14. For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands.
14. Quia fecerunt in illis (vel, quia coegerunt eos) in servitutem etiam ipsi, gentes multae (vel, robustae, vel, validae) et reges magni; et rependam illis secundum actionem suam et seceundum opus manuum ipsorum.
The beginning of the verse is obscure. When the verb dbe, obed, is followed by b, beth, they think that it is to be taken actively, and rendered, to force or drive to bondage. It means properly, to serve; but they think that found as here it is a transitive verb. Some render it, "they employed them;" but this is frigid and ambiguous; for friends may be said to employ one another, when the work is mutual; hence the meaning is not sufficiently expressed. But the meaning may be given by a paraphrase, that they "forced them into bondage." Still the meaning of the Prophet is not yet sufficiently clear; for wdbe, obedu, may be taken either in the past or future tense. It is, indeed, in the past tense; but the past may be taken for the future: thus the meaning may be different. If it be taken in the past tense, then it cannot be applied except to the Babylonians; for they were those who had treated the Israelites as slaves, or had forced them into bondage; and Mb, bem, "them," might be understood of the Israelites; for we know that pronouns are often thus used, when the Church, or God's elect people, is the subject. Then the Prophet's words may be thus rendered, "for they have tyrannically ruled over them," even the Israelites, "and they themselves," that is, the Israelites, shall in their turn rule, the latter words being understood. But the meaning, as it seems to me, would be more simple, were we to read the whole together in this way, "For they also themselves shall rule over them, even over strong and valiant nations and great kings, and I will recompense them," etc.
The reason which has constrained me to give this interpretation is this: It is said in the last verse that Jeremiah prophesied against all nations; then follows an explanation, and the Prophet briefly shews, or reminds us, what would be the issue of these prophecies, even that they also would themselves rule over these nations. Then Mb, bem, as I think, refers to the Babylonians and other heathen nations; and it is a common thing with the prophets, when they speak of the restoration of the ancient Church, and of Christ's coming, to promise power to God's children to hold the whole world under their feet. The sentence also will flow better, when we give this version, "They shall rule." There is, indeed, a change as to time, but this is a common thing in Hebrew. It is then; For they shall rule over them, that is, the nations. Jeremiah had spoken of all heathen nations; mention had been made of all that he had prophesied against all nations; and he says now what seemed incredible, and hence the particle Mg, gam, is introduced, "even these very Israelites," as though he had said, "Though this shall happen beyond hope, so as to appear strange and fabulous, yet God by the issue will shew that he has not in vain communicated this to me; for they, even the Israelites, shall have their turn to exercise dominion; and they shall constrain all nations to obey them." And what follows confirms my view; for he adds, over strong nations, Mybr Mywg, guim rebim, (for the b, beth, may be repeated here;) or we may render the words "many nations;" for the word Mybr, rebim, means both; but as it follows "and great kings," I am disposed to render the words, "strong nations." Then he says, "For they shall rule over strong nations and great kings."1
He then subjoins, I will recompense them, that is, both kings and nations, according to their doing, and according to the work of their hands, because they had exercised every kind of cruelty towards the miserable Israelites. Hence the Prophet pursues the same subject, -- that God would at length really shew, that though he had been angry with his Church, yet all hope of mercy was not lost, for he was mindful of his covenant. He thus mitigates the severity of what he had previously said; he promises them something far better than what the wretched Jews could have expected in their extreme calamities.
We may again learn from the words of the Prophet, that God so employed Nebuchadnezzar and others, that they performed no service deserving of praise; for had they been without fault, God must doubtless have unjustly punished them. This passage then teaches us, that though the devil and the reprobate execute God's judgments, they yet deserve no praise for their obedience, for they have no such purpose in view. It now follows, --
The verb rbe, when followed by b, means invariably to enslave, to reduce to bondage, to bring into subjection, or to subdue. Then the verse should be thus rendered, --
For make them, even these, to serve,
Shall many nations and great kings;
And I will render to them according to their work, According to the doing of their own hands. This is the meaning given by the Targ.; the Vulg. and the Syr. render the verb incorrectly, though in both the pronoun them is made to refer to the nations in the preceding verse. -- Ed.