Jeremiah 13:23

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin?.... Or, "the Cushite"; either, as the Arabic version, the "Abyssine", the inhabitant of the eastern Ethiopia; properly an Ethiopian, as the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions render it; or, the "Chusean Arabian"; the inhabitant of Arabia Chusea, which was nearer Judea than the other Ethiopia, and better known, and which were of a dark complexion. The Targum renders it, the Indian; and so does the Syriac version. In the Misna {i} mention is made of Indian garments, with which the high priest was clothed on the day of atonement; upon which the gloss {k} is, that they were of linen of the country of India; and which is the land of Cush (or Ethiopia), as Jonathan Ben Uzziel interprets Jeremiah 13:23

"can the Cushite, the Indian, change his skin?''

and it is highly probable, that, in the time of Jeremiah, no other India was known by the Jews but Ethiopia, or Arabia Chusea, and no other black people but the inhabitants thereof, or any other than the Arabians; and, as Braunius {l} observes, it need not be wondered at, that with the Jews, in those times, Ethiopia and India should be reckoned the same country; when with the ancients, whatever was beyond the Mediterranean sea, as Arabia, Ethiopia, and even Judea itself, was called India; so Joppa, a city of Phoenicia, from whence Andromeda was fetched by Perseus, is by Ovid {m} said to be in India; so Bochart {n} interprets the words of the Saracens or Arabians, who are of a swarthy colour, and some black; and indeed have their name from the same word the raven has, which is black; and particularly the inhabitants of Kedar were black, one part of Arabia, to which the allusion is in Song of Solomon 1:5. Jarchi interprets the word here by "the moor", the blackamoor, whose skin is naturally black, and cannot be changed by himself or others; hence to wash the blackamoor white is a proverbial expression for labour in vain, or attempting to do that which is not to be done:

or the leopard his spots? a creature full of spots, and whose spots are natural to it; and therefore cannot be removed by any means. Some think a creature called "the ounce", or "cat-a-mountain" is meant, whose spots are many, and of a blackish colour; but the description well agrees with the leopard, which is a creature full of spots, and has its name in the eastern languages, particularly the Chaldee and Arabic, from a word {o} which signifies "spotted", "variegated", as this creature is; so the female is called "varia" by Pliny {p}, because, of its various spots; and these spots are black, as the Arabic writers in Bochart {q}. The word here used signifies such marks as are made in a body beat and bruised, which we call black and blue; hence some render it "livid", or black and blue spots {r}; and these marks are in the skin and hair of this creature, and are natural to it, and cannot be changed; and it is usual with other writers {s} to call them spots, as well as the Scripture:

then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil; signifying that they were naturally sinners, as blackness is natural to the Ethiopian, and spots to the leopard; and were from their birth and infancy such, and had been so long habituated to sin, by custom founded upon nature, that there was no hope of them; they were obstinate in sin, bent upon it, and incorrigible in it; and this is another reason given why the above calamities came upon them. The metaphors used in this text fitly express the state and condition of men by nature; they are like the Ethiopian or blackamoor; very black, both with original and actual sin; very guilty, and very uncomely; and their blackness is natural to them; they have it from their parents, and by birth; it is with them from their infancy, and youth upwards; and very hard and difficult to be removed; it cannot be washed off by ceremonial ablutions, moral duties, evangelical ordinances, or outward humiliations; yea, it is impossible to be removed but by the grace of God and blood of Christ. Their sins are aptly compared to the leopard's spots, which are many and natural, and difficult to get clear off. What is figuratively expressed in the above metaphors is more plainly signified by being "accustomed" or "taught to do evil" {t}; which denotes a series and course of sinning; a settled habit and custom in it, founded on nature, and arising from it; which a man learns and acquires naturally, and of himself, whereby he becomes void of fear and shame; and there is a good deal of difficulty, and indeed a moral impossibility, that such persons should "do good": nothing short of the powerful and efficacious grace of God can put a man into a state and capacity of doing good aright, from right principles to right ends, and of continuing in it; for there is no good in such men; nor have they any true notion of doing good, nor inclination to it, nor any ability to perform it: in order to it, it is absolutely necessary that they should first be made good men by the grace of God; that they should be regenerated and quickened by the Spirit of God; that they should be created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and have faith in him; all which is by the grace of God, and not of themselves.

{i} Yoma, c. 3. sect 7.
{k} In T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 34. 2.
{l} De Vestitu Sacerdot. Heb. l. 1. c. 7. sect. 9. p. 150, 151.
{m} "Andromedam Perseus nigris portarat ab Indis". De Arte Atnandi, l. 1.
{n} Phaleg. l. 4. c. 2. col. 215, 216.
{o} Vid. Golium, col. 2459, 2460. Castel. col. 2321, 2322.
{p} Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 17.
{q} Hierozoic. par 1. l. 3. c. 7. col. 786, 787.
{r} wytwrbrbx "liventee maculas suas", Junius & Tremellius.
{s} Vid. Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 19. Juvenal. Satyr. 15.
{t} erh ydml "docti malefacere", Montanus; "edocti malefacere", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "qui edocti estis malum", Schmidt.