Lecture One Hundred and Ninth. CHAPTER 29
3. By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) saying,
3. Per manum Eleasah filii Saphan et Gamariae filii Helchiae, quos miserat Zedechias rex Jehudah ad Nebhadnezer regem Babylonis Babylonem, dicendo,
4. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
4. Sic dicit Jehovah exercituum, Deus Israel, universae captivitati quam captivam adduxi e Jerusalem Babylonem,
5. Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
5. AEdificate domos, et inhabitate; plantate hortos, et comedite fructus eorum;
6. Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
6. Accipite uxores et generate filios et filias; et accipite filiis vestris uxores, et filias vestras date nuptum viris, ut generent filios et filias; et crescite (aut, multiplicamini) illic, et ne minuamini.
This is the substance of the message, which the Prophet, no doubt, explained to them at large; but here he touches but briefly on what he wrote to the captives, even that they were patiently to endure their exile until the time of their deliverance, which was not to be such as many imagined, but such as God had fixed. Well known indeed at that time was Jeremiah's prophecy, not only in Judea, but also to the captives, that their exile could not be completed in a shorter time than seventy years.
It is said that he sent his letter by the hand of the king's ambassadors. It is probable that this was done by the permission of Zedekiah; for there is no doubt but that in sending his ambassadors he intended to obtain favor with King Nebuchadnezzar, by whose nod he had come to the throne; for he was not of such dignity as to be made king, though of the royal seed, had not Nebuchadnezzar thought that it would be more advantageous to himself. For had he appointed any other governor over the Jews, a sedition might have been easily raised; he therefore intended in a measure to pacify them, for he knew that they were a very refractory people. However, Zedekiah ruled only by permission, not through his own power, nor on account of his wealth, but through the good pleasure of a conqueror. He then sent his ambassadors to promise all kinds of homage, and to know what was to be done in future. As, then, he did not wish the return of Jeconiah, he permitted his ambassadors to carry the letter of Jeremiah, not indeed that he wished to obey God. It was not, then, owing to any sincere regard for religion, but because he thought that it would be advantageous to him, that the Jews should remain in Chaldea till the death of Jeconiah; for he thus hoped that his kingdom would be confirmed, for Jeconiah was, as it were, his rival. Nor is there a doubt, but that Nebuchadnezzar wished to hold Zedekiah bound by this fetter; for he could any day restore Jeconiah, who was his captive, to his former state.
Now, then, we understand why Zedekiah did not prohibit Jeremiah's letter to be carried to the captives: he thought that it would serve to tranquilize his kingdom. But the holy Prophet had another thing in view; for his anxious object was, not to gain the favor of the king, but to shew, as God had commanded him, how long the captivity would be. Zedekiah indeed might have wished that a permission should be given to the exiles to return; for those who remained in Judea were only the dregs and offscourings of society; it was not an honorable state of things: and it may be that he had also this in view, in sending ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar, that Jerusalem might not remain desolate, but that a portion at least of the exiles might return, and that there might also be some to cultivate the land which had been nearly stripped of its inhabitants. But Jeremiah declared what he knew was by no means acceptable to the king, that a return was in vain expected before the termination of seventy years. We hence see that he spoke nothing to gain the favor of the king; and yet the king did not regard with displeasure, that the letter was sent to allay all commotions, and to restrain all the violence of those who would have been otherwise too prone to make some new attempts. This accounts for the circumstance, that the letter was sent by the hand of Elasah and Gemariah
He adds, at the same time, that they were sent by Zedekiah to Babylon, that is, to gain the favor of King Nebuchadnezzar, or, at least, to secure his friendship. I now come to the message itself:
God commanded the captives to build houses in Chaldea, to plant vineyards, and also to marry wives, and to beget children, as though they were at home. It was not, indeed, God's purpose that they should set their hearts on Chaldea, on the contrary, they were ever to think of their return: but until the end of the seventy years, it was God's will that they should continue quiet, and not attempt this or that, but carry on the business of life as though they were in their own country. As to their hope, then, it was God's will that their minds should be in a state of suspense until the time of deliverance.
At the first view these two things seemed inconsistent, — that the Jews were to live seventy years as though they were the natives of the place, and that their habitations were not to be changed, — and yet that they were ever to look forward to a return. But these two things can well agree together: it was a proof of obedience when they acknowledged that they were chastised by God's hand, and thus became willingly submissive to the end of the seventy years. But their hope, as I have just observed, was to remain in suspense, in order that they might not be agitated with discontent, nor be led away by some violent feeling, but that they might so pass their time as to bear their exile in such a way as to please God; for there was a sure hope of return, provided they looked forward, according to God's will, to the end of the seventy years. It is then this subject on which Jeremiah now speaks, when he says, Build houses, and dwell in them; plant vineyards, and eat of their fruit For this whole discourse is to be referred to the time of exile, he having beforehand spoken of their return; and this we shall see in its proper place.
But the Jews could not have hoped for anything good, except they were so resigned as to bear their correction, and thus really proved that they did not reject the punishment laid on them.
We now see that Jeremiah did not encourage the Jews to indulge in pleasures, nor persuade them to settle for ever in Chaldea. It was, indeed, a fertile and pleasant land; but he did not encourage them to live there in pleasure, to indulge themselves and to forget their own country; by no means: but he confined what he said to the time of the captivity, to the end of the seventy years. During that time, then, he wished them to enjoy the land of Chaldea, and all its advantages, as though they were not exiles but natives of the place. For what purpose? not that they might give themselves up to sloth, but that they might not, by raising commotions, offend God, and in a manner close up against themselves the door of his grace, for the time which he had fixed was to be expected. For when we are driven headlong by a vehement desire, we in a manner repel the favor of God; we do not then suffer him to act as it becomes him: and when we take away from him his own rights and will, it is the same as though we were unwilling to receive his grace. This would have been the case, had they not quietly and resignedly endured their calamity in Chaldea to the end of the time which had been fixed by God.
We now perceive that the Prophet's message referred only to the time of exile; and we also perceive what was the design of it, even to render them obedient to God, that they might thus shew by their patience that they were really penitent, and that they also expected a return in no other way than through God's favor alone.
In bidding them to take wives for their sons, and to give their daughters in marriage, he speaks according to the usual order of nature; for it would be altogether unreasonable for young men and young women to seek partners for themselves, according to their own humor and fancy. God then speaks here according to the common order of things, when he bids young men not to be otherwise joined in marriage than by the consent of parents, and that young women are not to marry but those to whom they are given.
He then adds, Be ye multiplied there and not diminished; as though he had said, that the time of exile would be so long, that except they propagated, they would soon come to nothing: and God expressed this, because it was not his will that Abraham's seed should fail. It was indeed a kind of death, when he had driven them so far, as though he had deprived them of the inheritance which he had promised to be perpetual: he, however, administers comfort here by commanding them to propagate their kind: for they could not have been encouraged to do so, except they had their eyes directed to the hope of a return. He then afforded them some taste of his mercy when he bade them not to be diminished in Chaldea. He then adds, —