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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 12:13

13. They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns: they have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit: and they shall be ashamed of your revenues because of the fierce anger of the LORD.

13. Seminarunt triticum et spinas messuerunt; haereditatem adepti sunt (vel, fatigati sunt) nec profecerunt; et confusi sunt a proventibus vestris, a furore (vel, excandescentia, potius) irae Jehovae.

Most interpreters understand this of the prophets, that they had been disappointed, after having faithfully cultivated the field of God and sown good seed, that thorns only had sprung up, and briars only had grown: but this is a strained exposition. The Prophet, I doubt not, sets forth the curse of God, which the people were soon to experience. I indeed readily admit, that when he speaks of sowing and reaping, the expression is metaphorical; but I have no doubt but that the Jews are said to sow in seeking aids here and there, in strengthening themselves by confederacies, and in devising means to repel dangers.

Hence he says, by way of concession, that they had sown wheat; for they had recourse to false counsels: but he speaks according to what they themselves thought; for they imagined that they were safe when they found that the Egyptians were ready to help them; and when they procured assistance from various quarters, they considered that they were acting wisely, and. thus they flattered themselves with a prosperous issue. The Prophet now laughs to scorn this vain confidence: but yet in words he allows that they were going on successfully: as a husbandman, while sowing, expects that he will have a good harvest, so also the Jews thought that they would have good fruit after having thus sown. But the Prophet says that they would be disappointed; for instead of wheat briars and thorns would grow, so that the issue would not answer their expectations. Thus the words of the Prophet would well harmonize: but to explain the passage of the prophets would by no means be suitable, as it will hereafter appear more clearly.

He then says that they had sown wheat (he uses the plural number) and reaped thorns He intimates that they hoped for a good harvest, for they sowed wheat, as they thought; that is, they wisely, or rather astutely, provided for themselves, as they left undone nothing that was necessary for their safety; but they reaped, or shall reap thorns; for he speaks of what was future. He means that God would frustrate their expectation; for their sowing, from which they promised themselves so much, would prove fruitless.

He then adds, that they had obtained an inheritance, or had endured grief, but were not enriched Some render the first clause a little more harshly, that |they were riJeremiah| But I readily excuse its harshness, if it suits the place: then the meaning would be, -- that they tormented themselves with continual labors, and thus became rich; for we know that they who are extremely anxious about anything wear out themselves, and become in a manner their own executioners; and this would not be unsuitable to this place. However, a different view may be taken, -- that the Prophet uses the expression, that they had obtained an heritage, not in its ordinary sense, as signifying, not that God gave them the land of Canaan as their hereditary possession, or that they had accumulated wealth, but that they had thus increased in their own esteem, because they had the Egyptians as their friends, and looked for help to the neighboring nations, and because they thought that they could by various stratagems prevent the Chaldeans from coming nigh them. Their heritage then was, that they were able to collect from various quarters such assistance as would render them safe, and repel all dangers. God then allows that they had obtained an heritage; but what then, he says? All this will not avail them, nor shall they be thereby enriched. He, in short, intimates that they would be thus deceived by trusting in helps so laboriously and sedulously acquired; for the aids in which they proudly trusted would vanish away, as well as all their counsels and designs; in a word, the vain attempts by which they thought to secure everything for themselves are laughed to scorn.

He adds, for the same purpose, that they were confounded on account of their produce They who understand this of the prophets read thus, |they were ashamed,| that is, |of their own labors;| but this is wholly foreign to the subject. He then continues in the same strain, -- that the Jews were ashamed when they found the issue contrary to what they expected. He mentions |produce:| the noun conms from v' ba, which means to come or to enter; it has also other meanings. But the Hebrews call it produce, because it comes every year. He says then, that they were ashamed of their produce, because they received no fruit such as they expected. Thus Jeremiah carries on the same metaphor: they had sown, but thorns were found instead of wheat; they also obtained for themselves an heritage, or they wearied themselves with labor, but it was useless: they further promised to themselves a great and rich produce, but it came to nothing. We now then understand the meaning of the words.

But we must at the same time consider what the Prophet had in view. Doubtless he intended to shake off from the Jews that arrogance by which they blinded themselves, as though he had said, -- |I see that I effect but little; for the Egyptians, who are to come to your aid, are as yet strong; ye think that they are prepared to oppose the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and ye have also other confederacies As then ye are thus well fortified, ye consider yourselves to be cut of the reach of danger; but the Lord will make you ashamed of this your presumption, for all your produce or provision will come to nothing.| The produce, we know, was the successful issue with which they flattered themselves, so that they thought that nothing would do them harm. This then is the meaning of the Prophet.

He adds, Through the burning of the wrath of Jehovah They could not have been otherwise awakened, except they were made to think that God was angry with them. The Prophet then says, though the whole world might laugh him to scorn, that nothing would avail them, inasmuch as God fought against them. We must at the same time notice the change of person, They have been ashamed of your produce Some have on this account applied the verb, vsv, beshu, |they have been ashamed,| to the prophets; but it is an anomaly often found, and it is in this place very emphatical. Had he said, in the third person, |They were ashamed of their fruits,| it would have been less calculated to rouse their minds; but having previously spoken in disdain of the Jews, as he knew them to be deaf, he now, as he proceeds, turns his discourse to them, and says that they were ashamed; yes, he says, |Ye were ashamed of your fruits.| It is therefore a kind of modification; but it is only used that the Prophet might more sharply touch their feelings; for they had need of this kind of speaking, as a plain discourse would have produced no effect. It follows --

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