Jeremiah 31:29
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
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(29, 30) The fathers have eaten a sour grape . . .—The proverb was one which, as we find from Ezekiel 18:2-3, had at this time come into common use. Men found in it an explanation of their sufferings which relieved their consciences. They were suffering, they said, for the sins of their fathers, not for their own. They distorted the words which, as asserting the continuity of national life, were attached to the second Commandment (Exodus 20:5), and instead of finding in them a warning restraining them from evil by the fear of transmitting evil to another generation, they found in them a plea for their own recklessness. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah felt that the time was come when, even at the risk of a seeming contradiction to words clothed with a Divine authority, the other aspect of God’s government had to be asserted in all its fulness: and therefore they lay stress on the truth that each man is responsible for his own acts, and for those alone, and that the law of the inheritance of evil (what we have learnt to call the law of hérédité) leaves untouched the freedom of man’s will. The “eater of the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge,” is, as it were, an emendation of the proverbial saying. The words of the Latin poet, “Delicta majorum immeritus lues,” “Thou, for no guilt of thine, shalt pay the forfeit of thy fathers’ sins” (Hor. Od. iii. 6, 1), show how ready men have been at all times to make a like excuse. How the two truths are to be reconciled, the law of hereditary tendencies, and punishments that fall not on the original offenders, but on their children, and the law of individual responsibility, is a question to which we can give no formal answer. We must be content to accept both laws, and rest in the belief that the Judge of all the earth will assuredly do right.

Jeremiah 31:29-30. They shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, &c. — “God had often declared that he would visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, and had particularly threatened to execute judgment upon the present generation for the idolatries and other sins of their forefathers. See note on Exodus 20:5, and chap. Jeremiah 15:4. This gave occasion to the proverb mentioned in this verse, which they that were in captivity applied to their own case, as if the miseries they endured were chiefly owing to their fathers’ sins: see Lamentations 5:7; Ezekiel 18:2; but when this judgment should be removed, then there would be no further occasion to use this proverb, as Ezekiel there speaks.” But every one shall die for his own iniquity, &c. — These national judgments ceasing, every one shall suffer only for his own faults. “This promise,” says Lowth, “will be remarkably verified when God shall cease to visit upon the Jewish nation that imprecation which they laid upon themselves by the crucifixion of Christ, his blood be upon us, and upon our children.” It was the opinion of Bishop Warburton, that the punishment of children for the iniquity of their parents, was to supply the want of the sanction of a future state, which he supposed was very obscurely, if at all, revealed under the Mosaic dispensation. “For,” says he, “while a future state was kept hid from the Jews there was an absolute need of such a law to restrain the more daring spirits by working upon their instincts. But when a doctrine was brought to light which held them up, and continued them after death, the objects of divine justice, it had then no further use, and was therefore reasonably to be abolished, with the rest of the Jewish laws peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation.” But it may be inquired here, Do not children still suffer for the sins of their parents in the only sense in which they ever did, namely, in all national calamities, and in that poverty and reproach, and those bodily afflictions, which the vices of their parents entail upon them?

31:27-34 The people of God shall become numerous and prosperous. In Heb 8:8,9, this place is quoted as the sum of the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ. Not, I will give them a new law; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; but the law shall be written in their hearts by the finger of the Spirit, as formerly written in the tables of stone. The Lord will, by his grace, make his people willing people in the day of his power. All shall know the Lord; all shall be welcome to the knowledge of God, and shall have the means of that knowledge. There shall be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at the time the gospel is published. No man shall finally perish, but for his own sins; none, who is willing to accept of Christ's salvation.A sour grape - Better, sour grapes. The idea that Jeremiah and Ezekiel (marginal reference) modified the terms of the second Commandment arises from a mistaken exegesis of their words. Compare Jeremiah 32:18; Deuteronomy 24:16. The obdurate Jews made it a reproach to the divine justice that the nation was to be sorely visited for Manasseh's sin. But this was only because generation after generation had, instead of repenting, repeated the sins of that evil time, and even in a worse form. justice must at length have its course. The acknowledgment that each man died for his own iniquity was a sign of their return to a more just and right state of feeling.29. In those days—after their punishment has been completed, and mercy again visits them.

fathers … eaten … sour grape … children's teeth … on edge—the proverb among the exiles' children born in Babylon, to express that they suffered the evil consequences of their fathers' sins rather than of their own (La 5:7; Eze 18:2, 3).

That is, We are punished for our fathers’ sins; which yet God may justly do; and none questioneth the justice of man in the case, depriving children of their patrimonial estates for their parents’ treasons; nor more than God threateneth in the second commandment, God indeed, Ezekiel 18:2, seemeth displeased at their use of this proverb; but the reason is, because they so used it as to acquit themselves, intimating they were guiltless, and suffered only for the sins of their parents, whereas that was false; otherwise the punishment of children for the sins of their parents was no more than God had threatened, Exodus 20:5 34:7 Jeremiah 15:4. But, saith God, your captivity shall, as to you, expiate your parents’ guilt past, and you shall no more say so.

In those days they shall say no more,.... The following proverb or byword; they should have no occasion to use it, nor should they choose to use it; since they would understand themselves, and the dispensations of Providence towards them, better than to use it:

the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge; that is, the fathers have sinned, and the children are punished for their sins. So the Targum,

"the fathers have sinned, and the children are smitten.''

This was in some sense true; they were punished for their fathers' sins in the captivity, particularly for Manasseh's; nor was it unusual with God to visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children; nor at all unjust, since they were a part of their parents, and especially since they were guilty of the same sins; nor is it thought unjust among men to punish children for the treason of their parents, as every sin is treason against God. But this was not all that was meant by this proverb; the sense of those that used it was, that they themselves were quite clear and innocent, and that they only suffered for their fathers' faults; which was false, of which they should be convinced, and use the proverb no more, as charging God with injustice.

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have {g} eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

(g) The wicked used this proverb when they murmured against God's judgments pronounced by the prophets, saying that their fathers had committed the fault and that the children were punished, Eze 18:2,3.

29, 30. The words “The fathers have eaten, etc.” occur also in Ezekiel 18:2, where they are spoken of as a proverb. The people complain that they are being punished for the sins of an earlier generation (perhaps under Manasseh) and murmuring against God’s justice. In the future individual responsibility will be recognised. The earlier view that responsibility for the crime of an individual was as a matter of course shared by all his belongings animate and inanimate alike (see examples in Joshua 7:24 f.; 1 Samuel 22:16-19; 2 Samuel 21:1-9), gradually yielded (see 2 Kings 14:5 f.) as the more enlightened conscience revolted against it. Deuteronomy 24:16 marks the change. But Israel in its protest ignores its own sin. As a matter of fact Jeremiah’s generation were as much involved in guilt, and that of no trifling kind, as their predecessors. See further on the general subject, Peake, Problem, etc. pp. 21 f.

Verse 29. - Have eaten a sour grape; rather, sour grapes. The prophet (like Ezekiel, ch. 18.) condemns the use of this proverb, and declares that the sinner is the artificer of his own ruin. At first sight, it may seem as if Jeremiah opposes the second commandment, which describes how God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5). This, however, cannot really be, for he endorses this declaration later on (Jeremiah 32:18). The fact is that he is not so much condemning the proverb, as the blasphemous application of it made by the Jews of his time. It is an eternal truth that sin perpetuates itself (except by the miracles of grace) in the children of transgressors, and intensified sin leads to intensified punishment. But the children of transgressors do not cease to be responsible for their own share in the sin; - this was the truth which Jeremiah's contemporaries ignored. He does not deny the solidarity of the family or the race,but he superadds the neglected truth of the special responsibility of the individual. This is one among many evidences of the deepening sense of individual life in the later period of the Jewish monarchy. (A somewhat different view is offered by Delitzsch, 'Messianic Prophecies,' § 50. According to him, Jeremiah looks forward to a time when the individual shall be liberated from the consequences of his solidarity with his race, and when personality shall be "invested with its rights." But can the individual be thus liberated?) Jeremiah 31:29The proverb, which Ezekiel also (Ezekiel 18:2.) mentions and contends against, cannot mean, "The fathers have begun to eat sour grapes, but not till the teeth of their sons have become blunted by them" (Ngelsbach); the change of tense is against this, for, by the perfect אכלוּ and the imperfect תּקהינה, the blunting of the children's teeth is set down as a result of the fathers' eating. The proverb means, "Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers," or "The sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children." On this point, cf. the explanations given in Ezekiel 18:2. "Then shall they no more say" is rightly explained by Hitzig to mean, "They shall have no more occasion to say." But the meaning of the words is not yet made plain by this; in particular, the question how we must understand Jeremiah 31:30 is not settled. Graf, referring to Jeremiah 23:7-8, supplies יאמרוּ after כּי־אם, and thus obtains the meaning, Then will they no more accuse God of unrighteousness, as in that wicked proverb, but they will perceive that every one has to suffer for his own guilt. Hitzig and Ngelsbach have declared against this insertion - the former with the remark that, in Jeremiah 23:7-8, because both members of the sentence begin with protestations, the whole is clear, while here it is not so - the latter resting on the fact that the dropping of the proverb from current use certainly implies a correct knowledge of the righteousness of God, but one which is very elementary and merely negative; while, on the other hand, the whole connection of the passage now before us shows that it is intended to describe a period when the theocratic life is in a most flourishing condition. Then expositors take Jeremiah 31:30 as the utterance of the prophet, and as embodying the notion that the average level of morality shall be so high at this future period, that only some sins will continue to be committed, and these as isolated exceptions to the rule. Taken all in all, Israel will be a holy people, in which the general spirit pervading them will repress the evil in some individuals, that would otherwise manifest itself. But we cannot imagine how these ideas can be supposed to be contained in the words, "Every man shall die for his own sins," etc. Jeremiah 31:30 unquestionably contains the opposite of Jeremiah 31:29. The proverb mentioned in Jeremiah 31:29 involves the complaint against God, that in punishing sin He deals unjustly. According to this view, Jeremiah 31:30 must contain the declaration that, in the future, the righteousness of God is to be revealed in the punishment of sins. As we have already remarked on Ezekiel 18:3., the verse in question rather means, that after the re-establishment of Israel, the Lord will make known to His people His grace in so glorious a manner that the favoured ones will fully perceive the righteousness of His judgments. The experience of the unmerited love and compassion of the Lord softens the heart so much, that the favoured one no longer doubts the righteousness of the divine punishment. Such knowledge of true blessedness cannot be called elementary; rather, it implies a deep experience of divine grace and a great advance in the life of faith. Nor does the verse contain a judgment expressed by the prophet in opposition to that of his contemporaries, but it simply declares that the opinion contained in that current proverb shall no longer be accepted then, but the favoured people will recognise in the death of the sinner the punishment due to them for their own sin. Viewed in this manner, these verses prepare the way for the following announcement concerning the nature of the new covenant.
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