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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 4:1

1. If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.

1. Si reverteris Israel, dicit Jehova, ad me revertere (vel, apud me quiesce;) et si abstuleris abominationes tuas a facie mea, et non fueris vagus (alii, et non migrabis.)

The Prophet no doubt requires here from the people a sincere return to God, inasmuch as they had often pretended to confess their sins, and had given many signs of repentance, while they were acting deceitfully with him. As then they had often dealt falsely with God and with his prophets, Jeremiah bids them to return to God without any disguise and in good faith. With regard to what is here substantially taught, this is the Prophet's meaning; but there is some ambiguity in the words.

Some read thus, |If thou returnest, Israel, to me, saith Jehovah, |connecting |to me, 'ly, |with the first clause, then they read separately |tsvv, teshub, thou shalt rest;| and so they think that what follows is the repetition of the same thing, |If thou wilt take away thine abominations from before me, thou shalt not migrate;| that is, I will not cast thee out as I have threatened. Others take the verb tsvv, teshub, in the same sense, (for it is the same verb repeated,) |If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me.| The Prophet doubtless bids the Israelites to return to God in sincerity, and without any disguise, and not to act falsely with him, as they had often done.

I have as yet mentioned only what others have thought; but, in my judgment, the most suitable rendering is, |If thou wilt return, Israel, rest in me, |arrete toi, as we say in French. Rest then in me; and then a definition is given, If thou wilt take away thine abominations (for the copulative is to be taken as expletive or explanatory) from my sight, and wilt not wander What some of those I have referred to have given as their rendering, |If thou wilt return to me, Israel, thou shalt rest,| I wholly reject, as it seems forced: but I allow this reading, |If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;| or this, |If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me;| for the difference is not great. The Prophet here evidently condemns the hypocrisy which the Israelites had practiced; for they had often professed themselves as ready to render obedience to God, and afterwards proved that they had made a false profession. Since then deceit and emptiness had been so often found in them, the Prophet demands here, in the name and by the command of God, that they should in truth and sincerity return to him.

If this reading be approved, |Israel, return to me,| the intimation is, that they ever took circuitous courses, that they might not return directly to God: for it is usual with hypocrites to make a great show of repentance and at the same time to shun God. If then we follow this reading, the Prophet means this, |Israel, there is no reason for thee hereafter to think that thou gainest anything by boasting with thy mouth of thy repentance; return to me; know that thou hast to do with God, who is not deceived, as he never deceives any: return then faithfully to me, and let thy conversion be sincere and in no way deceptive.|

But if the verb, tsvv, teshub, be taken in the other sense, there would be no great difference in the meaning; |If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;| that is, thou shalt hereafter have nothing to do with idols and with thy perverted ways. Thus the Prophet briefly shews that the return of Israel would be nothing, except they acquiesced in God alone, and wandered not after vain objects, as they had often done. And with this view corresponds what follows, |Even if thou takest away (for the copulative, as I have said, is to be taken as explanatory) thine abominations from my sight, and wilt wander no more, vl' tnvd, vela tanud.| For the vice which Jeremiah meant especially to condemn was this, -- that Israel, while pretending a great show of religion, yet vacillated and did not devote themselves with all their heart to God, but were changeable in their purpose. This vice then is what Jeremiah justly condemns; and hence I am disposed to embrace this view |Israel, if thou wilt return, rest in me;| that is, continue constantly faithful to me: but how can this be done? |Even if thou wilt take away thy abominations, and if thou wilt not wander;| for thy levity and inconstancy hitherto has been well known.

Whatever view we may take, this passage deserves to be noticed as being against hypocrites, who dare not openly to reject prophetic warnings; but while they shew some tokens of repentance, they still by windings shun the presence of God. They indeed testify by their mouth that they seek God, but yet have recourse to subterfuges: and hence I have said that this passage is remarkably useful, so that we may know that God cannot be pacified by those fallacious trifles which hypocrites bring forward, but that he requires a sincere heart, and that he abominates all dissimulation. It is therefore expressly said, If thou wilt take away thy abominations from my sight For hypocrites ever regard display and seek to be approved by men, and are satisfied with their approbation; but God calls their attention to himself. It must at the same time be observed, that he cannot be deceived; for he is the searcher of hearts. It follows --

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