4. Yet hear the word of the Lord, O Zedekiah king of Judah; Thus saith the Lord of thee, Thou shalt not die by the sword;
4. Tamen audi sermonum Jehovae, Zedechia rex Jehudah, sic dicit Jehova de to, Non morieris gladio;
5. But thou shalt die in peace: and with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings which were before thee, so shall they burn odors for thee; and they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! for I have pronounced the word, saith the Lord.
5. In pace morieris, et combustionibus patrum tuorum regum superiorum, qui ruerunt ante re, sic comburent to, et, Heus domine, plangent super to, quia sermonum ego locutus sum, dicit Jehova.
Here Jeremiah adds some comfort, even that Zedekiah himself would not be slain by the sword, but that he would die in his bed, and, as they commonly say, yield to his fate. It was indeed some mitigation of punishment, that God extended his life and suffered him not to be immediately smitten with the sword. And yet if we consider all circumstances, it would have been a lighter evil at once to be put to death, than to prolong life on the condition of being doomed to pine away in constant misery. When the eyes are pulled out, we know that the principal part of life is lost. When, therefore, this punishment was inflicted on Zedekiah, was not death desirable? And then he was not only deprived of his royal dignity, but was bereaved also of all his offspring, and was afterwards bound with chains. We hence see that what remained to him was not so much an object of desire, he might have preferred ten times or a hundred times to die. God, however, designed it as a favor, that he was not smitten with the sword.
A question may be here raised, Ought violent death to be so much dreaded? We indeed know that some heathens have wished it. They tell us of Julius Caesar, that the day before he was killed, he disputed at supper what death was the best, and that he deemed it the easiest death (
I said that this is true, when the thing is in itself considered. For it sometimes happens that the most wicked are buried with honor and great pomp, when the children of God are either burnt or torn by wild beasts. Known is that complaint of the Psalmist, that the bodies of the saints were cast away and became food to birds and wild beasts. (Psalm 79:2) And it is said of the rich man, who lived in splendor, that he died and was buried, but there is no mention made of the burial of Lazarus. (Luke 16:22) We ought not then simply to conclude, that those are miserable who are not buried, and that those are blessed who obtain the honor of a burial. As the sun is said to rise on the children of God and on strangers, so also after death, as burial is a temporal benefit, it may be considered as belonging indiscriminately to the good and to the bad. It may on the contrary be, that God should deprive his children of a burial; yet still that truth remains fixed, that burial in itself is an evidence of God's favor; and that; when any one is cast away and denied a burial, it is a sign of God's displeasure. When yet we come to individuals, the Lord turns a temporal punishment into a benefit to his own people; and makes his temporal blessings to serve for a heavier condemnation to all the reprobate and ungodly, hence they were barbarous who dared to deride burial, as the Cynics did, who treated burial with contempt. This was inhumanity.
But we ought to hold these points, -- that as God supplies us with bread, wine, and water, and other necessaries of life, in order to feed us, and to preserve us in health and rigor, so we ought to regard burial; but when the faithful are exposed to hunger, when they die through cold or nakedness, or when they are made subject to other evils, and when they are treated ignominiously after death, all this turns out for their salvation, for the Lord regards their good even when he seems to afflict them with adversities.
This, then, is the reason why the Prophet now in some measure mitigates the sorrow of Zedekiah, by saying,.
Now we know that the dead bodies of kings were burnt at a great expense; many precious odors were procured, a fire was kindled, and the bodies were seared; not that they were reduced to ashes, (for this was not the custom, as among the Romans and other nations, who burnt the bodies of the dead, and gathered the ashes) But among the Jews, the body was never burnt; only they kindled a fire around the dead body, that putrefaction might not take place. The bodies of the dead were dried by a slow fire. This was not indeed commonly done, but only at the burials of kings, as it appears from the case of Asa and of others. (2 Chronicles 16:14)
Then he says,
And yet there is no doubt but that men, in this respect, exceed moderation. It has commonly been the case almost in all ages to be ostentatious in mourning for the dead. For not only are they without genuine feeling in lamenting for their friends or relatives, but they are carried away by a sort of ambition, while burying the dead with great noise and lamentation. When they are alone they contain themselves, so that at least they make no noise; but when they go out before others, they break forth into noisy lamentations. It hence appears that, as I have said, mourning is often ostentatious. But as men have from the beginning gone astray in this respect, greater care ought to be taken by us, that each of us may check and restrain himself. Still it is natural, as I have said, to weep for the dead; but doubtless, it may be said, the ejaculations mentioned by the Prophet cannot be approved; for to what purpose was it to cry, "Alas! Lord; our king is dead," and things of the same kind? But we ought to bear in mind, that eastern nations were always excessive in this respect, and we find them to be so at this day. The warmer the climate the more given to gestures and ceremonies the people are. In these cold regions gesticulations and crying out, "Alas! Lord, alas! father," would be deemed impertinent and foolish. But where they tear off their hair, and also cut themselves and tear their cheeks not only with their nails, but also with knives, -- where they do these things, they also utter these ejaculations spoken of by the Prophet.
Grant, Almighty God, that as it is ever expedient for us to be often chastised by thine hand, -- O grant, that we may learn to bear thy scourges patiently, and with quiet minds, and so acknowledge our sins, that we may not at the same time doubt but that thou wilt be merciful to us, and that we may with this confidence ever flee to seek pardon, and that it may avail also to increase our repentance, so that we may strive more and more to put off all the vices of the flesh, and to put on the new man, so that thine image may be renewed in us, until we shall at length come to partake of that eternal glory, which thou hast prepared in heaven for us, through Christ thy Son. -- Amen.
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