the speaker, that what he declares might be more emphatical, that it might be of more weight and more forcible: for, if he had said simply in his own person, that he had been made a prophet by God’s voice, it would not have so much moved the hearers; but when he brings forward God as the speaker, there is necessarily more weight and force in what is said.

I pass by here what might be more largely said on what is necessary in one’s call, so that he may be attended to by God’s people; for no one, by his own and private right, can claim this privilege of speaking, as I have already said, inasmuch as this is what belongs to God alone. But I have elsewhere spoken at large on the prophetic call; it is therefore enough now to point at such things as these as it were by the finger: and particular discussions must be sought elsewhere; for were I to dwell at large on every subject, my work would be endless. I will, therefore, according to my usual practice, give a brief exposition of this Prophet.

Jeremiah then says, that he had been called by God, for this end, that he might on this account gain a hearing from the people. God declares that he knew Jeremiah before he formed him in the womb. This is not said specially of the Prophet, as though other men are unknown to God, but it is to be understood of the prophetic office, as though he had said, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I destined thee for this work, even that thou mayest undertake the burden of a teacher among the people.” And the second part is a repetition, when he says, Before thou camest forth from the womb I sanctified thee Sanctification is the same as the knowledge of God: and thus we perceive that knowledge is not mere prescience, but that predestination, by which God chooses every single individual according to his own will, and at the same time appoints and also sanctifies him; for no one, as Paul declares, (2 Corinthians 2:16,) is according to his own nature fitted for the work. Since then this fitness is the gratuitous gift of God, it is nothing strange that God declares that he had sanctified Jeremiah, as though he had said, “I formed thee man in the womb, and at the same time appointed thee for this particular work; and as it was not in thy power to bring with thee a qualification for the prophetic office, I formed thee not only a man, but a prophet.” This is the import of the passage.

But they refine too much, who think that the Prophet was sanctified from the womb as John the Baptist was, for the words mean no such thing; but only that is testified of Jeremiah, which Paul also affirms respecting himself in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, that he was known by God before he was born. Jeremiah then was not actually sanctified in the womb, but set apart according to God’s predestination and hidden purpose; that is, God chose him then to be a Prophet. It may be asked, whether he was not chosen before the creation of the world? To this it may be readily answered, that he was indeed foreknown by God before the world was made; but Scripture accommodates itself to the measure of our capacities, when it speaks of the generation of any one: it is then the same as though God had said of Jeremiah, that he was formed man for this end that in due time he might come forth a Prophet.

And no doubt the following clause is added exegetically, A prophet for the nations I made thee His sanctification, then, as I have said, was not real, but intimated that he was appointed a Prophet before he was born.

It however seems strange that he was given a Prophet to the nations God designed him to be the minister of his Church; for he neither went to the Ninevites, as Jonah did, (Jonah 3:3,) nor traveled into other countries, but spent his labors only among the tribe of Judah; why then is it said that he was given as a Prophet to the nations? To this I answer, that though God appointed him especially for his Church, yet his teaching belonged to other nations, as we shall presently see, and very evidently, as we proceed; for he prophesied concerning the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Moabites; in short, he included all the nations who were nigh and known to the Jews. This was indeed as it were accidental: but though he was given as a Prophet especially to his own people, yet his authority extended to heathen nations. No doubt nations are mentioned, including many, in order that the power and dignity of his teaching might appear more evident. It follows-

After having spoken of his call, the Prophet adds, that he at first refused his office, and he states this for two reasons; first, that he might clear himself from every suspicion of rashness, for we know how much ambition prevails among men, according to what James intimates, that many wish to be teachers, (James 3:1) and there is hardly one who is not anxious to be listened to. Since, then, most men too readily assume the office of teaching, and many boldly intrude into it, Jeremiah, in order to avoid the very suspicion of rashness, informs us that he was constrained to take the office. Secondly, he says that he refused the office, that he might gain more esteem, and render his disciples more attentive. But why did he refuse to obey God, when called to the prophetic function? Because its difficulty frightened him: and yet this very reason ought to rouse readers to a greater attention, as it no doubt awakened hearers when Jeremiah spoke to them.

If any one asks, whether Jeremiah acted rightly in refusing what God enjoined? the answer is, that God pardoned his servant, for it was not his design to reject his call, or to exempt himself from obedience, or to shake off the yoke, because he regarded his own leisure, or his own fame, or any similar considerations: Jeremiah looked on nothing of this kind; but when he thought of himself, he felt, that he was wholly unequal to undertake an office so arduous. Hence the excuse that is added is that of modesty. We then see that God forgave his timidity, for it proceeded, as we have just said, from a right feeling; and we know that from good principles vices often arise. But it was yet a laudable thing in Jeremiah, that he thought himself not sufficiently qualified to undertake the prophetic office, and that he wished to be excused, and that another should be chosen endued with more courage and with better qualifications. I shall proceed with what remains tomorrow.

Now follows the answer given to him, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go, etc. God not only predicts here what the Prophet was to do, but declares also what he designed him to do, and what he required from him, as though he had said, “It is thy duty to obey, because I have the right to command: thou must, therefore, go wheresoever I shall send thee, and thou must also proclaim whatsoever I shall command thee.” By these words God reminds him that he was his servant, and that there was no reason why a sense of his own weakness should make him afraid; for it ought to have been enough for him simply to obey his command.

And it is especially necessary to know this doctrine: for as we ought to undertake nothing without considering what our strength is, so when God enjoins anything, we ought, immediately to obey his word as it were with closed eyes. Prudence is justly praised by writers; and it is what ought to be attended to by all generally; they ought to consider what the shoulders can bear, and cannot bear. For whence is it that many have so much audacity and boldness, except that they hurry on through extreme self — confidence? Hence, in all undertakings, this should be the first thing, that every one should weigh well his own strength, and take in hand what comports with the measure of his capacity. Then no one would foolishly obtrude himself, and arrogate to himself more than what is right. But when God calls us, we ought to obey, however deficient we may in all things be: and this is what we learn from what God says here, Say not, I am a child; that is, “though thou, indeed, thinkest thyself destitute of every qualification, though thou art conscious of thine own weakness, yet thou shalt go, thou must go wheresoever I shall send thee.” God, then, requires this honor to be simply conceded to him, that men should obey his commands, though the qualification necessary to execute them be wanting. It afterwards follows —

We may learn from this verse that Jeremiah, when he observed the heavy and hard conflicts he had to undertake, was greatly disturbed; for he had not courage enough firmly and boldly to assail enemies so many and so violent. He indeed saw, that he had to do with a degenerated people, who had almost all departed from the law of God: and since they had for many years shaken off the yoke, and were petulantly exulting in their freedom, it was difficult to bring them back to obedience, and to a right course of life. It hence appears that the Prophet was restrained by this difficulty, so as not to venture to undertake the prophetic office. But God applied a suitable remedy to his fear; for what does he say? Fear not their face It appears, then, that when Jeremiah said that he was a child, he had in view, as I have already hinted, the difficulty of the undertaking; he could hardly bear to carry on contests so severe with that rebellious people, who had now become hardened in their wickedness. We hence see how he refused, in an indirect manner, the burden laid on him, for he ventured, not openly and ingenuously, and in plain words, to confess how the matter was; but God, who penetrates into the hearts of men, and knows all their hidden feelings and motives, heals his timidity by saying, Fear not their face. 1111     The proper rendering is, “Fear not before them,” or, on their account: סמני is invariably a preposition, before, from before, because of, on account of, for, by, through; Deuteronomy 2:21; Exodus 14:19; Deuteronomy 7:19; Jeremiah 6:13; and it is often, though not always, so rendered in our version. The very same phrase is found in Joshua 11:6, and rendered, “Be not afraid, because of them;” and also in this book, Jeremiah 41:18, “They were afraid of them.” It may, indeed, be rendered, “Fear them not,” or, “Be not afraid of them.” To introduce “face” or “faces” is by no means right. Gataker’s rendering is, “Fear not before them;” and Blayney’s, “Be not thou afraid because of them.” — Ed

Now this passage shews that corruptions had so prevailed among the chosen people, that no servant of God could peaceably perform his office. When prophets and teachers have to do with a teachable people, they have no need to fight: but when there is no fear of God, and no regard for him, yea, when men are led away by the violence of their lusts, no godly teacher can exercise his duty without being prepared for war. This, then, is what God intimates, when he bids his Prophet to be courageous; for he saw that there would be as many enemies as professed themselves to be the children of Abraham.

The reason, also, for boldness and confidence, that is added, ought to be noticed, For I am with thee to deliver thee By these words God reminds the Prophet, that there would be sufficient protection in his power, so that he had no need to dread the fury of his own nation. It was, indeed, at first, a formidable undertaking, when Jeremiah saw that he had to carry on war, not with a few men, but with the whole people; but God sets himself in opposition to all men, and says, I am with thee, 1212     “Earthly kings and sovereigns,” observes Gataker on this verse, “are not wont to go with those whom they send on embassage; God goeth along with those whom he sends, and is by his powerful protection, at all times and in all places, present with them.” — Ed. fear not. We hence see that due honor is then conceded to God, when being content with his defense we disregard the fury of men, and hesitate not to contend with all the ungodly, yea, though they may rise up in a mass against us: and were their forces and power the strongest, we ought yet to feel assured that the defense of God alone is sufficient to protect us. This is the full meaning of the passage. It now follows-

Here Jeremiah speaks again of his calling, that his doctrine might not be despised, as though it proceeded from a private individual. He, therefore, testifies again, that he came not of himself, but was sent from above, and was invested with the authority of a prophet. For this purpose he says, that God’s words were put in his mouth.

This passage ought to be carefully observed; for Jeremiah briefly describes how a true call may be ascertained, when any one undertakes the office of a teacher in the Church: it is ascertained even by this when he brings nothing of his own, according to what Peter says in his first canonical epistle,

“Let him who speaks, speak as the oracles of God,”
(1 Peter 4:11)

that is, let him not speak doubtingly, as though he introduced his own glosses; but let him boldly, and without hesitation, speak in the name of God. So also Jeremiah in this place, in order that he might demand to be heard, plainly declares that the words of God were put in his mouth. Let us, then, know, that whatever proceeds from the wit of man, ought to be disregarded; for God wills this honor to be conceded to him alone, as it was stated yesterday, to be heard in his own Church. It hence follows, that none ought to be acknowledged as God’s servants, that no prophets or teachers ought to be counted true and faithful, except those through whom God speaks, who invent nothing themselves, who teach not according to their own fancies, but faithfully deliver what God has committed to them.

A visible symbol was added, that there might be a stronger confirmation: but there is no reason to make this a general rule, as though it were necessary that the tongues of all teachers should be touched by the hand of God. There are here two things — the thing itself, and the external sign. As to the thing itself, a rule is prescribed to all God’s servants, that they bring not their own inventions, but simply deliver, as from hand to hand, what they have received from God. But it was a special thing as to Jeremiah, that God, by stretching out his hand, touched his mouth; it was, that he might openly shew that his mouth was consecrated to himself. It is therefore sufficient as to the ministers of the word, that their tongues be consecrated to God, so that they may not mix any of their own fictions with his pure doctrine. But it was God’s will, as to Jeremiah, to add also the visible signs of the thing itself, by extending his hand and touching his mouth.

God having now shewn that Jeremiah’s mouth was consecrated to himself, and separated from common and profane use, proceeds to invest him with power: See, he says, I have set thee this day over nations and over kingdoms By these words God shews how reverently he would have his word received, even when conveyed by frail mortals. There is no one who pretends not, that he desires to obey God, but yet hardly one in a hundred really receives his word. For as soon as he speaks, almost all raise a clamor; or if they dare not furiously, and in a hostile manner, oppose it, we yet see how some evade it, and others secretly oppose it. The authority, then, which God ascribes to his own word, ought to be noticed by us: Behold, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms

Farther, by saying, See, I have set thee, he encourages the Prophet to be magnanimous in spirit. He was to remember his calling, and not timidly or servilely to flatter men, or to shew indulgence to their lusts and passions: See, he says. We may hence perceive, that teachers cannot firmly execute their office except they have the majesty of God before their eyes, so that in comparison with him they may disregard whatever splendor, pomp, or power there may be in men. Experience indeed teaches us, that the sight of men, whatever dignity they may possess, be it the least, brings fear with it. Why are prophets and teachers sent? That they may reduce the world to order: they are not to spare their hearers, but freely reprove them whenever there may be need; they are also to use threatenings when they find men perverse. But when there is any dignity connected with men, the teacher dares not to offend; he is afraid of those who are invested with power, or who possess wealth, or a high character for prudence, or who are endued with great honors. In such cases there is no remedy, except teachers set God before their eyes, and regard him to be himself the speaker. They may thus with courageous and elevated minds look down on whatever height and pre — eminence there may be among mortals. This, then, is the object of what God says here, See, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms; for he shews that there is so much authority in his word, that whatever is high and exalted on earth is made subject to it; even kings are not excepted.

But what God has joined together let no man separate. (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9) God indeed extols here his Prophets above the whole world, and even above kings; but he has previously said, Behold, I have put my words, in thy mouth; so that whosoever claims such a power, must necessarily bring forth the word of God, and really prove that he is a prophet, and that he introduces no fictions of his own. And hence we see how fatuitous is the boasting of the Pope, and of his filthy clergy, when they wickedly dare to appropriate to themselves what is here said. “We are, “they say, “above both kings and nations.” By what right? “God hath thus spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah.” But these two things are to be joined together — I have put my words in thy mouth, and, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms Now let the Pope shew that he is furnished with the word of God, that he claims for himself nothing that is his own, of apart from God; in a word, that he introduces nothing of his own devices, and we shall willingly allow that he is pre — eminent above the whole world. For God is not to be separated from his word: as his majesty shines eminently above the whole world, yea, and above all the angels of heaven; so there is the same dignity belonging to his word. But as these swine and dogs are empty of all true doctrine and piety, what effrontery it is, yea, what stupidity, to boast that they have authority over kings and nations! We, in short, see from the context, that men are not here so much extolled, though they be true ministers of celestial truth, as the truth itself; for God ascribes here the highest authority to his own word, though its ministers were men of no repute, poor and despised, and having nothing splendid connected with them. The purpose for which this was said I have already explained; it was, that true prophets and teachers may take courage, and thus boldly set themselves against kings and nations, when armed with the power of celestial truth.

He then adds, To root up, to destroy, to pull down, to lay waste God seems here to have designedly rendered odious his own word and the ministry of the Prophet; for the word of God in the mouth of Jeremiah could not have been acceptable to the Jews, except they perceived that it was for their safety and welfare: but God speaks here of ruin and destruction, of cutting down and desolation. But he subjoins, to build and to plant God then ascribes two effects to his word, that on the one hand it destroys, pulls down, lays waste, cuts off; and that on the other it plants and builds

But it may, however, be rightly asked, why does God at first speak of ruin and extermination? The order would have seemed better had he said first, I set thee to build and to plant, according to what is said by Paul, who declares that vengeance was prepared by him and the other teachers against all despisers, and against all the height of the world, when your obedience, he says, shall be completed. (2 Corinthians 10:5, 6.) Paul then intimates that the doctrine of the gospel is properly, and in the first place, designed for this end — to call men to the service of God. But Jeremiah here puts ruin and destruction before building and planting. It then seems, as I have said, that he acts inconsistently. But we must ever bear in mind what the state of the people was: for impiety, perverseness, and hardened iniquity had for so long a time prevailed, that it was necessary to begin with ruin and eradication; for Jeremiah could not have planted or have built the temple of God, except he had first destroyed, pulled down, laid waste, and cut off. How so? Because the Devil had erected there his palace; for as true religion had been for many years despised, the Devil was there placed, as it were, on his high throne, and reigned uncontrolled at Jerusalem, and through the whole land of Judea. How, then, could he have built there a temple for God, in which he might be purely worshipped, except ruin and destruction had preceded? for the Devil had corrupted the whole land. We indeed know that all kinds of wickedness then prevailed everywhere, as though the land had been filled with thorns and briers. Jeremiah then could not have planted or sown his heavenly doctrine until the land had been cleansed from so many vices and pollutions. This is no doubt the reason why in the first place he speaks of cutting off and ruin, of exterminating and eradicating, and afterwards adds planting and building.

The heap of words employed shews how deep impiety and the contempt of God had fixed their roots. God might have said only, I have set thee to pull down and to destroy; he might have been content with two words, as in the latter instance — to plant and to build. But as the Jews had been obstinate in their wickedness, as their insolence had been so great, they could not be corrected immediately, nor in one day, nor by a slight effort. Hence God accumulated words, and thus encouraged his Prophet to proceed with unwearied zeal in the work of clearing away the filth which had polluted the whole land. We now then understand what is here said, and the purpose of using so many words. 1313     The whole of this verse is arranged according to the usual manner of the Prophets. The word “nations” comes first, and then “kingdoms.” Three lines follow; the first word in each line refers to “kingdoms,” and the last to “nations.” The ו, vau, in the second line is omitted in many copies, and there seems to be no need of it; and it is not true what Blayney says, that there are MSS. which supply the ו before the last line, though it be supplied by the Septuagint To preserve the distinct meaning of each verb, I offer the following rendering: —
   See, I have set thee this day
Over nations and over kingdoms,
To root up, and to break down,
To destroy, and to erase,
To build up, and to plant.

   He was to root up kingdoms, and to break down nations; then he adds stronger words, for he was to destroy, or wholly to destroy kingdoms, and to erase or to obliterate nations. The reason for the repetition is well stated by Calvin. As to his other work, two words only are used: he was to build up kingdoms, and to plant nations. A nation, of course, exists before a kingdom, and this order is observed in the second line; but the order, as it is usual with the sacred writers, not only of the Old, but also of the New Testament, is then reversed. See an instance in Romans 10:9, 10, where indeed the true order is given last, the ostensible act being in the first instance stated, and then the principle from which it proceeds. — Ed.}

But he speaks again of kingdoms and nations; for though Jeremiah was given as a Prophet especially to his own nation, yet he was also a Prophet to heathen nations, as they say, by accident, according to what we shall hereafter see: and it seems that, God designedly mentioned nations and kingdoms, in order to humble the pride of that people who thought themselves exempt from all reproof. Hence he says, that he gave authority to his servant, not only over Judea, but also over the whole world; as though he had said, “Ye are but a small portion of mankind; raise not then your horns against my servant, as ye shall do this without effect; for he shall exercise power not only over Judea, but also over all nations, and even over kings, as the doctrine which I have deposited with him is of such force and power that it will stand eminent above all mortals, much more above one single nation.”

We at the same time see that though the treachery of men constrains God to use severity, yet he never forgets his own nature, and kindly invites to repentance those who are not wholly past remedy, and offers to them the hope of pardon and of salvation; and this is what celestial truth ever includes. For though it be the odour of death unto death to those who perish, it is yet the odor of life unto life to the elect of God. It indeed often happens that the greater part turn the doctrine of salvation to their ruin; yet God never suffers all to perish. He therefore makes the truth the incorruptible seed of life to his elect, and builds them up as his temples. This is what we must bear in mind. And so there is no reason why the truth of God should be disliked by us, though it be the occasion of perdition to many; for it always brings salvation to the elect: it so plants them, that they strike roots into the hope of a blessed immortality, and then it builds them for holy temples unto God. It now follows —

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