17. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.
17. Quirt potius (vel, quia, est par-ticula causalis, sed accipitur interdum adversative) faciemus quicquid (ad verbum, omnem sermonem) qui egredietur ab ore nostro, ut suffitum offeramus reginae (vel, machinae) coelorum, et libemus ei libamina, quemadmodum fecimus nos, et patres nostri, reges nostri et duces nostri in urbibus Jehudah, et in compitis Jerusalem, et saturati sumus panibus, et fuimus boni (hoc est, hilares, feelices,) et malum non vidimus.
Here they shew more openly their obstinacy; for having said that they had no faith in Jeremiah, as he had not been sent by God, they now add that they would indeed be the worshippers of God, but according to their own will. We have here discovered to us the fountain of all superstitions. This passage sufficiently proves whence these flow, and from what source proceed all the corruptions by which religion has been vitiated in all ages, even from the willfulness and pride of men. While therefore men arrogate so much to themselves as to make a law respecting the worship of God, all things must necessarily go wrong. It was for this reason I said that this is the origin of all errors. How then is religion to remain pure? even by depending on God's mouth, by subjecting ourselves to his word, and by putting a bridle on ourselves, so as not to introduce anything except what he commands and approves. The right rule then as to the worship of God is, to adopt nothing but what he prescribes. On the other hand religion becomes vitiated and degenerates into superstition as soon as men seek to be legislators for themselves, when they say, Doing we shall do every word that cometh forth from our mouth.
This willfulness is indeed what humble men will condemn if they only consult common sense; but it is an evil innate in all, to seek to worship God as it seems good to them. But Jeremiah here paints for us as it were on a tablet the beginning of all superstitions: men set up their own will and fancies in opposition to the commands of God.
He afterwards adds, To offer incense to the frame-work of the heavens. Interpreters differ as to the meaning of this clause. We have stated some things already in the seventh chapter; but as a great part of you were not then present, it is necessary to repeat what was then said. Some derive the last word but one from Klm, melek, which means to reign; and hence they give this rendering, "to the queen of the heavens;" and this is the explanation of Jerome. But others derive the word from Kal, lak, and render it "work;" and some more rashly, "ministry;" and others, "framework," or, fabric, (machina.) There are also those deduce the word from Klh, elek, which is to walk; and they think that all the stars or planets are included in this term; and we indeed see that walking or motion is what belongs to all the stars. But if the word comes from the verb to reign, "the queen of the heavens" must be taken for the principal star, as the Chaldee paraphrase regards it.
But some consider that the sun is intended, and some the moon. The sun in Hebrew is of the feminine gender; therefore the sun may properly be called a queen in that language. But if we take it as meaning frame-work, one of the radical letters a, aleph, is wanting, as in the seventh chapter. The Prophet, however, seems to mention here the whole machinery of the heavens, as though the unbelieving had said, that as wonderful glory appeared there, their worship was doubtless pleasing to God, when his majesty was adored in the stars and in the whole frame-work of the heavens. I do not therefore consider that one starts meant, but the very heavens or all the stars; and though the word is in the singular number, yet it means what is commonly called the hosts of heaven.
They then said, "We shall go on in our usual manner; for we have hitherto offered incense to the fabric (or the frame-work) of the heavens, and poured libations; we shall not then desist from what we have usually done: "and they further said, "So have we done, we, and our fathers, and our kings, and our princes." Here they set up the authority of fathers in opposition to the authority of God, as it was usually done.
We see also in our day that the Papists superciliously boast of the Fathers and the Catholic Church, when the plain truth is brought forward. They think that darkness overspreads the Word of God, and that whatever is adduced from the Law, from the Prophets, and from the Gospel, is reduced to nothing when they object and say that it is otherwise, that the fathers have spoken otherwise, that it was otherwise understood in old times. We hence see that the Papists of this day fight with the same weapons as idolaters formerly employed; and though the devil transforms himself in various ways, yet superstitious men ever adopt this principle, that whatever is handed down from our forefathers ought to be held sacred; and hypocrites do especially harden themselves in this error, when they can boast of kings and princes, as was the case in this instance; for they said, that they followed what had been done, not only by the common people, but even by kings and princes. They took it as granted that kings and princes could not have fallen into ignorance. The truth is, that greatness and splendor cover the ignorance and folly of kings. So when simple men speak of kings, their eyes are blinded or dazzled by the magnificence displayed, so that they think kings to be without dispute wise and endowed with the best understanding. Hence it is that Satan is wont often to use such masks for the purpose of deceiving men. Let us therefore learn to render to God altogether the honor of prescribing by his word the law as to religion; and thus let no altitude or dignity be allowed to overshadow the authority of God; but on the contrary, let kings and princes be constrained to submit when God appears.
They afterwards added, In the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem. And they mentioned these places in order to sanction their own superstitions; for the holiness of Jerusalem was to them a cover for all vices, as we see to be the case at this day with respect to Rome, which is boastfully extolled by the Papists, as though the hypocrisy which sends forth the most nauseous filth through the whole world, were the most perfect holiness. Whatever then comes from Rome, they would have to be counted as a heavenly oracle. In the same manner the wretched Jews dared to set up Jerusalem in opposition to God. Great, indeed, was the dignity of the city, not such is that of Rome at this day; for the Papists have not taken from God's word the encomiums, by which they extol that city, which is really a foetid and an abominable brothel. Jerusalem had its dignity from God himself; but the Jews in their folly degraded Jerusalem when they corrupted the Law and instituted fictitious worship, according to their own will. And yet we see that they armed themselves with this name, as a weapon, against the Prophet, as though they brought God to fight against himself. Jerusalem had no dignity but that with which God himself had favored it; but they boasted that it was a holy city, that whatever was done in it was to be deemed holy and lawful, and not to be disputed, as though God's Law had been lying buried under the dignity of the city. Now Jerusalem had derived its splendor and all the dignity it had from the Law only. But this, as I have said, was the wickedness of men, that they corrupted and perverted the benefits of God.
They then added, that they were satisfied with bread, when they burned incense to the work or workmanship of the heavens. It has ever been a common thing with the despisers of God, that they have been inebriated with earthly things, so as to disregard God himself, and to think that all their superstitions would go unpunished. But whence comes this error? even because men deceive themselves, when God patiently bears with them. God does not immediately take vengeance on the profanation of his name, he does not immediately punish hypocrites and idolaters, he does not immediately fulminate against ungodly and spurious modes of worship: his forbearance seems to be taken as an inducement to sin, as an excitement to licentiousness. When, therefore, the Jews adduced this defense, that they were satisfied with bread, it was the same thing as though they had said, "As long as God spared us, and suspended his judgment, it was well with us." But they ought not to have abused the forbearance of God, and thus to have heaped on themselves judgment, as Paul says. Now there was also another cause of error, for when God drew men back from error by chastising them more severely, as they deserved, after seeing they were still obstinate, they then began so to regard God's judgment, as foolishly to think that the cause proceeded from religion being changed. So, at the beginning of the Gospel we see that there were similar complaints among all the ungodly, as the ancients have recorded, and especially Tertullian, in his apologies: "If the Tiber inundated, if any calamity happened, if hail or frost, the fault was ascribed to the name of Christ and his doctrine. From the time religion has been changed, we have not ceased to be miserable." But they did not consider as they ought to have done, that when they were blind and sunk in errors, God for a long time bore with them, and that after the doctrine of the gospel had shone forth, they still wickedly followed their accustomed impiety, which before might have been excused on the ground of ignorance: from the time God had shewn to them the way of salvation, they had resisted it, as it were designedly and willfully, so that they deserved a heavier punishment.
Such was the impiety of the ancient people according to this answer, We were satisfied with bread when we poured out libations to the frame-work of the heavens; that is, as God did not immediately punish their impiety, they were happy and saw no evil. And yet it is certain that they said what was untrue, for God had often chastised them, and at the time they were sedulous and devoted to their false worship. They had gone astray to idolatry before Jeremiah was born; nay, before Isaiah had commenced his office as a Prophet: and we know how severely at that time God punished them for their wickedness; for in the time of Isaiah the kingdom of Israel was distressed, and then wholly destroyed. Jerusalem, as Isaiah says, became like a cottage, and the whole country was laid waste; and at this time they poured out libations to the workmanship of heaven and burnt incense. We know how great was the zeal of Ahaz, and of other wicked kings. Hezekiah, indeed, and Josiah labored to restore the pure worship of God; but Manasseh, the son and successor of Hezekiah, immediately subverted everything. While then they were so fervid in their superstitions, did all things succeed according to their wishes, as they now boasted? By no means, for God pursued them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence.
What then did this boasting mean, that they were satisfied with bread, and were happy, and saw no evil, at the time they poured out libations? The truth is, that madness so drives on headlong the ungodly, that they perceived not God's hand, when stretched forth against them. But even had they truly said, that they were happy at the time they pro-stituted themselves to idols, yet they could not have hence inferred, that their false worship was approved by God; for when he bears with men for a time, he does not yet cease to be their judge; for he will at length, in his own time, sum-. mort to his tribunal the ungodly whom he has long spared. In short, hypocrites at first trifle with God, and thus turn his mercy to an occasion of sinning, as though there were no punishment; this is one thing: and in the second place, they are not roused by the scourges of God, but remain stupid when God chastises them. It follows, --