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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 16:20

20. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?

20. An faciet sibi homo deos? et ipsi non sunt dii.

Some frigidly explain this verse, as though the Prophet said that men are doubly foolish, who form for themselves gods from wood, stone, gold, or silver, because they cannot change their nature; for whatever men may imagine, the stone remains a stone, the wood remains wood. The sense then they elicit from the Prophet's words is this -- that they are not gods who are devised by the foolish imaginations of men. But the Prophet reasons differently, -- |Can he who is not God make a god?| that is, |can he who is created be the creator?| No one can give, according to the common proverb, what he has not; and there is in man no divine power. We indeed see what our condition is; there is nothing more frail and perishable: as man then is all vanity, and has in him nothing solid, can he create a god for himself? This is the Prophet's argument: it is drawn from what is absurd, in order that men might at length acknowledge, not only their presumption, but their monstrous madness. For when any one is asked as to his condition, he must necessarily confess that he is a creature, and that he is also, as the ancients have said, all ephemeral animal, that his life is like a shadow. Since then men are constrained, by the real state of things, to make such a confession, how comes it that they dare to form gods for themselves? God does not create a god, he creates men; he has created angels, he has created the heavens and the earth, but yet he does not put forth his power to create a new god. Now man, what is he? nothing but vanity; and yet he will create a god though he is no God.

There is no doubt but that the Prophet here, as with new rigor, boldly attacks the Jews. For it seems evident that, when this temptation assailed him -- |What can this mean t what will at length happen when God rejects the race of Abraham whom he had chosen?| he turned to God: but now, having recovered confidence, he inveighs against the ungodly, and says, can man create gods for himself while yet he is not a god? The change in the number ought not to be deemed strange; for when there is an indefinite declaration the nmnber is often changed, both in Greek and Latin. If some particular person was intended, the Prophet would not have said, And they themselves are not gods; but as he speaks of mankind generally and indefinitely, the sentence reads better when he says, |Shall man make a god? and they,| that is men, |are not gods.| This remark I have added, because it is probable, that those who consider idols to be intended in the last clause have been led astray by the change that is made in the number. It follows, --

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