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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 assails here especially the teachers and those to whom was committed the power of ruling the people. It often happens that the common people fall away, while yet some integrity remains in the rulers. But God shews here that such was the falling away among the whole community, that priests as well as prophets and all the chief men had departed from the true worship of God, and from all uprightness.

Now, when Jeremiah thus rebukes the teachers and the priests and others, he does not excuse the common people, nor extenuate the crimes, which then prevailed everywhere, as we shall see from what follows. As many think that they set up a shield against God, when they pretend that they are not acquainted with so much learning as to distinguish between light and darkness, but that they are guided by their rulers, the Prophet, therefore, does not here cast the faults of the people upon their rulers, but, on the contrary, he amplifies the atrocity of their impiety, for they had, from the least to the greatest, rejected God and his Law. We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet. 3333     It appears that the Prophet has already condemned the people in the foregoing portion of this chapter. In Jeremiah 1:18, we find the different classes thus arranged — kings and princes, priests, the people of the land. At the beginning of this chapter, he addresses the people-the whole community, and here he names the priests, and the pastors, i.e., in the state, including kings and princes. Thus he reverses the order according to the common usage of Scripture: but to these are added here, prophets, because they were the spiritual pastors, as kings and princes were the civil. — Ed.

We may learn from this passage how unwise and foolish are they who think that they are in part excusable when they can say, that they have proceeded in their simplicity and have been drawn into error by the faults of others; for it appears evident that the whole community was in a hopeless state when God gave up the priests and rulers unto a reprobate mind; and there is no doubt but that the people had provoked God’s vengeance, when every order, civil as well as religious, was thus corrupt. God then visited the people with deserved punishment, when he blinded the priests, the prophets, and the rulers.

Hence Jeremiah now says, that the priests did not inquire where Jehovah was: and he adds, and they who keep the law, etc. The verb תפש taphesh, means to keep, to lay hold on, and sometimes to cover; so that there may be here a twofold meaning, — that the priests kept the law, — or, that they had it shut up as it were under their keeping. It would not, however, be in harmony with the passage to suppose that the law was suppressed by them; for God, by way of concession, speaks here honorably of them, thought he thereby shews that they were the more wicked, as they had no care for their office. He says, then, that they were the keepers of his law, not that they really kept the law, as though a genuine zeal for it prevailed among them, but because they professed this. They indeed wished to be thought the keepers of the law, who possessed the hidden treasure of celestial truth; for they wished to be consulted as though they were the organs of God’s Spirit. Since, then, they boasted that they kept and preserved the law, the Prophet now more sharply rebukes them, because they knew not God himself. And Paul seems to have taken from this place what he says in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,

“Thou who hast the form of the law — thou who preachest against adultery, committest adultery, and thou who condemnest idols art thyself guilty of sacrilege; for thou keepest the law, restest in it, boastest in God, and with thee is understanding and knowledge.”
(Romans 2:20-22.)

Paul in these words detects the wickedness of hypocrites; for the more detestable they were, as they were thus inflated with false glory; they profaned the name of God, while they pretended to be his heralds, and as it were his prophets. We now see that this second clause refers to the priests, and that they are called the keepers of the law, because they were so appointed, according to what we read in Malachi. 3434     Perhaps no better word can express the verb here used than that of our versions., “handle” —”they that handle the law,” that is explain and teach it. To “handle the harp,” is to play on it, Genesis 4:21; to “handle war,” is to carry it on, Numbers 31:27; to “handle the oar,” is to ply with it, Ezekiel 27:29; and to “handle the bow,” is either to use it, or to know how to use it, Amos 2:15. They who handled the law were evidently those who undertook to explain and teach it to others. To lay hold on, seems to be the primary meaning of the verb, and that either for a good or a bad purpose. “The Scribes,” observes Scott, “who undertook to expound the Scriptures, did not understand them.” — Ed.

He afterwards adds, The pastors have dealt treacherously with God We may apply this to the counselors of the king as well as to the governors of cities. The Prophet, I have no doubt, included all those who possessed authority to rule the people of God; for kings and their counselors, as well as prophets, are in common called pastors.

And he says, that the prophets prophesied by Baal The name of prophet is sacred; but Jeremiah in this place, as in other places, calls those prophets (contrary to the real fact) who were nothing but impostors; for God had taken from them all the light of divine truth. But as they were held still in esteem by the people, as though they were prophets, the Prophet concedes this title to them, derived from their office and vocation. We do the same in the present day; we call those bishops and prelates, and primates and fathers, who under the papacy boast that they possess the pastoral office, and yet we know that some of them are wolves, and some are dumb dogs. We concede to them these titles in which they take pride; and yet a twofold condemnation impends over their heads, as they thus impiously, and with sacrilegious audacity, claim for themselves sacred titles, and deprive God of the honor rightly due to him. So then Jeremiah, speaking of the prophets, does now point out those as impostors who at that time wickedly deceived the people.

He says that they prophesied by Baal: they ascribed more authority to idols than to the true God. The name of Baal, we know, was then commonly known. The prophets often call idols Baalim, in the plural number; but when Baal signifies a patron, when the prophets speak either of Baal in the singular number, or of Baalim in the plural, they mean the inferior gods, who had then been heaped together by the Jews, as though God was not content with his own power alone, but had need of associates and helpers, according to what is done at this day by those under the papacy, who confess that there is but one true God; and yet they ascribe nothing more to him than to their own idols which they invent for themselves at their pleasure. The same vice then prevailed among the Jews, and indeed among all heathen nations; for it was the plain and real confession of all, that there is but one supreme Being; and yet they had gods without number, and these all were called Baalim. When, therefore, the Prophet says here, that the teachers were ministers of Baal, he sets this name in opposition to the only true God, as though he had said that the truth was corrupted by them, because they passed over its limits, and did not acquiesce in the pure doctrine of the law, but mingled with it corruptions derived from all quarters, even from those many gods which heathen nations had invented for themselves.

Nor does the Prophet insist on a name; for it may have been that these false teachers pretended to profess the name of the eternal God, though falsely. But God is no sophist: there is then no reason for the Papists to think that they are at this day unlike these ancient impostors, because they profess the name of the only true God. It has always been so. Satan has not begun for the first time at this day to transform himself into an angel of light; but all his teachers in all ages have presented their poison, even all their errors and fallacies, in a golden cup. Though, then, these prophets boasted that they were sent from above, and confidently affirmed that they were the servants of the God of Abraham, it was yet all an empty profession; for they mingled with the truth those corruptions which they had derived from the ungodly errors of heathen nations.

It follows, And after those who do not profit have they gone 3535     Some say that idols are referred to; and others, as Calvin think that the false gods are intended: the meaning is the same; only the context seems more favorable to the latter idea. The Septuagint have a neuter adjective, “After what is profitless-ἀνωφελοῦσ — have they gone.” The verb for profit is plural; and if we take לא only as a negative, both the antecedent and relative are omitted: but לא here, and in Jeremiah 2:11, and in other places, is evidently a noun or a pronoun, signifying none or nothing: and like neb, none, in Welsh, it is either singular or plural, according to the verb in connection with it. It precedes here a verb in the plural number, and in Jeremiah 2:11, in the singular. The relative is often understood both in Hebrew and in Welsh before future verbs, and in both languages especially when the present time or act is intended. In the present instance, both languages may be considered to be literally the same. The Hebrew, word for word, may be thus rendered in Welsh:
   Arol neb a lesant y rhodiasant.

   After none (who) profit have they walked.

   That is, After none who can do them good have they gone. — Ed.
He again, by an implied comparison, exaggerates their sin, because they had despised him whom they had known, by so many evidences, to be their Father and the author of salvation, whose infinite power they had as it were felt by their own hands, and then they followed their own inventions, though there was nothing in all their idols which could have justly allured the people of Israel. Since, then, they followed vain and profitless deceptions, the more heinous and inexcusable was their sin. It afterwards follows —


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