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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 46:22

22. The voice thereof shall go like a serpent; for they shall march with an army, and come against her with axes, as hewers of wood.

22. Vox ejus tanquam serpentis incedet, quia in potentia incedent; et cum securibus venient contra eam, sicuti caesores lignorum.

To study elegance was not so much the object of the Prophet, as to confirm what he had taught. The figures, then, which he now uses, were not intended as ornaments of speech, but rather for the purpose of giving force and power to what he had said; for, as it has been said, prophecies had no credit with stupid men, unless stimulants were added to them.

He says now, that the voice of Egypt would go forth like that of a serpent: some read, |as though it were a serpent;| but I prefer to render it in the genitive case, and it is more suitable; for the Prophet means that the complaints of Egypt would not be obstreperous; as serpents, in creeping, send forth their hisses, so he intimates that the Egyptians, being overthrown, would be so broken down, as not to dare to utter open complaints, as those who freely cry out, but such as would remain alive would be so smitten with fear as only to mutter, as it has been said of serpents, who hiss as they creep. We now understand the real meaning of the Prophet: he says that the Egyptians would be so east down as not to dare openly to complain of their miseries, for they would only mutter, not otherwise than serpents who, on the ground, indistinctly hiss: its voice, then, shall advance, or go forth, like that of a serpent; and thus he points out their uneasiness, for they would seek hiding-places, and flee here and there, and never dare to remain in the same place. It is, indeed, a proof of the most miserable trepidation, when he who succumbs under his evils finds no place to set his foot on, but is forced, like serpents, to wander here and there. Jerome's rendering is, |as that of brass,| as though it was written, nchst, nuchashet; but I have already shewn what the Prophet meant.

He adds, For they shall come with an army, or with power. The word chyl, chil, means both. He now speaks of the Chaldeans. He said that the Egyptians would tremble, and be so broken down, as not to dare to utter their groans openly. Now follows the reason, because the Chaldeans would come with power, or with an army; they would come not only as soldiers to fight, but also as hewers of wood with their axes He intimates that the issue of the war would by no means be doubtful, but that the Chaldeans would come into Egypt as hired men come to cut down trees. Soldiers are, indeed, armed with swords and lances; for they have to do with enemies, nor can they overcome without danger, at least they cannot conquer without striving; but the Prophet says that the Chaldeans would be so filled with confidence, that they would not regard the Egyptians as enemies, for they would come, as it were, to cut down trees which offer no resistance: They shall come, then, as hewers of wood There is here an implied contrast between swords, lances, and axes, as there is between soldiers and hewers of wood. It follows, --

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