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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 34:18-19

18. And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the part thereof,

18. Et dabo viros qui transgressi sunt foedus meum, qui non stabilierunt sermones foederis, quod inciderunt coram me, vitulo quem conciderunt in duo, et transierunt inter partes ejus,

19. The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf;

19. Principes Jehudah et principes Jerusalem, proceres (eunuchos) et sacerdotes, et totum populum terrae, qui transierunt inter partes vituli.

He pursues the same subject, -- that perjury would not be unpunished. But here is described the manner of making an oath, even that they cut a calf into two parts, and passed between these parts Now we know that this was the custom in the time of Abraham, for it is said that he offered a sacrifice to God as a symbol of the covenant, and cut the victim, and passed between the parts. Historians also relate that the Macedonians in mustering an army observed the same ceremony; and it was probably a custom which prevailed among all nations. When the Romans made a covenant, they sacrificed a sow; they did not divide it into parts, but killed it with a stone; and this was the form of execration, -- |So may Jupiter smite him who will violate this covenant; if I violate this covenant, may Jupiter thus smite me, as I now kill this sow.| But we see that among the Orientals, the victims were cut in two, and there was another form of execration, even that he might be thus cut asunder, who unjustly and in bad faith violated the given promise or engagement.

It is to this custom the Prophet refers here, and says, I will give the men who have transgressed my covenant, which they made before me by the calf which they cut into two parts, and passed between the parts, etc. But God assigns a reason why he resolved to inflict so dreadful punishment on perjury: he said before, that his name was profaned, and now he adds, that his covenant was violated. He does not speak here of the Law; the covenant of God is called the law for the most part in Scripture; but Jeremiah takes it here in a different sense, even the covenant in which God's name was interposed, or what was sanctioned by an appeal to God, as by way of excellence, marriage is called by Solomon the covenant of God, because it is the principal contract among men. But as the Jews had promised in God's presence that they were ready to obey, when Jeremiah commanded the servants to be made free, and as the agreement was confirmed by a solemn rite, hence the promise given to men is said to be the covenant of God, even on account of the sanction which we have mentioned.

Let us then remember, that whenever we perform not what we have pledged, not only wrong is done to men, but also to God himself, and that it is a sacrilege, and what is much more atrocious than theft, or fraud, or cruelty. Let us, therefore, learn from this passage to act in good faith, especially when the name of God is invoked, when he is appealed to as a witness and judge.

He adds afterwards, that they had transgressed his covenant; and he immediately explains himself, because they have not confirmed the words of the covenant which they had made before him. To confirm or establish the words, was to persevere in what they had promised. For the Jews gave a proof of humanity for a short time; but it was a mere falacious show and pretense. It was for this reason, then, that the Prophet says that they had not confirmed or ratified the words of the covenant which they had made Then follows the outward ceremony, the calf which they had cut into two parts; and they passed between them, in order that this very passing might produce a deep impression on their hearts, and make them dread the violation of their faith. For we know that external signs are intended for this end, -- that men may be kept awake, who would otherwise be tardy and slothful. The same also is the use of sacred symbols, by which God intends to touch and move all our senses. It hence appears how great must have been the insensibility of the people, when they afterwards disregarded that awful protest, for they had passed between the parts, and imprecated such a death on themselves if they failed in what they promised. They afterwards hesitated not to violate their promise. We hence see that they were under the power of a diabolical madness, when they disregarded God's judgment.

He adds, The princes of Judah and the princes of Jerusalem, etc. He does not here name them as though they were different persons, but he speaks by way of amplifying. He then says that he would punish these chief men, lest they should think themselves to be exempted, because they were superior to others in rank and honor; for we know that those who are elevated in the world are so filled with pride, that they deem themselves as free from all laws. This, then, is the reason why God expressly names the princes and the eunuchs. But he does not mean by the eunuchs those who had been emasculated, as we have stated already in several places. The chief men were called by this name, srsym serasim.

He mentions the princes of Jerusalem, because they were especially proud, on account of their privileges as citizens; for in Jerusalem was the royal residence and the sanctuary of God. But the Prophet declares that their lot would be nothing better than that of the common people, because God would not suffer his holy name to be a mockery and all equity to be violated, and especially the covenant made in his name to be deemed as nothing, and rendered wholly void. At length he names the whole people; whosoever, he says, have passed between the parts of the calf, shall be punished. It follows --

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