3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest (the work of the hands of the workman) with the axe.
3. Quoniam statuta populorum vanitas est: nam lignum a sylva scindit, opus manuum artificis dolabra (vel, in securi; nam ponitur v, quoe est nota instrumenti apud Hebroeos.)
The Prophet seems to break off his subject, and even to reason inconclusively; for he had said in the last verse, |Learn not the rites of the Gentiles, and fear not the celestial signs;| and he now adds, Because the rites of the Gentiles are vanity; for wood they cut down from the forest. He seems then, as though forgetting himself, to have passed off to idols. But we must observe, that the Jews were influenced by that ancient opinion, that the Chaldeans and the Egyptians were alone wise, and that they had acquired a fame of this kind among all nations. We find also that heathen writers, when speaking of the origin of the sciences, trace them up to the Chaldeans and the Egyptians; for with them, it is said, have originated astrology and all the liberal sciences. The Jews then, no doubt, allowed so much authority to the Chaldeans and the Egyptians, that their minds, being possessed by that prejudice, could discern nothing aright. The Prophet then shakes off from them this stupidity, and shews how foolish they were, who yet would have themselves to be alone deemed wise, and regarded others, compared with themselves, as barbarous and ignorant. We now then see why the Prophet connects idolatry with that false and spurious astrology which he had mentioned.
He says, Laws: the word, chqvt, chekut, means strictly, statutes. The word, chq chek, signifies to decree, or to write; and hence decrees are called chqvt, chekut. The word Law is general; and one of those which are special and often occurs in Scripture, is the statute. Some render it |Edict;| and the verb means to publish by edict. But this word is often applied to ceremonies and rites. He then says, that the rites of the nations were vanity.
He then proves this, Because they cut for themselves trees from the forest; and after having polished them by art, they think them to be gods. How detestable was this madness, to think that a tree, cut from the forest, was a god, as soon as it assumed a certain form or shape! As then a madness, so great and so monstrous, prevailed among the Chaldeans and the Egyptians, what right knowledge or judgment could have been in them? The Jews then were very foolish in thinking that they were very clear -- sighted. |They are,| he says, |brute animals; for it is wholly contrary to reason to suppose that a god can be made from a dead piece of wood. When, therefore, the Chaldeans and the Egyptians amaze and astonish you through the influence of a false opinion, derived from nothing, that they are alone wise, do ye not see that ye are doubly and trebly mad? for where is their wisdom, when they thus make gods from trunks of trees?|
We now then perceive the design of the Prophet: but as these circumstances have not been considered by interpreters, they have only elicited a frigid doctrine and gathered some general thoughts. But when any one rightly and carefully examines the design of the Prophet, he will find how important is what he teaches; and no one can otherwise rightly understand what Jeremiah means.
A tree then does one cut, etc.: he uses the singular number. He then adds, the work of the hands of the artificer by the ax He shews that nature itself is changed through the false imagination of men; for as soon as it takes a new form, it seems to be no longer a tree. The tree, while it grows, when it produces fruit, is not worshipped as God; but when it is cut down, the dead and dry trunk is substituted in the place of God: for what reason? even because the ax has been applied. Some render it |hatchet,| hache, ou doloire, which is the same; for there is no ambiguity in the meaning: they cut down trees from the forests; and then after the tree was formed by the ax and worked by the hands of the artificer, what follows was done to it --