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The Utter Corruption of God’s People


Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,

look around and take note!

Search its squares and see

if you can find one person

who acts justly

and seeks truth—

so that I may pardon Jerusalem.


Although they say, “As the L ord lives,”

yet they swear falsely.


O L ord, do your eyes not look for truth?

You have struck them,

but they felt no anguish;

you have consumed them,

but they refused to take correction.

They have made their faces harder than rock;

they have refused to turn back.



Then I said, “These are only the poor,

they have no sense;

for they do not know the way of the L ord,

the law of their God.


Let me go to the rich

and speak to them;

surely they know the way of the L ord,

the law of their God.”

But they all alike had broken the yoke,

they had burst the bonds.



Therefore a lion from the forest shall kill them,

a wolf from the desert shall destroy them.

A leopard is watching against their cities;

everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces—

because their transgressions are many,

their apostasies are great.



How can I pardon you?

Your children have forsaken me,

and have sworn by those who are no gods.

When I fed them to the full,

they committed adultery

and trooped to the houses of prostitutes.


They were well-fed lusty stallions,

each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.


Shall I not punish them for these things?

says the L ord;

and shall I not bring retribution

on a nation such as this?



Go up through her vine-rows and destroy,

but do not make a full end;

strip away her branches,

for they are not the L ord’s.


For the house of Israel and the house of Judah

have been utterly faithless to me,

says the L ord.


They have spoken falsely of the L ord,

and have said, “He will do nothing.

No evil will come upon us,

and we shall not see sword or famine.”


The prophets are nothing but wind,

for the word is not in them.

Thus shall it be done to them!



Therefore thus says the L ord, the God of hosts:

Because they have spoken this word,

I am now making my words in your mouth a fire,

and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them.


I am going to bring upon you

a nation from far away, O house of Israel,

says the L ord.

It is an enduring nation,

it is an ancient nation,

a nation whose language you do not know,

nor can you understand what they say.


Their quiver is like an open tomb;

all of them are mighty warriors.


They shall eat up your harvest and your food;

they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;

they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;

they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;

they shall destroy with the sword

your fortified cities in which you trust.


18 But even in those days, says the L ord, I will not make a full end of you. 19And when your people say, “Why has the L ord our God done all these things to us?” you shall say to them, “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”



Declare this in the house of Jacob,

proclaim it in Judah:


Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,

who have eyes, but do not see,

who have ears, but do not hear.


Do you not fear me? says the L ord;

Do you not tremble before me?

I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,

a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;

though the waves toss, they cannot prevail,

though they roar, they cannot pass over it.


But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;

they have turned aside and gone away.


They do not say in their hearts,

“Let us fear the L ord our God,

who gives the rain in its season,

the autumn rain and the spring rain,

and keeps for us

the weeks appointed for the harvest.”


Your iniquities have turned these away,

and your sins have deprived you of good.


For scoundrels are found among my people;

they take over the goods of others.

Like fowlers they set a trap;

they catch human beings.


Like a cage full of birds,

their houses are full of treachery;

therefore they have become great and rich,


they have grown fat and sleek.

They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;

they do not judge with justice

the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,

and they do not defend the rights of the needy.


Shall I not punish them for these things?

says the L ord,

and shall I not bring retribution

on a nation such as this?



An appalling and horrible thing

has happened in the land:


the prophets prophesy falsely,

and the priests rule as the prophets direct;

my people love to have it so,

but what will you do when the end comes?


What the previous verse contains is here confirmed, — that the Jews, through their own fault, had deprived themselves of God’s favor. It was necessary to do this; for otherwise they would have had some answer to give, inasmuch as hypocrites, being so perverse, do not easily yield. Hence the Prophet confirms what he had said, — that there were wicked men among God’s people. But this ought not to be confined to some among them, as it is done by interpreters, who seem not to explain quite correctly what the Prophet meant. For he does not reprove or condemn some only; but he says that the people, whom God had chosen, were wicked It is then a general condemnation of the whole people, when he says, that there were found wicked men among God’s people; as though he had said, “The wicked are not to be sought among heathens, but iniquity so reigns among the elect people, that there is in them nothing sound, nothing pure.”

When he says found, I understand his meaning to be, found guilty, or convicted: for he means that their sins were not secret, so that they could escape by evasions; but he says that they were found, as thieves are found, according to a common saying, in the very act of stealing. The Prophet then intimates that there was no need of long dispute, as though the Jews could find out some excuse, for they were manifestly guilty. But it was much more disgraceful that they should be found wicked, than that the blind and unbelieving should be found so; for God had adopted them as his people on this condition — that holiness and purity of life should prevail among them. Since then they were not only sinners, but רשעים, reshoim, wholly impious and wicked, it was, as I have said, a far more atrocious thing. And thus he takes away from them every pretense for evasion.

He afterwards urges still farther his charge, and says, that every one looked, or espied, for this is the meaning of the verb שור, shur. He indeed changes the number, but the sense is not rendered thereby more obscure: and to look here, is to lie in wait. Then look, or lie in wait, did every one, as though they were laying snares as fowlers do. He then says, that they were furnished with snares, by which they dragged men into destruction, after having caught them. 154154     There is a grammatical difficulty connected with the word ישורThe Septuagint, and the Syriac and the Arabic, omit the word, and the Vulgate renders it in the plural number, as if it was ישורו, which Blayney adopts. Venema renders it “upright” or just, and considers the root to be ישרand refers to Micah 7:4, when the upright is said to be “sharper than a thorn hedge,“ that is, such as were counted or ought to have been “upright.” The reference here is evidently to the judge, who assumed the office of an upright one. See verse 28. The literal version would then be as follows, —
   For found among my people are the unjust; The upright is like the setter of snares; They have set up entrapping, Men they catch.

   Thus all the parts correspond, and what is said corresponds with Jeremiah 5:28. The verb rendered “set up, “means to settle, to constitute, to establish; the office of the upright, that is, of the judge, was set up as an office for entrapping, he being like a setter of snares. The “unjust” among the people, as stated here, were the judges; the word, רשעis the perverter of justice, and stands in contrast with צדק, who acts justly. — Ed
What is particular is here mentioned for what is general: for the Prophet meant to shew that there was then no faithfulness nor integrity among the people, for every one by frauds and wicked crafts oppressed the simple. Since then they were so perfidious one towards another, he fitly compares them to fowlers, who by their snares entrap the simple birds: but he explains this more clearly in what follows —

Jeremiah goes on with the same subject. He made use, as we have said, of a similitude taken from fowling: he now applies this similitude to the Jews, — that their houses were full of fraud, as the cage (some render it basket 155155     It is so rendered in Amos 8:1, 2. This was no doubt a wicker-basket or cage for birds, to keep them, and not a trap-cage, as suggested by the Septuagint and Vulgate versions. The Targum is, “the house of feeding.” The comparison is between a cage full of birds, which had been caught by snares, nets, or traps, and houses filled with spoils, which had been procured by frauds. And were “full” rendered “filled, “as it might be, there would be no need of the metonymy supposed to be in the word “fraud,“ —
   As the cage is filled with birds, So their houses are filled by means of fraud: Hence they have become great and grown rich.

   — Ed.
) is full of birds: for fowlers, when they go for game, carry with them either bags or cages or baskets. So then Jeremiah says, that they collected plunder on every side, so that their houses were full of frauds: but by fraud he means spoils, which they acquired by unjust means. It may at the first view seem an obscure language; but if we take the word מרמה, mereme, in a passive sense, there will be nothing ambiguous. The Prophet then does not use a language strictly correct when he says, that their houses were full of deceit or fraud; but they were full of spoils which they had acquired by deceit and fraud. Hence, what he means by fraud were the plunders by which they had become rich, as he afterwards explains.

We now perceive, that the meaning of the Prophet is, — that there was no longer a proof required, that the Jews circumvented the helpless and the poor, for their houses were filled with such spoils as made evident their wickedness: they had scraped together their riches by depriving the helpless and the poor of their substance. And hence he adds, By this have they increased and become rich It is probable that they gloried in their wealth, like thieves, whose trade is to plunder: for when they increased, they thought themselves raised above all danger. They were like courtiers, who by rapines and frauds and tyrannical violence, draw to themselves from all quarters the possessions of others, so that one got annually sixty thousands and another a hundred thousands; and then they became the more ferocious, because they thought that they could not be called to an account, being blinded by the splendor of their riches. But the Prophet here derides this besotted glorying, and says, “Behold, they are become great in the world, and they would have themselves to be on this account exalted;” increased have they, he says, and become rich; that is, “If any one will now search their houses, he will indeed find many things by which they make a display before the eyes of the simple; but they are nothing but rapines, plunders, frauds, spoils, thefts, and, in a word, robberies.” This is what he simply means. He afterwards adds —

Here the Prophet reproves those who were high in dignity, station, and wealth, and who wished at the same time to be deemed inviolable, because they were the rulers of the people. He had spoken before generally, but now he assails the higher orders, the king’s counselors, the priests, the judges, and all endowed with authority. He says, that they were swoln with fatness, that they were shining, though they had exceeded, etc We see how he confirms what he had briefly referred to; for as they protected themselves under the pretense of being rich, that they might not be called to an account, he says, by way of concession, “I allow that ye are bright and splendid, and indeed that ye are all over gold; but whence is this splendor? whence is this specious appearance, which dazzles the eyes of the simple? Ye are bright, ye are fat, though ye have surpassed the words of the impious, that is, the ways, the doings, and the designs of the impious.” He means, in short, that it was of no avail to the wicked, that by their aspect they terrified people, that they gained great respect by their riches, and made men afraid of them: the Prophet admits that they had honors, wealth, splendor, repute, dignity, and such things; but he says, at the same time, Ye have surpassed all the doings of the wicked 156156     Expounders differ as to the meaning of these words. They are partly omitted by the Septuagint and Syriac. The Vulgate is, “et praeterierunt sermones meos pessime — and they have passed by my words very haughtily.” The Targum is a loose version, “They have also transgressed the words of the law, they have done what is evil.” Such meanings do not correspond with the context. The words literally are, “They have passed over (or, by) the words of wrong;” but as the term for “words” often means things, affairs, matters, the version may be, “matters of wrong,“ or wrong things. These “matters of wrong” are afterwards specified, as will be seen in the following version, —
   28. They have become fat, they have shined: Moreover, they have passed by matters of wrong; The cause they have not defended — The cause of the orphan, yet have they prospered; And the right of the meek have they not pleaded.

   The word “moreover,“ may be rendered “though,“ as Blayney does, (see Nehemiah 6:1:) but the rest of the sentence is not so well rendered, —

   Though they have gone beyond the claims of the wicked.

   He conceived that the meaning is, that they granted to the wicked man more than he claimed, while they denied justice to the orphan and the poor. But what is more accordant with the words is, that he states here what he afterward specifies. It is not properly the “poor” who are meant, but the quiet, the humble: for the poor, strictly speaking, had not much to lose; hence the judges were not bribed to allow them to become a prey to dishonest men. — Ed.
And then he brings this charge against them, that they did not judge judgment

It hence appears that the Prophet was not dealing with the common people nor with private individuals; but that he openly and avowedly reproved the king’s court and the judges. “They judge not judgment, “he says; which means, that they had no care for executing justice, but suffered thefts and robberies to go unpunished: and he still enhances their guilt and says, They judge not the judgment of the fatherless Pity towards young orphans is often found in those who are otherwise cruel; for that age, especially when deprived of all protection, touches our feelings in a peculiar manner. Since then young orphans were plundered with impunity, and found no defense from the judges, their dishonesty appeared most glaringly.

And he says, that they yet prospered. He again repeats, by way of concession, what he had before intimated, — that it was a foolish and vain pretense, that they openly boasted of their wealth, honors, and fortunes. How is this, he says? They prosper; but yet they judge not the judgment of the poor, that is, they help not the poor, but dissemble and connive at all the wrongs done to them. We now then see that he exposes to view the wickedness of the people, so that not even the principal men should be able to hide themselves; for the Lord shews that they had wholly neglected their duties, and were even destitute of all humanity. It afterwards follows —

He repeats what we have before noticed, so there is no need of an explanation. But the repetition is not without its use; for the Jews had become so torpid, that all reproofs and threatenings were regarded with indifference. Hence God rouses them with great vehemence, Shall I not, he says, visit for these things? He takes it for granted, that we ought to be fully persuaded, that he is the judge of the world. It is the proper office of a judge to punish the wicked, and also to relieve the helpless and the oppressed, and to check the audacity of those who allow themselves every liberty. God then reasons here from his own nature and office, as though he had said, “Since I am God, can I suffer so much impiety and wantonness to prevail unpunished among my people?” Then he adds —

On such a nation as this, shall not avenged be my soul?

God transfers here to himself, as we have said elsewhere, what does not strictly belong to him; but it is the same as though he had said, “There is no one among earthly judges so void of feeling as to bear such indignities; for when the judge sees that he is treated with contempt by the wicked, is he not provoked?” Avenged then shall be my soul; as though he said, that he is not so soft, or so slothful, or so careless, as not to take vengeance on such wanton contempt. It follows —

The Prophet, being not satisfied with the reproof which we have observed, speaks still more strongly against the wickedness of the people. He then says, that so deplorable was their state as to make all to feel amazed. A stupendous thing, he says, has happened, which exceeds all human conception, and cannot be comprehended. By the two words he uses, he intimates that the impiety of the people could not be expressed in words or could not be conceived by the mind; for it was a monstrous thing. This is the meaning. 157157     The words literally are, —
   Amazement and horribleness has been done in the land.

   That is, what occasioned both had been done, or what ought to have filled all with the feeling of amazement and horror. — Ed.

Let us now see what was this monstrous thing which the Prophet here refers to, and which he abhorred. The prophets, he says, prophesy falsely It was no doubt enough to make all astonished, when these impostors assumed the name of prophets at Jerusalem, where God had chosen his habitation and his sanctuary: how great and how base a profanation was it of God’s name? There were indeed at that time impostors everywhere, who boasted that they were God’s prophets, who in many places passed as oracles the delusions of Satan; but to see the ministers of the devil in the very sanctuary of God, (which was then the only one in the world,) even in the very city where he had, as it has been said, his habitation and dwelling, was a monstrous thing, which ought to have made all men astonished. It is indeed a detestable thing under the Papacy, when monks and similar unprincipled men ascend the pulpit, and there most shamefully pretend that they are the true prophets of God, and faithful teachers; but still it would be doubly monstrous, were any among us to corrupt pure doctrine with their errors and infect the people with their superstitions. It was not then without reason that Jeremiah introduced his subject by saying, that it was an astonishing thing and hardly to be conceived, when prophets prophesied falsely

He then adds, Priests receive into their hands; so some render the words: but there may be a twofold meaning. Sampson is said in Judges 14:9, to have received into his hands honey from the lion, and the same verb is found there: but as it means also to rule, to govern, the exposition most suitable to this place is, — that the priests ruled by the means of the false prophets. At the same time, if any one takes the other view, — that the priests received into their hands, that is, that they gathered and accumulated gifts from all quarters, the meaning would not be unsuitable. 158158     The Septuagint and the Vulgate have, “And the priests have applauded with their own hands;” and the Targum, “And the priests have helped their hands.” Both mean the same thing, though the words are different: and Blayney gives the same meaning, “And the priests have concurred with them.” Horsley says that the words literally are, “And the priests go down according to their hands;” that is, he adds, “the priests go which way their bands permit; i.e., the priests are directed by them.” Though the points lead us to regard ירדוas future from רדה, to bear rule; yet the context requires it to be in the past tense, as the previous verb is so, and that which follows: and therefore it must be ירד, to come down, to descend. When followed by על, as here, the preposition never means “according to,“ as Horsley renders it, but ever, upon, toward or against, and mostly “upon.” See Exodus 9:19; Numbers 11:9; Psalm 7:16; Psalm 72:6. Therefore the literal rendering is this, —
   And the priests have descended upon their hands.

   An idiomatic expression, which seems to mean, that the priests assisted the prophets, according to what is expressed by the Targum. “Hand” signify labor, efforts; the priests joined their efforts to those of the prophets. To “concur with them” is too feeble: the line may be rendered, —

   And the priests have aided them.

   — Ed.

However this may be, the Prophet evidently shews that there was a mutual collusion between the false prophets and the priests. The false prophets, he says, deceive the people by their flatteries, and what do the priests? It was their duty to oppose them: they receive, he says, into their hands; that is, they are satisfied, for they see that these fallacies bring gain to them, and therefore they easily assent to what is taught by the false prophets. The same thing is to be seen at this day under the Papacy: the monks flatter the people and prop up the whole system of Popery; and hence these unprincipled men call themselves the chariots of the Pope; for the Pope is carried as it were on four wheels — the four mendicant orders. And this they boast, when they wish to shew what adepts they are in lying. The Pope then is carried by the four wheels of the mendicants. We see how he has honored and daily honors these mendicants with privileges, and why? Because they prop up his tyranny. Such was at that time the state of the people; the priests took their prey, and the false prophets snatched also a part of it, like these hungry dogs at this day; who yet do not act so oppressively as the Pope: they lick as it were his seat, like dogs; while he and his mitered bishops devour the fattest spoils. The meaning then, that they received into their hands, is not unsuitable.

But when we consider the main drift of the passage, it is more in harmony with it to say, that the priests ruled by their means; for without the false prophets they could not have retained their influence over the people; they must have been repudiated by them all. Since then they ruled by their means, there was a mutual collusion between them.

He then adds, And my people have wished it to be so The common people, no doubt, exculpated themselves, as they do at this day, who hold forth this excuse as their shield, “O, we are not learned, we have never been in school, and what can we do but to follow our bishops?” Thus, then, at this day, the lower orders, the multitude, seek to cast off every blame from themselves. But the Prophet says here, that the people loved to have things so. And, doubtless, we shall find that to be ever true which is said in Deuteronomy 13:3, that when false prophets come, it is for the purpose of trying God’s people, whether they from the heart love God. It is then his object to try our religion, whenever he gives loose reins to impostors and false prophets: for every one who truly loves God will be preserved by his Spirit from being led away by such deceivers. When, therefore, ignorant men are deluded, it is certain that they are justly punished for their neglect and contempt of God, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to his service; yea, because they have wished for impostors, according to what has been also often said by the monks, “The world wishes to be deceived, let it be deceived in the name of the devil.” These impostors have become so shameless, as to boast that they are the ministers of Satan to deceive men. However, that common saying has been found true; for the world is never deceived except with its own consent, and willingly; for those who are the most ignorant close their eyes against clear light, and shun God as much as they can, and seek to hide themselves in darkness, according to what Christ says,

“Whosoever committeth sin hateth the light.” (John 3:20)

The Prophet adds in the last place, And what will ye do at last, or at the end of it? Some omit the pronoun ה, he; and others apply it to the false prophets and the priests; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, refers to Jerusalem, What will ye do at the end of it? For we know that as Jerusalem had been founded by God’s hand, and while it had him as its protector and guardian, it was safe; but this was a false confidence, when they despised God and gloried in their wickedness. What, then, he says, will ye do at the end of it? as though he had said, “You deceive yourselves, if you think that this city will be perpetual; for its overthrow is nigh at hand: what then will ye do, when the city itself shall bc destroyed, except that you shall be all destroyed together with it?” 159159     The “it” refers rather to the “strange and horrible thing” which had been done in the land, —
   But what will ye do at the end of it?

   That is, when this dreadful thing shall come to an end, when the prophets, encouraged by the priests and approved by the people, shall be found liars, what then shall you do? The Septuagint render the last words by “μετὰ ταῦτα — after these things,“ referring evidently to the particulars just mentioned, the acts of the prophets, priests, and people: but the same thing is meant. Then in the next chapter he reminds them of the approaching destruction, which the false prophets denied. — Ed

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