1. Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
1. Audite verbum quod loquitur (sermonem quem profert) Jehova ad vos, domus Israel:
2. Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
2. Sic dicit Jehova, Viam gentium ne didiceritis, et a signis coelorum ne metuatis; quoniam metuunt ab illis gentes.
Jeremiah enters here on a new subject. Though he had, no doubt, taught this truth often, yet I consider it as distinct from what has gone before; for he begins here a new attack on those superstitions to which the Jews were then extremely addicted. He exhorts them first to hear the word of Jehovah; for they had so hardened themselves in the errors which they had derived from the Gentiles, and the contagion had so prevailed, that they could not be easily drawn away from them. This, then, is the reason why he used a sort of preface, and said, Hear ye the word of Jehovah, which he speaks to you, O house of Israel
He then mentions the error in which the Chaldeans and the Egyptians were involved; for they were, we know, very attentive observers of the stars. And this is expressly stated, because the Jews despised God's judgments, and greatly feared what were foolishly divined. For when any one, by looking at the stars, threatened them with some calamity, they were immediately terrified; but when God denounced on them, as with the sound of a trumpet, a calamity by his Prophets, they were not at all moved. But it will be better to examine the very words of the Prophet, as then we shall more plainly see the drift of the whole.
Learn not, he says, the way of the nations The Hebrew grammarians take 'l, al 't at. Way, we know, is everywhere taken for all those customs and habits by which human life is regulated, He then forbids them to pay attention to the rules of life observed by the Gentiles. And one thing he specifies, Be not terrified by celestial signs. He afterwards shews how vain were the practices of the Gentiles; being devoted to idols, they worshipped them in the place of God, though framed by the skill of man. But there are other words added, For the heathens are terrified by them There is a threefold exposition of this clause. Some take ky, ki, properly a causative, in the sense of k, caph, which denotes likeness, |as the Gentiles are terrified by them.| Others regard it as an adversative, |though,| and ky, ki, has often this meaning. There are also others who give this explanation, |For it is the case with the Gentiles, that they are terrified by them;| as though God had said, that it was extremely absurd in the Jews to be terrified by celestial signs, for they ought to have left this folly, or rather madness, to the Gentiles, as God regarded them as wholly blind. Let us now come to the subject.
Learn not, he says, the way of the Gentiles This is a general precept. The law was to the Jews a rule which was sure, and prescribed to them the limits of duty; they ought, therefore, to have followed what God taught them in his law, and not to have turned aside either to the right hand or to the left, according to what Moses also had said. But as human minds are always wanton, they were very desirous of knowing what the Gentiles observed; but whenever this wantonness possesses men's minds, they necessarily blend darkness with light. It was then, for this reason, that Jeremiah reminded them, that nothing was to be learnt from the Gentiles; as though he had said, |Ye ought to be satisfied with the simple doctrine of the law; for unless ye are content with having God as your teacher, ye will necessarily go astray: unless, then, ye seek wilfully to err, keep the way which is pointed out to you in the law, and turn not aside to the rites and practices of the Gentiles.|
After having given them a general command not to turn aside from the plain doctrine of the law, he specifies one thing in particular, Be not terrified by celestial signs, that is, |Do not suppose that prosperity or adversity depends on the position or aspect of the stars.| There seems, however, to be here some inconsistency, for he mentions the stars as signs; it hence follows that something is intimated by their position; and Moses also says, that the sun and moon, and all the stars, (and especially the planets,) would be for signs. There are, at the same time, in the firmament, twelve signs by which astrologers especially make their calculations. Since then God has, from the beginning of the creation, appointed what they call the fixed stars in the firmament, as well as the planets, to be for signs, the Prophet seems not to have done right in forbidding the Jews to fear such signs; for these signs in the heavens are not the vain fictions of men, but what God has created and appointed; and we have already stated that the stars are not called signs through the foolish conceit of men, but this character was given them by God himself when they were first created; and if the stars presage to us either prosperity or adversity, it follows that they ought to be dreaded by us.
But the Prophet here does not use the word signs in its proper meaning; for he refers not to its true origin, but accommodates himself to the notions which then prevailed; and we must bear in mind what I have already said, that the Egyptians and Chaldeans were much given to that astrology, which is called at this day judiciary. The word itself may be allowed; but it has been long ago profaned by wicked and unprincipled men, whose object has been to make gain by mere falsehoods. There is no doubt but that the Egyptians and the Chaldeans were true astrologers, and understood the art, which in itself is praiseworthy; for to observe the stars, what else is it, but to contemplate that wonderful workmanship, in which the power, as well as the wisdom and goodness of God, shines forth? And, indeed, astrology may justly be called the alphabet of theology; for no one can with a right mind come to the contemplation of the celestial framework, without being enraptured with admiration at the display of God's wisdom, as well as of his power and goodness. I have no doubt, then, but that the Chaldeans and the Egyptians had learned that art, which in itself is not only to be approved, but is also most useful, and contains not only the most delightful speculations, but ought also to contribute much towards exciting in the hearts of men a high reverence for God. Hence Moses was instructed from his childhood in that art, and also Daniel among the Chaldeans. (Acts 7:22; Daniel 1:17, 20.) Moses learned astrology as understood by the Egyptians, and Daniel as known by the Chaldeans; but the art among them was at that time much adulterated; for they had mingled, as I have already said, foolish divinations with the true and genuine science.
As then the Prophet's meaning seems evident, the truth remains fixed, that the sun, and moon, and other planets, and the fixed stars in the firmament, are for signs. But we must notice also here the purpose for which God intended the sun and moon to be signs. His purpose was, that the lunar course should complete one month, and that the solar course should complete one year. And then the twelve signs were designed to answer another purpose: for when the sun is in Cancer it has not the same power and influence as when it is in Virgo; and it differs as to the other signs. In short, as to the order of nature, the stars, the planets, as well as the fixed stars, are to us for signs. We number the years by the solar course, and the months by the lunar; and then the sun, with respect to the twelve signs, introduces the spring, then the summer, then the autumn, and lastly the winter. There are other purposes; but we include in one sentence whatever can be said of the celestial signs, when we say, that they have a reference to the order of nature. Whosoever, then, seeks to make more of these signs, confounds the order established by God, as the Chaldeans formerly did, and also the Egyptians, when they sought to ascend higher than reason warranted: they tried to conjecture by the position of the stars what would be the fates of all nations; and then they dared to come down to the cases of individuals. Hence arose the casters of nativities. Then they first began more anxiously to philosophize, that the sun, when in a certain sign, portends the death of an only son, and happy events to another. But these are things, as we have said, which are beyond the usual order of nature. That there is to be, for instance, summer and winter, this is natural and common; but that there is to be war between one nation and another, this is not by the usual order of things, nor takes place according to what nature appoints, but through the ambition and avarice of men. The hidden providence of God, indeed, rules; but we speak of causes, which ought to be understood by us, and which can be comprehended by us, for they are within the reach of our understanding. It must at the same time be observed, that the course of the stars is in itself of no moment; for we see that God varies the seasons: there is not the same state of weather; we have no winters and no summers exactly alike; there is no year which is not dissimilar to the former; and the third which follows, differs from the second.
We hence, then, learn that God has so formed and ordered the sun, and the moon, and all the stars, that he himself still governs and changes the seasons as it pleases him. In this way we account for sterilities, and pestilences, and other things of this kind. When the air seems temperate, pestilence prevails, the year is less fruitful, and men are famished, and no cause appears. Then this diversity in nature itself shews that God has not resigned his power to the stars, but that he so works by them, that he still holds the reins of government, and that he, according to his own will, rules the world in a way different from what even the acutest can divine by the stars. Yet this is no reason why we should deny to them the office which I have mentioned. But they who exceed the limits fixed by God, and seek to form conjectures respecting war in this country and peace in that countrymthey who thus seek to learn from the stars what is beyond the order of nature, blend heaven and earth together. The Prophet, no doubt, intended to condemn this madness when he forbade the Jews to attend to the celestial signs so as to dread them.
But the reason also must be noticed, why the Prophet so severely condemned that fear which prevailed among the Gentiles: it was for this, because when the opinion prevailed that all events depended on the stars, the fearof God was removed, and nothing was ascribed to his judgments, faith was extinguished, and prayer to God, and all the ordinances of religion, were reduced to nothing. For all the astrologers, who falsely assume so honorable a name, yea those unprincipled men, who add to their impostures the name of judiciary astrology, hold and maintain, that a judgment respecting man's life ought to be formed by the horoscope, as though the fortune of every one depended on the stars. When, therefore, any one is born at a certain hour, this or that condition, according to them, awaits him. Thus they imagine that there is a fate, or some necessity, which holds a man bound to the influence of the sun, moon, and stars: for he was born when the sun was in the tail of that sign or in the head of another; his birth portends such and such fortune; he will live but a short time, or he will live long. Thus they judge. And they go still farther, and pronounce on every occurrence, |Such will be the issue of this expedition; this during the year will be unhappily undertaken, but that will succeed.| Afterwards, when nativity is not taken into an account, they subject the whole human race to the uncontrollable influence of the stars: |See, if you undertake this business on such a day, you will succeed; but if you begin before mid-day, the issue will be unsuccessful.| Thus they divine concerning the whole life of man with regard to each of his actions: but God never intended the stars to be signs for such purposes.
Now, as I have said, it hence follows that God does not rule, and that thus faith is extinguished, and all the exercises of religion are reduced to nothing. For whosoever is persuaded that he is bound by necessity, because the horoscope is of such a character, he must necessarily die at such an hour, and necessarily die of a certain kind of death, -- will any one who has this conviction call on God? will he commend his life to his keeping? And then, when any adversity happens, who will bear it as a punishment for his sins? Will he acknowledge that he is called to judgment by God? And if he should prosper, will he be led to sing praises to God?
We hence see that this divination extinguishes all religion; for there will be no faith, there will be no recognition of punishment, no acknowledgment of God's blessings, and no concern for sin, whenever this diabolical error possesses our minds, -- that we are subject to the stars, that such and such is our nativity, and that the stars portend some kind of death every day and every moment. This, then, is what is especially intended by the Prophet in forbidding the Jews to be terrified by the celestial signs; for the Chaldeans, no doubt, prophesied that they should have a new empire; and thus they frightened the miserable Jews: |It is all over with us, for the astrologers among the Chaldeans have so spoken; and on the other hand the Egyptians see also that this has been foreshewn by the position of the stars.| Thus it happened that the Jews became, as it were, wholly lifeless. Nor did they remember what God had so often, and for so many years, threatened by his Prophets to do, in case they continued to provoke his wrath. Of God's judgment they made no account; and yet the persuasion, that the Chaldeans announced a judgment by the stars, and that there would be some convulsion, filled them with terror and amazement. Hence the Prophet, in order to lead them to repentance, as well as to faith, which are the two essentials of religion, and include in them the perfection of true wisdom, speaks thus to them in effect, |Fear not the stars, but fear God.| For there is implied a contrast between God and the stars; as though he had said, |When any adversity happens to you, know that you are chastised by God's hand, who is a just avenger of sins.| This was to teach them repentance; it was to shew them that they justly suffered, because they had been perverse in their wickedness. Then follows the other fact, that though the stars threatened calamity and destruction, they were to flee to God's mercy and never doubt of their safety, provided he was propitious to them. We now then understand the Prophet's object in telling them not to fear the stars.
More things might be said, but! study brevity as far as I can; and I trust that I have briefly included what is sufficient for the understanding of this passage. There are many, I know, at this day foolishly curious, and hence wish some account to be made of judiciary astrology; and this delirium has taken possession of some pious men and really learned: but we see what God here declares by his servant. And I wonder that some are thus credulous as to the stars, who yet speak with extreme subtlety on free-will. They would have the events of things fortuitous, they would have it that men act freely in both ways, and they hate and abhor fate; and yet they confine God as it were in a prison, and would have the stars to rule. This is to me a prodigy, not a sign. But all these things I leave. Let the plain doctrine of the Prophet be deemed sufficient by us, when he says, that we are not to be terrified by signs, for it belongs to the Gentiles to be thus terrified; for I am disposed to take this meaning, -- that the Prophet says that this was a kind of blindness which belonged to them: |Leave,| he says, |this folly to the Gentiles; it is no wonder that they labor under so many errors and delusions, for celestial truth has never shone upon them; but it becomes you to fear God and to rely on his mercy.| It follows --