16. Moreover, he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment.
17. That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.
God returns again to the citizens of Jerusalem, and announces that they should be so destroyed by famine, that they should be reduced to the last extremity, and all but consumed by want. But he places here two forms of punishment: he says, that he should break the staff of bread: then, that their abundance of bread should be small, because they would be compelled to eat their morsels by weight and fear, and to drink water by measure and astonishment. I said they were different forms, because even if bread was sufficient, God often breaks its staff, as he calls it. And this clearly appears from Leviticus 26:26, whence our Prophet has adopted this expression. For here Moses explains what it is to break the staff of bread; because, he says, ten women shall cook their bread in one dish, and then they must bona fide restore the quantity of meal given them; for the bread shall be weighed, and thou shalt eat and not be satisfied. There God had said, I will break the staff of bread: but a clearer explanation follows -- namely, although wheat for cooking the bread should be sufficient, and the women should mutually observe each other that no theft should take place, but should return in weight what had been given out to them, yet its nourishment should be deficient. We see then that God breaks the staff of bread, when a sufficiently plentiful supply exists, but those who eat are not satisfied.
That this may appear more clearly, we muse assume the principle that men do not live by bread only, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God, (Deuteronomy 8:3,) for here God signifies that we are not nourished by virtue of the bread, properly speaking: for how can bread be life-giving when it wants both sense and vigor? We see then that there is no force in bread to nourish us which excludes the hidden grace of God, for we live by the word of God. The subject here is not the word of doctrine nor yet spiritual life; but Moses understands that we are sustained not by bread and wine and other food, or by any kind of drink, but by the secret virtue Of God whilst he inspires the bread with rigor for our nourishment. Bread then is our nourishment, but not by any peculiar or intrinsic virtue: this it has from another source, namely, the favor and ordination of God. As, therefore, a small portion of bread is sufficient; for us, so if any one gorge himself he will cry out sooner than be satisfied, unless God inspires the virtue. And for this reason Christ uses that passage against Satan: Man lives not by bread alone, (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4,) because he shows that the life of man was propped up by the secret virtue of God, and that God, whenever it pleases him, does not need these foreign assistances. God then can sustain us by himself: sometimes he uses bread, but only as an adventitious instrument; in the meantime he derogates nothing from his own virtue: hence a staff is taken metaphorically for a prop. For as old men already totter on their legs, and all their limbs being broken down by weakness, support themselves with a staff, so also bread is said to have a staff, because we are propped up by the nourishment. Our strength also becomes deficient, and hence he who takes nourishment is said to refresh himself with food. God, therefore, breaks the staff of bread when he renders men famished, even when they have a sufficient abundance of bread. Neither are they satisfied, how much soever they may gorge themselves, because the food loads instead of refreshes them.
This is the first punishment with which God threatens the Jews. Another also is added, namely, that they shall be destitute of bread. We see then that there is a double mode by which God punishes us by hunger. For although bread is sufficient, yet he breaks and destroys its staff, so that it cannot prop us up nor recall our lost vigor. At length he takes away our bread, because he either strikes our fruits with blight or hail, or makes us suffer under other calamities. Hence barrenness brings want, so that God will affect us with hunger both ways: for he says, behold! I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and then he adds, they shall eat their bread by weight and in fear, they shall drink their water by measure and in astonishment, because in truth they shall be reduced to such straits that they shall scarcely dare to touch their bread, because while they look forward to the morrow they shall fear and be astonished. And he confirms this opinion in the next verse, that they shall be destitute of bread and water, and shall be astonished: for this explanation agrees better; therefore a man and his brother shall be astonished, that is, they shall look mutually on each other as if astonished. Thus those who are without wisdom and discern nothing but despair are accustomed to act: at length they shall pine away in their iniquity. Again God repeats that the Jews could not complain when he so grievously afflicts them, because they shall receive the reward of their own iniquity. Now follows --
1 Or, "destroy." -Calvin.
2 Or, "at Jerusalem." -- Calvin.
3 Or, "with fear and trembling." -- Calvin
4 That is, "bread and water shall fail them." -- Calvin.
5 "Others, they shall be desolate,
6 Or, "consume away." -- Calvin.
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