8. The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
8. Sacerdotes non dixerunt, Ubi Jehova? et qui tenebant (vel, servabant) legem (ad verbum est, apprehendentes, vel, tenentes legem) non cognoverunt me: et pastores perfide egerunt mecum; et prophetae prophetarunt in Baal (hoc est, per Baal,) et post ea qua non prosunt ambulaverunt (vel, profecti sunt).
God assails here especially the teachers and those to whom was committed the power of ruling the people. It often happens that the common people fall away, while yet some integrity remains in the rulers. But God shews here that such was the falling away among the whole community, that priests as well as prophets and all the chief men had departed from the true worship of God, and from all uprightness.
Now, when Jeremiah thus rebukes the teachers and the priests and others, he does not excuse the common people, nor extenuate the crimes, which then prevailed everywhere, as we shall see from what follows. As many think that they set up a shield against God, when they pretend that they are not acquainted with so much learning as to distinguish between light and darkness, but that they are guided by their rulers, the Prophet, therefore, does not here cast the faults of the people upon their rulers, but, on the contrary, he amplifies the atrocity of their impiety, for they had, from the least to the greatest, rejected God and his Law. We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet.
We may learn from this passage how unwise and foolish are they who think that they are in part excusable when they can say, that they have proceeded in their simplicity and have been drawn into error by the faults of others; for it appears evident that the whole community was in a hopeless state when God gave up the priests and rulers unto a reprobate mind; and there is no doubt but that the people had provoked God's vengeance, when every order, civil as well as religious, was thus corrupt. God then visited the people with deserved punishment, when he blinded the priests, the prophets, and the rulers.
Hence Jeremiah now says, that the priests did not inquire where Jehovah was: and he adds, and they who keep the law, etc. The verb tphs taphesh, means to keep, to lay hold on, and sometimes to cover; so that there may be here a twofold meaning, -- that the priests kept the law, -- or, that they had it shut up as it were under their keeping. It would not, however, be in harmony with the passage to suppose that the law was suppressed by them; for God, by way of concession, speaks here honorably of them, thought he thereby shews that they were the more wicked, as they had no care for their office. He says, then, that they were the keepers of his law, not that they really kept the law, as though a genuine zeal for it prevailed among them, but because they professed this. They indeed wished to be thought the keepers of the law, who possessed the hidden treasure of celestial truth; for they wished to be consulted as though they were the organs of God's Spirit. Since, then, they boasted that they kept and preserved the law, the Prophet now more sharply rebukes them, because they knew not God himself. And Paul seems to have taken from this place what he says in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,
|Thou who hast the form of the law -- thou who preachest against adultery, committest adultery, and thou who condemnest idols art thyself guilty of sacrilege; for thou keepest the law, restest in it, boastest in God, and with thee is understanding and knowledge.| (Romans 2:20-22.)
Paul in these words detects the wickedness of hypocrites; for the more detestable they were, as they were thus inflated with false glory; they profaned the name of God, while they pretended to be his heralds, and as it were his prophets. We now see that this second clause refers to the priests, and that they are called the keepers of the law, because they were so appointed, according to what we read in Malachi.
He afterwards adds, The pastors have dealt treacherously with God We may apply this to the counselors of the king as well as to the governors of cities. The Prophet, I have no doubt, included all those who possessed authority to rule the people of God; for kings and their counselors, as well as prophets, are in common called pastors.
And he says, that the prophets prophesied by Baal The name of prophet is sacred; but Jeremiah in this place, as in other places, calls those prophets (contrary to the real fact) who were nothing but impostors; for God had taken from them all the light of divine truth. But as they were held still in esteem by the people, as though they were prophets, the Prophet concedes this title to them, derived from their office and vocation. We do the same in the present day; we call those bishops and prelates, and primates and fathers, who under the papacy boast that they possess the pastoral office, and yet we know that some of them are wolves, and some are dumb dogs. We concede to them these titles in which they take pride; and yet a twofold condemnation impends over their heads, as they thus impiously, and with sacrilegious audacity, claim for themselves sacred titles, and deprive God of the honor rightly due to him. So then Jeremiah, speaking of the prophets, does now point out those as impostors who at that time wickedly deceived the people.
He says that they prophesied by Baal: they ascribed more authority to idols than to the true God. The name of Baal, we know, was then commonly known. The prophets often call idols Baalim, in the plural number; but when Baal signifies a patron, when the prophets speak either of Baal in the singular number, or of Baalim in the plural, they mean the inferior gods, who had then been heaped together by the Jews, as though God was not content with his own power alone, but had need of associates and helpers, according to what is done at this day by those under the papacy, who confess that there is but one true God; and yet they ascribe nothing more to him than to their own idols which they invent for themselves at their pleasure. The same vice then prevailed among the Jews, and indeed among all heathen nations; for it was the plain and real confession of all, that there is but one supreme Being; and yet they had gods without number, and these all were called Baalim. When, therefore, the Prophet says here, that the teachers were ministers of Baal, he sets this name in opposition to the only true God, as though he had said that the truth was corrupted by them, because they passed over its limits, and did not acquiesce in the pure doctrine of the law, but mingled with it corruptions derived from all quarters, even from those many gods which heathen nations had invented for themselves.
Nor does the Prophet insist on a name; for it may have been that these false teachers pretended to profess the name of the eternal God, though falsely. But God is no sophist: there is then no reason for the Papists to think that they are at this day unlike these ancient impostors, because they profess the name of the only true God. It has always been so. Satan has not begun for the first time at this day to transform himself into an angel of light; but all his teachers in all ages have presented their poison, even all their errors and fallacies, in a golden cup. Though, then, these prophets boasted that they were sent from above, and confidently affirmed that they were the servants of the God of Abraham, it was yet all an empty profession; for they mingled with the truth those corruptions which they had derived from the ungodly errors of heathen nations.
It follows, And after those who do not profit have they gone He again, by an implied comparison, exaggerates their sin, because they had despised him whom they had known, by so many evidences, to be their Father and the author of salvation, whose infinite power they had as it were felt by their own hands, and then they followed their own inventions, though there was nothing in all their idols which could have justly allured the people of Israel. Since, then, they followed vain and profitless deceptions, the more heinous and inexcusable was their sin. It afterwards follows --