12. I spake also to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.
12. Ad Zedekiam ergo regem Jehudah loquutus sum secundum conctos sermones istos, dicendo, Adducite colla vestra ad jugum regis Babylonis et servite ei et populo ejus, et vivetis.
This verse proves with sufficient clearness that what we have hitherto explained was spoken especially to the chosen people; for Jeremiah tells us here, that he spoke to the King Zedekiah, and in the sixteenth verse he adds that he spoke to the priests and to the people. He was not then sent as a teacher to the Moabites, the Tyrians, and other foreign nations; but God had prescribed to him his limits, within which he was to keep. He therefore says, that he spoke to the king
We hence learn what he had before said, that he was set over kingdoms and nations; for the doctrine taught by the prophets is higher than all earthly elevations. Jeremiah was, indeed, one of the people, and did not exempt himself from the authority of the king, nor did he pretend that he was released from the laws, because he possessed that high dignity by which he was superior to kings, as the Papal clergy do, who vauntingly boast of their immunity, which is nothing else but a license to live in wickedness. The Prophet then kept himself in his own rank like others; and yet when he had to exercise his spiritual jurisdiction in God's name, he spared not the king nor his counsellors; for he knew that his doctrine was above all kings; the prophetic office, then, is eminent above all the elevations of kings.
And skilfully no less than wisely did the Prophet exercise his office by first assailing the king, as he had been sent to him. At the same time he addressed him in the plural number, Bring ye your neck, he says; and he did so, because the greater part of the people depended on the will of their king. Then he adds, Serve ye his people It was, indeed, a thing very unpleasant to be heard, when the Prophet commanded the Jews to submit, not only to the king of Babylon, but also to all his subjects; it was an indignity that must have greatly exasperated them. But he added this designedly, because he saw that he had to do with men refractory and untamable. As, then, they were not pliant, he dealt the more sharply with them, as though he wished to break down their foolish pride. It was not therefore a superfluous expression, when he bade the Jews to obey all the Chaldeans; for they had been so blinded by perverse haughtiness, that for a long time they had resisted God and his prophets, and continued untamable.
There is afterwards added a promise, and ye shall live, which confirms the truth to which I have referred, -- that it is the best remedy for alleviating evils, to acknowledge that we are justly smitten, and to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God; for thus it happens, that evils are turned into medicines, and thus become salutary to us. Whatever punishment is inflicted on us for our sins, as it is a sign of God's wrath, so in a manner it places death before our eyes. Punishment, then, in itself can do nothing but fill us with dread, nay, overwhelm us with despair; and I speak of punishment even the slightest; for we suffer nothing which does not remind us of our sin and guilt, as though God summoned us to his tribunal. How dreadful surely it must be to sustain this, and to fall into the hands of the living God? Hence, when God touches us as it were with his little finger, we cannot but fall down through fear. But this comfort is given to us, that punishment, though in itself grievous and as it were fatal, becomes profitable to us, when we allow God to be our judge, and are prepared to endure whatever seems good to him.
This is what the Prophet means, when he promises that the Jews would live, if they submitted to the king of Babylon; not that they could merit life by their obedience; but the only way by which we can obtain God's favor and be reconciled to him, is willingly to condemn ourselves; for we anticipate extreme judgment, as Paul says, when we condemn ourselves; and then we shall not be condemned by God. (1 Corinthians 11:31.) For how is it, that God is so angry with the wicked, except that they wish to be forgiven while in their sins? But this is to pull him down from his throne, for he is not the judge of the world, if the ungodly escape unpunished and laugh at all his threatenings. So also on the other hand, when in true humility we suffer ourselves to be chastised by God, he becomes immediately reconciled to us. This, then, is the life mentioned here. It follows, --