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2. Israel Forsakes God

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. 3Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord. 4Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel:

5Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? 6Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt? 7And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination. 8The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.

9Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead. 10For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. 11Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. 12Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. 13For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

14 Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled? 15The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste: his cities are burned without inhabitant. 16Also the children of Noph and Tahapanes have broken the crown of thy head. 17Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way? 18And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? 19Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

20For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot. 21Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? 22For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much sope, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD. 23How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways; 24A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her. 25Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst: but thou saidst, There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. 26As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, 27Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us. 28But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah. 29Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the Lord. 30In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.

31O generation, see ye the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee? 32Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number. 33Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways. 34Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these. 35Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned. 36Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria. 37Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head: for the Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them.

God now mentions to his servant the commands which he was to convey to the king and priests, and to the whole people; for by the ears of Jerusalem he means all its inhabitants. God here intimates that the Jews were unworthy of being cared for by him any more; but that he is induced by another reason not to reject them wholly, until he had found out by experience their irreclaimable wickedness. So then he makes this preface, I remember thee for the kindness of thy youth, and the love of thy espousals In these words he shews that he regarded not what the Jews deserved, nor acknowledged any worthiness in them, as the reason why he was solicitous for their salvation, and endeavored to bring them to the right way by the labors of his Prophet, but that this is to be ascribed to his former benefits.

Some render the words, “I remember the piety or kindness of thy youth;” and לך lak, may be thus taken, as it is in other places. Others omit this word; while others consider a copulative to be understood, “I remember thee, and the kindness of thy youth.” But none, as I think, have attained to the meaning of the Prophet: there is yet no obscurity in the words, if a preposition be considered as being understood, so as to read thus, — that God remembered his people for the kindness which he had shewn to them, and for the love which he had manifested towards them from the beginning. Then the real meaning of the Prophet I think to be this, — that God here takes away every ground for pride and boasting from the Jews; as though he had said, that they were worthy, they had no reason to think; but that he was still their Father, and was therefore unwilling that the benefits he had formerly conferred upon them should be wholly lost. There is, in short, given here a reason why God sent Jeremiah after the other prophets; as though he had said, “It is a testimony to you of the paternal care which I shew to you, when I send my Prophet to give you a hope of pardon, if ye return to the right way and be reconciled to me. But how is it that I still shew a concern for you, as ye have forgotten me, and wholly disregarded my law? It is so, because I wish to continue my favors to you.” The kindness of thy youth he takes in a passive sense; for he does not mean that the Jews were kind or merciful, but that they had experienced the kindness of God.

But the metaphor here used must be noticed. God compares himself here to a young bridegroom, who marries a youthful bride, in the flower of her age, and in the prime of her beauty: and it is a manner of speaking commonly adopted by the prophets. I will not now detain you with a long explanation, as the subject will be treated more at large in another place.

As God, then, had espoused the people of Israel, when he redeemed and brought them out of Egypt, he says now, that he remembers the people on account of that kindness and love. He sets kindness or beneficence before love. The word חסר, chesad, properly means a gratuitous favor or kindness, which is shewn to the miserable, or beneficence. By the word love, God means in many other places the gratuitous election with which he had favored the whole people. The expression is indeed made clearer when kindness or gratuitous favor is placed first, and then love is added: though nothing new is added, yet the Prophet more fully shews that the people had been loved by God in no other way than through his kindness. 2727     Though most of modern commentators, Grotius, Gataker, Blayney, Scott, Adam Clarke, etc., give the same view of this verse with Calvin, yet the probability is, and something more than the probability, that the sense in which it was taken by the ancients is the correct one; which is the sense given in our version, and adopted by Henry. A literal rendering of the verse is sufficient to shew its meaning, —
   2. Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, — I remember, with regard to thee, The kindness of thy youth, The love of thy espousals, Thy coming after me in the desert, Through a land not sown.

   “Thy coming, or, walking after me,“ stands in the same relation to “remember” as the two preceding words: this is plainly the construction; and this construction determines the meaning of the foregoing lines. Our version is quite wrong in rendering לך, “thee;” it ought ever to be rendered as above, when the verb, as here, is followed by an accusative case. See Leviticus 26:45; Psalm 79:8; Psalm 106:45

   What has led commentators, no doubt, to divert this passage from its right meaning was their impression that more is here ascribed to Israel than their history warrants. But this is not the only instance in which their former conduct is contrasted with their latter conduct. This is done in Malachi 2:5, as to the priests. The object here is to set forth the difference between the people when brought out of Egypt, and following God’s guidance in the wilderness, and their conduct at the time of Jeremiah. They were indeed very far from being what they ought to have been in the first instance, but their deportment in Jeremiah’s age was incomparably worse. — Ed.

Now this is a remarkable passage; for God shews that his covenant, though perfidiously violated by the Jews, was yet firm and immutable: for though not all who derive their descent according to the flesh from Abraham, are true and legitimate Israelites, yet God ever remains true, and his calling, as Paul says, is without repentance. (Romans 11:29.) We may therefore learn this from the Prophet’s words, — that God was not content with one Prophet, but continued his favor, inasmuch as he would not render void his covenant. The Jews indeed had impiously departed from the covenant, and a vast number had deservedly perished, having been wholly repudiated; yet God designed really to shew that his grace depends not on the inconstancy of men, as Paul says in another place, for it would then presently fail, (Romans 3:4) and that were all men false and perfidious, God would yet remain true and fixed in his purpose. This we learn from the Prophet’s words, when it is said, that God remembered the people on account of the kindness of their youth.

As to youth and espousals, we may hence learn that they had been anticipated by God’s kindness; for they became in no other way connected with God than by having been chosen by him: their espousal would not have been enjoyed by the people, had not God anticipated them. What was Abraham? and what were all his posterity? God then now shews, that the beginning of all blessings, and as it were the fountain, was this, — that it pleased him to choose the people for himself.

And the same thing is confirmed in other words: When, he says, thou didst follow me in the desert, in a land not sown The people, we know, did not obey God as they ought to have done, even when he had redeemed them. Hence God does not so much in this place commend the people for any merits of their own, but especially confirms what I have already stated, — that he could not cast aside every care for a people whom he had once adopted, and whom he had led through the desert, that they might be a people separated from the rest of the world. He however concedes to them, according to his great goodness, the praise of obedience, because they followed God through rough ways, as though a tender young woman refused not to undergo hard and irksome toils from love to her bridegroom. He afterwards adds —

Jeremiah 2:3

3. Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the LORD.

3. Sanctitas Israel Jehovae, primitiae frugum ejus; quicunque comederint contrahent noxam (alii vertunt, peccabunt; sed ego potius ad poenam refero,) malun veniet super eos (exegetice additur hoc membrum) dicit Jehova.


God here more clearly reprobates the ingratitude of the people: and first he enumerates his favors by which he had bound the people for ever to himself; and secondly, he shews how malignantly the people responded to the many blessings which they had received.

In saying, then, that Israel was holy, he intends it not by way of honor. It was indeed in itself an illustrious testimony to their praise, that God had consecrated that people to himself, that he designed them to be the first — fruits of his increase: but we must remember that there is here an implied contrast between this great and incomparable favor of God, and the wickedness of the people, who afterwards fell away from that God who had been so liberal and gracious to them. According to this view, then, does Jeremiah say, that Israel was holiness to God; that is, that they were separated from all other nations, so that the glory of God shone only among them.

He then adds, that they were the first-fruits of his produce For though whatever produce the earth may bring forth ought to be consecrated to God, by whose power it grows, yet we know that the first — fruits were gathered and set on the altar as a sacred food. As, then, God had commanded, under the law, the first-fruits to be offered to him, and then given to the priests, he says here, in accordance with that rite, that Israel were the first — fruits of his produce. For the nations, who then everywhere dwelt, were not removed from under God’s government (as he is the creator of all, and shews himself to all as the Father and supporter); but he passed by other nations, and chose the race of Abraham, and for this end, — that he might protect them by his power and aid. Since, then, God had so bound the nation to himself, how great and how strong was the obligation under which that people was to him? Hence the more base and the more detestable was their perfidy, when the people despised the singular favors which God had conferred on them. We now see why the Prophet says that Israel was holy to God, and the first — fruits of his increase.

He also intimates that the time would come, when God would gather to himself other nations; for in the first-fruits the people dedicated and offered to God the whole produce of the year is included. So then Israel was like the first-fruits, because God afterwards took to himself other nations, which for many ages were deemed profane. But yet his special object was to shew that the guilt of the people was extreme, as they did not acknowledge the great favors which God had bestowed on them.

He then adds, Whosoever will devour him shall be punished Of this meaning I approve, because the explanation immediately follows, evil shall come on them God then means not that they should be only guilty of a crime, who should devour the first-fruits, but refers rather to punishment; as though he had said, “The profane shall not be unpunished who shall devour the first-fruits which has been dedicated to me.” For if any had stolen the first- fruits, God would have executed a vengeance such as sacrilege deserved. If, however, any one prefers the other explanation, — that it would be a crime to injure Israel, or to do him any harm, because he was under God’s protection, I shall not oppose him: but the wording of the sentence leads me to the other view, that is, that those who would injure Israel would not only be guilty, but would not be able to escape God’s vengeance, — and why? because evil will come upon them, saith Jehovah 2828     Blayney considers this verse as referring to Israel in ancient times, and as spoken by God: hence he renders the last words, “said Jehovah.” The first part seems to declare what Israel was, and the other appears to be the language of God respecting them, —
   Holy was Israel to Jehovah,
The first-fruits of his produce:
“All his devourers shall be deemed guilty,
Evil shall come to them,” said Jehovah.

   The verb אשם is rendered “πλημμελήσουσι — shall offend,” by the Septuagint, as in our version, and by Grotius; “trespass,” by Gataker; and, “guilty of a trespass,” by Blayney. The contradiction of guilt is what is meant, as the punishment is announced in the next words. See Psalm 105:14, 15. — Ed
He afterwards explains more clearly the import of his doctrine —

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