God having now shewn that Jeremiah’s mouth was consecrated to himself, and separated from common and profane use, proceeds to invest him with power: See, he says, I have set thee this day over nations and over kingdoms By these words God shews how reverently he would have his word received, even when conveyed by frail mortals. There is no one who pretends not, that he desires to obey God, but yet hardly one in a hundred really receives his word. For as soon as he speaks, almost all raise a clamor; or if they dare not furiously, and in a hostile manner, oppose it, we yet see how some evade it, and others secretly oppose it. The authority, then, which God ascribes to his own word, ought to be noticed by us: Behold, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms
Farther, by saying, See, I have set thee, he encourages the Prophet to be magnanimous in spirit. He was to remember his calling, and not timidly or servilely to flatter men, or to shew indulgence to their lusts and passions: See, he says. We may hence perceive, that teachers cannot firmly execute their office except they have the majesty of God before their eyes, so that in comparison with him they may disregard whatever splendor, pomp, or power there may be in men. Experience indeed teaches us, that the sight of men, whatever dignity they may possess, be it the least, brings fear with it. Why are prophets and teachers sent? That they may reduce the world to order: they are not to spare their hearers, but freely reprove them whenever there may be need; they are also to use threatenings when they find men perverse. But when there is any dignity connected with men, the teacher dares not to offend; he is afraid of those who are invested with power, or who possess wealth, or a high character for prudence, or who are endued with great honors. In such cases there is no remedy, except teachers set God before their eyes, and regard him to be himself the speaker. They may thus with courageous and elevated minds look down on whatever height and pre — eminence there may be among mortals. This, then, is the object of what God says here, See, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms; for he shews that there is so much authority in his word, that whatever is high and exalted on earth is made subject to it; even kings are not excepted.
But what God has joined together let no man separate. (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9) God indeed extols here his Prophets above the whole world, and even above kings; but he has previously said, Behold, I have put my words, in thy mouth; so that whosoever claims such a power, must necessarily bring forth the word of God, and really prove that he is a prophet, and that he introduces no fictions of his own. And hence we see how fatuitous is the boasting of the Pope, and of his filthy clergy, when they wickedly dare to appropriate to themselves what is here said. “We are, “ they say, “above both kings and nations.” By what right? “God hath thus spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah.” But these two things are to be joined together — I have put my words in thy mouth, and, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms Now let the Pope shew that he is furnished with the word of God, that he claims for himself nothing that is his own, of apart from God; in a word, that he introduces nothing of his own devices, and we shall willingly allow that he is pre — eminent above the whole world. For God is not to be separated from his word: as his majesty shines eminently above the whole world, yea, and above all the angels of heaven; so there is the same dignity belonging to his word. But as these swine and dogs are empty of all true doctrine and piety, what effrontery it is, yea, what stupidity, to boast that they have authority over kings and nations! We, in short, see from the context, that men are not here so much extolled, though they be true ministers of celestial truth, as the truth itself; for God ascribes here the highest authority to his own word, though its ministers were men of no repute, poor and despised, and having nothing splendid connected with them. The purpose for which this was said I have already explained; it was, that true prophets and teachers may take courage, and thus boldly set themselves against kings and nations, when armed with the power of celestial truth.
He then adds, To root up, to destroy, to pull down, to lay waste God seems here to have designedly rendered odious his own word and the ministry of the Prophet; for the word of God in the mouth of Jeremiah could not have been acceptable to the Jews, except they perceived that it was for their safety and welfare: but God speaks here of ruin and destruction, of cutting down and desolation. But he subjoins, to build and to plant God then ascribes two effects to his word, that on the one hand it destroys, pulls down, lays waste, cuts off; and that on the other it plants and builds
But it may, however, be rightly asked, why does God at first speak of ruin and extermination? The order would have seemed better had he said first, I set thee to build and to plant, according to what is said by Paul, who declares that vengeance was prepared by him and the other teachers against all despisers, and against all the height of the world, when your obedience, he says, shall be completed. (2 Corinthians 10:5.) Paul then intimates that the doctrine of the gospel is properly, and in the first place, designed for this end — to call men to the service of God. But Jeremiah here puts rhin and destruction before building and planting. It then seems, as I have said, that he acts inconsistently. But we must ever bear in mind what the state of the people was: for impiety, perverseness, and hardened iniquity had for so long a time prevailed, that it was necessary to begin with ruin and eradication; for Jeremiah could not have planted or have built the temple of God, except he had first destroyed, pulled down, laid waste, and cut off. How so? Because the Devil had erected there his palace; for as true religion had been for many years despised, the Devil was there placed, as it were, on his high throne, and reigned uncontrolled at Jerusalem, and through the whole land of Judea. How, then, could he have built there a temple for God, in which he might be purely worshipped, except ruin and destruction had preceded? for the Devil had corrupted the whole land. We indeed know that all kinds of wickedness then prevailed everywhere, as though the land had been filled with thorns and briers. Jeremiah then could not have planted or sown his heavenly doctrine until the land had been cleansed from so many vices and pollutions. This is no doubt the reason why in the first place he speaks of cutting off and ruin, of exterminating and eradicating, and afterwards adds planting and building.
The heap of words employed shews how deep impiety and the contempt of God had fixed their roots. God might have said only, I have set thee to pull down and to destroy; he might have been content with two words, as in the latter instance — to plant and to build. But as the Jews had been obstinate in their wickedness, as their insolence had been so great, they could not be corrected immediately, nor in one day, nor by a slight effort. Hence God accumulated words, and thus encouraged his Prophet to proceed with unwearied zeal in the work of clearing away the filth which had polluted the whole land. We now then understand what is here said, and the purpose of using so many words. (13)
But he speaks again of kingdoms and nations; for though Jeremiah was given as a Prophet especially to his own nation, yet he was also a Prophet to heathen nations, as they say, by accident, according to what we shall hereafter see: and it seems that, God designedly mentioned nations and kingdoms, in order to humble the pride of that people who thought themselves exempt from all reproof. Hence he says, that he gave authority to his servant, not only over Judea, but also over the whole world; as though he had said, “Ye are but a small portion of mankind; raise not then your horns against my servant, as ye shall do this without effect; for he shall exercise power not only over Judea, but also over all nations, and even over kings, as the doctrine which I have deposited with him is of such force and power that it will stand eminent above all mortals, much more above one single nation.”
We at the same time see that though the treachery of men constrains God to use severity, yet he never forgets his own nature, and kindly invites to repentance those who are not wholly past remedy, and offers to them the hope of pardon and of salvation; and this is what celestial truth ever includes. For though it be the odour of death unto death to those who perish, it is yet the odor of life unto life to the elect of God. It indeed often happens that the greater part turn the doctrine of salvation to their ruin; yet God never suffers all to perish. He therefore makes the truth the incorruptible seed of life to his elect, and builds them up as his temples. This is what we must bear in mind. And so there is no reason why the truth of God should be disliked by us, though it be the occasion of perdition to many; for it always brings salvation to the elect: it so plants them, that they strike roots into the hope of a blessed immortality, and then it builds them for holy temples unto God. It now follows —
See, I have set thee this day
Over nations and over kingdoms,
To root up, and to break down,
To destroy, and to erase,
To build up, and to plant.
He was to root up kingdoms, and to break down nations; then he adds stronger words, for he was to destroy, or wholly to destroy kingdoms, and to erase or to obliterate nations. The reason for the repetition is well stated by Calvin. As to his other work, two words only are used: he was to build up kingdoms, and to plant nations. A nation, of course, exists before a kingdom, and this order is observed in the second line; but the order, as it is usual with the sacred writers, not only of the Old, but also of the New Testament, is then reversed. See an instance in Romans 10:9, where indeed the true order is given last, the ostensible act being in the first instance stated, and then the principle from which it proceeds. — Ed.