The word of the Lord came unto me – Then I first felt the inspiring influence of the Divine Spirit, not only revealing to me the subjects which he would have me to declare to the people, but also the words which I should use in these declarations.
This history of Jeremiah’s call to his office formed a part of his first address to the people. He claimed to act by an external authority, and to speak not his own words but those of Yahweh; and this even when resisting the divine call (see Jer_15:13; Jer_20:7, Jer_20:14-18).
Here Jeremiah explains more fully what he had already mentioned that he had been called from above, for otherwise he would have presumptuously obtruded himself: for no one, as the Apostle says, takes this honor to himself; but the call of God alone raises up prophets and teachers to their dignity see Heb_5:4. Hence, that Jeremiah might secure attention, he declares that he had been called to the prophetic office, and that by the clear voice of God. For this purpose, he says, that this word was given him, Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee He introduces God as the speaker, that what he declares might be more emphatical, that it might be of more weight and more forcible: for, if he had said simply in his own person, that he had been made a prophet by God’s voice, it would not have so much moved the hearers; but when he brings forward God as the speaker, there is necessarily more weight and force in what is said.
I pass by here what might be more largely said on what is necessary in one’s call, so that he may be attended to by God’s people; for no one, by his own and private right, can claim this privilege of speaking, as I have already said, inasmuch as this is what belongs to God alone. But I have elsewhere spoken at large on the prophetic call; it is therefore enough now to point at such things as these as it were by the finger: and particular discussions must be sought elsewhere; for were I to dwell at large on every subject, my work would be endless. I will, therefore, according to my usual practice, give a brief exposition of this Prophet.
Jeremiah then says, that he had been called by God, for this end, that he might on this account gain a hearing from the people. God declares that he knew Jeremiah before he formed him in the womb.This is not said specially of the Prophet, as though other men are unknown to God, but it is to be understood of the prophetic office, as though he had said, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I destined thee for this work, even that thou mayest undertake the burden of a teacher among the people.” And the second part is a repetition, when he says, Before thou camest forth from the womb I sanctified thee Sanctification is the same as the knowledge of God: and thus we perceive that knowledge is not mere prescience, but that predestination, by which God chooses every single individual according to his own will, and at the same time appoints and also sanctifies him; for no one, as Paul declares, (2Co_2:16,) is according to his own nature fitted for the work. Since then this fitness is the gratuitous gift of God, it is nothing strange that God declares that he had sanctified Jeremiah, as though he had said, “I formed thee man in the womb, and at the same time appointed thee for this particular work; and as it was not in thy power to bring with thee a qualification for the prophetic office, I formed thee not only a man, but a prophet.” This is the import of the passage.
But they refine too much, who think that the Prophet was sanctified from the womb as John the Baptist was, for the words mean no such thing; but only that is testified of Jeremiah, which Paul also affirms respecting himself in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, that he was known by God before he was born. Jeremiah then was not actually sanctified in the womb, but set apart according to God’s predestination and hidden purpose; that is, God chose him then to be a Prophet. It may be asked, whether he was not chosen before the creation of the world? To this it may be readily answered, that he was indeed foreknown by God before the world was made; but Scripture accommodates itself to the measure of our capacities, when it speaks of the generation of any one: it is then the same as though God had said of Jeremiah, that he was formed man for this end that in due time he might come forth a Prophet.
And no doubt the following clause is added exegetically, A prophet for the nations I made thee His sanctification, then, as I have said, was not real, but intimated that he was appointed a Prophet before he was born.
It however seems strange that he was given a Prophet to the nations God designed him to be the minister of his Church; for he neither went to the Ninevites, as Jonah did, (Jon_3:3,) nor traveled into other countries, but spent his labors only among the tribe of Judah; why then is it said that he was given as a Prophet to the nations? To this I answer, that though God appointed him especially for his Church, yet his teaching belonged to other nations, as we shall presently see, and very evidently, as we proceed; for he prophesied concerning the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Moabites; in short, he included all the nations who were nigh and known to the Jews. This was indeed as it were accidental: but though he was given as a Prophet especially to his own people, yet his authority extended to heathen nations. No doubt nations are mentioned, including many, in order that the power and dignity of his teaching might appear more evident. It follows-
Jer 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee,…. Not merely by his omniscience, so he knows all men before their conception and birth; but with such a knowledge as had special love and affection joined with it; in which sense the Lord knows them that are his, as he does not others, and predestinates them unto eternal life; and which is not only before their formation in the womb, but before the foundation of the world, even from all eternity. The forming of the human foetus is God’s act, and a curious piece of workmanship it is; see Psa_139:15.
And before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; not by infusing holiness into him, but by separating him in his eternal purposes and decrees to the office of a prophet before he was born, and even before the world began; just as the Apostle Paul was separated to the Gospel of God, Rom_1:1, for it follows,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations; not to the Israelites only, who Jarchi thinks are so called, because they now followed the usages and customs of the nations; but to the Gentiles, against whom be was sent to prophesy, Jer_46:1 as Egyptians, Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Chaldeans. This ordination of him to be a prophet was not done in time, but in eternity, in the mind and thought of God; he was foreordained to this office before the foundation of the world, of which a declaration was made unto him when he was now called unto it; to which he makes answer.
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knew — approved of thee as My chosen instrument (Exo_33:12, Exo_33:17; compare Isa_49:1, Isa_49:5; Rom_8:29).
sanctified — rather, “separated.” The primary meaning is, “to set apart” from a common to a special use; hence arose the secondary sense, “to sanctify,” ceremonially and morally. It is not here meant that Jehovah cleansed Jeremiah from original sin or regenerated him by His Spirit; but separated him to his peculiar prophetical office, including in its range, not merely the Hebrews, but also the nations hostile to them (Jer_25:12-38; Jer_27:1-21; 46:1-51:64), [Henderson]. Not the effect, but the predestination in Jehovah’s secret counsel, is meant by the sanctification here (compare Luk_1:15, Luk_1:41; Act_15:18; Gal_1:15; Eph_1:11).
After having spoken of his call, the Prophet adds, that he at first refused his office, and he states this for two reasons; first, that he might clear himself from every suspicion of rashness, for we know how much ambition prevails among men, according to what James intimates, that many wish to be teachers, (Jas_3:1 ) and there is hardly one who is not anxious to be listened to. Since, then, most men too readily assume the office of teaching, and many boldly intrude into it, Jeremiah, in order to avoid the very suspicion of rashness, informs us that he was constrained to take the office. Secondly, he says that he refused the office, that he might gain more esteem, and render his disciples more attentive. But why did he refuse to obey God, when called to the prophetic function? Because its difficulty frightened him: and yet this very reason ought to rouse readers to a greater attention, as it no doubt awakened hearers when Jeremiah spoke to them.
If any one asks, whether Jeremiah acted rightly in refusing what God enjoined? the answer is, that God pardoned his servant, for it was not his design to reject his call, or to exempt himself from obedience, or to shake off the yoke, because he regarded his own leisure, or his own fame, or any similar considerations: Jeremiah looked on nothing of this kind; but when he thought of himself, he felt, that he was wholly unequal to undertake an office so arduous. Hence the excuse that is added is that of modesty. We then see that God forgave his timidity, for it proceeded, as we have just said, from a right feeling; and we know that from good principles vices often arise. But it was yet a laudable thing in Jeremiah, that he thought himself not sufficiently qualified to undertake the prophetic office, and that he wished to be excused, and that another should be chosen endued with more courage and with better qualifications. I shall proceed with what remains tomorrow.
Jer 1:6 Then said I, Ah, Lord God!…. The word אהה, “Ah”, or “Ahah”, is used in distress and grief, as Kimchi observes; and is expressive of mourning and complaint, as Jarchi notes; and shows that the prophet was troubled and uneasy at his call, and would gladly have been excused on the following account:
behold, I cannot speak; or, “I know not how to speak” (r); properly and pertinently, politely and eloquently, especially before great personages, kings and princes, and the citizens of Jerusalem, being brought up in a rustic manner in the country. A like excuse Moses made, Exo_4:10. The Targum is, “I know not to prophesy: for I am a child”; meaning either in knowledge and understanding, or in years; not a mere child, but a “junior”, as the Septuagint version renders the word; or a “young man”, as the Arabic version; so Samuel and Zechariah were young men, when they first ministered in their office, 1Sa_3:1. Abarbinel supposes that Jeremiah was now twelve or fifteen years of age; but it should seem rather that he was more, perhaps twenty years of age; since he seems to have prophesied to the men of Anathoth before he was sent to Jerusalem, Jer_11:21.
(r) לא ידעתי דבר “uescio loqui”, V. L. Munster, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius; “non novi loqui”, Pagninus, Montanus.
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From the long duration of his office (Jer_1:2, Jer_1:3; Jer_40:1, etc.; Jer_43:8, etc.), it is supposed that he was at the time of his call under twenty-five years of age.
child — the same word is translated, “young man” (2Sa_18:5). The reluctance often shown by inspired ministers of God (Exo_4:10; Exo_6:12, Exo_6:30; Jon_1:3) to accept the call, shows that they did not assume the office under the impulse of self-deceiving fanaticism, as false prophets often did.
There is no resistance on Jeremiah’s part, but he shrinks back alarmed.
I cannot speak – i. e., “I cannot prophesy,” I have not those powers of oratory necessary for success. The prophets of Israel were the national preachers in religious matters, and their orators in political.
I am a child – This implies nothing very definite about Jeremiah’s age. Still the long duration of his prophetic mission makes it probable that he was very young when called to the office, as also were Isaiah, Hosea, Zechariah, and others.
Now follows the answer given to him, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go, etc. God not only predicts here what the Prophet was to do, but declares also what he designed him to do, and what he required from him, as though he had said, “It is thy duty to obey, because I have the right to command: thou must, therefore, go wheresoever I shall send thee, and thou must also proclaim whatsoever I shall command thee.” By these words God reminds him that he was his servant, and that there was no reason why a sense of his own weakness should make him afraid; for it ought to have been enough for him simply to obey his command.
And it is especially necessary to know this doctrine: for as we ought to undertake nothing without considering what our strength is, so when God enjoins anything, we ought, immediately to obey his word as it were with closed eyes. Prudence is justly praised by writers; and it is what ought to be attended to by all generally; they ought to consider what the shoulders can bear, and cannot bear. For whence is it that many have so much audacity and boldness, except that they hurry on through extreme self — confidence? Hence, in all undertakings, this should be the first thing, that every one should weigh well his own strength, and take in hand what comports with the measure of his capacity. Then no one would foolishly obtrude himself, and arrogate to himself more than what is right. But when God calls us, we ought to obey, however deficient we may in all things be: and this is what we learn from what God says here, Say not, I am a child; that is, “though thou, indeed, thinkest thyself destitute of every qualification, though thou art conscious of thine own weakness, yet thou shalt go, thou must go wheresoever I shall send thee.” God, then, requires this honor to be simply conceded to him, that men should obey his commands, though the qualification necessary to execute them be wanting. It afterwards follows —
Jer 1:7 But the Lord said unto me, say not, I am a child,…. This excuse will not be admitted:
for thou shall go to all that I shall send thee; either to “every place”, as the Targum paraphrases; or “to all persons to whom” he should be sent, as the Septuagint and Arabic versions render the words; or “to all things for which” he should send him, as the Syriac and Vulgate Latin versions. The sense is, that he should go everywhere, and to every person, and on every errand and message he should be sent unto and with:
and whatsoever I command thee, thou shall speak; out and openly, and keep back nothing through the fear of men; as follows:
Jeremiah suggested two difficulties, the first inexperience, the second timidity. God now removes the first of these. Inexperience is no obstacle where the duty is simple obedience His timidity is removed by the promise given him in the next verse.
We may learn from this verse that Jeremiah, when he observed the heavy and hard conflicts he had to undertake, was greatly disturbed; for he had not courage enough firmly and boldly to assail enemies so many and so violent. He indeed saw, that he had to do with a degenerated people, who had almost all departed from the law of God: and since they had for many years shaken off the yoke, and were petulantly exulting in their freedom, it was difficult to bring them back to obedience, and to a right course of life. It hence appears that the Prophet was restrained by this difficulty, so as not to venture to undertake the prophetic office. But God applied a suitable remedy to his fear; for what does he say? Fear not their faceIt appears, then, that when Jeremiah said that he was a child, he had in view, as I have already hinted, the difficulty of the undertaking; he could hardly bear to carry on contests so severe with that rebellious people, who had now become hardened in their wickedness. We hence see how he refused, in an indirect manner, the burden laid on him, for he ventured, not openly and ingenuously, and in plain words, to confess how the matter was; but God, who penetrates into the hearts of men, and knows all their hidden feelings and motives, heals his timidity by saying, Fear not their face.
Now this passage shews that corruptions had so prevailed among the chosen people, that no servant of God could peaceably perform his office. When prophets and teachers have to do with a teachable people, they have no need to fight: but when there is no fear of God, and no regard for him, yea, when men are led away by the violence of their lusts, no godly teacher can exercise his duty without being prepared for war. This, then, is what God intimates, when he bids his Prophet to be courageous; for he saw that there would be as many enemies as professed themselves to be the children of Abraham.
The reason, also, for boldness and confidence, that is added, ought to be noticed, For I am with thee to deliver theeBy these words God reminds the Prophet, that there would be sufficient protection in his power, so that he had no need to dread the fury of his own nation. It was, indeed, at first, a formidable undertaking, when Jeremiah saw that he had to carry on war, not with a few men, but with the whole people; but God sets himself in opposition to all men, and says, I am with thee, fear not. We hence see that due honor is then conceded to God, when being content with his defense we disregard the fury of men, and hesitate not to contend with all the ungodly, yea, though they may rise up in a mass against us: and were their forces and power the strongest, we ought yet to feel assured that the defense of God alone is sufficient to protect us. This is the full meaning of the passage. It now follows-
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I am with thee — (Exo_3:12; Jos_1:5).
Here Jeremiah speaks again of his calling, that his doctrine might not be despised, as though it proceeded from a private individual. He, therefore, testifies again, that he came not of himself, but was sent from above, and was invested with the authority of a prophet. For this purpose he says, that God’s words were put in his mouth.
This passage ought to be carefully observed; for Jeremiah briefly describes how a true call may be ascertained, when any one undertakes the office of a teacher in the Church: it is ascertained even by this when he brings nothing of his own, according to what Peter says in his first canonical epistle, “Let him who speaks, speak as the oracles of God,” (1Pe_4:11 ) that is, let him not speak doubtingly, as though he introduced his own glosses; but let him boldly, and without hesitation, speak in the name of God. So also Jeremiah in this place, in order that he might demand to be heard, plainly declares that the words of God were put in his mouth. Let us, then, know, that whatever proceeds from the wit of man, ought to be disregarded; for God wills this honor to be conceded to him alone, as it was stated yesterday, to be heard in his own Church. It hence follows, that none ought to be acknowledged as God’s servants, that no prophets or teachers ought to be counted true and faithful, except those through whom God speaks, who invent nothing themselves, who teach not according to their own fancies, but faithfully deliver what God has committed to them.
A visible symbol was added, that there might be a stronger confirmation: but there is no reason to make this a general rule, as though it were necessary that the tongues of all teachers should be touched by the hand of God. There are here two things — the thing itself, and the external sign. As to the thing itself, a rule is prescribed to all God’s servants, that they bring not their own inventions, but simply deliver, as from hand to hand, what they have received from God. But it was a special thing as to Jeremiah, that God, by stretching out his hand, touched his mouth; it was, that he might openly shew that his mouth was consecrated to himself. It is therefore sufficient as to the ministers of the word, that their tongues be consecrated to God, so that they may not mix any of their own fictions with his pure doctrine. But it was God’s will, as to Jeremiah, to add also the visible signs of the thing itself, by extending his hand and touching his mouth.
Jer 1:9 Then the Lord put forth his hand,…. Who, according to Kimchi, was the Angel that appeared to the prophet, and spoke in the name of the Lord to him, and is called by his name; but rather it was the Son of God, the true Jehovah, who appeared in a human form he assumed for the present, and put forth his hand:
and touched my mouth; just as one of the seraphim touched the mouth and lips of the Prophet Isaiah with a live coal from the altar, Isa_6:6, by this symbol the prophet was inducted into his office; and it was suggested to him that his mouth was now sanctified to the Lord’s use and service; and that what he should speak should not be his own words, but the words of the Lord; and so the Targum paraphrases it,
“and the Lord sent the words of his prophecy, and ordered them in my mouth;”
to which agrees what follows:
and the Lord said unto me, behold, I have put my words in thy mouth; which was signified by the preceding symbol; wherefore he might with great freedom and boldness deliver them out to others.
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touched my mouth — a symbolical act in supernatural vision, implying that God would give him utterance, notwithstanding his inability to speak (Jer_1:6). So Isaiah’s lips were touched with a living coal (Isa_6:7; compare Eze_2:8, Eze_2:9, Eze_2:10; Dan_10:16).
God having now shewn that Jeremiah’s mouth was consecrated to himself, and separated from common and profane use, proceeds to invest him with power: See, he says, I have set thee this day over nations and over kingdoms By these words God shews how reverently he would have his word received, even when conveyed by frail mortals. There is no one who pretends not, that he desires to obey God, but yet hardly one in a hundred really receives his word. For as soon as he speaks, almost all raise a clamor; or if they dare not furiously, and in a hostile manner, oppose it, we yet see how some evade it, and others secretly oppose it. The authority, then, which God ascribes to his own word, ought to be noticed by us: Behold, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms
Farther, by saying, See, I have set thee, he encourages the Prophet to be magnanimous in spirit. He was to remember his calling, and not timidly or servilely to flatter men, or to shew indulgence to their lusts and passions: See, he says. We may hence perceive, that teachers cannot firmly execute their office except they have the majesty of God before their eyes, so that in comparison with him they may disregard whatever splendor, pomp, or power there may be in men. Experience indeed teaches us, that the sight of men, whatever dignity they may possess, be it the least, brings fear with it. Why are prophets and teachers sent? That they may reduce the world to order: they are not to spare their hearers, but freely reprove them whenever there may be need; they are also to use threatenings when they find men perverse. But when there is any dignity connected with men, the teacher dares not to offend; he is afraid of those who are invested with power, or who possess wealth, or a high character for prudence, or who are endued with great honors. In such cases there is no remedy, except teachers set God before their eyes, and regard him to be himself the speaker. They may thus with courageous and elevated minds look down on whatever height and pre — eminence there may be among mortals. This, then, is the object of what God says here, See, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms; for he shews that there is so much authority in his word, that whatever is high and exalted on earth is made subject to it; even kings are not excepted.
But what God has joined together let no man separate. (Mat_19:6; Mar_10:9 ) God indeed extols here his Prophets above the whole world, and even above kings; but he has previously said, Behold, I have put my words, in thy mouth; so that whosoever claims such a power, must necessarily bring forth the word of God, and really prove that he is a prophet, and that he introduces no fictions of his own. And hence we see how fatuitous is the boasting of the Pope, and of his filthy clergy, when they wickedly dare to appropriate to themselves what is here said. “We are, “they say, “above both kings and nations.” By what right? “God hath thus spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah.” But these two things are to be joined together — I have put my words in thy mouth, and, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms Now let the Pope shew that he is furnished with the word of God, that he claims for himself nothing that is his own, of apart from God; in a word, that he introduces nothing of his own devices, and we shall willingly allow that he is pre — eminent above the whole world. For God is not to be separated from his word: as his majesty shines eminently above the whole world, yea, and above all the angels of heaven; so there is the same dignity belonging to his word. But as these swine and dogs are empty of all true doctrine and piety, what effrontery it is, yea, what stupidity, to boast that they have authority over kings and nations! We, in short, see from the context, that men are not here so much extolled, though they be true ministers of celestial truth, as the truth itself; for God ascribes here the highest authority to his own word, though its ministers were men of no repute, poor and despised, and having nothing splendid connected with them. The purpose for which this was said I have already explained; it was, that true prophets and teachers may take courage, and thus boldly set themselves against kings and nations, when armed with the power of celestial truth.
He then adds, To root up, to destroy, to pull down, to lay waste God seems here to have designedly rendered odious his own word and the ministry of the Prophet; for the word of God in the mouth of Jeremiah could not have been acceptable to the Jews, except they perceived that it was for their safety and welfare: but God speaks here of ruin and destruction, of cutting down and desolation. But he subjoins, to build and to plant God then ascribes two effects to his word, that on the one hand it destroys, pulls down, lays waste, cuts off; and that on the other it plants and builds
But it may, however, be rightly asked, why does God at first speak of ruin and extermination? The order would have seemed better had he said first, I set thee to buildand to plant, according to what is said by Paul, who declares that vengeance was prepared by him and the other teachers against all despisers, and against all the height of the world, when your obedience, he says, shall be completed. (2Co_10:5.) Paul then intimates that the doctrine of the gospel is properly, and in the first place, designed for this end — to call men to the service of God. But Jeremiah here puts rhin and destruction before building and planting. It then seems, as I have said, that he acts inconsistently. But we must ever bear in mind what the state of the people was: for impiety, perverseness, and hardened iniquity had for so long a time prevailed, that it was necessary to begin with ruin and eradication; for Jeremiah could not have planted or have built the temple of God, except he had first destroyed, pulled down, laid waste, and cut off. How so? Because the Devil had erected there his palace; for as true religion had been for many years despised, the Devil was there placed, as it were, on his high throne, and reigned uncontrolled at Jerusalem, and through the whole land of Judea. How, then, could he have built there a temple for God, in which he might be purely worshipped, except ruin and destruction had preceded? for the Devil had corrupted the whole land. We indeed know that all kinds of wickedness then prevailed everywhere, as though the land had been filled with thorns and briers. Jeremiah then could not have planted or sown his heavenly doctrine until the land had been cleansed from so many vices and pollutions. This is no doubt the reason why in the first place he speaks of cutting off and ruin, of exterminating and eradicating, and afterwards adds planting and building.
The heap of words employed shews how deep impiety and the contempt of God had fixed their roots. God might have said only, I have set thee to pull down and to destroy; he might have been content with two words, as in the latter instance — to plant and to build. But as the Jews had been obstinate in their wickedness, as their insolence had been so great, they could not be corrected immediately, nor in one day, nor by a slight effort. Hence God accumulated words, and thus encouraged his Prophet to proceed with unwearied zeal in the work of clearing away the filth which had polluted the whole land. We now then understand what is here said, and the purpose of using so many words.
But he speaks again of kingdoms and nations; for though Jeremiah was given as a Prophet especially to his own nation, yet he was also a Prophet to heathen nations, as they say, by accident, according to what we shall hereafter see: and it seems that, God designedly mentioned nations and kingdoms, in order to humble the pride of that people who thought themselves exempt from all reproof. Hence he says, that he gave authority to his servant, not only over Judea, but also over the whole world; as though he had said, “Ye are but a small portion of mankind; raise not then your horns against my servant, as ye shall do this without effect; for he shall exercise power not only over Judea, but also over all nations, and even over kings, as the doctrine which I have deposited with him is of such force and power that it will stand eminent above all mortals, much more above one single nation.”
We at the same time see that though the treachery of men constrains God to use severity, yet he never forgets his own nature, and kindly invites to repentance those who are not wholly past remedy, and offers to them the hope of pardon and of salvation; and this is what celestial truth ever includes. For though it be the odour of death unto death to those who perish, it is yet the odor of life unto life to the elect of God. It indeed often happens that the greater part turn the doctrine of salvation to their ruin; yet God never suffers all to perish. He therefore makes the truth the incorruptible seed of life to his elect, and builds them up as his temples. This is what we must bear in mind. And so there is no reason why the truth of God should be disliked by us, though it be the occasion of perdition to many; for it always brings salvation to the elect: it so plants them, that they strike roots into the hope of a blessed immortality, and then it builds them for holy temples unto God. It now follows —
I have … set thee over – literally, I have made thee Pakeed, i. e., deputy. This title is given only to these invested with high authority (e. g. Gen_41:34; 2Ch_24:11; Jer_20:1; Jer_29:26). From God’s side, the prophet is a mere messenger, speaking what he is told, doing what he is commanded. From man’s side, he is God’s vicegerent, with power “to root out, and to pull down.”
Root out … pull down – In the Hebrew, the verbs present an instance of the alliteration so common in the prophets, and agreeable to oriental taste. The former signifies the destruction of anything planted, the latter refers to buildings.
To throw down – More exactly, to tear in pieces. There are four words of destruction, and but two words of restoration, as if the message were chiefly of evil. And such was Jeremiah’s message to his contemporaries. Yet are all God’s dealings finally for the good of His people. The Babylonian exile was, for the moment, a time of chastisement; it also became a time of national repentance (see Jer_24:5-7).
God confirms in this passage what he had previously said of the power of his word. These two verses, then, are to be taken as explanatory, for no new subject is introduced; but the former part is confirmed — that the Prophets spoke not in vain, or to no purpose, because they were invested with celestial power to plant and to build, and, on the other hand, to pull down and to root up, according to what we have quoted from Paul, who says that true teachers are armed with such power. (2Co_10:5 ) We have in readiness, he says, vengeance against all the unbelieving, however proud they may be: and though their height may terrify the whole world, yet we have a sword in our hands which will stay them; for God’s word has sufficient power to destroy the rebellious.
God then proceeds with the same subject when he says, What seest thou, Jeremiah? He had set before him a staff or a rod of almond, as some render the word: and שקר, shaked, means an almond; but as it comes from a verb which means to watch or to hasten, we cannot fitly render it here, almond. I do not, however, deny that the Hebrew word has this meaning. But it is written here with Kamets; the participle which afterwards follows has Holem: we hence see what affinity there is between the two words. The word שקר, shaked, an almond, is derived from the verb, שקר, shakad, to watch; and it has been thought that this tree is so called, because it brings forth fruit earlier than other trees; for almonds, as it is well known, flower even in winter, and in the coldest seasons. Now, were we to say in Latin, I see a rod or a staff of almond; and were the answer given, Thou hast rightly seen, for I watch, the allusion in the words would not appear, the sentence would lose its beauty, and there would indeed be no meaning. It is hence necessary to give another version, except we wish to pervert the passage, and to involve the Prophet’s meaning in darkness. It should be, “I see the rod, “or the staff, “of a watcher.” Let us grant that the almond is intended; yet the tree may be called watchful, according to what etymology requires, and also the sense of the passage, as all must see.
A rod of an almond tree – שקד shaked, from שקד shakad, “to be ready,” “to hasten,” “to watch for an opportunity to do a thing,” to awake; because the almond tree is the first to flower and bring forth fruit. Pliny says, Floret prima omnium amygdala mense Januario; Martio vero pomum maturat. It blossoms in January, when other trees are locked up in their winter’s repose; and it bears fruit in March, just at the commencement of spring, when other trees only begin to bud. It was here the symbol of that promptitude with which God was about to fulfill his promises and threatening. As a rod, says Dahler, is an instrument of punishment, the rod of the almond may be intended here as the symbol of that punishment which the prophet was about to announce.
What seest thou? – If we admit a supernatural element in prophecy, visions would be the most simple means of communication between God and man.
A rod of an almond tree – Many translate “a staff of almond wood.” The vision would thus signify that God – like a traveler, staff in hand – was just about to set forth upon His journey of vengeance. But the rendering of the King James Version is supported by Gen_30:37. The word rendered “almond” comes from a root signifying “to be awake;” and as the almond blossoms in January, it seems to be awake while other trees are still Sleeping, and therefore is a fit emblem of activity.
God then caused his servant to see the staff of a watcher. For what purpose? The answer is given: Thou hast rightly seen the staff of a watcher, because I watch over my word to execute (or, fulfill) it Interpreters seem to have unwisely confined this to the punishments afterwards mentioned: they think that what is intimated is, that the threatenings which the Prophet announced would not be without effect, because God was prepared to inflict whatever he would denounce. But this, as I think, is too restricted a view; for God, I have no doubt, extols here his own word, and speaks of its accomplishment; as though he had said, that he spoke not by his servants, that what they said might vanish into air, or fall to the ground, but that power would accompany it, according to what is said in Isaiah, “Not return shall my word to me empty, but shall prosper in all things,” (Isa_55:11 ) that is, “I will cause the prophetic doctrine to take effect, that the whole world may know that I have not spoken in vain, and that my word is not an empty sound, but that it has real power, which in due time will appear.”
Hence I have said that these verses ought to be connected with the last, in which God said, that he sent his Prophet to root up and to plant, to demolish and to build. He then gives a proof of this in other words, and says that he would watch over his word, that he might execute whatever he had announced by his servants; as though he had said, “I indeed allot their parts (so to speak) to the prophets; but as they speak from my mouth, I am present with them to fulfill whatever I command them.” In short, God intimates that the might and the power of his hand would be connected with the word, of which the prophets were ministers among men. Thus it is a general declaration which refers not only to punishments, but also to promises. Rightly, then, hast thou seen, he says; for I am watching.
God does not here resign his own office to Jeremiah, though he employs him as his teacher; for he shews that the power to accomplish what the Prophet would declare remained with him. God indeed does not here ascribe to Jeremiah anything as his own, or apart from himself, but sets forth only the power of his word; as though he had said, “Provided thou be my faithful minister, I will not frustrate thy hope, nor the hope of those who shall obey thee; for I will fulfill whatever thou and they may justly hope for: nor shall they escape unpunished who shall resist thee; for I will in due time bring on them the punishment they deserve.”
He therefore uses the word to watch, or to hasten, in order to shew that he stood ready to give effect to his word at the appointed time. The effect does not indeed always appear to us: it is on this account said by Habakkuk, that if prophecy delays, we are to wait; “for it will not be,” he says, “beyond its time; but coming it will come.” (Hab_2:3 ) God then bids us with quiet minds to wait for the accomplishment of his word; but he afterwards adds, in order to modify what he had said, “coming it will come;” that is, “I will accomplish and really perform whatever my prophets have spoken by my command.” So there shall be no delay, for the suitable time depends on God’s will, and not on the judgment of men. It then follows, — but as the clock strikes, I cannot proceed farther today.
I will hasten my word – Here is a paronomasia. What dost thou see? I see שקד shaked, “an almond,” the hastening tree: that which first awakes. Thou hast well seen, for (שקד shoked) I will hasten my word. I will awake, or watch over my word for the first opportunity to inflict the judgments which I threaten. The judgment shall come speedily; it shall soon flourish, and come to maturity.
Jeremiah begins now to address the people to whom he was sent as a Prophet. He has hitherto spoken of his calling, that the authority of his doctrine might be evident: and he spoke generally; but now he accommodates his teaching specially to the people. Hence he says, that he had a vision, and saw a boiling-pot, whose face was towards the north. By God asking, and the Prophet answering, the design was to confirm the prediction; for if it had been only said that he saw a boiling-pot, and if an explanation of the metaphor had been given, there would not have been so much force and weight in the narrative. But when God is set forth as being present, and explaining what the boiling-pot signified, the prediction becomes more certain: and the Prophet no doubt gave this narrative, in order to shew that God, being as it were present, thereby proved himself to he the Author of this prophecy.
Now the import of the whole is, that the Chaldeans would come to overthrow the city Jerusalem, to take away and abolish all the honor and dignity both of the kingdom and of the priesthood.
This indeed had been previously announced by Isaiah as well as by other prophets; but all their threatenings had been despised. While indeed Isaiah was living, the king of Babylon had secured the friendship of Hezekiah; and the Jews thought that his protection had been opportunely obtained against the Assyrians. But they did not consider that the hearts of men are ruled by the hand of God, and are turned as he pleases: nor did they consider that they had for many years provoked God, and that he was become their enemy. Since, then, all threatening had been despised and regarded with derision, Jeremiah came forth and declared, that the northern nations would come, the Assyrians as well as the Chaldeans. For we know that the one monarchy had been swallowed up by the other; and the Chaldeans ruled over the Assyrians; and thus it happened that the whole eastern empire, with the exception of the Medes and Persians, had passed over to them; and with respect to Judea, they were northward. Hence the Prophet says, that he saw a boiling-pot, having its face towards the north.
By the pot many understand the king of Babylon; but they seem not rightly to understand what the Prophet says: and I could easily disprove their interpretation, but I shall be satisfied with a simple statement of what is true; and the meaning will become evident as we proceed. The pot, then, as it will be presently seen more clearly, is the nation of the Jews: I say this now, as I do not wish to heap together too many things. They are said to be like a boiling-pot, because the Lord, as it were, boiled them, until they were reduced almost to nothing. It is said also, that the face of the pot was towards the north; because there, as Jeremiah immediately explains, was the fire kindled. And the comparison is very apposite; for when a pot is set on the fire, it boils on that side nearest the fire, and all the scum passes over to the other side. Hence he says that it boiled, but so that its mouth was on the north side; for there was the fire, and there was the blowing. In short, God intended to shew to his Prophet, that the people were like flesh which is cast into the pot, boiled, and afterwards burnt, or reduced after a long time almost to nothing. The Prophet saw the mouth or the face of the boiling-pot, and on the side on which it boiled it looked towards the north; hence God, the interpreter of the vision which he presented to his servant, answers and says, From the north shall break forth evil on all the inhabitants of the land, that is, of Judea. In these words God declares, that the fire was already kindled by the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, by which he would boil, as it were, his people like flesh, and at length wholly consume them, as it is commonly the case, when the flesh remains in the pot, and the fire is continually burning, and blowing is also added; the flesh must necessarily be reduced to nothing when thus boiled or seethed.
The first vision was for the support of the prophet’s own faith during his long struggle with his countrymen: the second explains to him the general nature of his mission. He was to be the bearer of tidings of a great national calamity about to break forth item the north. He sees a caldron. It was a vessel of metal Eze_24:11, large enough to prepare the meal of a numerous community 2Ki_4:38, and broad at the top, as it was also used for washing purposes Psa_60:8. This caldron was boiling furiously.
The face … – More correctly the margin, i. e toward the south. We must suppose this caldron set upon a pile of inflammable materials. As they consume it settles down unevenly, with the highest side toward the north, so that its face is turned the other way and looks southward. Should it still continue so to settle, the time must finally come when it will be overturned, and will pour the whole mass of its boiling contents upon the south.
And thus God testifies that the fire was already kindled in Chaldea and Assyria, which was not only to boil the Jews, but also reduce them to nothing. And then he expresses the same in other words — that evil would come from the north upon all the Jews. We shall hereafter see that there is presented here a brief summary of the truth which was committed to Jeremiah; at least it is a summary of one half of it; for God designed also to provide for his own elect; and he thus terrified them, that they might be subdued, and submit to him, and not that they might abandon themselves to despair. At the same time, this half of the prediction was — that there was no hope of pardon, because the Jews had with extreme obstinacy provoked God’s wrath, and had so abused his patience, that their impiety could no longer be tolerated. Hence, what other prophets had denounced Jeremiah now confirms more strongly, and points it out, as it were, by the finger. It afterwards follows —
Jer 1:14 Then the Lord said unto me,…. Explaining the above vision:
out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land; that is, out of Babylon, which lay north, as Jarchi says, and so the Talmud (t); or north east, as Kimchi and Ben Melech, to the land of Israel; from hence came Nebuchadnezzar and his army, which are meant by “the evil” that should break forth, or “be opened” (u) and loosed, which before were bound and hindered by the providence of God; see Rev_9:14 and come upon all the inhabitants of the land of Israel; and who are signified by the boiling pot to the north; or, however, by the fire under it, which came from thence; for rather by the pot is meant Jerusalem; and, by the boiling of it, its destruction by the Chaldeans; see Eze_11:3.
(t) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 6. 1. and Bava Bathra, fol. 25. 2. (u) תפתח “aperietur”, Munster, Tigurine version, Cocceius; “pandetur”, V. L. Pagninus, Montanus.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
break forth — “shall disclose itself.”
Out of the north — (Jer_4:6; Jer_6:1, Jer_6:22; Jer_10:22; Jer_25:9; Eze_26:7). The Chaldeans did not cast off the yoke of Assyria till several years after, under Nabopolassar, 625 b.c.; but long previously they had so increased as to threaten Assyria, which was now grown weak, and other neighboring peoples.
Out of the north … – The caldron represents the great military empires upon the Euphrates. In Hezekiah’s time, Nineveh was at their head; but stormed by the armies of Cyaxares and Nabopalassar it is itself now the victim whose limbs are seething in the caldron, and the seat of empire has been transferred to Babylon. But whoever may for the time prevail, the tide of passion and carnage is sure finally to pour itself upon Judaea.
An evil shall break forth – “The evil shall be opened,” shall show itself, be disclosed from the north: that special evil, which from the days of Micah Mic_3:12 all the prophets had denounced upon the Jews if they lapsed into idolatry. At present the caldron is fiercely boiling upon the Euphrates. As soon as either of the parties struggling there gains the victory it will pour the whole seething mass over other countries in the shape of an invading army (see Jer_25:17-26).
God first bids his Prophet to be the herald of the dreadful judgment, which we have already noticed: for it was not his purpose to speak only as it were in a corner, or secretly, to Jeremiah, but he committed to him what he intended should be proclaimed audibly to the whole people. It hence follows, And thou, etc. We therefore see that the Prophet had been taught by the Lord, that he might confidently and boldly declare what we shall hereafter see. These things should then be connected, — that God would ascend his tribunal to execute the vengeance he had deferred, — and also that Jeremiah would be the herald of that vengeance he was prepared to inflict. Thou then, — an illative is to be added here, for the copulative is to be thus taken in this place, — Thou then; that is, as thou hast heard that I shall be now the avenger of the people’s sins, and that the time of vengeance is at hand; and also as thou knowest that this has been told thee, that thou mightest warn them to render them more inexcusable, — Thou then, gird thy loins We see why God addressed his servant Jeremiah privately; it was, that he might publicly exercise his office as a teacher.
And hence we learn, that all who are called to rule the Church of God cannot be exempt from blame, unless they honestly and boldly proclaim what has been committed to them. Hence Paul says that he was free from the blood of all men, because he had from house to house and publicly declared whatever he had received from the Lord, (Act_20:26;) and he says in another place, “Woe is to me if I preach not the Gospel, for it has been committed to me.” (1Co_9:16 )
God bids the Prophet to gird his loins This is to be understood of the kind of dress which the Orientals used and continue to use, for they wear long garments; and when they undertake any work, or when they proceed on a journey, they gird themselves. Hence he says, gird thy loins, that is, undertake this expetition which I devolve on thee. At the same time he requires activity, so that the work might be expeditiously undertaken. Arise, he says, and speak to them whatsoever I shall command thee In short, God intimates in these words, that he was unwilling to proceed to extremes, until he had still tried whether there was any hope of repentance as to the people. He indeed knew that they were wholly irreclaimable; but he intended to discover more fully their perverseness in bidding Jeremiah, in the last place, to pronounce the extreme sentence of condemnation.
He now again repeats what he had before said, Fear not their face And this exhortation was very needful, as Jeremiah undertook an office in no small degree disliked; for it was the same as though he was an herald, to proclaim war in the name of God. As, then, Jeremiah had distinctly to declare that it was all over with the people, because their perverseness had been so great that God would no longer be entreated, it was a very hard message, not likely to be attended to, especially when we consider what great pride the Jews had. They gloried in their holy descent, and also thought, as we shall hereafter see, that the Temple was an impregnable fortress even against God himself. Since, then, their temper was so refractory, it was needful that the Prophet should be more than once confirmed by God, so that he might boldly undertake his office. The exhortation is, therefore, repeated, Fear not before them.
He afterwards adds, lest I make thee to fear But the word חת, chet, means sometimes to fear, and sometimes to break in pieces. Jerome perverts the meaning of the Prophet, by rendering the phrase, “I shall never make thee to fear.” It is indeed a godly truth, that God would give courage to his Prophet so as to render him invincible against his enemies; and doubtless he would exhort us in vain, were he not to supply us with fortitude by his Spirit. This is, indeed, true; but the word פן, pen, will not allow us thus to explain the passage. What then does God mean? We must either render the verb to break or to fear. The verb אחתך achetak, is transitive; and either meaning would be suitable. For God, after having bidden the Prophet to be of a courageous and invincible mind, now adds, “Take heed to thyself; for if thou be timid, I will cause thee really to fear, or, I will break thee down before them.”
He then intimates, in these words, that the Prophet ought to be sufficiently fortified, as he knew that he was sent by God, and thus acted as it were under the authority of the highest power, and that he should not fear any mortal man. There is also to be understood here a threatening, “See, if thou conductest thyself courageously I shall be present with thee, and however formidable at the first view thy opponents may be, they shall not yet prevail; but if thou be timid and faint — hearted, I will render thee an object of contempt: thou shalt not only be timid in heart; but I will make thee to be despised by all, so that thou shalt be contemptuously treated; for in that case thou wilt not be worthy that I should fight for thee and supply thee with any courage and power to put thine enemies to flight.”
We hence see what this means, Fear not, lest I should make thee to fear; that is, “Be of a good courage and of a ready mind, lest thou be justly exposed to shame; and fear them not, lest thou shouldest really fear them, and lest they should even tear thee to pieces and tread thee under their feet: for in case thou fearest them, thou wilt be unworthy of being supported by the strength of my Spirit.”
This passage contains a useful doctrine, from which we learn that strength shall never be wanting to God’s servants, while they derive courage from the conviction that God himself is the author of their calling and become thus magnanimous; for God will then supply them with strength and courage invincible, so as to render them formidable to the whole world: but if they be unhinged and timid, and turn here and there, and be influenced by the fear of men, God will render them base and contemptible, and make them to tremble at the least breath of air, and they shall be wholly broken down; — and why? because they are unworthy that God should help them, that he should stretch forth his hand and fortify them by his power, and supply them, as it has been already said, with that fortitude, by which they might terrify both the Devil and the whole world.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
gird … loins — resolutely prepare for thy appointed task. Metaphor from the flowing robes worn in the East, which have to be girt up with a girdle, so as not to incommode one, when undertaking any active work (Job_38:3; Luk_12:35; 1Pe_1:13).
dismayed … confound — the same Hebrew word; literally, “to break.” Be not dismayed at their faces (before them), lest I make thee dismayed before their faces (before them), that is, “lest I should permit thee to be overcome by them” (compare Jer_49:37).
God supplies here his servant with confidence; for courage was necessary in that state of trembling which we have observed. Jeremiah thought himself unfit to undertake a work so onerous; he had also to do and to contend with refractory men, and not a few in number; for the whole people had already, through their ungodly and wicked obstinacy, hardened themselves in the contempt of God. As, then, there was no more any care for religion, and no regard manifested by the people for heavenly truth, Jeremiah could not, diffident as he was, undertake so heavy a burden, without being supported by the hand of God. For this reason, then, God now declares that he would make him like a fortified city and an iron pillar Indeed, the word prop would be more proper; for עמור omud, comes from the root עמד, omed; and the Prophet understands by it, not a pillar that is raised and stands by itself, but that which sustains a building or a wall. There is no ambiguity in the meaning; for God means that his servant would be invincible, and that whatever his enemies might devise against him, they would not yet prevail, as we find it said in the next verse.
Now, though this was said formerly to Jeremiah, yet godly teachers may justly apply it to themselves, who are honestly conscious of their Divine call, and are fully persuaded that they do nothing presumptuously, but obey the bidding of God. All, then, who are thus confirmed in their legitimate call from God, can apply to themselves this promise — that they shall be made invincible against all the ungodly.
But the particulars of this passage deserve to be noticed. It might have seemed enough that God called his servant a fortified city; but he compares him also to an iron pillar or column, and to a brazen wallThis repetition only confirms what we have explained, — that Jeremiah would be victorious, and that though Satan might rouse many to assail him, yet the issue would be prosperous and joyful, as he would fight under the protection of God.
It is at the same time added, Over the whole land God doubtless speaks not of the whole world, but of the land of Judah; for Jeremiah was chosen for this purpose, — that he might bestow his labor on the chosen people. It is then said that he would be a conqueror of the whole of Judea. It then follows, against the kings of Judah We know, indeed, that there was only one king in Judea; but God encourages his Prophet to be firm and persevering, as though he had said, that the course of his warfare would be long; and he said this, that he might not faint through weariness. The meaning then is, that the Prophet would not have to contend with one king only, but that as soon as one died, another would rise and oppose him; so that he was to know that there would be no hope of rest until that time had passed which God himself had appointed. We indeed know that those who are sincerely disposed to obey, do yet look for some definite period, when, like soldiers who have served their time, they may obtain a discharge; but God declares here to his Prophet, that when he had strenuously contended to the death of one king, his condition would be nothing better; for others would succeed, with whom he would have to fight, as the same wickedness and obstinacy would be still continued. To kings, he adds princes and priests; and, lastly, the whole people
When a king forgets his office and rules tyrannically, it often happens that there are moderators who check his passions, when they cannot wholly restrain them: we indeed see, that the most cruel tyrants are sometimes softened by good counselors. But God here reminds his Prophet that the state of things in Judea would be so desperate, that ungodly and wicked kings would have counselors endued with the same disposition. When priests are added, it might seem still more monstrous; but the Scripture everywhere testifies, that the Levitical priests had almost all degenerated and become apostates, so that hardly one in a hundred shewed the least sign of religion. Since, then, that order had become thus corrupt, it is no wonder that Jeremiah had to declare war against the priests; and we shall hereafter see that this was done. Now the common people might have seemed to be excusable, as there was greater simplicity among them than among the higher orders; (for they who are elevated above others transgress through pride or cruelty, and often allow themselves too much liberty, relying on their own eminence; but the common people, as I have said, seemed apparently to have more modesty;) but God here declares that impiety had so greatly prevailed in Judea, that all, from the least to the greatest, were become perversely wicked. It was, therefore, necessary, as I have before stated, that the Prophet should be fully armed; for what could he have thought, had he not in time been warned, on finding afterwards such insolence, yea, such fury in high and low, as to constrain him to contend with God’s chosen people no otherwise than with devils? It afterwards follows —
Jer 1:18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city,…. Or, “as” one; so read the Targum, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions; which is inexpungible, and cannot be taken:
and an iron pillar; which cannot be removed out of its place:
and brasen walls; which cannot be broken down. All these metaphors show the safety and security of the prophet, being surrounded by the power of God; his constancy, immovableness, and invincibleness in the work of the Lord, having such a spirit of power, fortitude, and of a sound mind, that nothing was able to move and shake him, or to deter him from the execution of his office; and that he should stand inflexible
against the whole land; of Judea, and all the inhabitants of it:
against the kings of Judah; in successive reigns, as Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, or Jechonias, and Zedekiah:
against the princes thereof; who desired he might be put to death, Jer_38:4,
against the priests thereof; who all of them dealt falsely, and were given to covetousness, Jer_8:10,
and against the people of the land; who were grievously addicted to idolatry, and all manner of wickedness.
God in this verse briefly reminds his servant, that though he would be supplied with invincible power, yet he would have great trials, so that his office would not be, according to a common saying, a mere play. He then shews for what purpose he would be made like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall, even that he might manfully fight, and not for the purpose of keeping away all dangers, and all fightings, and everything hard and grievous to the flesh. We, in short, see that the promise was given for this end, — that Jeremiah, relying on God’s aid, might not hesitate to set himself against all the Jews, and that whatever might be their fury, he might still be courageous.
Now a profitable doctrine may be hence gathered, even this — that whenever God promises his servants victory over their enemies, they ought not to make this the occasion of fostering their torpidity or idleness, but, on the contrary, of gathering courage, so that they may proceed boldly and unweariedly in the course of their vocation. In short, God promises to be their deliverer, but at the same time exhorts them to resist all the assaults of their enemies.
Hence he says, They shall fight with thee, but they shall not prevail, for I am with thee to deliver thee From these words we see that Jeremiah was fully armed, that he might not fear on seeing dangers surrounding him; for God does not here declare that he would be like a wall to him to prevent him from being assaulted, but he says that he would deliver him; as though he had said, “Prepare thyself to suffer; for except I were thy deliverer, it would be all over with thee, and thou mightest perish a hundred times; but there is no reason for thee to fear any dangers amidst thousand deaths, since I am present with thee as thy deliverer.”
They shall not prevail against thee – Because I am determined to defend and support thee against all thy enemies. One of the ancients has said, Θεου θελοντος, και επι ῥιπος πλεῃ Σωζῃ· Thestius, apud Theophil. ad Autolyc. lib. 2: “God protecting thee, though thou wert at sea upon a twig, thou shouldst be safe.”