29. For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly punished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.
29. Quia ecce in urbe in qua invocatum nomen meum super eam, ego incipio ad malefaciendum (ad malum inferendum,) et vos inoxii eritis? Non eritis innoxii; quia gladium ego advoco super incolas terrae, dicit Jehova exercituum.
A proof is added by comparing the less and the greater; for the Prophet reasons thus, -- |If God spares not the city in which he has chosen a temple for himself, and designed his name to be invoked, how can he spare aliens to whom he has never made any promise, as he regarded them as strangers? If then the green tree is consumed, how can the dry remain safe?| This is the import of the passage. The Apostle uses the same argument in other words; for after having said that judgment would begin at God's house, he immediately shews how dreadful that vengeance of God was to be which awaited his open enemies! (1 Peter 4:17.)
We may hence gather a useful doctrine. Since God not only declares that he will be indiscriminately the avenger of wickedness, but also summons in the first place his Church which he has chosen before his tribunal, its condition may seem to be worse than that of alien nations. Hence the minds of the godly, when they view things in this light, might be much depressed. It seems a singular favor of God, that he unites us to himself; but yet this honor seems only to lead to punishment: for God connives at the wickedness of heathens, and seems to bury them in oblivion; but as soon as we fall into sin, we perceive signs of his wrath. It would then be better to be at a distance from him, and that he should not be so solicitous in his care for us. Thus the faithful view the unbelieving as in a better state than themselves. But this doctrine mitigates all the sharpness of that grief, which might otherwise occasion great bitterness. For when it is represented to us, that God begins at his Church, that he may more heavily punish the unbelieving after having long endured them, and that they may thus be far more grievously dealt with than the faithful, as the dry tree is much sooner consumed than the green, -- when therefore this is set before us, we have doubtless a ground for comfort, and that not small nor common.
We hence see why Jeremiah added this, -- that how much soever the nations would resist God, they would yet be constrained, willing or unwilling, to yield, as God was more powerful than they; and for this reason, that since God would not spare his chosen people, the heathens could by no means escape unpunished, and not find him to be the judge of the world. Let then this truth be remembered by us, whenever our flesh leads us to complain or to be impatient; for it is better for us that God should begin with us, as at length the wicked shall in their turn be destroyed, and that we should endure temporal evils, that God may at length raise us up to the enjoyment of his paternal favor. And for this reason Paul also says, that it is a demonstration of the just judgment of God when the faithful are exposed to many evils. (2 Thessalonians 1:4, 5.): For, when God chastises his own children, of whose obedience he yet approves, do we not see as in a glass what is yet concealed? even the dreadful punishment that awaits all the unbelieving. God, then, represents to us at this day the destruction of his enemies by the paternal chastisements with which he visits us; and they are a certain proof or a lively exhibition of that judgment which the unbelieving fear not, but thoughtlessly deride.
Now, he says, Behold I begin to bring evil, etc. The verb hr, ero, means properly to do evil; and it would be a strange thing to say that God does evil, were it not that common usage explains the meaning. They who are in any measure acquainted with Scripture know that calamities are called evils, that is, according to the perceptions of men. The Lord then is said to bring evil on men, not because he injures them or deals unjustly and cruelly with them, but because what is adverse to men's minds is thought to be by them, and is called evil. Then he says, I begin to do evil in the city on which my name is called God's name is called on a people, when he promises to be their guardian and defender, and his name is said to be called upon men, when they betake themselves to his guardianship and protection.
But we must notice the real meaning, -- that God's name is called on a people, when they are deemed to be under his guardianship and keeping; as God's name is called on the children of Abraham, because he had promised to be their God; and they boasted that they were his peculiar people, even on account of their adoption. So God's name was called on Jerusalem, because there was the Temple and the altar; and as God called it his rest or habitation, his name was there well known, according to what we say in French, Se reclamer, il se reclame d'un tel, that is, such an one claims this or that as his patron, so that he shelters himself under his protection. So also the Jews formerly called on God's name, when they said that they had been chosen to be his people: nay, this may also be applied to men; for the name of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham was called on the twelve tribes, even for this reason, -- because they regarded, when seeking to rely on God's covenant, their own origin, for they had descended from the holy fathers, with whom God had made his covenant, and to whom he had promised that he would be ever their God. All the Israelites called on Abraham, not, that they offered him worship, but that, as they were his offspring, they might feel justly assured that the gratuitous covenant by which God had adopted them to himself, had been transmitted to them. But this calling may be also taken in another sense, even because they daily appeased God by sacrifices and prayers: when they committed their safety to God, there was a sacrifice always added, and reconciliation was also promised. Then to be called upon or invoked, nqr', nukora, may be taken in this sense, even that they knew that God was reconciled to them, when they from the heart repented. Since then God's name was called upon in that city, how was it possible that the Gentiles should escape that judgment to which the holy city was of be exposed?
But the former view seems to me the best; and there is no doubt but that God speaks here to the free adoption by which he had chosen that people for himself: hence was the invocation or the glorying of which he now speaks.
But as it was difficult to make the Jews to believe what the Prophet had said, he dwells on the subject, and repeats what was before sufficiently clear. He not only says, Shall ye be treated as innocent? but he mentions the word twice, Shall ye by being treated as innocent be treated as innocent? And thus he rebuked the perverse contumacy by which the heathens were filled, while looking on their wealth, their number, and other things, and at the same time disregarding all that the prophets proclaimed at Jerusalem, as though it was nothing to them. The question is in itself emphatical, |Can ye by any means be treated as innocent?| The verb nqh, nuke, means to be innocent, but it is applied to punishment; as the word vn, on, which means iniquity, is used to designate punishment. So he is said not to be innocent who cannot exempt himself from God's judgment, nor be free from it.
He confirms this sentence when he says, For a sword am I calling for on all the inhabitants of the earth, saith Jehovah of hosts This confirmation is by no means superfluous, for the insolence of the nations had increased through the forbearance of God, for they had for a long time, yea, for many ages, been in a quiet state, and had indulged themselves in their pleasures, and slept as it were in their own dregs, according to what is said elsewhere. The Prophet then says now, that God was calling for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth. For he had often and in various ways chastised his own people, while the Gentiles were not in any danger and free from troubles. (Jeremiah 48:11.) But he says now that he was calling for a sword to destroy all those whom he seemed to have forgiven.
But God is said to have called for men as well as for a sword; for Nebuchadnezzar is said to have fought under the banner of God; he is said to have been like a hired soldier. But God now speaks of the sword, that we might know that it is in his power to excite and to quell wars whenever it pleases him, and that thus the sword, though wielded by the hand of man, is not yet called forth by the will of man, but by the hidden power of God. It follows, --