Swelling of the Jordan

“Righteous are You, O Jehovah, when I might complain to You, yet let me speak with You of Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are all those dealers of deceit at ease? You planted them; yea, they take root, they grow, they even make fruit. You are near in their mouth, and far from their reins. But You know me, O Jehovah. You have seen me and tried my heart toward You. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and devote them to the day of slaughter. Until when shall the land mourn, and the plant of every field wither from the evil of those who dwell in it? The beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, He will not see our last end. If you have run with footmen, and they wore you out, then how can you compete with horses? And if you trusted in the land of peace, then how will you do in the swelling of Jordan? For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; even they have fully called after you. Do not believe them, though they speak good things to you” (Jeremiah 12:1-6).

Commenting on verse 5, Calvin writes (I am not promoting or endorsing Calvin as a true Christian when I quote from him.  But I think he writes some things that true Christians may benefit from):

“Many think that God here checks the boldness of Jeremiah, as though he had exceeded the limits of moderation when he contended with God, as we have seen, because he patiently endured the reprobate and did not immediately punish them. Hence they elicit this meaning from rite words,

“Thou hast hitherto been contending with mortals, and hast confessed that thou didst maintain an unequal contest; dost thou dare now to assail me, who am far greater than the whole world? Footmen have wearied thee, who walk on earth; but thou engagest now with horsemen, that is, with me.”

But I have already shewn that the Prophet did not undertake this cause presumptuously, nor was he carried away by blind zeal when he disputed with God, but that he thus spoke through a divine fervor: he was indeed influenced by God, in order that he might by this mode of speaking more fully rouse an obstinate people. There was therefore no need to check hint; for his object was no other than to shew by a lively representation, that God would be the Judge of the Jews, who had despised his teaching and esteemed it as nothing.

Some think that a comparison is made between the citizens of Anathoth and the citizens of Jerusalem: they hence suppose that Jeremiah is encouraged, lest he should succumb under the temptations which awaited him; as though it was said,

“Thy citizens or thy people are like footmen; thou seest now how much they have wearied thee, for thou canst not bear their insolence: what then will become of thee, when thou comest to Jerusalem? for as there is more power there, so there is more arrogance; thou wilt have to contend with the king and his court, with the priests and with the people, who are blinded by their own splendor: horsemen will be there, and thou wilt have all equestrian contest. Thou mayest hence see how thou art to prepare thyself; for these things are only the beginnings, and yet thou complainest of them.”

But when I maturely weigh all things, I come to another opinion, which both Jerome snd Jonathan have suggested, and yet obscurely, and so confusedly that the meaning cannot be correctly understood, and especially for this reason, because they did not state the exposition which we have hitherto given; hence the meaning of what they have said does not seem suitable. But the Prophet, I doubt not, here reproves the people and condemns their presumption, because they thought themselves furnished with so many defences that they despised the judgment of God. I regard then this verse as spoken in the person of God, for hitherto Jeremiah has been the accuser, and arraigned the whole people as guilty before God, and was also the herald of his judgment. Now that what he says might have more weight, God himself comes forth and says, Thou hast hitherto run with footmen, and thou hast been wearied, how will it be when thou comest to an equestrian contest? he intimates by these words that a much greater outrage was at hand than what the Jews had already experienced. Their country had been oppressed, their city had been exposed to extreme peril, there had been as it were a pedestrian conflict; but God now intimates that a heavier storm was nigh at hand, for horsemen would assail them, because the Chaldeans and the Assyrians were to come with much greater violence to lay waste the whole country and to destroy the city itself.

This then is not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people; as though it was said, that the Jews had but a slight contest with the Assyrians, and yet were conquered and oppressed by many calamities; but that they would have now to fight more seriously, as a greater violence was impending over them: how then, he says, canst thou contend with horsemen?

He then adds, In the land of peace thou trustest, and how wilt thou do in the rising of Jordan? The land of peace is commonly taken for the town of Anathoth, where the Prophet ought to have enjoyed a quiet life, as he lived there among his relations and friends. The rising of Jordan is also taken as signifying violent waves; but this has nothing to do with the subject. Were I to approve of this view, I would rather take the rising of Jordan as meaning its fountain, for we know that Jordan rose from Mount Lebanon, north of Jerusalem: so then would I interpret the words, and the explanation would be plausible. But as I feel assured that the words are not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people, I doubt not but that the land of peace is the land open to plunder, that is, not protected. As that is called the land of war, which is surrounded by alefences, and fortified by towers, moats, and ramparts; so that is called the land of peace, which is not capable of repelling enemies. The Prophet derided the Jews, because they swelled with so much arrogance, though they possessed no fortresses:

“Ye are,” he says,

“in the land of peace, having no means to carry on war, and possessing no forces to resist your enemies: as then ye swell with so much pride in your penury and want, what would become of you, were you in the rising of Jordan? that is, were your cities on the banks of Jordan, where it widely spreads, so as to prevent any access?”

Rising here means height or largeness: for גאון gaun, signifies pride, and metaphorically it means the highest or chief glory. “What wouldest thou do,” he says, “in the largeness of Jordan? that is, were that river a defense to you against enemies? for there is nothing that can hinder your enemies from coming to your gates, from breaking down your walls by warlike instruments; and ye glory: how great is your madness, for ye do not consider how weak you are?”

We hence see that in the whole of this verse the foolish boastings of the people are beaten down; for they were proud without a cause, as they were destitute of all defences and auxiliaries. This then is what I consider to be the real meaning” (John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah).