1. Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
1. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad me, dicendo,
2. Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.
2. Vade et clama ad aures Jerusalem, dicendo, Sic dicit Jehova, Recordatus sum tui propter misericordiam adolescentiae tuae et dilectionem desponsationis tuae, quum me sequuta es (quum venisti post me, profecta es post me) in deserto, in terra non seminata.
God now mentions to his servant the commands which he was to convey to the king and priests, and to the whole people; for by the ears of Jerusalem he means all its inhabitants. God here intimates that the Jews were unworthy of being cared for by him any more; but that he is induced by another reason not to reject them wholly, until he had found out by experience their irreclaimable wickedness. So then he makes this preface, I remember thee for the kindness of thy youth, and the love of thy espousals In these words he shews that he regarded not what the Jews deserved, nor acknowledged any worthiness in them, as the reason why he was solicitous for their salvation, and endeavored to bring them to the right way by the labors of his Prophet, but that this is to be ascribed to his former benefits.
Some render the words, |I remember the piety or kindness of thy youth;| and lk lak, may be thus taken, as it is in other places. Others omit this word; while others consider a copulative to be understood, |I remember thee, and the kindness of thy youth.| But none, as I think, have attained to the meaning of the Prophet: there is yet no obscurity in the words, if a preposition be considered as being understood, so as to read thus, -- that God remembered his people for the kindness which he had shewn to them, and for the love which he had manifested towards them from the beginning. Then the real meaning of the Prophet I think to be this, -- that God here takes away every ground for pride and boasting from the Jews; as though he had said, that they were worthy, they had no reason to think; but that he was still their Father, and was therefore unwilling that the benefits he had formerly conferred upon them should be wholly lost. There is, in short, given here a reason why God sent Jeremiah after the other prophets; as though he had said, |It is a testimony to you of the paternal care which I shew to you, when I send my Prophet to give you a hope of pardon, if ye return to the right way and be reconciled to me. But how is it that I still shew a concern for you, as ye have forgotten me, and wholly disregarded my law? It is so, because I wish to continue my favors to you.| The kindness of thy youth he takes in a passive sense; for he does not mean that the Jews were kind or merciful, but that they had experienced the kindness of God.
But the metaphor here used must be noticed. God compares himself here to a young bridegroom, who marries a youthful bride, in the flower of her age, and in the prime of her beauty: and it is a manner of speaking commonly adopted by the prophets. I will not now detain you with a long explanation, as the subject will be treated more at large in another place.
As God, then, had espoused the people of Israel, when he redeemed and brought them out of Egypt, he says now, that he remembers the people on account of that kindness and love. He sets kindness or beneficence before love. The word chsr, chesad, properly means a gratuitous favor or kindness, which is shewn to the miserable, or beneficence. By the word love, God means in many other places the gratuitous election with which he had favored the whole people. The expression is indeed made clearer when kindness or gratuitous favor is placed first, and then love is added: though nothing new is added, yet the Prophet more fully shews that the people had been loved by God in no other way than through his kindness.
Now this is a remarkable passage; for God shews that his covenant, though perfidiously violated by the Jews, was yet firm and immutable: for though not all who derive their descent according to the flesh from Abraham, are true and legitimate Israelites, yet God ever remains true, and his calling, as Paul says, is without repentance. (Romans 11:29.) We may therefore learn this from the Prophet's words, -- that God was not content with one Prophet, but continued his favor, inasmuch as he would not render void his covenant. The Jews indeed had impiously departed from the covenant, and a vast number had deservedly perished, having been wholly repudiated; yet God designed really to shew that his grace depends not on the inconstancy of men, as Paul says in another place, for it would then presently fail, (Romans 3:4) and that were all men false and perfidious, God would yet remain true and fixed in his purpose. This we learn from the Prophet's words, when it is said, that God remembered the people on account of the kindness of their youth.
As to youth and espousals, we may hence learn that they had been anticipated by God's kindness; for they became in no other way connected with God than by having been chosen by him: their espousal would not have been enjoyed by the people, had not God anticipated them. What was Abraham? and what were all his posterity? God then now shews, that the beginning of all blessings, and as it were the fountain, was this, -- that it pleased him to choose the people for himself.
And the same thing is confirmed in other words: When, he says, thou didst follow me in the desert, in a land not sown The people, we know, did not obey God as they ought to have done, even when he had redeemed them. Hence God does not so much in this place commend the people for any merits of their own, but especially confirms what I have already stated, -- that he could not cast aside every care for a people whom he had once adopted, and whom he had led through the desert, that they might be a people separated from the rest of the world. He however concedes to them, according to his great goodness, the praise of obedience, because they followed God through rough ways, as though a tender young woman refused not to undergo hard and irksome toils from love to her bridegroom. He afterwards adds --