15. Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?
15. An regnabis, quia tu permisces se in cedro? (hoc est, quia to involvis cedro? pater tuus annon comedit et bibit et fecit (hoc est, cum faceret) judicium et justitiam? Tunc bene fuit ei.
The Prophet here derides the foolish confidence of King Jehoiakim, because he set up empty things against his enemies instead of strong defences. Kings are wont to indulge themselves when there is quietness and security; that is, when they fear nothing; when no danger appears, they then give way to their own gratifications; and this is commonly the case with all; for we see that kings especially indulge in excesses, when there is no war, when no one gives them trouble, and no one threatens them; but Jehoiakim, had he the least particle of wisdom, might have known that he had many dangers to dread. Now, when he applied all his thoughts to the painting of his walls, and to the splendor of his palace, to its wainscotting and other trifles, must he not have been insane, and not of a sound mind?
It is this madness that Jeremiah now condemns when he says, Shalt thou reign, because thou surroundest thyself with cedar board? that is, |Can this confirm thy kingdom to thee? or, shalt thou be more happy on this account, because thou art surrounded by cedars?| The meaning of the Prophet may be more fully learnt from the remaining part of the verse; for it immediately follows, Thy father, did he not eat and drink when he did judgment and justice?
Some so understand the passage, as though the Prophet meant to obviate an objection; for Jehoiakim might have referred to the example of his father Josiah, who had not been a sordid man, but had displayed some royal dignity and grandeur through the whole course of his life. Some interpreters, then, think that the Prophet answers here what Jehoiakim might, have objected: |What! did not my father also make a royal display?| Thus they explain the words, as though the Prophet made at first a concession, but that by adding a correction, he shewed that the excuse of Jehoiakim was frivolous: |I allow that thy father was royally adorned, but he executed judgment and justice; why dost thou not imitate thy father in his virtues? God forgave what was superfluous or excessive, for through his great indulgence he bears with many things in kings; but thou art far different from thy father, for thou extortest labor from thy poor subjects, and buildest thy palaces by means of extortion and plunder. There is, therefore, no reason for thee to seek for thyself a covering from thy father, for thou art wholly fallen away from his integrity.|
Others elicit an entirely different meaning, -- that Josiah had prolonged his life, and conciliated the favor of God by ruling with justice. So, then, they connect the words thus: |Did not thy father eat and drink,| that is, |did he not live happily, because God had blessed him? Inquire the cause, and you will find it to be this -- he faithfully discharged his duties, for he executed judgment and justice. As, then, thou seest that the equity and moderation which thy father had practiced, was the cause of his happy life, why dost not thou also imitate him?|
But the Prophet seems to me to mean simply this, |Thy father doubtless lived happily, and nothing was wanting to him while he executed judgment and justice.| For thus appears better the contrast between the tyranny of Jehoiakim, and the uprightness of his father Josiah; as though he had said, |Thou deemest now thy state better than that of thy father, because thou surpassest him in luxury and splendor.
As then thou exultest in vain things, thou seemest to thyself to be happier than thy father: but thy father was contented with his lot; nay, if his condition be duly regarded, God honored him with every abundance and variety of blessings; he did eat and drink.|
By eating and drinking I understand nothing else, but that he lived cheerfully, enjoyed prosperity, spent a peaceable life. Thy father; he says, did eat and drink; that is, he had nothing to desire, and his condition was an evidence of God's favor when he expected judgment and justice And not unsuitable to this view is what follows, Then it was well with him
We hence see that the foolish ambition of Jehoiakim is here laughed to scorn; for he seemed not to think himself a king unless he conducted himself like a madman. Such is the case with kings at this day; they are ashamed to appear humane, and devise means only to exercise tyranny; and they also contrive how they may depart as far as possible from the common usage and practice of men. As then kings are so ingenious in their own follies, which seem to be like veils, lest anything humane should be perceived in them, the Prophet justly inveighs here against Jehoiakim; |It was well,| he says, |with thy father; and yet he acted kindly and courteously towards his people; nor had he such haughtiness as to despise the common habits of men. Since then he was happy, if thou regardcst what belongs to real happiness, why dost thou please thyself so much? What hast thou that is better or more excellent than what he had!|
We now perceive what the object of the Prophet was to shew, that it is the only true glory and the chief honor of kings, when they discharge their duties, and that the image of God shines forth in them, when they execute judgment and justice; and that when they ambitiously seek through a blind zeal to be the slaves of pride, it is a vain attempt, and contributes nothing towards that happy life which they foolishly imagine. To the same purpose he adds, --