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5For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’ ”

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4. And when the people heard these evil tidings Hence it more clearly appears that, as I have said, it was like a thunderbolt to them when God withdrew Himself from the people; for this divorce is more fatal than innumerable deaths. It might indeed at first sight seem delightful to be the masters of a rich and fertile land; but dull as the people generally were, God smote them suddenly, so that all its delights became insipid, and its fruitfulness like famine itself, when they perceived that they would be but fatted unto the day of slaughter. A useful piece of instruction is to be gained from hence, viz., that if we neglect God’s favor and are captivated by the sweetness of His blessings, we are ensnared like fishes on a hook. God promised the Israelites what might attract them for a little season: He denied them what they should have alone desired, that He would be their God. The evil tidings affected them with sorrow, for they felt that men cannot be happy unless God be propitious; nay, that nothing can be more wretched than to be alienated from Him. “It is good for me to draw near to God,” (Psalm 73:28,) says David; and elsewhere, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” (Psalm 33:12, and Psalm 144:15;) again, “the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, my lot is fallen in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:5, 6.) This, therefore, is the climax of all miseries to have God against us, whilst we are fed by His bounty; and consequently the Israelites began to shew some wisdom, when, awaking from their lethargy, they counted all other things as naught, unless God should pursue them with His paternal favor. We infer from the grossness of their stupidity, that it was brought to pass by a special gift of God, that they were affected with such sorrow as to conduct them to a solemn mourning. First, Moses says that they did not put on their ornaments, and then that they were commanded by God to put them off; but this will be perfectly consistent if we take the latter as explanatory, as if he had said that they did not wear their ornaments because God had forbidden it, by enjoining them to mourn.

God here assumes the character of an angry judge, preparing to inflict vengeance in His wrath, in the words, “I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee;” in order that their alarm may humble them the more, and stir them up to earnest prayer. It was avisible sign of mourning to He in squalidhess and uncleanness, that thus their penitence might be openly testified; for there was no efficacy in the rite and ceremony to propitiate God, except in so far as the inward affection of the mind manifested itself by a true and genuine confession. For we must bear in mind what God requires by Joel, (2:13,) that we should “rend our heart, and not our garments;” nevertheless, whilst He cares not for the outward appearance, nay, whilst He abominates hypocrisy, still, if the sinner has truly repented, it cannot be but that, humbly acknowledging his guilt, he will add the outward profession of it. For if Paul, who was guiltless of any offense, deemed that the Corinthians were to be mourned for by him when they had not “repented of their uncleanness, and fornication, and lasciviousness,” because God humbled him in their sin, (2 Corinthians 12:21;) how should not those mourn publicly who are conscious of their own guilt, especially when, being convicted by the judgment of men, they are summoned to the tribunal of God? And therefore it is not without reason that he elsewhere teaches, that the sorrow which worketh repentance should also bring forth these other fruits, viz., carefulness, clearing of themselves, indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, revenge. (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11.) For the sake of example also, sinners should not only grieve in silence before God, but willingly undergo the penalty of ignominy before men, so as by self-condenmation to confess that God is a just Judge, to provoke others to imitate them, and, by this warning of human frailty to prevent them from a similar fall.

After, however, God has inspired them with fear, He allays His anger as it were, and declares that He will consider what He will do with them, in order that they may gather courage to ask for pardon; for, although he does not actually pardon them, He sufficiently arouses them to hope, by giving them some taste of His mercy; for, by seeming to leave them in suspense, it is not with the intention that they should approach Him hesitatingly to ask forgiveness, but that their anxiety may urge them more and more to earnest prayer, and keep them in a state of humility.




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