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Ezekiel 18:5-9

5. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,

5. Et vir si fuerit justus, et fecerit judicium et justitiam,

6. And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour’s wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,

6. Super montes non comederit, et oculos suos non extulerit ad idola 205205     Properly, “to the filthiness.” — Calvin. domus Israel, et uxorem socii sui 206206     Or, “of his neighbor.” — Calvin. non polluerit, et ad mulierem menstruatam non accesserit,

7. And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;

7. Et neminem afflixerit, 207207     Or, “oppressed.” — Calvin. pignus suum reddiderit debitori, praedam non rapuerit, 208208     Verbally, “has not seized booty.” — Calvin. panem suum famelico dederit, et nudum texerit vestimentis;

8. He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,

8. Cum usura non dederit et incrementum 209209     Or, “reward, gain.” — Calvin. non acceperit, ab iniquitate retraxerit manum suam, judicium fideliter fecerit inter virum et virum,

9. Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.

9. In statutis meis ambulaverit, et judicia mea custodierit ad faciendum veritatem, 210210     That is, “to conduct himself faithfully.” — Calvin. justus est, vivendo vivet, dicit Dominator Iehovah.

 

Here the Prophet confirms his former teaching by examples. For he first says, if any one faithfully keep the law, he shall prosper, since God will repay the reward of justice: afterwards he adds, if the just man beget a son unlike himself, the justice of the father shall not profit the degenerate son, but he shall receive the reward of his iniquity. But if this second person should beget a son who does not imitate his father, God promises that this third person shall be acceptable by him, because he is just, and therefore enjoys prosperity and happiness. We see, then, that the grandfather and grandson are here spoken of, and that the son of the first, and father of the third, is placed between them. But this is the Spirit’s intention, that God has prepared a reward for each according to their lives, so that he does not permit them to be deprived of their promised blessing, nor let the impious and despisers of his law escape. Now let us come to the words, if any one has been just, says he, he shall be just, therefore he shall live. He speaks generally first: he afterwards enumerates certain species under which he embraces the sum of the whole law. The full sentence is, if any one has been just, he shall live in consequence of his justice. But the Prophet defines what it is to be just, and he there chooses certain parts of the law: by putting a part for the whole, as I have said, he signifies, that whoever faithfully observes the law is esteemed just before God. Now we must examine each of these kinds of justice, and afterwards come to the general doctrine. He says first, that he is just who does justice and judgement. By the word judgment holy Scripture signifies rectitude; but when the two words are joined together, judgment seems to express more than justice: for justice is nothing but equity, fidelity, integrity, when we abstain altogether from fraud and violence, and deal with our brethren as we wish them to deal with us. Whoever so conducts himself is said to do justice; but judgment is extended further, namely, when we not only desire to benefit but defend our brethren, when unjustly oppressed, as far as we can, and when we oppose the lust and violence of those who would overthrow all that is right and holy. Hence to do judgment and justice is nothing else than to abstain from all injury by cultivating good faith and equity with our neighbors: then to defend all good causes, and to take the innocent under our patronage when we see them unjustly injured and oppressed. But these duties belong properly to the second table of the law. But it is clear from this that we fear God when we live justly with our brethren, for piety is the root of charity. Although many profane persons seem blameless in their life, and manifest a rare integrity, yet no one ever loves his neighbor from his heart, unless he fears and reverences God. Since, therefore, charity flows from piety and the fear of God, as often as we see the duties of the second table placed before us, we should learn them to be the testimonies to the worship of God, as is this place: but then the Prophet also adds certain parts of the first table.

He says then, if he has not eaten upon the mountains, and not raised his eyes to the abominable deeds of the house of Israel. These two points respect the worship of God: for by the figure “a part for the whole” to eat, means to offer sacrifices: he refers to those to which banquets were added as appendages. And truly when Paul speaks of idolatry, he does not say, if any one bends his knees before stone or wood, but he quotes the words of Moses, that the people rose up to play after eating, that is, after banqueting. (1 Corinthians 10:7; Exodus 32:6.) Hence a feast is there taken for that sacrilegious profaneness when the people made for themselves a calf, and wished to worship God before it. When, therefore, it is now said, if any one has not eaten upon, the mountains: by a feast, as I have said, a sacrifice offered to idols is intended. Now we know that altars were raised on high in every direction, because they thought that they were near God when they ascended to an elevated spot. Because, therefore, superstitions were so exercised on the mountains, hence the Prophet relates what was customary, if any one has not eaten, upon the mountains: then he explains himself more clearly, if any one has not raised his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel. To raise the eyes is here taken by a figure of speech for to be urged with eagerness towards superstitions: for we know that eyes are the principal outlets to the affections; for when the affections burst forth in the eyes, and are conspicuous there, it is not surprising if all our desires are marked by this form of speech. Thus a person is said to raise his eyes to the house of his neighbor when he covets it, and also towards his wife, or anything else, when he is seized by a depraved lusting. The meaning is, then, that those who do not contaminate themselves with idols are thought just before God, as far as concerns the first table of the law, since they are content with the simple and lawful worship of God, and do not incline from it in any direction; nor, like the superstitious, allow their eyes to be wandering and erratic: and so they are compared with harlots who seek lovers on all sides. I repeat it again. — the meaning is, that the true worshipers of God are those who are content with his doctrine, and are not carried hither and thither by a perverse appetite, and so fabricate for themselves idols. Besides, the Holy Spirit calls idols גלולים, gelolim, “defilements,” 211211     The older lexicons connect this word with that for filth, dii stercorii, following the Jewish commentators: it occurs forty-seven times in the Old Testament, and our translators have always translated it “idols.” The margin of Deuteronomy 29:17, has dungy gods. since all superstition should be detested by us; for as we are prone by nature to all kinds of error, we cannot be sufficiently restrained within the true and pure worship of God. Since, then, unbelievers imagine their gods to be sacred, the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, pronounces them to be defiling, since their profane worship is disgusting and abominable. But he says, the idols of the house of Israel, so that all shuffling must cease: because, if he had spoken of idols only, they might have objected that they detested the false and foolish gods of the Gentiles; but since many ceremonies were through long use received among the elect people, these ought not to be condemned like the impious rites of the heathen. The Holy Spirit refutes this cavil, and says, that though the house of Israel has approved such defilement’s, yet they are not to be excused for setting aside the law of God, and devoting themselves to human fictions.

And has not polluted his neighbors wife. The Prophet now returns again to the second table, and treats here of adultery; and the language must be noticed, since such contamination shows how holy God considers the marriage tie: hence we see the atrocity of the sin, and the detestable nature of adultery; for both parties are equally polluted, though it appears stronger in the female sex through their natural modesty. We must hold, then, that the very body is engrained with disgrace and infamy, as Paul says, when such sins are committed. Other sins, says he, are without the body; but this is a sin against the body itself which thus bears the marks of shame and infamy. (1 Corinthians 6:18.) Here, as I have said, Ezekiel treats the case of the woman, since the offense is in her case more pernicious. It follows — and has not approached a female when legally unclean: for we know this to be prohibited under the law; as being contrary to nature; for it was not necessary to define the matter by written law, as it speaks for itself. and God detests such crimes, not only because their offspring would contaminate cities and the nation at large, but because they are adverse to the instincts of human nature. (Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18.) He afterwards adds, if he has not oppressed or afflicted any one. This is general, just as if the Prophet had said, if he has abstained from all fraud, violence, and injustice. But this is a great point to live so innocently among men, that no one should complain of any injury done to him, nor of any loss sustained. But it is not enough to preserve this self-restraint unless we desire to profit our brethren, since God wishes the good offices of life to be reciprocal: although, indeed, to take care to be free from all injustice ought to precede other duties. He says, if he has returned his pledge to the debtor. This ought not to be taken generally, but depends on the precept of the law; for we have often said, that the prophets are the interpreters of Moses, and so they often touch briefly on what Moses expresses more clearly. But if we wish to occupy ourselves usefully in reading them, we ought to determine the meaning of the law, and then to accommodate what we read in the prophets to what is there contained. 212212     This canon of sacred criticism was not received by the Jews. The Talmud informs us of discussions among their doctors, pointing out the discrepancy between this chapter of Ezekiel and the Pentateuch, and objecting to the writings of this prophet being received into the Canon. See Bartolocci Biblioth. Heb., volume 2, and Wolf. Bibl. Heb., volume 2, as quoted in Norton’s Genuineness of the Gospels, volume 2 Additional Notes, p. 141.; and also the Dissertation on this chapter at the end of this volume. So, in this passage, to restore the pledge to, the debtor, is restricted to the poor and needy, who had pledged either their garments, or their beds, or the tools by which they acquired a livelihood: for God forbids taking a pledge of a widow or a poor person: then he forbids taking a millstone, that is, any tool which a workman uses to Judea his living; for if any one empties the workshop of the miserable, he might just as well take his life. Hence Moses says, His life is in the pledge, (Deuteronomy 24:6,) that is, if any one pledges his tools, it is like having his hands cut off, since he cannot carry on his trade without His tools: hence you take away his life. Hence God forbids taking a coverlet, or garments, or bedding, for a wretched man would perish with cold were he to pledge either his coverlet or his bedding. But if, on the other hand, men of this kind are assisted without taking a pledge, they will bless those who abstain from too much rigor. Lastly, God forbids the destruction of the poor man’s house, lest he should be ashamed of his poverty, and then because it is too cruel to penetrate into the house of another, and inquire for its contents; nay, this is a species of robbery. We see now how Ezekiel thought to be understood, if he has restored a pledge to the debtor, that is, to the poor debtor, or the necessary pledge, as I have said, such as tools and needful furniture, without which a person cannot exercise his trade. He has not seized a prey, that is, has not preyed upon his neighbors. For every kind of robbery is here marked by the word גזל, gezel, violence. And has given his bread to the hungry. Here the Prophet teaches what I have lately touched on, that cautious self-restraint from all injury is not sufficient, and sparing our neighbors; but that more is required, since we ought to assist them as far as we possibly can. Unless this had been added, many might object that they injured no one, never defrauded any, nor took advantage of the simple. But since God has united men in the bonds of mutual society, hence they must mutually perform good offices for each other. Here, then, it is required of the rich to succor the poor, and to offer bread to the hungry. But it is said, His bread, lest any one should object, through his habit of being too restricted; but there is no reason to bind me to bestow my goods on others: this is my bread, and so I have a right to possess what is my own: if any one is oppressed by want, I confess it to be praiseworthy to succor him, but no one is compelled to this act of liberality. Lest any one should escape thus, behold, says the Holy Spirit, although you rightly call the bread yours, yet it is not so yours that you ought to refuse your brother when his hunger provokes you to pity. And has covered the naked with a garment: the rule for garment and for bread is the same. The substance is, that others are not deemed just before God unless they are inclined to benevolence, so as to supply the necessities of their brethren, and to succor them in their poverty. It follows, since he has not given on usury and has not received increase. Here, among other crimes, Ezekiel enumerates usury — though the word usury is not properly suitable to this passage נשך, neshek, is deduced from biting, and so the Hebrews name usury, because it gnaws and by degrees consumes the miserable. Ezekiel then says, that they are considered observers of the law who abstain from usury. But because men are very acute and cunning on this point, and devise subterfuges by which they may hide their cruelty, he adds, and has not received increase: for we know how various are the schemes for gain: for whoever devotes his attention to unlawful gains, will find out many monstrous things which no one would ever have thought of. Thus it happens that the usurer will deny that he exacts usury, and yet he will spoil the wretched and even suck out their blood. Under the name, תרבית, ther-bith, Ezekiel comprehends those more secret kinds of usury which the avaricious use with many disguises, and when they spread such coverings before them, think themselves free from all blame. Hence the Prophet says, even if the name of usury is removed and is not taken into account, yet it is sufficient to condemn men if they receive increase, that is, make a profit at the expense of others. A question arises here, whether usury be in itself a crime, since God formerly permitted his people to take interest of strangers, and only forbade it among themselves. And there was the best reason for that law. For if its just proportion had been overthrown, there would have been no reciprocity, since the Gentiles could exact interest of the Jews; and unless that right had been mutual and reciprocal, as the phrase is, the condition of God’s people would have been worse than that of the Gentiles. God therefore permitted his people to take interest, but not among each other, as I have said: this was only allowable with strangers. Besides, the law itself was political: but in this case the Prophet seems to condemn all kinds of interest, and exaggerates the weight of the sentence, when he adds increase, that is, whatever gains the avaricious mutually strive for. So also in the 15th Psalm, where a just mode of living is proscribed for us, David mentions, among other things — who has not lent his money on usury, (Psalm 15:5.) It seems, then, from these two places, that usury is in itself unlawful. But because God’s law embraces complete and perfect justice, hence we must hold that interest, unless it is opposed to God’s law, is not altogether to be condemned, otherwise ignominy would clearly attach to the law of God if it did not prescribe to us a true and complete rule of living justly. But in the law there is that perfection to which nothing can be added. If then we wish to determine whether interest is unlawful we must come to the rule of the law, which cannot deceive us: but we shall not find all interest contrary to the law, and hence it follows that interest is not always to be condemned. Here, too, we must remember that we must regard the subject rather than the words, for men trifle by their own caviling, but God does not admit of such fallacies. Hence, as I said, the substance ought to be weighed, because the words alone will not enable us to decide whether interest be sometimes lawful or not. For example, among the Latin’s the word for interest is honorable in itself and has no disgrace attached to it, but that for usury is odious. What causes disgrace to be thus hidden under it, but they fancied that they abhorred usurers, hence the general term interest contains within it all kinds of usury, and there was nothing so cruel, so unjust, and so barbarous, which was not covered by that pretense. Now since the name for interest was unknown to the French, that for usury became detestable: hence the French devised a new craftiness by which they could deceive God. For since no one could bear the name of usury, they used “interest” instead: but what does this mean but something which interests us, and thus it signifies all kinds of repayment for loans, for there was no kind of interest among the ancients which is not now comprehended in this word. Now since we have said that interest cannot be totally and without exception condemned, (for we must not play upon words, but treat the real point,) we must see how far it can be proved not to be reckoned a crime. First of all, in a well regulated state, no usurer is tolerated: even the profane see this: whoever therefore professedly adopts this occupation, he ought to be expelled from intercourse with his fellow-men. For if any illiberal pursuits load those who pursue them with censure, that of the usurer is certainly an illiberal trade, and unworthy of a pious and honorable man. Hence Cato said that to take usury was almost the same as murder. For when asked concerning agriculture, after he had given his opinion, he inquired, But what is usury? Is it not murder? says he. And surely the usurer will always be a robber; that is, he will make a profit by his trade, and will defraud, and his iniquity will increase just as if there were no laws, no equity, and no mutual regard among mankind. This is one point: but there is another part of the occupation besides that of taking interest. When any one sets up his table he uses the same art as a farmer does in employing his labor in cultivating the fields. But any one may receive interest without being a professed usurer. For example, a person may have capital and put out a part of it on loan, and thus receive interest: and if he do that once, he will not be called a usurer; so that we must consider when and from whom a person exacts interest. But this sentiment ought to prevail here: “neither everywhere, nor always, nor all things, nor from all.” This indeed was said of offices, and that law was imposed upon the governors of provinces: but it agrees best with this subject. It is not suitable then to receive “all things,” because if the profit exceed moderation it must be rejected, since it is contrary to charity: we said also that the continual habit and custom is not without fault. Neither “everywhere,” since the usurer, as I have said, ought not to enter or be brought into the Church of God. Then again, not “from all,” because it is always wrong to exact usury from a poor man; but if a man is rich, and has money of his own, as the saying is, and has a very good estate and a large patrimony, and should borrow money of his neighbor, will that neighbor commit sin by receiving a profit from the loan of his money? Another borrower is the richer of the two, and might do without it and yet suffer no loss: but he wishes to buy a farm and enjoy its fruits: why should the creditor be deprived of his rights when his money brings profit to a neighbor richer than himself? We see, then, that it may sometimes happen that the receiver of interest is not to be hastily condemned, since he is not acting contrary to God’s law. But we must always hold that the tendency of usury is to oppress one’s brother, and hence it is to be wished that the very names of usury and interest were buried and blotted out from the memory of men. But since men cannot otherwise transact their business, we must always observe what is lawful, and how far it is so. I know that the subject might be treated at greater length, but I have shortly expressed what is sufficient for our purpose.

It follows, And has withdrawn his hand from iniquity. Here again the Prophet commends innocence, when we are cautious that our neighbor should not receive any damage or injury through our fault. Hence abstaining from injury is again praised here, but a new form of speech is used, since if men are not very anxious and careful they easily extend the hand to iniquity: and why so? various means of gain from many quarters present themselves to us, and we are easily led captive by such enticements. Hence the Prophet, not without reason, here commends the servants of God to withdraw the hand from iniquity, that is, not only to abstain from injury, but when the sweetness of gain entices us, and some plausible means of profit is proposed, that they should restrain themselves this is the meaning of to withdraw the hand from iniquity. The rest I leave for tomorrow.


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