23. Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?
23. An Deus e propinquo, dicit Jehova? Et non Deus e longinquo?
24. Can any hide himself in secret saith the Lord: do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.
24. An absonderit vir in latebris et ego non videbo eum, dicit Jehova? An non coelos et terram impleo, dicit Jehova?
Here he especially shakes off from hypocrites their self-delusions; for they were torpid in their vices, because they thought that they could in a manner blind the eyes of God. They did not indeed say so; but the heedless security of men would, never be so great as it is, were they to believe that nothing is hid from God, but that he penetrates into the inmost recesses of the heart, that he discerns between the thoughts and the feelings, and leaves not unobserved the very marrow. If, then, this truth were fixed in the hearts of all, they would certainly obey God with more reverence, and also dread his threatenings.
As, then, they are so heedlessly torpid, it follows, that they imagine God as not having a clear sight, who sees only things nigh him, like one who has a deficient vision, who can see what is near at hand, but not what is far off. Such is what hypocrites dream God to be, who after the manner of men either connives at things, or is blind, or at least does not clearly see but what is near at hand. We now understand the design of the Prophet in saying, that Jehovah is God afar off as well as near at hand.
Grant, Almighty God, that as nothing necessary to be known for salvation is wanting in thy holy and celestial oracles, we may carefully and diligently study them, and so labor to make progress in the fear of thy name, in reliance on that grace which is offered to us in Christ, that we may derive real fruit from the reading and hearing of thy word; and may we also learn to turn everything to edification, so that thy name may be really glorified in us, and that we may through the whole course of our life make progress in faith and repentance, until we shall at length attain to that perfect holiness, to which thou daily invitest us, when we shall be wholly divested of all the filth of our flesh, and become fully renewed after the image of thy Son, our Lord. -- Amen.
Some apply this to time, as though he denied that he lately came into existence; and so they think that the only true and eternal God is compared with idols, which men form presumptuously for themselves. But the other meaning is far more suitable, -- even that he is a God afar off; for as it is said elsewhere,
"Though he dwells on high, yet he sees everything
that is done on earth." (Psalm 102:19)
As, then, nothing escapes his sight, he is said to be a God afar off, while hypocrites thought him to be a God only near at hand, as we say in French, De courte veue, who sees only things near, as it were before the eyes. But a question has much more force than if it was said, that he was not merely a God near at hand; and this mode of speaking conveys reproof; for hypocrites greatly detract from his majesty, when they thus, according to their own notions, imagine that he can see no more than a mortal man. They would not indeed have dared to speak thus; but when any one examined all their counsels and their actions, he would have found that they could have never shewn so much audacity, had they not deceived themselves with the vain notion, that God could be deceived2And, therefore, Jeremiah does not relate their words, but points out the wickedness which sufficiently manifested itself in their doings, though they professed otherwise with their tongues.
And that this is the meaning appears more clearly from the next verse, which ought to be read in connection with this;
It is a wonder that the Greek translators made so great a mistake; for they wholly changed the sense, -- that God is God nigh at hand, but not afar off. In the first place, they did not consider the question, and then, as they did not see the drift of the passage, they contrived from their own brains what is wholly remote from the words of the Prophet. This sentiment, that God is nigh and not afar off, is indeed true; but what is meant here is quite another thing, -- that God sees in a way very different from men, for he fully and perfectly sees what is farthest from him, according to the passage we have quoted from Psalm 102:19; and there is another in Psalm 139:7-12, where the Psalmist says,
"Where shall I flee from thy face? for if I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I lie down in hell, there thou stretchest forth thine hand; if I take the wings of the dawn and fly to the clouds, even thine hand will lay hold of me there; if I seek coverts, even the night itself is before thee as the light, and darkness shines as the light."
If, then, we join together these two passages, there will appear nothing ambiguous in the words of Jeremiah, -- even that God penetrates with his eyes into the lowest depths, so that nothing is hid from him.
But Jeremiah not only explains the meaning of the last verse, but also makes a practical use of it;
By coverts, or hiding-places, he means all the secret frauds which men think they can cover; but by such an attempt they gain nothing but a heavier judgment. By coverts then we are to understand all those vain thoughts which hypocrites entertain; for they think that they can so hide themselves that God cannot see their purposes. Hence God laughs them to scorn, and says in effect, "Let them enter into their coverts, let them hide themselves as much as they please, I yet do see them in their coverts no less clearly than if they were quite close to me."
To confirm this he adds,
We now perceive what the Prophet means; and this passage is entitled to particular notice, because this error of imagining a God like ourselves is inbred almost in us all. Hence it is, that men allow themselves so much liberty; for they consider it a light thing to discharge their duty towards God, because they reflect not what sort of being he is, but they think of him according to their own understanding and character. As, then, we are thus gross in our ideas, it becomes us carefully to reflect on this passage, where God declares, that he is not only a God
"Because he fills heaven and earth;"
that is, his providence, his power, and his justice are so diffused everywhere, that wherever men betake themselves, it is impossible for them to be concealed from him. It follows, --
1 "Am I not a God here upon earth, that seems farther from me, as well as in heaven, that seemeth nearer to me, as being the place of my special residence? do you think that because my palace is in heaven I take no notice of what is done upon earth?" -- Gataker. This appears to be the meaning; for he says afterwards, "Do not I fill heaven and earth?"
The words seem literally to be, --
21. Am I a God of nearness, saith Jehovah? And not a God of distance? -- Ed.
2 "The Scripture," says Venema, "often brings to light and condemns, not what men profess, but what may be inferred from their doings." -- Ed.
3 The future here ought to be rendered potentially, --
Can a man hide in hiding-places, That I should not see him, saith Jehovah? Do not I fill the heavens and the earth, saith Jehovah? The first line may be thus rendered more literally, -- Can a man secrete himself in secrecies?
In Welsh, --
A lecha dyn mewn llechveydd?
"The heavens," and not "heaven," ought to be the word in the last line; and so does Blayney render it. The visible and the invisible heaven are intended. -- Ed.
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