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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 31:18

18. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.

18. Audiendo audivi Ephraim transmigrantem, (vel, cum transmigravit, vel, lamentantem, ut alii vertunt; dicemus postea de voce) Castigasti me, et castigatus sum tanquam vitulus non edotus; converte me et convertar, quia tu Jehova Deus meus.

The Prophet here speaks more distinctly of a blessed issue, and shews that the punishment by which God had already chastised the people, and by which he was prepared to chastise the tribe of Judah, was wholly necessary, which he would give them as a medicine. For as long as we have set before us the wrath of God, we necessarily, as it has been already said, try to avoid it, because we wish well to ourselves, and endeavor to remove to a distance, as much as we can, whatever is adverse to us: hence the punishment which God inflicts is never pleasant to us, our sorrow in evils and adversities is never mitigated, nor do we quietly submit to God, unless we direct our minds to the fruit which distresses and chastisements bring forth. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet: the Jews always murmured and said, |Why does not God spare and forgive us? why does he not deal more gently with us?| The Prophet therefore shews, that God had a regard to the wellbeing of his people in chastising them; for had he indulged them in their sins, their pride and perverseness would have increased.

The intention then of these words is this, and it is for this end the Prophet speaks, -- that the Jews might know that all their punishment, which would have been otherwise bitter and grievous, was a sort of medicine, by which their spiritual diseases were to be healed.

He therefore says, Hearing I have heard Ephraim, after having transmigrated, etc. The participle mtnvdd, metnudad, is in Hithpael, and comes from nvd, nud, or from ndd nedad. Some render it, |transmigrating,| and others, |lamenting.| But nvd, nud, means to move, to wander, to migrate from one place to another; it means also to complain, to tell of adversities, though it is often applied to those whose object is to solace the miserable and the mournful. If any one prefers the rendering, |I have heard Ephraim lamenting,| I do not object, for there is a sufficient probability in its favor. But it may also be derived from nvd, nud, as well as from ndd nedad; the most suitable sense would then be, |after having moved into exile,| or literally, |after having transmigrated,| that is, after God had driven Ephraim, even the ten tribes, into exile.

After Ephraim then had thus transmigrated, or had been driven into exile, he then began to say, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastened, for I was an untamed bullock: Turn thou me and I shall be turned; for thou, Jehovah, art my God. The Prophet, no doubt, as I said before, meant here to check the murmurs which prevailed among the Jews, who said, that God was too rigid and severe, he shews not only that they were worthy of the very grievous punishment they were suffering, but also that it was a testimony of God's favor, that he thus intended to cleanse them from their sins; for they would have a hundred times grown putrid in their wickedness, had not God thus reduced them to a sound mind. He at the same time sets forth Ephraim as an example, that the Jews might resignedly follow their brethren, and not discontentedly bear their exile, seeing that it had already been profitable to their brethren. When therefore they perceived that their punishment was useful to the Israelites, and brought forth good fruit, they ought to have submitted themselves willingly to God, and not to have murmured against him for punishing them for their sins, but to have borne their exile as a paternal correction.

Then he says, |I have heard Ephraim,| -- at what time? This circumstance ought to be especially noticed, it was after he had transmigrated. When they were quiet in the land, they were, as it follows, like untameable steers. The Prophets also use this mode of speaking, when they describe the Israelites before their dispersion; they call them fat and well fed oxen: affluence produced luxury, and luxury pride. Thus, then, they kicked, as it were, against God, according to what is said by Moses,

|My people having grown fat kicked.|
(Deuteronomy 32:15)

As they were such, it was necessary that they should be tamed. And to this refers the time that is mentioned: when Ephraim was forcibly driven from his own country, then he began to acknowledge his evils and to be touched with a penitent feeling; |Thou hast chastised me,| he says, |and I was instructed.| The verb ysr, iser, means to instruct as well as to chastise, and is applied to princes, counsellors, fathers, and magistrates. The word chastise is more restricted in Latin. But ysr iser, properly means to teach, and yet often it means to chastise, for that is one way of teaching or instructing. He then says that he was chastised, though in a different sense: in the first clause, when he says, |Thou hast chastised me,| he refers to the punishment by which God had humbled his people; and in the second clause he says, |I was instructed,| that is, |I begin now at length to become wise;| for it is the wisdom even of fools, not to become hardened under their calamities; for they who become hardened are altogether in a hopeless state. It is the chief part of wisdom to acknowledge what is right, and willingly to follow it; but, except we be willing to regard our own good, God will then chastise us.

When our diseases are healable, we turn to God; but the perversely wicked bite and champ the bridle, and contend with God's judgment: But the Prophet here refers to the faithful alone; for punishment has not the same effect on all indiscriminately. God, indeed, calls all men by punishment to repentance, so that even the reprobate are without excuse when they harden their hearts, and profit not under the rod. But punishment is peculiarly useful to the faithful; for God not only scourges them, but also, by his Spirit, bends their minds to docility, so that they willingly suffer themselves to be corrected by him. Hence I said that this clause properly refers to the faithful, when the Prophet says that Ephraim was instructed, after having been warned by punishment, to turn himself to God.

He compares himself to an untameable steer; for steers are wanton before they are habituated to the yoke. Such also is the wantonness of men before God subdues them by various kinds of punishment, and not only subdues them, but renders them also tractable and submissive. Next week I shall lecture instead of Beza.

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