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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 17:11

11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.

11. Perdix quae congregat et non parit, qui facit (hoc est, acquirit, vel, comparat) divitias, idque non in judicio (id est, non recte) in medio dierum suorum relinquet illas, et in exitu suo erit nihili.

The Prophet no doubt intended only to shew that those who enriched themselves by unlawful means, or heaped together great wealth, would yet be subject to the curse of God, so that whatever they may have got through much toil and labor would vanish away from them; for God would empty them of all they possessed. There is therefore no ambiguity in the meaning of the Prophet, or in the subject itself. But as to the words, interpreters do not agree: the greater part, however, incline to this view, -- That as the partridge gathers the eggs of others, which she does not hatch, so also he who accumulates wealth, shall at length have nothing, for God will deprive him. But the passage seems to me to be plainly this, -- Whosoever makes, or procures or acquires, riches, and that not by right, that is, not rightly nor honestly, but by wicked and artful means, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at last shall be of no account, or shall be a mockery: for nvl nabal, means a thing of nought; some render it fool, and rightly, for so it often means.

But there is a similitude employed, As the partridge gathers eggs and produces not. To produce may be here explained in two ways; it may be applied to the pullets or to the eggs. Some consider the word, qr' kora, to be masculine: then it is, The partridge, that is, the male, gathers, or lays on eggs which he has not produced, or did not lay. But to produce may also mean to hatch.

It may be now asked, how can this similitude be applied to the subject in hand? The Rabbins, according to their practice, have devised fables; for they imagine that the partridge steals all the eggs of other birds which she can find, and gathers them into one heap; and then that the pullets, when hatched, fly away, as by a certain hidden instinct, they understand that it is not their mother. But neither Aristotle nor Pliny say any such thing of partridges. They indeed say that the bird is full of cunning, and mention several instances; but they refer to no such thing as that the partridge collects thus stealthily its eggs. These things then are fables, which it would be very absurd to believe. But it is said of partridges with one consent, by Aristotle and Pliny, as well as by others, that it is a very lustful bird. So great is their lust, that the males seek after the eggs, and lest the females should lay on them, they break them with their beaks or scatter them with their feet. There is also, as they say, great lust in the females, but a greater concern for their brood: they therefore hide their eggs, except when lust at times compels them to return to the males; and then they lay their eggs in their presence; and the male, when it finds an egg, breaks it with his feet. Hence great is the difficulty to protect the brood; for before the female hatches the eggs, they are often forced out by the male. I doubt not therefore but that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, -- that while partridges so burn with love to their brood, they are at the same time led away by their own lust, and that while they conceal their eggs, the male cunningly steals them, so that their labor proves useless. Now the Prophet says, |that all those who accumulate riches in an unjust manner are like partridges; for they are compelled to leave riches unlawfully got in the midst of their days.| The purport of the whole is, that whosoever seeks to become rich by means of injustice and wrong, will be exposed to the curse of God, so that at last he will not enjoy his ill-gotten wealth.

If any one will object and say, that many who are avaricious, perfidious and rapacious, do enioy their riches: I answer, that there is no true enjoyment, when there is no use made of them and no security for them. If we duly consider how the avaricious possess what they have plundered, we shall find that they always gape for more plunder and are like the partridges; for they lay clogs as it were, and yet no fruit appears. Before any fruit is brought forth, or at least before it comes to them, they become destitute in the midst of their days. And though God permits them to hold hidden riches, yet they derive, as it is well known, no benefit from them: nay, their cupidity, as it is insatiable, is a dropsy; for they are always thirsty; and the very mass of wealth so inflames their avarice, that the richest of them has less than he who is contented with a moderate and even with a small fortune. It is then certain, that those who, even to death, possess ill-gotten wealth, do not yet really enjoy it; for they always lay on their eggs, and yet, as I have said, they derive no benefit. And then the more remarkable judgment of God may be noticed; for in a moment the richest are reduced to the extremes of poverty; and though they think to make their children happy by leaving them a large patrimony, they yet leave them nothing but what proves to be snares to them all their life, and turns to their ruin. However this may be, experience sufficiently proves the truth of the old proverb, |What is in-got is in-spent.| And this is what the Prophet means, when he compares to partridges those who accumulate riches, not by right, as he says.

An exception is to be here noticed; for a just man may become rich, as God made Abraham rich; but he became not rich by frauds and plunder and cruelty: the blessing of God made him rich. But they who by wrong and injustice accumulate wealth must necessarily at length be destroyed by God.

He says first, In the midst of his days shall he leave them; that is, even while he has money shut up in his chest, while he has his granaries and his cellars full, even then his wealth shall vanish away. We see that where there is the greatest abundance, the master himself is hungry and famishing; he cannot cat so as to satisfy his hunger, while he could feed hundreds. Thus then his wealth disappears and vanishes in his hands, he afterwards adds, at his end he will be nothing, or he will be a mockery, or he will be a fool. The world indeed esteems those alone wise, who are provident, who are attentive to their own gain, and who plunder on every side, and tenaciously hold what has once come to their hands; but the Lord here condemns them all for their folly and vanity. I think, at the same time, that the slaves of money are here called men of nought and contemptible. It follows: --

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