Jeremiah 18:14-15

14. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?

14. Ar relinquet e rupe agri nivem Libani? an relinquentur aquae alienae et frigidae fluentes?

15. Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burnt incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up.

15. Quia oblitus est mei populus meus, frustra suffitum faciunt (vel, adolent,) dum corruere eos fecerunt (copula enim explicitive accipitur, vel causaliter) in viis suis (vel, ipsorum,) semitis saeculi, ut ambularent per semitas viam non calcatam (quamquam lsk significat etiam impingere, vel, offendere, ideo verti posset, et eos impingere fecerunt in viis suis.)


As I have just said, God here enhances the sin of the people by a twofold comparison; for when one can draw water in his own field, and find there a spring, what folly will it be for him to run to a distance to seek water? And then, when water does not spring up near, but flows from a distance in a pure and cold stream, who will not be satisfied with such water? and if he seeks to find the spring, will not all laugh at such madness? Now God was like a living fountain, and at Jerusalem was the spring where the Jews might drink to their full; and God's blessings flowed also to them as it were through various channels, so that nothing was wanting to them. We then see that here is condemned a twofold madness in the people, that they despised God's kindness which was near at hand, as though one close to Mount Libanus refused its cold waters, or as though one would not draw water from a river without going to the spring-head. Since then God offered himself to them in every way, and presented his bounty to them, it was a madness extremely base and inexcusable to reject flowing waters and the fountain itself.

We now perceive the meaning of this passage. It is doubtless natural for all to be satisfied with present blessings, especially when nothing better can anywhere else be found. When one has a fountain in his own field, why should he go elsewhere to drink? This would be monstrous. Dost thou want water? God supplies thee with it; take it from thine own fountain. If one objects and says, "That fountain I dislike; I wish to know whether better waters can be found at a distance." This we see is a proof of brutal stupidity; for if the water which flows he cold and pure, and he dislikes it, because he wishes to go to the spring, he shews his own folly, whoever he may be. If, for instance, any one at this day would not drink the waters of the Rhone, which flows by here, and would not taste of the springs, but would run to the fountain and spring-head of the Rhone, would he not deserve to perish through thirst? God then shews that the Jews were so void of all sense and reason, that they ought to have been deemed detestable by all; and therefore in the application, when he says, My people have forgotten me, both clauses ought to be repeated. This indeed by itself would have been obscure, or at least not sufficiently explicit; but God here in substance repeats what he had said before, that he is the fountain of living water which was offered to the Jews; and also that his bounty flowed through various channels like living and cold waters. As then the people forgat God they were doubly ungrateful, for they refused to drink of the fountain itself, and disdained the cold and flowing waters, which were not hot to occasion a nausea; they were also pure and liquid, having no impure mixture in them.1

He again calls them his people, but for the sake of reproaching them; for the less excusable was their perverseness, when God in an especial manner offered himself to them, and they refused his offered bounty. Had this been done by heathens it would have been no small sin, though God had not favored them with any remarkable privilege, but when the Jews had been chosen in preference to all others, it was as it were a monstrous thing that they forgot God, even him whom they had known. He was unknown to heathens, but he had made himself known to the Jews; hence this forgetfulness, with which the Prophet charged them, could not have proceeded from ignorance, but from determined perverseness.

He afterwards adds, In vain2 they burn incense to me, since to stumble, etc., (the copulative is to be rendered as a causal particle.) When he says, in vain they burn incense, it is to anticipate an objection. For we know that the Jews trusted in their ceremonial rites, so when they were reproved by the Prophets they had ever ready this answer, "We are the worshippers of God, for we constantly go up to the Temple, and he has promised that the incense which we offer shall be to him a sweet odor." He at the same time includes under this word all the sacrifices, for it is said generally of them all, "A sweet odor shall ascend before the Lord." Then by mentioning one thing he denotes all that external worship in which the Jews were sufficiently assiduous. But as the whole was nothing but hypocrisy, when the integrity of the heart was absent, the Prophet here dissipates this vain objection, and says, "In vain do they set forth their ceremonial rites, that they attend very regularly to their sacrifices, and that they do not neglect anything in the external worship of God: it is all in vain," he says.

This truth is often referred to by the Prophets, and ought to be well known by the godly; yet we see how difficult it is to bring the world to believe it. Hypocrisy ever prevails, and men think that they perform all that is required of them when some kind of religion appears among them. But God, as we have before seen, has regard to the heart itself or integrity; yet this is what the world cannot comprehend. Therefore the Prophets do not without reason so often inculcate the truth, that inward piety, connected with integrity of heart, alone pleases God.

He afterwards mentions the cause -- that they made them to stumble in their ways. He means here no doubt the false teachers, who allured the people from the true and simple worship of God, and corrupted wholesome doctrine by their many fictions. And it is a common thing in Hebrew to leave a word, as we have said elsewhere, to be understood: they then made them to stumble, or to fall. The meaning is, that the sacrifices of the people could not be approved by God, because the whole of religion was corrupted. And the crime the Prophet names was, that the people were drawn aside from the right way, that is, from the law, which is alone the rule of piety and uprightness.

But we hence learn how frivolous is the excuse of those who say, that they follow what they have learnt from the fathers, and what has been delivered to them from the ancients, and received by universal consent; for God here declares, that the destruction of the people would follow, because they suffered themselves to be deceived by false prophets.

As to the words in their ways, or in their own ways, interpreters differ, and many apply the pronoun Mh, em, to the false Prophets; but I prefer the other view, that they made them to stumble in their right ways, for by errors they led them away from the right course. When therefore he says, in their ways, the words are to be taken in a good sense; for God had pointed out the right way to the people. He then calls the doctrine of the law the ways to which the people had been accustomed. Then follows the expression, the paths of ages, which is to be taken in the same sense. But we must notice the contrast between those paths, and the way not trodden.3

This brevity may be deemed obscure; I will therefore give a more explicit explanation. The Prophet calls those the ways of the people in which they had been fully taught; and this took away every color of defense; for the people could not object and say that they had been deceived, as though they had not known what was right; for they had not only been taught, but had also been led as it were by the hand, so that the way of the law ought to have been well known by them. Then he adds, the paths of ages; for as the law had not been introduced a short time before, but for many ages, this antiquity ought to have strengthened their faith in God's law. We now see how these two things bear on what is said, that the Jews, being deceived by false teachers, fell or stumbled in those ways to which they had been accustomed; and then in the paths of ages, that is, in the doctrine long before received, and whose authority had been for many ages established. On the other hand, he says that the Jews had been drawn to paths and to a way not trodden, that is, had been led from the right way into error. And he farther aggravates their sin by saying, that they preferred to go astray rather than to keep the way which had been trodden by their fathers.

But it may be here asked, whether this change in itself ought to be condemned, since we despise antiquity, or rather regard what is right? To this the easy reply is, that the Prophet speaks here in the name of God' therefore this principle ought to be maintained, that there is no right way but what God himself has pointed out. Had any one else come and boasted antiquity, the Prophet would have laughed to scorn such boasting, and why? for what antiquity can be in men who vanish away? and when we count many ages, there is nothing constant and sure among men. It ought then to be noticed, that God. was the author of that way which the Prophet complains had been forsaken by the people, how the things which follow harmonize together, that the people had strayed from the way which they had long kept; for the Jews, as it has been said, had not followed any men, but God himself, who had been pleased to stretch forth his hand to them and to shew them the sure way of salvation; and we must also observe what sort of people were the fathers, even such as had followed God, and when they had such examples, they ought to have been more and more stimulated to imitate them.

It was therefore an inexcusable wickedness to forsake a way found good by long experience, the way of ages, which had been approved for a long time, and to depart into paths not trodden, for by no example, of the saints who were alone the true fathers, had they been led to devise for themselves new and fictitious modes of worship, and also to depart from the plain doctrine of the law. Had any one answered, that these ways had been long trodden, because they had both the Assyrians and the Egyptians as associates in their superstitions, such an exception could not be admitted, for the Prophet, as I have said, does not speak indiscriminately of any kind of examples, but of the examples of the fathers, who had been ruled and led by the Lord. It follows --

1 The general drift of this verse is no doubt given here, though the version seems not to be correct. The early versions and the Targum are all different, and hardly present any meaning at all. The versions of Blayney and Horsley are not much better. Venema appears to have given the most satisfactory version, which is as follows, --

Will any one forsake for a rock A field irrigated by the snow of Libanus? Shall for strange waters Be abandoned cold streams?

To make the two clauses alike, the preposition m is put before "waters," which is found before "rock." "Strange waters" were those conducted to a place by artificial means. But to give m the meaning which it often has, rather than, the verse may be thus rendered, --

Shall it be forsaken, rather than the rock, The field watered by the snow of Libanus? Shall they be abandoned rather than strange waters, The cooling streams (or rills)?

The change proposed in the last verb is unnecessary, as both verbs are nearly of the same meaning. The second line literally rendered is, "The field of the snow of Libanus;" so called as being irrigated by the melted snow from that mountain. To prefer a rocky dry ground for such a field, symbolized the conduct of the Jews, as well as to prefer waters brought by pipes from a distance to refreshing streams. -- Ed.

2 So the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Targum, but the Syriac and Arabic are like our version, "to vanity," the idol being often so called: and this is the most suitable rendering here, as it shews the object of their worship when they forsook Jehovah. The word may be rendered "to a lie," or, what is meant, "to a false god." See Romans 1:25. -- Ed.

3 I propose the following rendering of the verse, --

For forsaken me have my people; To vanity they burn incense, And make them stumble in their ways, The paths of ages; So that they walk in the tracks Of a way not prepared; literally, not cast up or raised.

That "they" were the false priests is evident, because to burn incense was the office of the priests. To stumble in God's ways is to transgress his law; and these "ways" were "the paths of ages," or, of antiquity, or, "ancient paths," as they had for ages been made known to the people.-- Ed.


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