The Prophet, no doubt, explains here more at large what he had said of the restoration of the Church; for we know that the Jews had been so taught, that they were to place their whole confidence as to their salvation on David, that is, on the king whom God had set over them. Then the happiness and safety of the Church was always founded on the king; he being taken away, it was all over with the Church, as the Anointed is said to be the Lord, in whose spirit is our spirit. (Lamentations 4:20) Hence God has even from the beginning directed the attention of his people to their king, that they might depend on him, not that David was able by his own power to save the people, but because he typically personated Christ. We have not now an earthly king who is Christ’s image; but it is Christ alone who vivifies the Church. But it was at that time set forth figuratively, that the king was, as it were, the soul of the community; and we have before seen, that when the Prophet animated the Jews with hope, he set before them David, and afterwards the Son of David.
For the same reason, he says here, His valiant one, or, illustrious one, shall be from himself For we must remember the condition of that miserable and calamitous time when God took away every source of joy, by depriving the people of all the dignity with which they had been honored. It was the same then as though Jeremiah had promised the Jews a resurrection, for they were in their exile as dead men, as their hope of public safety had vanished when their king was destroyed. Here, then, he bids them to entertain good hope, because the Lord was able to raise them from death to life. And doubtless it was a wonderful resurrection when the Jews returned to their own country, a way having been opened for them; for they had been driven away, as it were, into another world. And who could have ever thought that so many obstacles could have been removed, when the Chaldeans extended their dominion even over Judea? The miserable exiles had certainly no refuge. It was not then to no purpose that Jeremiah testifies here, that the strong or valiant, that is, the king, would be from the people, and that there would come forth a Ruler from the midst of them. To come or go forth does not mean here to depart, as though the king would go elsewhere; but to go forth signifies here to proceed: Go forth then, or proceed, shall a Ruler from the midst of the people: how this took place it is well known.
But Isaiah had foretold what his successor here confirms, saying,
“Come forth shall a shoot from the root (or stem) of Jesse, and a rod shall spring up from the root of his tree.” (Isaiah 11:1)
He calls it there the house of Jesse, which was a private house: he would have dignified the favor with a more glorious name, had he mentioned David; but as there was then no kingdom, he refers to Jesse; for as David came forth as an unknown rustic from the folds of the sheep, so also the Lord would raise up a shoot from the stem of a tree that had been cut down. We hence see in what sense Jeremiah uses the expression, “Come forth;” for Christ rose up beyond the expectation of men, and rose up as a shoot when a tree is cut down, that is, when there was no resemblance of majesty among the people.
He afterwards adds, I will cause him to draw near, and he will come to me This may be either confined to the head or extended to the whole body; and the second idea is what I mostly approve; for the people were a long time removed from the presence of God, even as long as they were exiled from their country. Hence God adds, “I will cause them again to draw nigh, and they shall come to me.” If, however, any one prefers to explain this of the head, or of the king himself, I offer no objection.
Now, we are taught from this passage, that whenever God speaks of the restoration of the Church, he ever declares that he will be entreated by us; in short, that whenever he invites us to the hope of favor and salvation, we ought always to look to Christ; for except we direct all our thoughts to him, all the promises will vanish away, for they cannot be valid except through him; because in Christ only, as Paul says, they are yea and amen. (2 Corinthians 1:19) But as this truth often occurs in the Prophets, it is enough here to touch on it by the way, as I have handled it more fully elsewhere.
As to the latter part of the verse, there is some ambiguity, — for who is he, this, etc There are two demonstrative pronouns, הוא זה hua, ze. Afterwards comes ערב oreb, fitting his heart. The verb ערב oreb, means to be a surety, and also to fit, to adapt, to accommodate, or to form, and sometimes to render sweet or pleasant; and on this account some have thus translated, “Who will allure his heart?” He then adds, that he may come to me, saith Jehovah? I have said that this passage is obscure, and it has hence been turned into various meanings by interpreters. Some apply the words to Christ, that he alone has of his own accord come to the Father. Others consider a negative to be understood, as though it was said, that no one prepares his heart to come to God. But there are some who regard the passage as an exhortation, “Who is he who will apply his heart that he may come to me?” Now, if we read it as expressing astonishment or wonder, it would be, in my view, its real meaning. I am not aware that any one has mentioned this; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, intended his words to be so understood.
He said before, “I will cause him to draw nigh; that he may come to me.” I have already explained this of the people, who had been long rejected. God then promises here a gathering, as though he had said, “For a time I scattered the people here and there like chaff; I will now gather them again together, and they shall be under my care and protection as formerly.” Having said this, he now touches on the ingratitude of the people by this question, “Who is there who comes to me? who will frame his heart that he may be reconciled to me?” It is, then, an expression of wonder, intended to make the Jews know that their hardness and insensibility are condemned; for when God kindly invited them, they rejected his favor, when he sought to embrace them, they fled far off from him.
But an objection may be here made, “Why then did God promise that he would cause the Jews to come to him?” To this I answer, that God performs or fulfils this promise in various ways: he might have called the Jews to himself by an outward invitation, as he did when the liberty of returning was given them: and then, indeed, a few of the Jews accepted his favor; but all the Israelites, already habituated to the pleasures and enjoyments of those countries, regarded as nothing what God had promised. Thus very few returned to their own country, and restoration was despised by them, though they had once been very anxious about it. God, however, even then made the people to draw nigh; for he stretched forth his hand as though he would gather them and cherish them under his wings. But as the greatest part despised his invaluable favor, God here justly complains of so great an impiety, and exclaims as through wonder or astonishment, Who is he who will form his heart, that, he may come to me?
Had it been simply said, “Who is he who comes to me?” the meaning, through brevity, would have been obscure. But God here clearly distinguishes between the two kinds of access: the first was, when liberty was given to the people, by the decree of Cyrus, and a permission given to build the city and the temple. God, therefore, caused them then to draw nigh that they might come to him; this was the first access. But he now adds, that the Jews did not form or prepare their heart. He indeed speaks of future time, but yet he charges them with ingratitude, which afterwards was fully manifested. Hence he says, “Who is this, that he may come to me?” that is, “I will contrive means that they may unite again in one body, call on me and enjoy their inheritance: this will I do that they may come to me; but many will still live in their own dregs, and prefer Chaldea and other countries to the temple and religion. Many, then, will be they who will not form their heart to come to me.”
We now understand the meaning of the Prophet. But we must at the same time bear in mind, that by saying above, “I will cause him to draw near that he may come to me,” God does not speak of the hidden working of his Spirit; for it is in his power, as we shall presently remark, to draw the hearts of men to himself whenever he pleases. But when he said, I will cause him to draw nigh, etc., he spoke only of an outward restoration; and now he adds a complaint, that the Jews would wickedly repudiate this favor, for no one would prepare his heart. We yet see that the whole fault is cast on the Jews, that they were to be deprived of their own country: for it was owing to nothing on God’s part that they were not restored, but to themselves, because they were devoted to their own pleasure, and regarded their return and to be counted God’s people as nothing. It was therefore the object of the Prophet to ascribe to the Jews the whole fault that God’s favor would not come to them, or that it would not be effectual as to the greatest part of them, even because they would not prepare or form their heart, that they might come to God, in order that they might be partakers of that invaluable privilege offered to them.
Now, the Papists lay hold on this passage to prove that there is a free-will in man to come to God; but to do so is indeed very absurd. For whenever God condemns the hardness of the people, he doubtless does not argue the question, what power there is in men, whether they can turn to do what is good, whether they can guide their own hearts. To hold this would be extremely foolish. When it is said in Psalms 45:8,
“To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as your fathers in the wilderness,”
shall we say that as they hardened their hearts they were capable of turning, so that they could by the power of free-will choose either good or evil? To say this would be puerile and extremely sottish. We hence see that the Papists are unworthy of being reasoned with, when they seek to prove free-will by such arguments. They would, indeed, adduce something plausible were their exposition adopted; for they render the words thus, “Who is this,” etc., as though God praised the promptitude of the faithful, who willingly offer themselves and prepare their hearts. But opposed to this view is the whole context. It hence appears that it was very far from the Prophet’s design to represent God as commending the obedience of the godly; but, on the contrary, he exclaims with wonder, as Isaiah does when he says,
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1)
He surely does not set forth the obedience of the faithful in receiving promptly and gladly the Gospel; but, on the contrary, (as though something monstrous terrified him) that the world would not believe the Gospel, when yet it offered to them salvation and eternal life. So also in this place, Who is he? etc. For what could have been more desirable than that God should at length, by outstretched arms, gather the Jews to himself? ”I wish you to draw nigh, ye have been for a time, as it were, banished from me, I had driven you to distant lands; but I am now ready to gather you.” As, then, God so sweetly and kindly allured them to himself, it was doubtless a most abominable and monstrous ingratitude for them to reject the offer and to turn their backs as it were on God, who so kindly invited them. As, then, the Prophet is here only condemning such insensibility and perverse wickedness in the Jews, there is no reason why we should be in quest of a proof in favor of free-will. (17)
We may add, that David uses the same verb in Psalms 119:73, when he says,
“Cause thy servant to approach thee, that he may learn thy commandments.” (18)
Some render the words, “Be a surety for thy servant,” etc.; for the verb: ערב , which is here, is found there also. Therefore the passage might be aptly turned against the Papists, who hold that it is in the power of man to form his own heart. But David testifies that this is peculiarly the office and work of God; for by asking this from him he doubtless confesses that it was not in his own power. It afterwards follows, —
Many explanations have been given which are wholly inadmissible, having nothing in the context to support them, such as the application of these words to our Savior. They are evidently connected with the previous clause, being joined with it by “for:” they in a manner explain and qualify that clause, and may be deemed parenthetic, for the former clause and that which follows these words, are connected together, —
And I will bring him nigh that he may come near to me,
(For who is he who pledges his heart To come near to me, saith Jehovah!)
22.And ye shall be to me a people, And I will be to you a God.
By “him” we are to understand “Jacob,” the subject of the whole passage, and not the “governor,” who was to come from “the midst of him,” i.e., Jacob, a name by which the whole nation is here called. The promise is to bring Jacob, or the people, nigh; and then to shew that this is alone God’s work, the words in the parenthesis are introduced, and by a question, which implies the negative in the strongest manner, as though he had said, “This work, to bring you nigh, is mine alone, for no one among you pledges or engages his heart to come near to me.”
Both the Sept. and the Targ. render “him” in the first line in the plural number, “them,” i.e., the people. And the Syr., though the form of the expression is changed, yet gives the meaning of the words within the parenthesis, for the work of turning the heart is ascribed to the Lord. — Ed.