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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 3 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 23:1-3

1. Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.

1. Vae Pastoribus qui perdunt et dissipant gregem pascuorum meorum! dicit Jehova.

2. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.

2. Propterea sic dicit Jehova, Deus Israel, super Pastores pascentes populum meum, Vos dissipastis gregem meum et dispulistis, et non visitastis eos (vel, oves meas;) Ecce ego visitans (hoc est, visitabo) super vos malitiam actionum vestrarum, dicit Jehova:

3. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

3. Ego autem colligam residuum ovium mearum ex omnibus terris, ad quas expulero eas, et reverti faciam eas ad caulas suas, et fructificabunt et multiplicabuntur.

Here the Prophet promises the restoration of the Church; but he reminds hypocrites that there was no reason for them on that account to flatter themselves, especially the king, his councillors, and the priests. Then this prophecy is a mixture of promises and threatenings, for God promises that he would be propitious to the miserable Jews, after having chastised them, so that the seed of Abraham might not be entirely cut off: he yet deprives hypocrites of vain confidence, so that they might not falsely apply to themselves the hope of salvation, from which they had excluded themselves by their impiety. And this is what ought to be noticed, for as soon as God's mercy is offered, hypocrites apply to themselves whatever God promises, and become more and more insolent, as though they held him bound to them; for impunity leads them to take more liberty to sin. Hence it is that they boast that they are safe, for they consider themselves to be the people of God. The Prophet, therefore, teaches here that whatever God promises belongs to his elect, that it does not appertain indiscriminately to all, nor ought to be extended to hypocrites who falsely pretend his name, but that it peculiarly belongs to the elect, though they may be small in number, and though they may be despised.

He says first, Wo to the pastors who destroy, etc. Here are contrary things -- a pastor and a destroyer! But he concedes to them the name which was honorable; and yet he derides their false boasting, for they thought that they could hide their crimes under this shade, falsely claimed. Though then he calls them pastors, he yet removes the mask, and thus shews that they in vain boasted while they assumed the name of pastors. |Ye are pastors,| he says, ||and ye are destroyers! who dissipate or scatter the flock of my pastures.|

Here God shews the reason why he was so grievously displeased with these pastors; for by exercising tyranny over the people, they not only injured men, but also injured and dishonored God, who had received under his own protection his chosen people. It is indeed true that they deserved such a scattering; for we have already seen in many places, that the people could by no means be excused when they were deceived by wicked and unfaithful leaders; for in this way was rendered to them all their past reward for having provoked God's wrath against themselves, from the least to the greatest. But the impiety of wicked pastors was not on this account excusable; for they ought to have considered for what purpose this burden was laid on them, and also by whom they had been appointed. God then intimates that great injury was done to him, when the people were thus so ignominiously scattered. He was himself the chief pastor; he had put as it were in his own place the king and his counsellors and also the priests. Justly then does he now condemn them, because they had destroyed the flock of God, according to what is said in another place,

|That they had destroyed his vineyard.| (Jeremiah 12:10; Isaiah 5:3)

In short, when God calls the Jews the flock of his pastures, he does not regard what they deserved, or what they were, but he, on the contrary, sets forth the favor bestowed on the seed of Abraham. He has respect then here to his gratuitous adoption, though the Jews had rendered themselves unworthy of such a benefit.

He afterwards adds, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, to the pastors who feed my people In the same sense he calls them now his people, as he had called them before the flock of his pastures. They had alienated themselves from God, and he had already by his own decree repudiated them; and God might in one respect have deemed them aliens; and yet in respect of the covenant he acknowledged them as his own; and hence he calls them his people He now then confirms what we have already noticed, that these pastors were not only thieves and robbers, but also sacrilegious; for they not only had exercised cruelty towards the flock, but as far as they could injured and dishonored God himself, who had undertaken the care of that people.

But there is here a twofold concession, he calls them pastors, and they are said to feed the people. He had said before that they destroyed and scattered the flock, and now he says that they fed them; but in what sense we well know, for by this kind of irony he meant to reprove them; they boasted that they were pastors, and they thought that their crimes would by such a covering be buried in the sight of God, as in the sight of men. In a similar manner when we speak in the present day of the Pope and his mitred bishops and filthy clergy, we use expressions which are commonly employed. But Antichrist is everything but a father, and we know how far they are from being really bishops who assume the title; and as to the clergy, the name is sacred, but they are very far from being God's heritage. We indeed make no account of these empty titles. But it is a great aggravation of their guilt, that they being devils, should assume angelic names, that they being wolves and robbers, and sacrilegious, should falsely pretend God's name, and recommend themselves by spurious titles, as though they were pastors, bishops, abbots, and prelates, and what not.

So then our Prophet calls those whom he condemns, by way of taunt, pastors, and says that they fed, that is, were called for this end, to do this work. But he afterwards adds, My flock have ye scattered, and driven away, and not visited Surely it was not to feed, to have no care for the sheep. To visit is to be extended here to every part of the duty of overseeing, as though he had said, that the flock had been by them neglected, betrayed, and deserted. We hence see that they had wholly neglected their pastoral office. But the other two things are still worse, for they had scattered and driven away the flock. Their sloth in neglecting the flock was not to be tolerated; but it was still more intolerable when they exercised so much cruelty as to scatter the flock as though they were deadly enemies; and yet these are the things for which Jeremiah condemns them. We hence see that there was an implied taunt, when he conceded to them the office of feeding.

He then denounces judgment on them, I will visit upon you the wickedness of your doings Here God declares that he would punish the pastors, to whom was justly ascribed the scattering of the people. For though no one was exempt from blame, as it has been before stated; yet the main fault belonged to these pastors. This then is the reason why God declares that he would take vengeance; for he would not have his flock scattered with impunity.

It then follows, And I will gather my flock. As they had driven the people away, so God promises that it would be his care to gather them. And yet he ascribes to himself what he had imputed to them -- that he had driven away his flock, but in a different sense; the pastors had scattered the flock, not only by their sloth, but also by their cruelty, for they became rapacious wolves; but God had punished the people, for they all had fully deserved such a scattering. We hence see that the ungodly execute God's judgment; but they are not on this account excusable as though they were God's ministers, for they have nothing less in view. Nor can God be involved in their sin, while he thus employs them to execute his purpose. In short, the scattering of the people was a just punishment from God, for they had all departed from the faith, they had broken the sacred bond of the covenant, by which God had bound them to himself. It was also the fault of the pastors, because they avariciously and cruelly tyrannized over them. The pastors, as I have said, were not only the priests, but also the king and his counsellors.

I will gather, he says, not the flock, but the remnant of the sheep God intimates here that he would be so merciful as to receive unto favor, not all indiscriminately, but a small number, constituting the elect. And hence Paul carefully distinguished between the people and the remnant of grace, or the gratuitous remnant; for Christ appeared by his coming to have abolished the covenant by which God had adopted the children of Abraham, but Paul does not admit this. Now, if any one objects and says that the greater part of the people had been cut off, this he allows; but he says that the covenant remains valid in the remnant, and produces also examples, such as that of which we now speak. God then has ever been the preserver of his Church; and thus his gratuitous adoption, by which he had chosen the seed of Abraham, never fails. But this adoption is effectual only as to the remnant.

As to the word remnant, the fewness of those whom God had resolved to gather is not only intimated, but also the vengeance, which as to time had gone before; for God seemed to have destroyed the Jews when they were driven away into various lands, as they had no name remaining, the kingdom and the priesthood were abolished. It was therefore a certain kind of death, as I have before said; but God here declares that there would be some remnant, according to what is said in Isaiah 10:22, that God saved a few as it were from the consumption; for he refers there to the very few that remained alive, when they thought that all was over with the whole people, that there was no hope of restoration.

I will gather, he says, the residue of my sheep from all the lands to which I shall have driven them He again confirms what I have stated, that there would be no place for mercy until he had cleansed his Church from its many filthy pollutions. The scattering then of the people into various lands was the purgation of the Church, according to what God says, that he would separate the refuse and the chaff from the wheat in chastising his people; for as the chaff and the refuse are blown here and there when the wheat is winnowed, and the wheat only remains and is afterwards laid up in the granary; so when God drove his people away into various lands, he then purged his Church. If any one objects and says, |Then the remnant were dealt with like the refuse;| it is true as to the individuals, but God refers here to himself, when he calls them his own, sheep, who were yet unworthy of such an honor.

He then adds, that he would bring them back to their folds, that they might be fruitful, that is, bring forth and increase, and be multiplied By folds he no doubt means the land of Canaan; for there was then no wealth in the world which the Jews would have preferred to the inheritance promised to them; the whole world was to them an exile. For God had chosen that land in which they dwelt, and had consecrated it to himself, and he gave it to them as an earnest or a pledge of the eternal inheritance. Rightly then does he now call that land folds, for they lived there under his guardianship and protection. The temple was as it were the pastoral staff; they knew that God dwelt there, that being protected by his power they might continue in safety. Since then there was safety for them under God's protection in the land of Canaan, he calls it their fold. Then he says, that they may be fruitful, and be multiplied; for among other blessings their increase was not the least. He afterwards adds, --

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