17. Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying,
17. Et surrexerunt viri ex senioribus terrae, (ex senibus terrae,) ac dixerunt ad totum coetum populi (vel, locuuti sunt dicendo; est quidem semper verbum, 'mr, loquuti sunt erqo ad totum coetum) dicendo,
18. Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.
18. Micha Morasthites fuit prophetans diebus Ezechiae regis Jehudah, et dixit ad totum populum Jehudah, dicendo, Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Sion ager (sed subaudienda est particula similitudinis, Sion ut ager) arabitur, et Jerusalem solitudines (vel, acervi) erit (hoc est, erit in solitudines, vel, in acervos, vel, in ruinas,) et mons domus (id est templi) in excelsa sylvae.
19. Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.
19. An occidendo occidit eum Ezechias rex Jehudah, et totus Jehudah? an non timuit Jehovam? et deprecatus est faciem Jehovae, et poenituit Jehovam mali, quod loquutus fuerat contra eos: et nos facimus malum grande adversus animas nostras.
It is uncertain whether what is here recited was spoken before the acquittal of Jeremiah or not; for the Scripture does not always exactly preserve order in narrating things. It is yet probable, that while they were still deliberating and the minds of the people were not sufficiently pacified, the elders interposed, in order to calm the multitude and to soften their irritated minds, and to reconcile those to Jeremiah who had previously become foolishly incensed against him; for no doubt the priests and the false prophets had endeavored by every artifice to irritate the silly people against the Prophet; and hence more than one kind of remedy was necessary. When therefore the elders saw that wrath was still burning in the people, and that their minds were not disposed to shew kindness, they made use of this discourse. They took their argument from example, -- that Jeremiah was not the first witness and herald of dreadful vengeance, for God had before that time, and in time past, been wont to speak by his other prophets against the city and the temple.
The priests and the prophets had indeed charged Jeremiah with novelty, and further pretended that they thus fiercely opposed him on the ground of common justice. Jeremiah had said, that God would spare neither the holy city nor the Temple. This was intolerable, for it had been said of the Temple,
|This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell.|
We hence see that Jeremiah was overwhelmed as it were by this one expression, while the priests and the false prophets objected and said,
|Thou then makest void God's promises; thou regardest as nothing the sanctity of the Temple.|
And they further pretended that not one of the prophets had ever thus spoken. But what do the elders now answer? even that there had been other prophets who had denounced ruin on the city and the Temple, and that, was falsely charged with this disgrace, that he was the first to announce God's judgment. We now understand the state of the case: Jeremiah is defended, because he had not alone threatened the city and the first, but he had others as the originators, from whose mouths he had spoken, who were also the acknowledged servants of God, from whom credit could not be withholden, such as Micah.
Now, what is here related is found in Micah 3:12. The Prophet Micah had the same contest with the priests and prophets as Jeremiah had; for they said that it was impossible that God should pour his vengeance on the holy city and the Temple. They said,
|Is not Jehovah in the midst of us?|
and they said also, |No evil shall come on us.| They were inebriated with such a security, that they thought themselves beyond the reach of danger; and they disregarded all the threatenings of the prophets, because they imagined that God was bound to them. We indeed know that hypocrites ever relied on that promise, |Here will I dwell;| and they also took and borrowed words from God's mouth and perverted them like cheats: |God resides in the midst of us; therefore nothing adverse can happen to us.| But the Prophet said, (the same are the words which we have just repeated,)
|For you Sion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of this house as the heights of a forest.|
But let us now consider each clause. It is first said, that the elders from the people of the land rose up It is probable that they were called elders, not as in other places on account of their office, but of their age. It is indeed certain that they were men of authority; but yet I doubt not but that they were far advanced in years, as they were able to relate to the people what had happened many years before. As it is added, that they spoke to the whole assembly of the people, we may hence deduce what I have already stated, -- that the people were so violent, that there was need of a calm discourse to mitigate their ardor; and certainly when once a commotion is raised and rages, it is not an easy matter immediately to allay it. When, therefore, the kind elders saw that the minds of the people were still exasperated, they employed a moderating language, and said, Micah the Morasthite (they named his country) prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, etc
We ought to notice the time, for it might seem strange, that when that holy king was anxiously engaged in promoting the true worship of God, things were in so disordered a state as to call for so severe a denunciation. If there ever was a king really and seriously devoted to the cause of religion, doubtless he was the first and chief exemplar; he spared no labor, he never seemed to shun any danger or trouble, whenever religion required this; but we find that however strenuously he labored, he could not by his zeal and perseverance succeed in making the whole people to follow him as their leader. What then must happen, when those who ought to shew the right way to others are indifferent and slothful? In the meantime the good princes were confirmed by the example of Hezekiah, so that they did not faint or fail in their minds when they saw that success did not immediately follow his labors, nor any fruit. For it is a grievous trial, and what shakes even the most courageous, when they think that their efforts are vain, that their labors are useless, yea, that they spend their time to no purpose, and thus it happens that many retrograde. But this example of Hezekiah ought to be remembered by them, so that they may still go on, though no hope of a prosperous issue appears; for Hezekiah did not desist, though Satan in various ways put many hinderances in the way, and even apparently upset all his labors, so that they produced no fruit. So much as to the time that is mentioned.
The elders said, that Micah had spoken to the whole people, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Sion, shall be plowed as a field, We have already seen on what occasion it was that Micah spoke with so much severity; it was when hypocrites set up their false confidence and falsely assumed the name of God, as though they held him bound to themselves. For you, he said, Sion shall be plowed as a field He began with the temple, and then he added, and Jerusalem shall be in heaps, or a solitude; and lastly, he said, and the mountain, of the house, that is, of the temple, etc. He repeated what he had just said, for what else was the mountain of the temple but Sion? But as this prediction could have hardly been believed by the Jews, the Prophet, for the sake of confirmation, said the same thing twice. We hence conclude that it was not a superfluous repetition, but that he might shake with terror the hypocrites, who had hardened themselves against God's threatenings, and thought themselves safe, though the whole world went to ruin.
Having now related what Micah had denounced, they added, Slaying, did Hezekiah the king of Judah and all Judah slay him? By the example of the pious King Hezekiah, they exhorted the people to shew kindness and docility, and shewed that it was an honor done both to God and to his prophets, not to be incensed against his reproofs and threatenings, however sharply they might have been goaded or however deeply they might have been wounded. But they further added, Did he not fear Jehovah? and supplicate the face of Jehovah? and did not Jehovah repent? They confirmed what Jeremiah had previously said, that there was no other remedy but to submit themselves calmly to prophetic instruction, and at the same time to flee to the mercy of God; for by the fear of God here is meant true conversion; what else is God's fear than that reverence by which we shew that we are submissive to his will, because he is a Father and a Sovereign? Whosoever, then, owns God as a Father and a Sovereign, cannot do otherwise than to submit from the heart, to his good pleasure. Therefore the elders meant that Hezekiah and the whole people really turned to God. Now repentance, as it must be well known, contains two parts -- the sinner becomes displeased with himself on account of his vices -- and forsaking all the wicked lusts of the flesh, he desires to form his whole life and his actions according to the rule of God's righteousness.
But they added, that they supplicated, etc. Though Jeremiah uses the singular number, he yet includes both the people and the king; he seems however to have used the singular number designedly, in order to commend the king, whose piety was extraordinary and almost incomparable. There is no doubt but that he pointed out the right way to others, that they might repent, and also that he humbly deprecated that vengeance, which justly filled their minds with terror. He, indeed, ascribed this especially to the pious king; but the same concern is also to be extended to the chief men and the whole body of the people, as we shall presently see; did he not then supplicate the face of Jehovah?
This second clause deserves special notice; for a sinner will never return to God except he has the hope of pardon and salvation, as we shall ever dread the presence of God, except the hope of reconciliation be offered to us. Hence the Scripture, whenever it speaks of repentance, at the same time adds faith. They are indeed things wholly distinct, and yet not contrary, and ought never to be separated, as some inconsiderately do. For repentance is a change of the whole life, and as it were a renovation; and faith teaches the guilty to flee to the mercy of God. But still we must observe that there is a difference between repentance and faith; and yet they so unite together, that he who tears the one from the other, entirely loses both. This is the order which the Prophet now follows in saying that Hezekiah supplicated the face of Jehovah For whence is the desire to pray, except from faith? It is not then enough for one to feel hatred and displeasure as to his sins, and to desire to be conformed to God's will, except he thinks of reconciliation and pardon. The elders then pointed out the remedy, and shewed it as it were by the finger; for if the people after the example of Hezekiah and of others repented, then they were to flee to God's mercy, and to testify their faith by praying God to be propitious to them.
Hence it follows, that Jehovah repented of the evil which he had spoken against them The Prophet now makes use of the plural number; we hence conclude that under the name of King Hezekiah alone he before included the whole people. God then repented of the evil As to this mode of speaking, I shall not now speak at large. We know that no change belongs to God; for whence comes repentance, except from this, -- that many things happen unexpectedly which compel us to change our purpose? one had intended something; but he thought that that would be which never came to pass; it is therefore necessary for him to revoke what he had determined. Repentance then is the associate of ignorance. Now, as nothing is hid from God, so it can never be that he repents. How so? because he has never determined anything but according to his certain foreknowledge, for all things are before his eyes. But this kind of speaking, that God repents, that is, does not execute what he has announced, refers to what appears to men. It is no wonder that God thus condescendingly speaks to us; but, while this simplicity offends delicate and tender ears, we on the contrary wonder at God's indulgence in thus coming down to us, and speaking according to the comprehension of our weak capacities. We now perceive how God may be said to repent, even when he does not execute what he had denounced. His purpose in the meantime remains fixed, and as James says,
|There is in him no shadow of turning.| (James 1:17.)
But a question may again be raised, How did God then repent of the evil which he had threatened both to the king and to the people? even because he deferred his vengeance; for God did not abrogate his decree or his proclamation, but spared Hezekiah and the people then living. Then the deferring of God's vengeance is called his repentance; for Hezekiah did not experience what he had feared, inasmuch as he saw not the ruin of the city nor the sad and dreadful event which Micah had predicted.
Now this also is to be noticed, -- that the pious king is here commended by the Holy Spirit, that he suffered himself to be severely reproved, though, as I have already said, he was not himself guilty. He had, indeed, a burning zeal, and was prepared to undergo any troubles in promoting the true worship of God; and yet he calmly and quietly bore with the Prophet, when he spoke of the destruction of the city and Temple, for he saw that he had need of such a helper. For however wisely may pious princes exert themselves in promoting the glory of God, yet Satan resists them. Hence they ever desire, as a matter of no small importance, to have true and faithful teachers to help, to assist and to strengthen them, and also to oppose their adversaries; for if teachers are silent or dissemble, a greater ill-will is entertained towards good princes and magistrates; for when with the drawn sword they defend the glory of God and his worship, while the teachers themselves are dumb dogs, all will cry out, |Oh! what does this severity mean? Our teachers spare our ears, but these do not spare even our blood.| It is, therefore, ever a desirable thing for good and pious kings to have bold and earnest teachers, who cry aloud and confirm the efforts of their princes. Such was the feeling of pious Hezekiah, as we may conclude from this passage. The rest I must defer.