And he adds, Enter into the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is at the entrance of the east gate, rendered by some “of the earthen gate,” for which I see no reason; but I leave this to be examined by those who are more versed in the language. It is indeed thought that ש, shin, is changed here into ס, samech; but if we take the word as it is, it means “solar,” for חרס cheras, from which חרסית cherasit, is derived, signifies the sun; and it seems to have been called the solar gate by way of excellency, because it looked toward the rising sun. (212) I do not yet oppose the idea of those who think that the Prophet alludes to חרש, cheresh, of which he had spoken, and that he calls it the east gate, though it was as it were an earthen gate; for the two letters ש, shin, and ס samech, as it is well known, are closely allied. Cry there, he says, the words which I shall speak to thee.
I come now to the subject: God bids his Prophet to get from the potter an earthen vessel, and to do so in the presence of the elders; for it was necessary to have witnesses in a matter so important; and as the public safety of the people was concerned, it was God’s purpose, lest the prophecy should be despised, that there should be present the gravest witnesses, suitable, and, as they say, authorized, or approved; and he calls them the elders of the people and of the priests; and no doubt they were chosen from a great number, even from among the priests who were chief. There were also Levites of the sons of Aaron; but there were then chief priests a large number; but, as they say, it was a turbulent rabble. They were chosen from those first orders who ruled the Church, and Jeremiah calls them the elders of the priests. There were also others chosen from the people who presided over the Church. And we know that there were two public functionaries, or, as they say, a twofold government: the priests were the rulers of the Church with regard to the law, so that their government was spiritual; there were also the elders of the people who managed civil affairs; but there were some things in which they ruled in common. We now then see what the Prophet meant by saying that he was bidden to call witnesses to see what is afterwards stated, and that they were taken partly from the priests and partly from the people.
He says; Enter into the valley of the son of Hinnom. This valley was in the suburbs, and was called תפת Tophet, as we shall hereafter see. It is thought that this name is derived from drums, because they did beat drums when infants were killed, lest their cry should excite any feeling of humanity. But, we shall again say something on the etymology of this word. In this valley they were accustomed to sacrifice and offer their children by casting them into the fire. Many indeed performed this in a different way, by purifying their children and carrying them round the fire, so that they felt only the flame and escaped unhurt. But there were those who wished to shew their zeal above others, whose ambition drove them farther, and they killed their children and then burnt them. But of this matter I have spoken elsewhere, and I shall now only briefly notice it. This opinion is not, what is commonly received; but it seems to me that it may be gathered from many parts of Scripture, that many killed their children, and that some only purified them. However this may have been, God justly abominated the sacrifice; for his will was that sacrifices should be offered only in one place. When any one offered a calf or a lamb in any other place than at Jerusalem, it was a spurious sacrifice; and the Jews ought to have followed what God had prescribed, and not to have done anything presumptuously, for obedience is ever better than any sacrifices.
But here there was a double crime; they left the Temple and sought to obtrude on God sacrifices against his expressed will; and then there was another crime still more atrocious, for they devoted their children to Baalim or to Baal, and not to the only true God. (I pass by now their slaughter and burning.) This then was the reason why the Prophet was commanded to go to this place. How detestable that service was to God appears dear from this, that the prophets give the name of hell to the valley of Hinnom, גיא הנם gia-enom. And we know that at the time of Christ it was the common name for hell; and whenever Christ speaks of Gehenna, he uses the word according to its common acceptation at that time. The word has indeed been corrupted by the Greeks, for it is properly גיא הנם gia-enom. But what does the word mean in the gospel? Hell itself; and whence was its origin? We indeed know how great and how incurable was the madness of those who gave themselves up to their own superstitions; for though the prophets strongly condemned the place, yet the people proceeded in their usual idolatry; it was therefore necessary to give the place a disgraceful name in order to render it more abominable.
It is now added, that the place was by the entrance of the east gate. As it was especially a celebrated gate, and as the sun, rising there, reminded them to behold the light which God had kindled for them in his law, it was a monstrous stupidity proudly to tread, as it were, under foot. the law of God in so renowned a place, and to profane his worship, as though they openly wished to shew that they esteemed as nothing what God had commanded. If any still think that there is an allusion to the word חרש cheresh, before used, I offer no opposition; that is, though this gate was indeed oriental, it was yet as it were an earthen gate.
He says, Cry there, or, proclaim with a clear voice, the words which I shall speak to thee. The Prophet no doubt said this expressly, in order to add more weight to his prophecy. He indeed did nothing but by God’s command; but as his authority was not acknowledged by the Jews, he here testifies for their sakes that he would say nothing but what God himself would command. This preface then confirmed the authority of his prophecy, so that the Jews might not reject what he might say, as though it came from Jeremiah himself.
But a general doctrine may be hence gathered, — that ministers are to bring forward nothing but what they have learnt from God himself. For though Jeremiah was a great man and endued with excellent gifts, yet he was not to bring one word or a syllable as from himself: how great then must be the presumption of those who seek to be superior to him by bringing their inventions, and at the same time demand to be deemed oracles? This passage confirms the doctrine of Peter, who says,
“He who speaks, let him speak the words of God.”
(1 Peter 4:11)
Parkhurst, however, takes the word as it is in the text, and gives this version, “the gate of the burnings,” so called because of the practice of burning children in the valley opposite the gate. See Jeremiah 7:31. All these names would properly designate the south gate. — Ed.