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If you return, O Israel,

says the L ord,

if you return to me,

if you remove your abominations from my presence,

and do not waver,


and if you swear, “As the L ord lives!”

in truth, in justice, and in uprightness,

then nations shall be blessed by him,

and by him they shall boast.

3 For thus says the L ord to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem:

Break up your fallow ground,

and do not sow among thorns.


Circumcise yourselves to the L ord,

remove the foreskin of your hearts,

O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,

or else my wrath will go forth like fire,

and burn with no one to quench it,

because of the evil of your doings.


Invasion and Desolation of Judah Threatened

5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say:

Blow the trumpet through the land;

shout aloud and say,

“Gather together, and let us go

into the fortified cities!”


Raise a standard toward Zion,

flee for safety, do not delay,

for I am bringing evil from the north,

and a great destruction.


A lion has gone up from its thicket,

a destroyer of nations has set out;

he has gone out from his place

to make your land a waste;

your cities will be ruins

without inhabitant.


Because of this put on sackcloth,

lament and wail:

“The fierce anger of the L ord

has not turned away from us.”


9 On that day, says the L ord, courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded. 10Then I said, “Ah, Lord G od, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ even while the sword is at the throat!”


11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— 12a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.


Look! He comes up like clouds,

his chariots like the whirlwind;

his horses are swifter than eagles—

woe to us, for we are ruined!


O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness

so that you may be saved.

How long shall your evil schemes

lodge within you?


For a voice declares from Dan

and proclaims disaster from Mount Ephraim.


Tell the nations, “Here they are!”

Proclaim against Jerusalem,

“Besiegers come from a distant land;

they shout against the cities of Judah.


They have closed in around her like watchers of a field,

because she has rebelled against me,

says the L ord.


Your ways and your doings

have brought this upon you.

This is your doom; how bitter it is!

It has reached your very heart.”


Sorrow for a Doomed Nation


My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!

Oh, the walls of my heart!

My heart is beating wildly;

I cannot keep silent;

for I hear the sound of the trumpet,

the alarm of war.


Disaster overtakes disaster,

the whole land is laid waste.

Suddenly my tents are destroyed,

my curtains in a moment.


How long must I see the standard,

and hear the sound of the trumpet?


“For my people are foolish,

they do not know me;

they are stupid children,

they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,

but do not know how to do good.”



I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;

and to the heavens, and they had no light.


I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,

and all the hills moved to and fro.


I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,

and all the birds of the air had fled.


I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,

and all its cities were laid in ruins

before the L ord, before his fierce anger.

27 For thus says the L ord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.


Because of this the earth shall mourn,

and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;

I have not relented nor will I turn back.



At the noise of horseman and archer

every town takes to flight;

they enter thickets; they climb among rocks;

all the towns are forsaken,

and no one lives in them.


And you, O desolate one,

what do you mean that you dress in crimson,

that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold,

that you enlarge your eyes with paint?

In vain you beautify yourself.

Your lovers despise you;

they seek your life.


For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,

anguish as of one bringing forth her first child,

the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath,

stretching out her hands,

“Woe is me! I am fainting before killers!”


The Prophet again teaches us, that the cause of these evils arose from the people themselves, and was to be found in them, so that they could not transfer it to anybody else. Hence he says, My people are foolish. He speaks here in the person of God; for it immediately follows, Me have they not known: this could not have been said by Jeremiah. God then complains here of the folly of his people; whom he so calls, not by way of honor, but that he might double their reproach; for nothing could have been more disgraceful than that the people, whom God had chosen as his peculiar inheritance, should be thus demented: for why had God chosen the seed of Abraham as his adopted children, but that they might be as lamps, carrying through the world the light of salvation?

“What people in the world, “says Moses, “are so noble, who have gods so near them?” He says also, “This is thy knowledge and wisdom.” (Deuteronomy 4:6, 7.)

God then shews here that it was a monstrous thing, which all should regard with abhorrence, that his people should be foolish; as though he had said, “Can it be that a people whom I have chosen for myself, and with whom I have deposited the covenant of eternal salvation, whom I have instructed by my word — that this people should so madly ruin themselves?”

The people, then, are foolish, because they have not known me. He here expresses what was the cause of the foolishness or blindness of the people, even because they did not know God; for the knowledge of him is true wisdom. Now God thus shews that the madness of the people was inexcusable. How so? because he had made himself so familiarly known to them, that the Israelites had no occasion to ask, as Moses says, Who shall ascend into heaven, or who shall descend into the deep? for the word was set before them. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14.) As, then, God had so kindly manifested himself to the Jews, he justly complains that he was not known by them.

There are then here two things to be noticed; first, the kind of madness that is here mentioned, — the people did not know God. And we hence learn that then only are we wise when we fear God, and that we are always mad and senseless when we regard him not. This is one thing. Secondly, we must know that no excuse of ignorance or mistake was allowed to that people, for God had made himself known to them. And this may be applied to us: God will justly upbraid us at the last day, that we have been foolish and mad, if we are without the knowledge of him; for we have the means, as I have said, of knowing him; and there is no excuse that we can plead for our ignorance, since God has not spoken to us in an obscure manner. God in these words accused the Jews of ingratitude, and of deliberate wickedness, because they knew him not. But since God has at this day made himself more fully known to us, it is, as I have said, a heavier condemnation to us, and our punishment will thus be doubled, if we know not God, who is so kind to us, and deals with us so graciously.

Then he adds, that they were foolish children, and not intelligent. The antithesis in Hebrew is more emphatical than in Greek and Latin; for to say, “He is foolish, and not wise, “would be in Greek and Latin frigid, as the last clause would be weaker than the former. But in Hebrew it is different; for in this way is conveyed the idea, that they were so foolish that not even the least portion of a sound mind remained in them. Even those who are foolish and senseless do yet retain some knowledge, however small it may be: hence they say, that the foolish often speak what is suitable. But the Prophet means another thing, — that the Jews were not only senseless and stupid, but that they were so destitute of all knowledge, that they were like stones or brute animals, and that they had not a particle of sound mind or of rational knowledge remaining in them. 118118     The specific meaning of the terms used in this verse is not given in our version, nor by Calvin, nor by Blayney. The following, as I apprehend, is a literal version, —
   For stupid are my people, Me they do not know; Foolish children are they, And undiscerning are they; Wise are they to do evil, But how to do good they know not.

   “Stupid,” אויל, is one grossly ignorant, so as to be without knowledge, and not capable of knowing how to do good, or what is the good to be done. The last line explains the two first. Then “foolish,” סכלים, are the perverse, or the perverted, who are foolish through a perverted mind, who are said in the next line to be undiscerning, and who, as in the line which follows, had wisdom enough to do evil. They were stupidly ignorant, and perversely foolish. They were ignorant as to good, and wise as to evil; but this their wisdom was folly. — Ed
The rest we shall defer to another time.

The Prophet in this passage enlarges in a language highly metaphorical on the terror of God’s vengeance, that he might rouse the Jews, who were stupid and careless: nor is the repetition in vain, when he says four times, that he looked. He might have spoken of the earth, heaven, men, and fertile places in one sentence: but it is the same as though he had turned his eyes to four different quarters, and said, that wherever he looked, there appeared to him dreadful tokens of God’s wrath, and which threatened the Jews with utter ruin. Nor is it a wonder that the Prophet is so vehement; for we know that men would have heedlessly received all threatenings, except they were violently roused. And this mode of teaching ought to be well known to us; for all in any degree acquainted with the writings of the prophets, must know that they especially pursued this course, in order to rouse hypocrites, and the despisers of God, who, with a stiff neck and a hardened heart, were not moved by any apprehension of punishment. But this passage is remarkable above most others: we ought therefore to consider the import of the Prophet’s words.

He says first, that he looked on the earth, and that it was תהו, teu, and בהו, beu. He employs the very words which Moses adopted in his history of the creation; for before any order was introduced, he says that the earth was תהו, teu, and בהו, beu, that is, waste and unformed chaos; and it had no beauty pleasing to the eye. 119119     These two words are viewed as synonymous by some, and the versions render them often by the same terms. As to the first, תהו, there can be no doubt as to its meaning, for it occurs about twenty times, and in all these places the idea of emptiness is chiefly conveyed: hence it is most commonly rendered in our version, vain, vanity, in vain, nought, etc., 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 49:4. It is improperly rendered “without form,“ in Genesis 1:2, and “confusion” in Isaiah 34:11. When applied to the earth, as in Genesis 1:2, it imports emptiness, as it was then unfurnished either with productions or with any inhabitants. This appears evident from Isaiah 45:18, “He created it not in vain,“ rather, “not empty did he create it — לא-תהו בראה;” “he formed it to be inhabited,“ or more literally, “for a habitation he formed it.” As to the other word, בוו, it only occurs three times, Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 34:11; and here. As the former evidently means emptiness, this may be taken to mean confusion or chaos, according to Symmachus, “συγκεχυμένη, — confused.” Then the right rendering here would be, —
   23. I looked on the land, And behold emptiness and confusion; And towards the heavens, And they were without their light.

   It is not the earth, but the land of Judea is what is meant. The whole passage being so striking, shall be here given, —

   24. I looked at the mountains, And, behold, they were shaking, And all the hills made quick motions:

   25. I looked, and, behold, there was no man; And every bird of heaven had fled away:

   26. I looked, and, behold, Carmel a desert; And all its cities had been demolished By the presence of Jehovah, By the indignation of his wrath.

   The whole is represented as already done. The Prophet speaks of what he had seen in the vision. — Ed.
It is the same as though He had said, that the order, which had been so beautifully arranged, had now disappeared through God’s wrath, and that there was nothing but confusion everywhere. Thus he amplifies the atrocity of their sins; as though he had said, that men had become so fallen, that they had changed the whole form of the world, and blended heaven and earth together, so that now there was no distinction between things. As to the heavens, he says, that there was no light in them: he intimates that the light of the sun, moon, and stars, was in a manner extinguished, because men were unworthy to enjoy such a kindness from God; and as though the sun and moon were ashamed to be witnesses of so many sins and vices.

We now then apprehend what Jeremiah chiefly means in the first verse: He says, that he looked on the earth, and that nothing appeared in it but dreadful chaos and waste, there being no form nor beauty; for the Jews had by their sins subverted the order of nature and the creation of God. And he says, that he looked on the heavens, and that they had no light; for the Jews had deserved to be deprived of that benefit which God had designed the sun and the moon to convey: and it is indeed a singular instance of God’s kindness, that he has made such noble objects to be of such service to us. The Prophet, in short, means that such awful tokens of God’s wrath appeared in heaven and on earth, as though the whole world had been thrown into confusion. This mode of speaking often occurs in the other prophets, especially in Joel 2:2. Though the words are hyperbolical, yet they do not exceed what is suitable, if we take to the account the extreme insensibility of men: for except God arms heaven and earth, and shews himself ready to take away all the blessings with which he favors mankind, they will, as we have lately said, laugh to scorn all his threatenings.

Jeremiah descends afterwards from heaven to mountains, and says that they trembled, and that all the hills moved or shook; some say, destroyed, but I know not for what reason, for the Prophet no doubt confirms the same thing by another phrase: and as he had said, that mountains trembled, so he also adds, that hills shook; and this is the proper meaning of the verb. Now the reason why he speaks of mountains and hills is evident; for a greater stability seems to belong to them than to level grounds, inasmuch as mountains are for the most part stony, and have their roots most firmly fixed in rocks. Were indeed the whole world to be thrown into confusion, the mountains seem to be so firmly based that no commotion could affect them: but the Prophet says, that they trembled, and that the hills shook

What he saw the third time was solitude; for he says that there were no men, and that all birds had fled away. The principal ornament of the world, we know, consists of men and of living creatures. For why was the earth made so productive, that it brings forth fruits, so many and so various, except for the sake of men and of animals? Though, then, the earth appears very beautiful on account of its trees, herbs, and every kind of fruit, yet its principal ornaments are men and animals. By stating a part for the whole, the Prophet, by mentioning birds, includes all earthly animals: he says then, that the earth was emptied of its inhabitants.

What he saw the fourth time was this — that the fertile land was turned into a desert. I indeed think that Carmel is to be taken here as meaning the place. That part of the holy land, we know, received its name from its fertility: Carmel means any rich and fruitful spot of ground. But, as I have just said, the mount was so called because it abounded in all kinds of produce; for there were on it fruitful pastures and fertile fields, and every part of it was remarkably pleasant and delightful. I am therefore inclined to consider Carmel itself to be meant here; and my reason is, because he immediately adds, that its cities were destroyed; and this can be more fitly applied to Carmel than generally to all fruitful regions. As to myself, I think that the Prophet speaks of Carmel; and yet he alludes to what the word means. 120120     All the early versions, as well as the Targum, retain the word “Carmel.” Blayney renders it “the fruitful field.” — Ed. Even in this verse he mentions a part for the whole, as though he had said, that Carmel, which excelled in fertility, had become like a desert. When Isaiah speaks of the renovation of the Church, he says,

“The desert shall be as Carmel,“ (Isaiah 32:15)

as though he had said, that the blessing of God would be so abundant through the whole world, that deserts would bear fruit like Carmel, or those regions which are remarkable for their fertility. But Jeremiah, speaking here of a curse, says, that Carmel would be like the desert; and that all its cities would be demolished, even at the presence of Jehovah, and by the great heat of his wrath

Some render חרון, charun, fury: and this kind of language is not without its use; for men, as we have said, except God terrifies them as it were by thunders, will sleep and will not perceive his judgment, so that all threatenings become useless to them. This is the reason why Scripture speaks so often of the fury or of the great heat of God’s wrath. Either of the two words might indeed be sufficient; either חרון, charun, which means fury or great heat; or אף aph, which signifies anger or wrath. Why then are both mentioned? because it is necessary, as I have said, to tear in pieces our hardness as with hammers; for otherwise God could never turn us to fear him. This repetition then ought to avail for the purpose of subduing the perverseness of our nature; not that these turbulent feelings belong to God, as it is well known; but as we cannot otherwise conceive how dreadful his vengeance is, it is necessary that he should be set before us as one who is angry and burning with wrath: in a like manner, eternal death is described to us under the metaphor of fire.

Now, as to the sum of what is here said, the Jews at that time no doubt enjoyed great abundance and indulged their pleasures; in short, they were fully pleased with their condition. But the Prophet here declares that he saw at a distance what these blind Jews did not see, even God’s vengeance approaching, which would deprive them of that abundance, on account of which they were so swollen with pride, and which would reduce them all into such a state of desolation that nothing would remain above or below, but a disordered confusion, such as existed before nature was brought to order, when the earth was not separated from the heavens, and there was only a confused mass, including all the elements, and without any light. He afterwards adds —

The Prophet briefly explains here what he understood by the four things which he had seen and of which he had spoken. He then declares, as it were in the person of God, that there would be a dreadful desolation throughout Judea; Wasted, he says, shall be the whole land, or, in the whole land there shall be desolation. Some explain what afterwards follows, as though he mitigated the severity of his language. Hence, as they think, a mitigation is added, which was to relieve the faithful with some hope of mercy, lest they should wholly despond. And indeed were he to threaten only he might fill a hundred worlds with terror. Lest then despair should so overwhelm the faithful as to restrain them from fleeing to God for mercy, it is often added by way of mitigation, that God would not consume the whole land.

The word כלה, cale, sometimes means perfection, but in most places, consummation; for the verb signifies to perfect and to consume, and for the same reason. Though these two things seem inconsistent, yet what is consumed is said to be perfected, for it comes to an end. If this explanation is approved, we now see the reason why he declares that he would not make a consummation, with whatever severity he might punish the sins of his people; it was, that some hope might remain for the faithful, so that they might not be wholly discouraged; which would have been the case had not God promised to be propitious and mindful of his covenant.

Some perhaps may approve of reading the sentence as a question, and think that the object is to beat down the pride of the ungodly, and to dissipate the boasting of those who relied on the hope of impunity; as though he had said, “Do ye still deny that I shall make a consummation?”

Now, though the former exposition contains a richer truth, yet I prefer to take כלה, cale, as signifying an end, as though he had declared that he would observe no moderation in executing his vengeance: 121121     All the early versions and the Targum favor the former view, as they all render the sentence, “Yet a consummation I will not make.” Gataker mentions another explanation, “I will not yet make a full end” with you; that is, I will punish you yet farther: and reference is made to Jeremiah 5:18. This view is adopted by Blayney and Scott. But the former view is no doubt the right one; for this is the meaning of the phrase as found in other places; see Jeremiah 30:11; where it is clear that כלה עשה is wholly to destroy. See also Nehemiah 9:31; Ezekiel 11:13; Ezekiel 20:17; Nahum 1:9. The meaning then is, “Yet I will not make an entire destruction.” Henry takes this view, and Lowth seems to prefer it. Indeed the phrase has no other meaning wherever it is used. — Ed and a similar language occurs in the next chapter. The real meaning then is, — that God would to the end carry on his work of desolation. The prophets indeed do not always speak alike when they announce God’s judgments. Sometimes they denounce ruin where none seems to be safe; yet God ever preserves some hidden seed, as it is said in Isaiah 1:9; where also it appears evident what the prophets understood by making a consummation. For God there threatens and says,

“Behold I will make a consummation;” yet he afterwards adds, “The consummation shall bring forth fruit,”

that is, what remained of the consummation. The prophets elsewhere compare the Church of God to olive — trees when shaken, or to vines after vintage, (Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13;) for some grapes ever remain which escape the eyes of the gatherers; so also, when the olive — trees are shaken, some fruit remain on the highest branches. Thus God says, that the consummation he makes in his Church is like the vintage or the shaking of olive — trees, when some fruit remain and escape the eyes of the gatherers. We now perceive what the Prophet means, — that there would be the ruin of the whole people, so that they would have neither a name nor existence as a body; which thing also happened, when they were driven as exiles into Babylon; for the people, as a civil community, then ceased to exist, so that there was an end made of them.

I indeed allow that God’s threatenings cannot avail for our salvation, unless connected with the promise of pardon, so that being raised up by the hope of salvation we may flee to him: for as long as we deem God inexorable, we shun every access to him; and thus despair drives us into a rage like that of fiends. Hence it is that the reprobate rage so much against God, and make a great clamor: and they would willingly thrust him from his throne. It is therefore necessary that a hope of salvation should be set before us, so that we may be touched with repentance: and as this promise is perpetual, whatever may happen, even if earth and heaven were mixed together, and ruin on every side were filling us with dread, we must still remember that there will be ever some remnant according to the passages we have referred to in the first and tenth chapters of Isaiah. But as the people were not prepared to receive consolation, the design of the Prophet here is different, for he only mentions punishment. He afterwards adds —

Jeremiah proceeds here with the same subject, and still introduces God as the speaker, that what is said might produce a greater effect. For this, he says, the land shall mourn. The mourning of the land is to be taken for its desolation; but he refers to what he had said before. He does not speak of the inhabitants of the land; for they who thus explain the passage, diminish much the force of the expression; for the Prophet here ascribes terror and sorrow to the very elements, which is much more striking than if he said, that all men would be in sorrow and grief. The same also must be thought of the heavens. Indeed, the latter clause proves that he does not speak of the inhabitants, but of the land itself, which, though without reason, seems yet to dread God’s vengeance. And thus the Prophet upbraids men with their insensibility; for when God appeared as judge from heaven, they were not touched with any fear. Mourn then shall the land, and covered shall be the heaven with darkness; that is, though men remain stupid, yet both heaven and earth shall feel how dreadful God’s judgment will be.

He afterwards adds, Because I have spoken. Some consider אשר, asher, what, to be understood between this sentence and the following verb: “Because I have spoken what I have purposed, and I have not repented.” But the concise phrase is not unsuitable: God first intimates, that he had pronounced the sentence, which would remain firm and unchangeable; as though he had said, “I have once for all declared by my servants what I will do.” For the prophets, we know, were the heralds of God’s vengeance: and as their doctrine was often despised, so at this day also the world obstinately rejects it; and as it often now derides all threatenings, so it happened then. But Jeremiah introduces here God as the speaker, as though he had said, “My servants have been despised by you; but they have said nothing but what I have commanded them: I am therefore the author of that sentence by which you ought to have been moved and roused.” In this sense it is that God testifies that he had spoken; for he transfers to himself what the Jews thought proceeded from the prophets, and hence supposed that they were at liberty to regard as nothing what the prophets pronounced against them: “I myself am He,” says God, “who has spoken.” So that we must understand a contrast here between God and the prophets; as though he had said, that the Jews in vain slumbered in their sins, because they thought they had to do only with mortals, since God himself had commanded his servants to denounce the ruin that was despised.

But that they might not think that God had thus spoken to cause a false alarm, (for hypocrites flatter themselves with this pretense, that God does not speak seriously, but that he frightens them with bugbears, as children are wont to be,) he says, that he had purposed. He had said before that he had spoken, that is, by his prophets; but what he means now by this word is, that the predictions which he had made known as to their destruction proceeded from his own secret counsel: “This,” he says, “has been decreed by me.”

He then adds, It has not repented me, and I will not turn from it. He briefly shews, that the Jews were now given up to death, that they might not think that God could be pacified as long as they followed their vices; for God had decreed to destroy them; and he had not only declared this by his prophets, but had also resolved within himself to do so. By the term repent, is to be understood a change; for God cannot, strictly speaking, repent, as nothing is hid from him; but he speaks, as I have lately stated, after a human manner: and every ambiguity is removed by the next phrase, when he says, I will not turn from it, that is, “I will not retract my sentence.” 122122     The latter part is very concise, —
   Because I have said, I have purposed, And have not repented, And I will not turn from it.

   The turning refers to what he had said, and repentance to the purpose. Blayney followed the Septuagint, and changed the order of the words, and thus destroyed the right connection of the passage, and the common parallelism of the language. We may also notice this passage as an instance of what is often found both in the Old Testament, and also in the New, — that when two or more things are consecutively stated, the most obvious, the most apparent, is mentioned first, and then the most hidden, or what is in order previous. Purpose is first in order, but speaking is first mentioned. — Ed.
It follows —

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