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Jeremiah 51:17

17. Every man is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.

17. Infatuatus est omnis homo a scientia, pudefactus omnis conflator a sculptili; quia mendacium est fusile, et non est spiritus in ipsis.


This verse is usually explained, as though the Prophet pointed out how men glide into errors and fancies, even because they seek to be wise according to their own notions; and Paul, in the first chapter to the Romans, assigns it as the cause of idolatry, that men become vain in their own wisdom, because they follow whatever their own brains suggest to them. This doctrine is in itself true and useful; for men have devised idols for themselves, because they would not reverently receive the knowledge of God offered to them, but rather believed their own inventions: and as mere vanity is whatever man imagines according to his own thoughts, it is no wonder that those who presumptuously form their own ideas of God, become wholly foolish and infatuated. But it is evident from the context, that the Prophet means here another thing, even that the artificers who cast or forge idols, or form them in any other way, are wholly delirious in thinking that they can, by their own art and skill, make gods. A log of wood lies on the ground, is trodden under foot without any honor; now when the artificer adds form to it, the log begins to be worshipped as a god; what madness can be imagined greater than this? The same thing may be said of stones, of silver, and of gold; for though it may be a precious metal, yet no divinity is ascribed to it, until it begins to put on a certain form. Now when a melter casts an idol, how can a lump of gold or silver become a god? The Prophet then upbraids this monstrous madness, when he says, that men are in their knowledge like brute beasts, that is, when they apply their skill to things so vain and foolish. But he mentions the same thing twice, according to the common usage of the Hebrew style; for we know that the same thing is often said twice for confirmation by the prophets.

After then having said that men are infatuated by knowledge, he adds, that they were made ashamed by the graven image There seems to be an impropriety in the words; for פסל, pesal, “graven,” does not well agree with צרף, tsareph, “the caster,” or founder; but the Prophet, stating a part for the whole, simply means, that all artificers are foolish and delirious in thinking that they can by their own hand and skill cast or forge, or in any way form gods. And to prove this he says, that there is no spirit or breath in them; and this was a sufficient proof; for we know that God is the fountain of life, and hence he is called by Moses

“the God of the spirits of all flesh.” (Numbers 16:22)

Whatever life, then, is diffused through all creatures, flows from God alone as the only true fountain. What, then, is less like divinity, or has less affinity to it, than a lump of gold or of silver, or a log of wood, or a stone? for they have no life nor rigor. Nothing is more fading than man, yet while he has life in him, he possesses something divine; but a dead body, what has it that is like God? But yet the form of a human body comes nearer to God’s glory than a log of wood or a stone formed in the shape of man. It is not, then, without reason that the Prophet condemns this madness of all the heathens, that they worshipped fictitious gods, in whom yet there was no spirit. It follows, —

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