Lecture Forty-Fourth



Jeremiah 11:1-5

1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,

1. Sermo qui directus fuit ad Jeremiah a Jehova, dicendo,

2. Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;

2. Audite verba (sermones) foe-deris hujus, et dicite viro Jehudah (viris Jehudah, enallage est numeri) et habitatoribus Jerusalem;

3. And say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant,

3. Et dices ad cos, Sic dicit Jehova, Deus Israel, Maledictus vir qui non audierit verba foederis hujus;

4. Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God;

4. Quae (vel, quod foedus) mandavi patribus vestris die quo eduxi eos e terra Egypti, e fornace ferrea, dicendo, Audite vocem meam, et facite ea quae (hoc est, quaecunque) praecipio (relativum sine antecedente; seeundum omnia quae praecepi vobis) et eritis mihi in populum, et ego ero vobis in Deum; (cohoerent hoecomnia inter se, ideo non disjungo)

5. That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. Then answered I, and said, So be it, O Lord.

5. Ut statuam (vel, stabiliam; alii vertunt, suscitem, sed improprie) jusjurandum quodjuravipatribus vestris ad dandum illis terrain afltuentem lacte et roelie, secundum diem hanc: et respondi et dixi, Amen, Jehova.


Here the Prophet teaches us, that the Jews, though they continued to profess God's holy name, were yet wholly perfidious, and had departed altogether from the law. The import of this discourse is, that the Jews gloried in the name of God, and yet were violaters of his covenant, for they had broken their faith pledged to God, and wholly cast aside the doctrine of the law. The Jews, no doubt, were often greatly exasperated against Jeremiah, as though he was pleading his own cause: it was therefore necessary to set before them their departure from the law, so that they might feel assured that their contention was not with Jeremiah but with Moses, and with God himself, the author of the law. They were doubtless exasperated with his doctrine; but Jeremiah could not spare them when he saw that they were so perverse.

We may understand this better by an example: Though the Papists at this day openly repudiate everything adduced from the law, and the prophets, and the gospel, yet they dissemble on this point, and even affirm that they receive whatever proceeds from God. As they then shuffle and do so shamelessly, he who seeks to restore the pure worship of God and true religion, may deal with them in the same manner. As for instance, when any one of God's servants meets the Papists, he may thus address them: -- "Let not the dispute be now between us individually, but hear what God commanded formerly by Moses, and what he has more fully confirmed by his prophets, and at last by his only -- begotten Son and his apostles; so that it is not right to do anything any longer against his word: now then attend to the law and the prophets."

We now understand what was God's design in bidding his servant Jeremiah to speak these words. For, except we duly consider the unfaithfulness of that people, we shall feel surprised that the word covenant is so often mentioned, and it will appear unmeaning to us. But the Prophet, as I have said, when he saw that the Jews by their cavils made evasions, could not deal with them in any other way than by shewing that, they had violated God's covenant and had thus become apostates, having wholly departed from the law. And he says that this was commanded them by God: nor is there doubt but that God not only suggested this to his servant, but dictated also to him the way and manner of speaking.

Rightly then does Jeremiah begin by saying, that this word was given to him. By using the plural number in the second verse, he no doubt shews that he had a few assistants remaining, whom God addressed in connection with him, that they might unite together in delivering his message. For though there were very few good men, yet Jeremiah was not wholly deprived of colleagues, who assented to and confirmed his doctrine. Baruch was one of them, and there were a few like him. These, then, God addresses in the second verse, when he says, Hear ye the words of this coveant, and say ye1 to the men of Judah and to the citizens of Jerusalem. Jeremiah indeed knew, and also those who were with him, that they brought forward nothing but what was in the law: but however conscious they were of their own sincerity, and could testify before God and his angels that they drew nothing from puddles but from a pure fountain, yet God intended to strengthen them against the contumacy of the people; for they had this objection ready at hand, "Ye indeed boast that whatever it pleases you to bring forward, is the word of God; but this we deny." Since then the prophets had to undergo such a contest, it seemed good to God to strengthen their hands, that they might first be themselves assured, and then become fit and bold witnesses of his truth to others, having good authority, as it was derived from the law itself, and not from the devices of men.

And we see to whom God intended this to be proclaimed, even to the men of Judah and to the citizens of Jerusalem. The ten tribes, as it has elsewhere appeared, were now driven into exile; and here was the flower, as it were, of the chosen people; and having survived so many calamities, they thought that they had been preserved by Divine power, because religion and God's worship prevailed among them. Thus they were inebriated with false notions and self -- flatteries. Hence the Prophet, and those who were with him, are expressly bidden to declare, what we shall hereafter notice, to the citizens of Jerusalem and to the inhabitants of the land who remained, and thought that they were the chosen of God and would continue safe, even if all others were to perish.

The Prophet afterwards shews more clearly that the command was especially given to him, for he uses the singular number, Thou shalt say to them. Nor is it inconsistent that at first he joined others with himself; for God might have united the suffrages of the few who wished the restoration of pure religion among the people, while yet Jeremiah, who was superior to the rest, sustained the chief part. There is no doubt but that others were anxious by their consent to confirm his doctrine: but there was no emulation among them; and though he excelled them, he yet winingly admitted into a connection with himself all those whom he found to be united with him in so good and holy a cause. God then, in the last verse, spoke of them in common, for he wished all his servants to add their testimony to that of his Prophet; but now he addresses the Prophet alone, for his authority was greater.

It follows, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, cursed the man who does not hearken to the words of this covenant. As often as the word covenant is mentioned, Jeremiah no doubt cuts off every pretext for all those evasions to which the Jews, according to what we have said, had recourse: for they never winingly allowed that they took away anytiling from the law, though they yet despised Jeremiah, who was its true and faithful interpreter, who had blended with it nothing of his own, but only applied what had been taught by Moses to the condition of the people at that time. There is then to be understood an implied contrast between the word covenant and the doctrine of Jeremiah; not that there was any difference or contrariety, or that Jeremiah had anything apart from the law, but that he formed his discourse so as to suit the condition of the people. And there is a kind of concession, as though he had said, "I do not now demand to be heard by you, but hear only the law itself: I have hitherto brought forward nothing but what God has commanded; and I have taught nothing at variance with Moses; there has been nothing additional in my doctrine: but as I cannot convince you of this, I now give over speaking to you; Moses himself speaks, hear him."

By adding the pronoun demonstrative, "Hear ye the words of this covenant," it is the same as though he had openly shewed them as by his finger, so that there was no room for any doubt.2 He then upbraided them by pointing out the covenant, as though he had said, "What avails you to feign and to pretend that what we say is ambiguous, and to hold it as uncertain whether we are or not the servants of God? whether we speak by his Spirit? whether he himself has sent us? The thing is clear; this is the covenant." We now perceive the force of this pronoun.

But in referring to the curse, his purpose, no doubt, was to bend the stubbornness of the people. Had the Jews been teachable and submissive, God would have used a milder strain, and allured them by words of kindness and love: but as he had to do with perverse minds, he was under the necessity of addressing them in this manner, in order to strike them with terror, and to render them more attentive, and also to make them to hear with more reverence, as they usually treated with contempt what he had spoken before. We hence see why he began with mentioning a curse. God followed in the law another order; for he first introduced the rule of life, and added also promises to render the people wining to obey; and then he subjoined the curses. But Jeremiah here begins by saying, Cursed are all those who hear not the words of this covenant. Why was this done? Even because he had already found out the hardness and the obstinate wickedness of the people. He then does not propound a simple doctrine, but before all things he sets before them the curse of God; as though he had said, "It is very strange that you have not hitherto been moved, since God's curse has been so often denounced on you: as then ye are so stupid, before I begin to speak of God's commands, his curse shall be mentioned to awaken your torpidity."

But we learn from the Prophet's words that he alluded to the form prescribed in the law: for after Moses rehearsed all the precepts, he added, "Cursed is every one who turns aside to foreign gods;" and he commanded the people to respond, Amen; and, "Cursed is every one who curses father and mother," and he bade them to respond, Amen; and after having narrated all the precepts, he added, "Cursed is every one who fulfils not all the words of this law," and the people responded, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:15, 16, 26) The same form does Jeremiah now adopt when he says,

"Declare then to the people, that they are all accursed who obey not my precepts;"

and then the Prophet adds, I answered and said, Amen, O Jehovah. But it must be observed, that the Prophet here personates as before the whole people; as though he had said, "I subscribe to God's judgment, even though ye should be all gainsayers, as ye really are. Though then ye think that ye can escape from God's hand, as though it were easy to elude the curse which is pronounced in his law, yet I subscribe with my own name, and answer before God, Amen, O Jehovah.

But we must notice also the other words, Cursed, he says, is every one who hears not the words of this covenant. To hear, in this place, and in many other places, is to be taken for obeying. He then speaks of the words or of the covenant itself; for the expression may be taken in either sense, as God had made a covenant with the Jews and at the same time expressed words. I am inclined to consider the covenant itself as intended. God then says that he had made a covenant with them. There is yet a fuller explanation, The words which I commanded your fathers, he says, in the day when I brought them up from the land of Egypt, God shews here by a circumstance as to the time how inexcusable the Jews were; for he says that he gave the law to their fathers at the very time when they were extricated from death; as they were drawn out of the grave, as it were, when God made them a passage through the Red Sea. That redemption ought to have made such a deep impression as to convince them wholly to devote themselves to God; yea,, the memory of such a benefit ought to have been deeply fixed in their hearts.

We hence see how aggravated here is the sin of ingratitude; for the law was given to the Israelites when they had before their eyes the many deaths to which they had been exposed, and from which the Lord had miraculously delivered them. For the same reason also he mentions their miserable state as an iron furnace, according to what we find in the third chapter of Exodus and in many other places, he then compares their Egyptian bondage to a furnace; for the Jews were then like wood and straw in a burning furnace; and he calls the furnace iron, as it could melt and reduce to nothing things harder than wood, evcn gold or silver or any other metal. In short, the deplorable state of the people is here set forth; and the Prophet, by the comparison, magnifies the favor shewn to them -- that God, beyond all hope, had delivered them from death. Since then the authority of the law was sanctioned by so great a benefit, it became evident how much was the impiety of the people, and how unbecoming and wicked their ingratitude; for they did not winingly suffer God's yoke to be laid on them.

He says that God commanded these things. This expression, as I have said, is to be applied to the words of the law, and not to the covenant. But the Prophet speaks indiscriminately, now of the covenant, then of the things it embraces, that is, of all the precepts it includes. In other words, he expresses how inexcusable was the sin of the people; for God, in substance, required of them no other thing but to hear his voice: and what can be more just than that they who have been redeemed should obey the voice of their deliverer? and what could have been more detestable and monstrous than for the Israelites to refuse what God had a right to demand? We now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, that God commanded this only to his redeemed people, even to hear his voice, and to do what he commanded.3

He further adds a promise, which ought to have softened their stony hearts, Ye shall be, he says, to me a people, and I will be to you a God. God might have positively required of the Jews what is implanted in all by nature; for they who have never been taught acknowledge that God ought to be worshipped; and the right way of worshipping him is when we obey his precepts. God then might have thus commanded them according to his supreme aufilority. The commands of kings, as it is said, are brief, for they are no soothing expressions, nor do they reason, nor employ any persuasive language. How much greater is the authority of God, who can intimate by a nod what he pleases and what he demands? But as though he descended from his high station, he seeks by promises to attach people to himself, so that they may winingly obey him. Thus God recommends his law by manifesting his favor, and does not merely assert his own authority. Since then God thus kindly addresses his people, and promises so great a reward to obedience, how base and abominable is the contumacy of men when they repudiate his law. Hence the Prophet shews here more clearly why he began by saying, Cursed is every one who obeys not, etc.: for kindness had profited nothing; friendly and tender words, the paternal invitation of God, produced no effect; as though he had said, "God could not, doubtless, have treated you more gently and kindly than by reminding you in a paternal manner of your duty, and by adding promises sufficient to soften even the hardest hearts; but as this has been done without effect, what now remains for God to do but to thunder and announce only his curses?"

We now understand what the Prophet had in view. But it may be here objected, -- that all this was useless and without any benefit, for the Jews could not have undertaken the yoke of the law, until it was inscribed on their hearts. To this I answer, that of this very thing they were here at the same time reminded: for though the teaching of the letter could do nothing but condemn the people, and hence it is said by Paul to be what brings death, (2 Corinthians 3:6) yet the faithful knew that the Spirit of regeneration would not be denied them, if they sought it of God. Then, in the first place, it was their fault that the law was not inscribed on their hearts; and, in the second place, a free promise of forgiveness was added; for why were those sacrifices and expiations under the law, and so many ceremonies, which had respect to their reconciliation to God, but in order that the people might feel assured that God would be propitious and appeasable to them, though they could not satisfy the law? This teaching then was not useless as to the faithful; for God, when he required from the Israelites what they ought to have done, was at the time ready to inscribe the law on their hearts, and also to forgive their sins. But when through obstinate wickedness they rejected the whole law, the Prophet justly declares here that the curse of God was on them; because they basely rejected God's promises, by which he testified his paternal kindness towards them.

He adds, That I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them a land abounding in milk and honey, according to what it is at this day. Here he does not refer to the chief part of their happiness; but only the land of Canaan is mentioned as the pledge or the earnest of God's favor; for his promise had regard to something much higher than to the land of Canaan. God had indeed promised this as an inheritance to the Israelites: but when he says, that he would be their God and they his people, the promise of eternal life and of celestial glory is included, according to what is said elsewhere, that he is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Matthew 22:31) And we must ever bear in mind what is said by the Prophet Habakkuk,

"Thou art our God, we shall not die." (Habakkuk 1:12)

God then promised to the Israelites something far greater than the possession of the land, when he said, that he would be their God. But that land was a symbol, an earnest and a pledge of his paternal favor. All these things well agree together.

And to the same purpose is what the Prophet adds, that God had formerly sworn to their fathers, that he would give them that land by an hereditary right: and this promise had been fulfined to their posterity. Were any to lay hold on this only, -- that God's favor was seen in the land of Canaan, because they had obtained it through the expulsion of the heathens by God's kindness, the view would be frigid, and the Prophet would diminish much from that promise which far exceeds all that man can conceive. Hence, as I have said, in speaking of the land of Canaan, he accommodates himself no doubt to the comprehension of a rude and ignorant people, and mentions the earnest and the pledge, that they alight see by their eyes, exhibited to them even in this world and in this frail life some evidence of that favor, which far surpasses all that can be desired in the world.

Now, when he says, That I may establish4 the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, God doubtless shews that though the Jews should obey him, they had not yet deserved by their obedience the inheritance promised before they were born. God then here proves that it was through his gratuitous kindness that; they became heirs of the land. How so? because they were not created when God sware to Abraham that he would give that land to him and to his posterity. As then the promise had been given long before, it follows that it could not be ascribed to the merits of the people, that they had at length in due time obtained the land. As to the oath, God by referring to it extols his favor; for he not only promised the land for an heritage to the children of Abraham, but he also added an oath, that the covenant might appear more sure. But the Prophet at the same time intimates, that they, if ungrateful to God, might justly be deprived of the promised inheritance; as though he had said, "There is no ground for you to expostulate with God, as though he defrauded you, were he to cast you out of the land; for God himself does not disinherit you, but your own wickedness; and ye are now unworthy, for God regards you not as his children." While then the Prophet takes away every ground for boasting, that the Jews might not think that they possessed the land as a reward for their merits, he also reminds them that they might be justly deprived of their land, and that on account of their own fault, as they rendered not to God the service they owed to him. Hence he says, that I might establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers.

A land, he says, flowing with milk and honey: this mode of speaking was often adopted by Moses, (Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 33:3; Leviticus 20:24) The land was no doubt from the beginning very fertile; but it is probable that it became more fruitful after the people entered into it, for it was in a manner renewed; and it was God's design to shew in a visible manner how great; Was the efficacy of his covenant. It was not then to no purpose that Moses said so often that it was a land flowing with milk and honey.

He afterwards adds, According as it is at this day. He produces witnesses; as though he had said, "God has dealt faithfully with you, for he has performed the faith pledged to your fathers, and has fulfined his oath: but now since ye have polluted this land, and the memory of God's favor is as it were buried among you, and ye even tread under your feet his law -- since then such great impiety averts his blessing from you, what remains for him to do, but to drive you away into exile?" We hence see that there is here to be understood an implied threatening, when he says that God had performed what he had promised to the fathers, and promised with this condition -- that they were to obey his commands.

We have already spoken of the Prophet's answer. When he answered, Amen, he did not wait for what the people would say; for the greater part no doubt made a clamor and sought to make shifts with God. So great was their effrontery, that they often rose up insolently against the Prophets. Then as he knew that they were so refractory, he subscribed to the curse in his own name. It follows --

1 So the Vulgate and the Targum, but the Septuagint, the Syriac, and Arabic, have the verb in the singular number, "and thou shalt say."

The M at the end of the verb may be rendered "them;" so Blayney regards it. We may consider the end of this verse and the following as parenthetic; otherwise the particle "this" seems singular. It will thus appear to be "this covenant which I commanded your fathers." Still the whole passage seems not to run well. I am disposed to render tazh, "even these," and to put a part in a parenthesis, thus, --

2. Hear ye the words of the covenant, even these, (and thou shalt speak them to every man of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

3. and thou shalt say to them, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel,)

4. "Cursed is the man who hearkens not to the words of the covenant, even these, which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them up from the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, "Hearken to my voice, and do ye according to all that I shall command thee; and ye shall be to me a people,

5. and I shall be to you a God; that I may confirm the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day." -- And I answered and said, Amen, O Jehovah -- Ed.

2 Gataker says, "It is not unlikely that the Prophet held out the book or volume of the law, wherein the covenant was engrossed and recorded, then in his hand." -- Ed.

3 There is no need of any alteration in the text, as proposed by some: the literal rendering is, "Hearken to my voice, and do ye according to all that I shall command you." The Mta "ye," after "do," seems to bc placed there instead of with "heaarken." Some MSS. have Mtwa, which is evidently wrong. It is only the Targum that countenances this reading: all the versions read according to the meaning given above. -- Ed.

4 "Establish -- sth>sw," is the Septuagint; "awaken -- suscitem," is the Vulgate; "perform," is the Syriac; "confirm," is the Targum. "To make to stand" is the literal meaning of the verb. Hence the most correct word is "confirm." The connection of this verse is not with the immediately preceding words, but with "Hearken" and "do," etc., at the middle of the former verse. Hearken and do, that I may confirm the oath, etc. -- Ed.


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