3. The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
3. Ab antiquo Jehova apparuit mihi; atqui dilectione perpetua dilexi re; ideo protraham (vel, protraxi, vel, extendi) ad to clementiam.
The last part is commonly rendered, |I have therefore drawn thee in mercy;| but the sense is frigid and unsuitable. I therefore doubt not but that he, on the contrary, means, that the mercy of God would not be evanescent, but would follow the people from year to year in all ages. At the beginning of the verse the Prophet introduces the Jews as making a clamor, as the unbelieving are wont to do, who, while they reject the favor of God, yet wish to appear to do so with some reason. Then, in the first place, is narrated the blasphemy of the people. These impious and diabolical words were no doubt everywhere heard at that time, |He! God has appeared to us, but it was a long while ago:| as profane men say at this day, when we bring forward examples of God's favor from the Law or from the Prophets, or from the Gospel, He! c'est du temps jadis. Thus, they facetiously deride whatever God has at any time testified in his word, as though it were obsolete, because it is ancient. It is the same when we announce any terrors according to ancient examples, |He! it happened formerly, but a long time ago.| They then always return to that impious common saying, Le temps jadis. And the same thing Jeremiah meant to express here, At a remote time Jehovah appeared to us; that is, |Thou indeed speakest in high terms of the redemption by which the fathers were liberated, but what is that to us? why dost not thou rather shew us plainly what God intends to do? and why dost thou not bring forward some ground for present joy? why dost thou not really prove that God is propitious to us? but thou speakest of the ancient deliverance, while that narrative is now as it were obsolete.|
We hence see, that men have been always from the beginning ungrateful to God; for as far as they could, they buried the kind acts of God; nor by this only was their impiety discovered, but because they treated with scorn all ancient histories, which have yet been preserved for us, in order that our salvation might be promoted.
|Whatsoever is written,| says Paul, |has been written for our instruction, that through the patience and the consolation of the Scripture we might have hope.| (Romans 15:4)
He there shews that we are to learn patience from the examples contained in the Scripture, and that we have there a ground for strong consolation, so that we may cherish hope until God delivers us from all miseries. But what say the profane?| He, thou tellest us what has been written, but this is remote from us, and through length of time has vanished away: what is antiquity to us?| But though the Jews used this sacrilegious language, let us yet learn to embrace whatever is set before us in Scripture, while God invites us to hope for mercy, and at the same time exhorts us to patience; nor let this blasphemy ever fall from our mouths; nay, let not this thought ever creep into our hearts, |God appeared a long while ago.| Let us then abominate the ingratitude of those who would have God to be always present, and yet pay no regard to his ancient benefits.
Hence the Prophet answers, But, etc.: the copulative v is here an adversative, as though he had said, Nay, or Yea, for it may also be taken for gm, gam, |Yea, I have loved thee with perpetual love.| Then God answers the ungodly, and shews, that he having become once the liberator of his people, did not undertake this office through a momentary impulse, but because he had so promised to Abraham, and had adopted the people. Since then God's covenant was perpetual, he thus refutes here the impious calumny, that God acted bountifully only for a moment towards his people, and had regard only once for their miseries, so as to help them. Yea, he says, I have loved thee with perpetual love God then here shews, that the redemption, by which he had exhibited a remarkable proof of his mercy, was founded on the gratuitous adoption which was not for one year, but perpetual in its duration. We thus see that he reproves the detestable blasphemy of the people, and intimates that adoption was the cause of their redemption.
And this passage ought to be carefully noticed: for these false imaginations come immediately to our minds, when we read or hear how God had in various ways and degrees been merciful towards his people, |He! that happened formerly, but we know not whether God's purpose remains the same; he, indeed, conferred this favor on his ancient people, but we know not whether the same can or will be extended to us.| Thus the devil, by his craft, suggests to us these false imaginations, which impede the flow of God's favor, that it may not come to us. So the grace of God is stopped in its course, when we thus separate ourselves from the fathers, and from all his servants towards whom he has been so merciful. It is, therefore, a doctrine especially useful, when the Prophet shews, that whatever blessings God has at any time conferred on his ancient people, they ought to be ascribed to his gratuitous covenant, and that that covenant is eternal: and hence there is no doubt but that God is at this day prepared to secure the salvation of all the godly; for he remains ever the same, and never changes; and he would also have his fidelity and constancy to shine forth in the covenant which he has made with his Church. Since, then, the covenant of God is inviolable and cannot fail, even were heaven and earth brought into confusion, we ought to feel assured that God will ever be a deliverer to us: how so? because his covenant remains the same; and, therefore, his power to deliver us will remain the same. This is the use we ought to make of this clause.
A confirmation afterwards follows, Therefore have I prolonged towards thee my mercy I have already said, that this clause is otherwise rendered and explained. But nothing can be more diluted when we read thus, |I have drawn thee in mercy.| What has this to do with the perpetuity or the continued course and progress of love? But the other meaning is very suitable, that God would prolong his mercy to Israel. There is understood only one letter, but this does not interfere with the sense; and such forms of speech are elsewhere often found, he then says, that as he had embraced Israel with perpetual love, he had, therefore, drawn out or extended his mercy; for from the time he delivered his people from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and fed them forty years in the desert, he had bestowed on them many benefits. For with what victories favored he them? and then how often had he pitied them? God then ceased not from continuing his mercy to them from the time he had stretched forth his hand to them. And according to this view it is very appropriately said, that he had prolonged his mercy; for not only for one day or one year did he shew himself propitious to the Israelites, but he had exhibited himself the same for four hundred, five hundred, six hundred years. And thus also is best confuted that impiety and blasphemy of the people, that God had formerly appeared to them; |Nay,| he says, |except thou suppressest most wickedly my benefits, thou must perceive that the benefits I conferred on thy fathers have been long extended to thee, and have been perpetual and manifold.|
We now perceive the real meaning of the Prophet. Were any to prefer turning the preterite to the future, I would not object, |Therefore will I prolong (or extend) towards thee my mercy.| This sense would be suitable. But when the words are taken as they are, we see why the Prophet adds, that God's mercy had been prolonged, that is, that he might condemn the ingratitude of the Jews, because they did not rightly consider the benefits which had been bestowed on them for so many ages. It follows --