Am I a God at hand, saith Jehovah? and not a God afar off? Will a man hide himself in darkness, or in coverts, and I shall not see him, or that I could not see him, saith Jehovah? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith Jehovah? Here the Prophet most sharply reproves the hypocrites, who thought that they had no concern with God, as is the case always with those who delude themselves in their sins. Though this truth is ever professed by them, that God is the judge of the world, and that an account must some time be rendered to him; yet they afterwards think that they can by some evasion escape, so that God will forgive them. In short, it is usual with hypocrites to trifle as it were childishly with God. On this account, God is grievously displeased with them, and declares that he is far different from what they imagine him to be. For while they thus set themselves up as arbitrators, so that they subject God to their own laws, they think him to be as it were full of apprehension, and that he sees nothing, or at least very little; he says, that he is not only a God near at hand but also afar off
Some apply this to time, as though he denied that he lately came into existence; and so they think that the only true and eternal God is compared with idols, which men form presumptuously for themselves. But the other meaning is far more suitable, -- even that he is a God afar off; for as it is said elsewhere,
|Though he dwells on high, yet he sees everything
that is done on earth.| (Psalm 102:19)
As, then, nothing escapes his sight, he is said to be a God afar off, while hypocrites thought him to be a God only near at hand, as we say in French, De courte veue, who sees only things near, as it were before the eyes. But a question has much more force than if it was said, that he was not merely a God near at hand; and this mode of speaking conveys reproof; for hypocrites greatly detract from his majesty, when they thus, according to their own notions, imagine that he can see no more than a mortal man. They would not indeed have dared to speak thus; but when any one examined all their counsels and their actions, he would have found that they could have never shewn so much audacity, had they not deceived themselves with the vain notion, that God could be deceived And, therefore, Jeremiah does not relate their words, but points out the wickedness which sufficiently manifested itself in their doings, though they professed otherwise with their tongues.
And that this is the meaning appears more clearly from the next verse, which ought to be read in connection with this; Will a man hide himself in coverts, that I should not see him? This verse is added by way of explanation; there can therefore be no doubt respecting the words, far off and near, -- that God is said to be a God afar off; because his eyes penetrate into the lowest depths, so that nothing can escape him.
It is a wonder that the Greek translators made so great a mistake; for they wholly changed the sense, -- that God is God nigh at hand, but not afar off. In the first place, they did not consider the question, and then, as they did not see the drift of the passage, they contrived from their own brains what is wholly remote from the words of the Prophet. This sentiment, that God is nigh and not afar off, is indeed true; but what is meant here is quite another thing, -- that God sees in a way very different from men, for he fully and perfectly sees what is farthest from him, according to the passage we have quoted from Psalm 102:19; and there is another in Psalm 139:7-12, where the Psalmist says,
|Where shall I flee from thy face? for if I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I lie down in hell, there thou stretchest forth thine hand; if I take the wings of the dawn and fly to the clouds, even thine hand will lay hold of me there; if I seek coverts, even the night itself is before thee as the light, and darkness shines as the light.|
If, then, we join together these two passages, there will appear nothing ambiguous in the words of Jeremiah, -- even that God penetrates with his eyes into the lowest depths, so that nothing is hid from him.
But Jeremiah not only explains the meaning of the last verse, but also makes a practical use of it; Will any one, he says, hide himself in coverts that I should not see him? The seeing of God has a reference to his judgment. Then all frivolous speculations ought to be cast aside, since Scripture says that God sees all things; but we ought especially to consider for what purpose it is that he sees all things; which is evidently this, -- that he may at last call to judgment whatever is done by men. There is then an application of the doctrine to our case; for we hence learn, that whatsoever we do, think, and speak, is known to God.
By coverts, or hiding-places, he means all the secret frauds which men think they can cover; but by such an attempt they gain nothing but a heavier judgment. By coverts then we are to understand all those vain thoughts which hypocrites entertain; for they think that they can so hide themselves that God cannot see their purposes. Hence God laughs them to scorn, and says in effect, |Let them enter into their coverts, let them hide themselves as much as they please, I yet do see them in their coverts no less clearly than if they were quite close to me.|
To confirm this he adds, Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith Jehovah? This must not be refinedly explained of the infinite essence of God. It is indeed true, that his essence extends through heaven and earth, as it is interminable. But Scripture will not have us to feed on frivolous and unprofitable notions; it teaches only what avails to promote true religion. What therefore God declares here, that he fills heaven and earth, ought to be applied to his providence and his power; as though he had said, that he is not so taken up with things in heaven that he neglects the concerns of earth, as profane men dream; but he is said to fill heaven and earth, because he governs all things, because all things are noticed by him, because he is, in short, the judge of the world.
We now perceive what the Prophet means; and this passage is entitled to particular notice, because this error of imagining a God like ourselves is inbred almost in us all. Hence it is, that men allow themselves so much liberty; for they consider it a light thing to discharge their duty towards God, because they reflect not what sort of being he is, but they think of him according to their own understanding and character. As, then, we are thus gross in our ideas, it becomes us carefully to reflect on this passage, where God declares, that he is not only a God near at hand, that is, that he is not like us, who have only a limited power of seeing, but that he sees in the thickest darkness as well as in the clearest light; and that therefore it avails those nothing to deceive themselves who dig for themselves caverns, as it is said in Isaiah, and hide themselves in deep labyrinths. (Isaiah 2:21.) He thus denies that they gain anything, and gives this as the reason,
|Because he fills heaven and earth;|
that is, his providence, his power, and his justice are so diffused everywhere, that wherever men betake themselves, it is impossible for them to be concealed from him. It follows, --