Lecture Forty-Sixth

Jeremiah 11:13

13. For according to the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to that shameful thing, even altars to burn incense unto Baal.

13. Quia pro numero urbium tuaram fuerunt dii tui, Jehudah; et pro numero platearum, Jerusalem, posuistis altaria in opprobrium, altaria ad offerendum suffitum Baal.


The Prophet shews here that the dews were not only polluted with one kind of superstition, but that they sought for themselves fictitious gods from all quarters, so that the land was fined and, as it were, deluged with innumerable superstitions. He says, that in proportion to the number of cities were the gods in the kingdom of Judah, and that in every city, in proportion to the number of streets, altars were built, that they might burn incense to Baal.

There seems, however, to be some inconsistency in the words; for if they all worshipped Baal, where could be found the multitude of gods which the Prophet condemns? It then follows, that there was everywhere the same form of superstition, or that they did not in every place burn incense to Baal. But from this place and from others we may gather that this is a common name; for though all idols had their distinctive names, yet this name was applied indiscriminately, and all idols had it in common. For what does Baal mean but a patron, or an inferior god, who procured the favor of the supreme God? The prophets often use the word in the plural number, and call the lesser or inferior gods Baalim, who were regarded as mediators or angels; and farther, they often mean all kinds of idols by Baal. There is to be understood here a figure, by which a part is taken for the whole; for the Prophet intended by the word to include all those gods which the Jews had devised for themselves, though their names were different.

But what the Prophet condemned in the people was, as we see, daily practiced. For there is no end, when men once depart ever so little from the pure worship of the only true God: for when anything is blended with it, one error immediately produces another; so various errors will cumulate, tin men fall into a labyrinth from which there is no exit. This is clearly seen under the Papacy. At first Satan, by spurious pretences, led men away from the simple worship of God and his pure doctrine; and as there is in all an inbred curiosity, every one had a desire to add something of his own. Hence then it happened that so great a mass of errors and superstitions has prevailed. It is nothing strange, then, that the Prophet condemned the Jews, not only for having departed from the true and lawful worship of God, but also for having as many idols as cities, and for having so many forms of worship as there were streets in their cities. And we hence also learn that all the superstitions among the whole people had the same root; for though they differed in particulars, they all yet proceeded from the same principle; for every one wished to have his own God. It hence happened, that every city had its patron, and every family also devised a god for itself; for no one was satisfied with the common worship. It is then wholly necessary that we should faithfully worship the one true God; otherwise the Devil will immediately bring in strange gods and a mixed multitude of gods: so that it hence evidently appears, that we thus justly suffer for our impious levity in forsaking the fountain of living waters.

He says that altars were built for reproach1 This may be referred to God, because they offered to God a heinous effrontery in setting up their profane altars in opposition to that one true altar which God had commanded to be built for him in the temple. But this is a strained interpretation. It is more suitable to refer this to the people, because they erected altars for themselves to their own shame, as though he had said that the Jews were themselves the authors of all their evils, so that they ought to consider them as due to their impiety, being the punishments inflicted by the Lord. It is the same as though he had said, "God will indeed chastise you, as ye are worthy of being so treated, but ascribe the whole fault to yourselves; for the altars, raised by your own hands, will be to you for reproach and shame."

He at length adds, To offer incense to Baal. They sought doubtless the favor of the supreme God; but as they devised for themselves patrons, as mediators between them and God, according to the Platonic figment, which has prevailed in all ages, the Prophet here declares that their gods were as many as their cities, and even as many as their streets; for God does not admit those sophistical subtleties by which hypocrites seek to escape; for whenever his glory is transferred to others, he complains that new gods are introduced.2 It follows --

1 The word is tsb. "Bosheth, shame," says Lowth, "was a nickname for Baal. (See Hosea 9:10.) So Jerubbaal is called Jerubbosheth in 2 Samuel 11:21." The word is left out in the Septuagint; the other versions and the Targum render it differently; its meaning was evidently not understood. It may be rendered here "baseness," or a base thing; the last clause is explanatory of this, --

Ye have set up altars for a base thing --
Altars to burn incense to a Baal.

By putting the indefinite article we avoid the contrariety which Calvin refers to. It is given in the singular number in all the versions except the Vulgate, which has Baalim. -- Ed.

2 The connection of this verse has not been pointed out by Calvin. It begins with "For," or because; so that a reason is given for what has been said previously, and that is not found in it he immediately preceding verse, but at the end of the 11th, "I will not hearken unto them;" then what is said here is given as a reason. But if we render yk "though," as it is often done, and not "For," the connection is with the next preceding verse; their gods would not save them, "though" they were as many as their cities, etc. This seems to be the most natural connection. -- Ed.


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