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9. Punishment for Israel
Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou hast gone a whoring from thy God, thou hast loved a reward upon every cornfloor. 2The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her. 3They shall not dwell in the Lord’S land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria. 4They shall not offer wine offerings to the Lord, neither shall they be pleasing unto him: their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted: for their bread for their soul shall not come into the house of the Lord. 5What will ye do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the Lord? 6For, lo, they are gone because of destruction: Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis shall bury them: the pleasant places for their silver, nettles shall possess them: thorns shall be in their tabernacles. 7The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come; Israel shall know it: the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred. 8The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins. 10I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. 11As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. 12Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them! 13Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. 14Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters. 16Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. 17My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations.
2. The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her. 5252 ‘And the choice wine shall deceive them.’ — Newcome. The true reading no doubt is בם, ‘them,’ and not בה, ‘her,’ confirmed by all the early versions and by several of the best MSS., and is adopted by Horsley as well as Newcome. And so does Calvin in his exposition take the word. — Ed.
2. Area et torcular non pascet eos, et mustum mentietur in ea.
God now denounces such a punishment as the Israelites deserved. They had been drawn away, as we have said, from the pure worship of God by allurements; they hoped for more profit from superstitions. Hence God shows, that he would on this account punish them by taking away from them their wine and corn, as we have already noticed in Hosea 2: for it is the only way by which the Lord restores men to a sane mind, or at least renders them inexcusable, to deprive them of his blessings. The harlot, as long as gain is to be had, as long as she surpasses all honest and chaste matrons in her dress and mode of living, is pleased with herself and blinded by her own splendour; but when she is reduced to extreme want, when she sees herself to be the laughing-stock of all, and when she drags a miserable life in poverty, she then sighs and owns how infatuated she had been in leaving her husband. So the Lord now declares by his Prophet, that he would thus deal with the Israelites, that they might no longer please themselves with such delusions.
Hence he says, The floor and the wine-press shall not feed them, and the new wine shall disappoint them, (mentietur illis — shall lie to them;) — that is, the vineyards shall not answer their expectation. It is the same as though he said, “As these men regard only their stomach, as they deem nothing of any moment but provision, therefore the floor and the wine-press shall not feed them; I will deprive them of their support, that they may understand that they in vain worship false gods.” Let us take a common similitude: We see some boys so disingenuous as not to be moved either by disgrace or even by stripes; but as they are subject to the cravings of appetite, when the father deprives them of bread, they nearly lose all hope. Stripes do no good, all warnings are slighted; but when the boy who loves excess sees that bread is denied him, he finds out that his father’s displeasure ought to be feared. Thus God corrects men addicted to excessive indulgence; for they are so insensible, that no other remedy can do them any good.
We now, then, apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. He first reproaches the Israelites for loving a reward, for hastening after fictitious gods, that they might glut themselves with great abundance of things: but when the Lord saw that they had become stupefied in their fatness, he said, “I will deprive them of all their provisions; neither wine nor wheat shall be given them; this want will at length drive them to repentance.” We hence see how the Lord deals with men according to their disposition. And his manner of speaking ought to be noticed; he says, that neither the floor nor the wine-press shall feed them. He does not say, that the fields shall be barren; he does not say, that he would send hail or storm; but he says, that neither the floor nor the wine-press shall feed them; and further, that the new wine shall disappoint them; that is, when they shall think themselves to be blessed with all plenty, when the harvest shall appear abundant, and when they shall have already, by anticipation, swallowed up the large produce of their vineyards, all this shall come to nothing; for neither the floor nor the wine-press shall feed them; nay, the very wine which they thought to have been prepared shall disappoint them. It follows —
The Prophet proclaims here a heavier punishment — that the Lord would drive them into exile. It was indeed a dreadful repudiation, when they were deprived of the land of Canaan, which was the Lord’s rest, as it is called in the Psalms, (Psalm 132:14.) While they dwelt in the land of Canaan, they lived as it were in the habitations of God, and could have a sure hope that he would be a father to them: but when they were thence expelled, the Lord testified that he regarded them as aliens; it was the same as when a father disinherits his son. The Prophet now threatens them not only with the want of food, but also with repudiation, which was far more grievous — They shall not dwell, he says, in the Lord’s land
There is an elegant play on words in the verbs here used; ישבו, ishebu, and ושב, usheb; the one is from ישב, isheb, and the other from שוב, shub. ‘They shall not dwell in the Lord’s land; but Ephraim shall return into Egypt:’ and the other circumstance is still more dreadful. In Assyria they shall eat what is unclean; for it was the same as if the Lord intended to blend that holy people with the profane Gentiles, so that there should be afterwards no difference; for the uncleanness of which the Prophet speaks would have the effect of destroying the distinction which the adoption of God made between that people and the profane nations. It was indeed by badges that the Lord retained the people of Israel, when he ordered them to abstain from unclean meats: but when they differed nothing, as to common food, from the Gentiles, it was evident that they were rejected by God, and that the holiness which belonged to them through the free covenant of God was obliterated. They shall eat, then, what is unclean in Assyria; that is, “They shall not now be under my care and protection; they shall live according to their own will, as the other nations. I have hitherto preserved them under some restraint; but now, as they will not bear to live under my law, they shall have their own liberty, and shall be profane like the rest of the world, so that they shall become involved in all the defilements and pollutions of the Gentiles.” This is the meaning.
And now we ought to consider, whether it be right, when we are among idolaters, to conform to the rites approved by them. This place, no doubt, as other places, most clearly shows, that nothing more grievous can happen to us than the doing away of all difference between us and the profane despisers of God, even in the outward manner of living. Had the Prophet said, “The Israelites shall now be hungry in a far country; — the Lord has hitherto fed them with plenty, for he has performed what he had formerly promised by Moses; this land has in every way been blessed, and has supplied us with great abundance of wine, wheat, and oil; yea, honey has flowed like water; but they shall now be constrained to pine away with want among their enemies:” — Had the Prophet said this, it would have been a grievous and severe denunciation; but now he fills them, as it has been already said, with much greater horror, for he says, ‘They shall eat what is unclean.’ There seemed to be some great importance belonging to the external rite: but the outward profession was the badge of divine adoption. When therefore the people loosened the reins and ate indiscriminately any meat, and made no choice according to the directions of the law, then the distinction was removed, so that they ceased to be the people of God. It is the same also, at this day, with those who turn aside from a sincere profession of their faith and associate with the Papists; they renounce, as far as they can, the favour of God, and abandon themselves to the will of Satan.
Let us then know that it is a dreadful judgement of God, when we are not allowed to profess our faith by outward worship; and when the ungodly so rule, as to put us under the necessity of which the Prophet here speaks, even of eating unclean things, that is, of being implicated in their profane superstitions. It is then a favour, to be highly valued, when we are permitted to abstain from all defilements and to worship God purely, so that no one may contaminate himself by dissimulation: but when we are compelled, under the tyranny of the ungodly, to conform to impure superstitions, it is a sign of the dreadful judgement of God; and there is nothing by which any one can excuse himself in this respect or extenuate his fault, as many do, whom yet conscience bites within, though they deem it sufficient to spread forth their own excuses before the eyes of men. But there is nothing by which such men can either flatter themselves, or dazzle the eyes of the simple; for it is an extreme reproach, when people, who ought to be sacred to God and to profess outwardly his pure worship, suffer themselves to be polluted with unclean food. It follows —
It is uncertain whether the Prophet testifies here, that they should lose their labour and their oil (as they say) when they sacrificed to God; or whether he declares what would be the case when they had been driven into exile. Both views seem probable. Now, if we refer the words of the Prophet to the time of exile, they seem not unsuitable, They shall not then pour out wine to Jehovah, and their sacrifices shall not be acceptable to him; no oblation shall come any more to the temple of Jehovah.” And thus many understand the passage; yet the former sense is the most appropriate, as it may be easily gathered from the context. The Prophet says, that they shall not pour out wine to Jehovah, and that their sacrifices shall not be acceptable to him; and then he adds, All that eat shall be polluted It seems not by any means applicable to exiles, that they should vainly endeavour to pour out wine to God; for their religion forbade them to do such a thing. Further, when he says, Their sacrifices shall be to them as the bread of mourners, — this must also be understood of sacrifices, which they were wont daily to offer to God; for in exile (as it has been said) it was not lawful for them to make any offering, nor had they there an altar or a sanctuary.
What, then, is the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, “All that eat of their sacrifices shall be polluted”? We must know that the Prophet speaks here of the intermediate time, as though he said, “What the Israelites now sacrifice is without any advantage, and God is not pacified with these trifles for they bring polluted hands, they change not their minds, they obtrude their sacrifices on God, but they themselves first pollute them.” Of this same doctrine we have already often treated; I shall not then dwell on it now; but it is enough to point out the design of the Prophet, which was to show that the Israelites were seeking in vain to pacify God by their ceremonies, for they were vain expiations which God did not regard, but deemed as worthless.
They shall not then pour out wine to God. There is an important meaning in this sentence; for it is certain that as long as the Israelites lived in their country, they were sedulous enough in the performance of outward worship, and that drink-offerings were not neglected by them. Since, then, this custom prevailed among them, the Prophet must be speaking here only of the effect, and says, that they exercised themselves in vain in their frivolous worship, for they poured not out wine to Jehovah, that is, their libation did not come to Jehovah; and he explains himself afterwards, when he says, Their drink-offerings shall not be pleasant to him However much, then, the Israelites might labour, the Prophet says that their labour would be fruitless, for the Lord would reject whatever they did. He then adds what is to the same purpose, Their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat shall be polluted; that is, all their sacrifices are polluted. The Prophet now shows more clearly, not that there would be no sacrifices, but that they would be in vain, because the Lord would abominate them, and would repudiate all the masks which they would put on in his presence, and under the cover of which they withdrew themselves from their allegiance to him. The reason is, because when any one unclean touches pure flesh, he pollutes it by his uncleanness. God then must necessarily abominate whatever impure men offer, unless they seek to purify their minds. And this principle has ever prevailed among the very blind, —
An impious right hand does not rightly worship the celestials.
(Non bene coelestes impia dextra colit.)
These words, which spread everywhere, have been witnesses of the common feeling; for the Lord intended to draw out men, as it were, from their converts, when he forced them to make such a confession. It is no wonder that the Prophet now says (as this truth is also often taught in Scripture) that the sacrifices of the people, who continued in their own perfidy, would be like the bread of mourners; as Isaiah says,
‘When one kills an ox, it is the same as if he slew a man; when one sacrifices a lamb, it is the same as if he killed a dog,’
He compares sacrifices to murders; nor is it to be wondered at, for it is a more atrocious crime to abuse the sacred name of God than to kill a man, and this is what ungodly men do.
Then he says, “If any one eats, he will be polluted.” He enlarges on what he said before, and says that if any one clean should come, he would be polluted by being only in company with them. We now see how sharply the Prophet here arouses hypocrites, that they might now cease to promise to themselves what they were wont to do, and that is, that God would be propitious to them while they pacified him with their vain things. “By no means,” he says; “nay, there is so much defilement in your sacrifices, that they even contaminate others who come, being themselves clean.”
But it may be asked, Can the impiety of others pollute us, when we afford no proof of companionship, nor by dissimulation manifest any consent? when we then abstain from all superstition, does society alone contaminate us? The answer is easy: The Prophet does not avowedly discuss here how another’s impiety may contaminate men who are clean; but his object was to show in strong language how much God abhors the ungodly, and that not only he is not pacified with their sacrifices, but also holds them as the greatest abominations. But with regard to this question, it is certain that we become polluted as soon as we content to profane superstitions: yet when ungodly men administer either holy baptism or the holy supper, we are not polluted by fellowship with them, for the deed itself has nothing vicious in it. Then the act only does not pollute us, nor the hidden and inward impiety of men. This is true: but we are to understand for what purpose the Prophet said, that all who eat of their sacrifices shall be polluted.
He proceeds with the same subject, Their bread for their souls etc. This clause, “for their soul,” may be explained in two ways. In saying, Bread for their soul, the Prophet spake by way of contempt; as though he said, “Let them serve themselves and their stomach with bread, and no more offer it to God; let them then satiate themselves with bread, for they cannot consecrate to God their bread, when they themselves are unclean.” But I am inclined to follow what has been more approved, that bread for their soul shall not come to the house of the Lord; for men, we know, are then wont to offer their sacrifices to God to reconcile themselves to him, or at least to present emblems of their expiation: hence the Prophet says, that bread is offered for the soul according to the directions of the law; but that the ungodly could not bring bread into the house of Jehovah, because the Lord excludes them, as it were, by an interdict. Not that hypocrites keep away, for we see how boldly they thrust themselves into the temple; nay, they would occupy the first place; but the Lord yet forbids them to come to his presence. This is the reason why he says, that the bread of the ungodly shall not come before God, though in appearance their oblations glitter before men. It follows —
The Prophet here alludes again to their exile, and shows how deplorable the condition of the people would be, when deprived of all their sacrifices. It is indeed true that the Israelites, when they changed the place of the temple, and when new and spurious rites were introduced by Jeroboam, became wholly rejected, so that from that time no sacrifice pleased God, for they sacrificed to idols and demons and not to God, as it is elsewhere stated, (Deuteronomy 32:17;) but yet, as they had some kind of divine worship, as circumcision remained, and sacrifices were offered, as it were, by Moses’ command, and they boasted themselves to be the children of Abraham and lived in the holy land, they were satisfied with their condition. But when in exile they saw no sign of God’s favour, when they were deprived of the temple and altar and all sacrifices, when on every side mere solitude and waste met their eyes, when God thus manifested that he was far removed from them, great sorrow must have entered their hearts. Hence the Prophet says, What will ye do in the solemn day?
And he expressly mentions solemn and festal-days. “If the morning and the evening oblation, which is wont to be made, will not be remembered, and if the other sacrifices will not occur to your minds, what will you do when the festal days will come? for the Lord will then show that he has nothing to do with you.” For the trumpets sounded on the festivals, that the people might come from the whole land into the temple; and it was, as it were, the voice of God, sounding from heaven: but when the feast-days were forgotten, when there were no holy assemblies, it was the same as if the Lord, by commanding silence, had proved that he no longer cared for the people. That the Israelites then might not think that exile only was threatened to them, the Prophet here shows that something worse was connected with it, and that was, that the Lord would wholly forsake them, and that there would exist no token of his presence, as though they were cut off from the Church. What then will ye do on the solemn day, on the day of Jehovah’s festivity? That is, “Do you think that something of an ordinary kind is denounced on you when I speak of exile? The Lord will indeed take away the whole of your worship, and will deprive you of all the evidences of his presence. What then will you do? But if a brutish stupor should so occupy your minds, that this should not recur to your thoughts daily, the solemn and festal-days will at least constrain you to think how dreadful it is, that you have nothing remaining among you, which may afford a hope of God’s favour.” We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
We hence learn what I have said before, that nothing worse can happen to us in this world, than to be scattered without any order, when no outward evidence appears by which the Lord collects us to himself. It would therefore be better for us to be deprived of meat and drink, and to go naked, and to perish at last through want, than that the exercises of religion, (exercita pietatis — exercises of religion) by which the Lord holds us, as it were, in his own bosom, should be taken away from us. When therefore we are deprived of these aids, and God thus hides his face from us, and mournful waste discovers to us dread on every side, it is an extreme calamity, an evidence of the dreadful judgement of God. Let us then learn, when our flesh is touched, when sterility or some other evil impends over us — let us learn to dread this deprivation still more, and to fear lest the Lord should deprive us of our festal-days; that is, take away all the aids of religion by which he holds us together in his house, and shows us to be a part of his Church. This then, in the last place, ought to be noticed: what remains we shall consider in our next lecture.
The Prophet confirms here what is contained in the last verse, that is, that the Israelites would at length find that the Prophets had not in vain threatened them, though they at the time heedlessly despised the judgement of God. Lo, he says, they have departed: he speaks of the exile as if it had already taken place, when it was only nigh at hand. The Israelites were then dwelling in their own country, he yet speaks of them as having already gone away. But he sets forth the certainty of the prediction by this manner of speaking, that profane men might cease to promise themselves impunity when God summons them to his tribunal: yea, he shows that he was already armed to take vengeance: “They have gone away,” he says, “on account of desolation.” Then he adds, Egypt shall gather them To gather here is to be taken in a bad sense; for it means the same as trousser (to pack up, to bundle) in our language; and it is often taken in this sense by the Prophets, when mention is made of destruction: and this appears still clearer from the word, burying, which the Prophet immediately subjoins. Egypt shall gather them: He certainly speaks not of a kind retreat, but declares that Egypt would be a sepulchre to them, in which they should remain shut up: and thus he takes away from them any hope of deliverance. The Israelites expected that they should find shelter for a season in Egypt, when they bent their course there for fear of their enemies. The Prophet now shows that they would be disappointed in dreaming of a return, for they would remain there gathered up; that is, a free return, as they imagined, would not be allowed them, but a perpetual habitation, yea, a grave.
‘Egypt will gather them, Memphis will bury them.’ There is a striking correspondence between the words here used, קבר, kober, and קבף, kobets,. By the first the Prophet signifies that they should be shut up, so as to be, as it were, bound and fixed to a place; and then he adds that they should be buried.
He then says, The desirable place of their silver the nettle shall possess, as by hereditary right, and the thorn, etc.; some render it paliurus; but I follow what is more received, the thorn then shall be in their tabernacles The meaning is, that the Israelites would be exiles and sojourners, not for a short time, but that their exile would be so long that their land would become waste and uncultivated; for neither nettles nor thorns grow in an inhabited place. Hosea then declares that their land would be deserted and without inhabitants, for nettles and thorns would occupy it instead of men. Now it tended greatly to increase the sorrow of exile, that the hope of return was cut off from them; and God had also declared that Egypt, where they had promised a refuge for themselves, would be to them like a grave. And thus it happens for the most part to the ungodly, who retake themselves to vain solaces, that they may escape the vengeance of God; for they throw themselves into deep labyrinths; where they think to find a harbour of rest for a time, and a commodious habitation; but there they find either a gulf or a grave. This is the meaning. Let us proceed —
The Prophet, by saying that the days of visitation had come, intended to shake off from hypocrites that supine torpor of which we have often spoken; for as they were agitated by their own lusts, and were in a state of continual fervour, so they hardened themselves against God’s judgement, and, as it were, covered themselves over with hardness. It was then necessary to deal roughly with them in order to break down such stubbornness. This is the reason that the Prophet repeats so often and in so many forms what might be expressed in this one sentence — That God would be a just avenger. Hence he cries out here, that the days of visitation had come. For when the Lord spared them, as sacred history relates, and as we said at the beginning, (and under the king Jeroboam the second, the son of Joash, their affairs were prosperous,) their pride and contempt of God the more increased. Since then they thought themselves to be now beyond the reach of harm, the Prophet declares that the days had come. And there is here an implied contrast in reference to the time during which the Lord had borne with them; for as the Lord had not immediately visited their sins, they thought that they had escaped. But the Prophet here distinguishes between time and time: “You have hitherto thought,” he says, “that you are at peace with God; as if he, by conniving at the sins of men, denied himself, so as not to discharge any more the office of a judge: nay, there is another thing to be here considered, and that is, that God has certain days of visitation, which he has fixed for himself; and these days are now come.”
And he again teaches the same thing, The days of retribution have come He uses another word, that they might know that they could not go unpunished for having in so many ways provoked God. For as the Lord disappoints not the hope of his people, who honour him; so also there is a reward laid up for the ungodly, who regard as nothing his judgement. “God will then repay you what you have deserved, though for a time it may please him to suspend his judgement.”
Then he says, Israel shall know This is the wisdom of fools, as it is said even in an old proverb; and Homer has also said, παθων δε τε νήπιος εγνω, (Even the foolish knows when he suffers.) The foolish is not wise, except when he suffers. Hence the Prophet says, that Israel, when afflicted, would then perceive that instruction had been despised, and that all warnings had been trifled with, at least had not been regarded. Israel then shall know; that is, he shall at length, when too late, understand that he had to do with God, even when the time of repentance shall be no more. The meaning then is that as the ungodly reject the word of God, and obey not wise admonitions and counsels, they shall at length be taken to another school, where God teaches not by the mouth but by the hand. Whosoever then does not now willingly submit to his teaching, shall find God to be a judge, and shall not escape his hand.
They who join what follows elicit this meaning, Israel shall know the Prophet to be foolish, the man of the spirit to be mad; that is, Israel shall then understand that he was deluded by flatteries, when the false Prophets promised that all things would be prosperous. We indeed know that they catched at those prophecies which pleased their ears; for which Micah also reproves them; hence he calls those who gave hope of a better state of things, the Prophets of wine and oil and wheat, (Micah 2:11.) The world wishes to be ever thus deceived. Since then there were many in Israel, who by their impositions deceived the miserable, he says, Israel shall at last know that he has been deluded by his own teachers. If we receive this sense, there is then here a reproof to Israel for thinking that the vengeance of God was in some way restrained, when the false Prophets said that he was pacified, and that there was no danger to be feared. For do not men in this way stultify themselves? And how gross is their stupidity, when they think that God’s hands are tied, when men are silent, or when they perfidiously turn the truth into a lie? And yet even at this day this disease prevails in the world, as it has prevailed almost in all ages. For what do the ungodly seek, but to be let alone in their sins? When mouths are closed, they think that they have gained much. This madness the Prophet derides, intimating that those profane men, who have such delicate ears, that they can bear no words of reproof, shall at last know what they had gained by hiring prophets to flatter them. We hence see, in short, that the adulations, by which the ungodly harden themselves against God, will be to them the occasion of a twofold destruction; for such fallacies dementate them, so that they much more boldly provoke against themselves the wrath of God.
But if we read the two clauses apart, the rendering will be this, “The Prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad.” And as to the matter itself, there is not much difference. I will not then dwell on the subject; for when we are agreed as to the design of the Prophet and the truth remains the same, it is vain, at least it is of no benefit, to labour very anxiously about the form of the sentence. If then we begin a sentence with these words, אויל הנביא, avil enebia, the sense will be this, “I know that the Prophets promise impunity to you; but they who thus hide your sins, and cover them over as with plasters, are insane men, yea, they are wholly infatuated. There is then no reason why their flatteries should delight you; for the event will show that they are mere absurdities and idle ravings.” We now see that there is no great difference in the sense: for this remains still unaltered, that there were many flatterers among the people, who made it their business to lie, that they might thus procure the favour of the people; and this ambition has prevailed in all ages: and sometimes also cupidity or avarice takes such hold on men, that they use a meretricious tongue, and excuse all vices however grievous, and elude all threatening. This is what the Prophet shows in the first place; and then he shows, that men without any advantage indulge their vices, when there is no one severely to reprove them, or boldly to exhort them to repent; and that though all the Prophets should give them hope of safety they should yet perish: for men cannot by their silence restrain God from executing at last his judgement. Nay, we must remember this, that God spares men when he does not spare them; that is, when he chastises them, when he reproves their sins, and when he constrains them by terror, he then would spare them. And again, when God spares, he does not spare; that is, when he connives at their sins, and leaves men to their own will, to grow wanton at their pleasure, without any yoke or bridle, he then by no means spares them, for he destines them for destruction.
“The man of the spirit,” some render “the man of the wind;” and some “the fanatical man;” but they are in my judgement mistaken; for the Prophet, I doubt not, uses a respectful term, but yet by way of concession. He then calls those the men of the spirit who were by their office prophets, but who abused that title, as those who at this day call themselves pastors when they are really rapacious wolves. The Prophets, as we know, always declared that they did not speak from their own minds but what the Spirit of God dictated to them. Hence they were men of the Spirit, that is, spiritual men: for the genitive case, we know, was used by the Hebrews to express what we designate by an adjective. The Prophets then were the men of the Spirit. He concedes this name, in itself illustrious and honourable, to impostors; but in the same sense as when I speak generally of teachers; I then include the false as well as the true. This then is the real meaning of the expression, as we may gather from the context: for he says the same thing twice, אויל הנביא, avil enebia, Fool is the Prophet, and then, משגע איש הרוח, moshigo aish eruch, Mad is the man of the spirit As he spoke of a Prophet, so he now mentions the same by calling him a man of the spirit, or a spiritual man.
At the end of the verse he adds, For the multitude of thine iniquity, for great hatred, or, much hatred; for it may be rendered in these two ways. Here the Prophet shows, that though the false Prophets stultified by their fallacies the people, yet this could by no means avail for an excuse or for extenuating the fault of the people. How so? Because they suffered the punishment of their own impiety. For whence comes it, that the Lord takes away his light from us, that after having once shown to us the way of salvation, he turns suddenly his back on us, and suffers us to go astray to our perdition? How does this happen? Doubtless, because we are unworthy of that light, which was a witness to us of God’s favour. For as much then as men through their own fault procure such a judgement to themselves, the Lord neither blinds them nor gives to Satan the power of deluding them, except when they deserve such a treatment. Hence the Prophet says, For the multitude of thine iniquity, and for thy crimes, by which thou hast excited against thyself the wrath and hatred of God. We hence see how frivolous are the pretences by which men clear themselves, when they object and say that they have been deceived and that if their teachers had been faithful and honest, they would have willingly obeyed God. When therefore men make these objections, the ready answer is this, that they had been deprived of true and faithful teachers, because they had refused the favour offered to them, and extinguished the light, and as Paul says, preferred a lie to the truth; and that they had been deceived by false Prophets, because they willingly hastened to ruin when the Lord called them to salvation. We now then understand the import of what is here taught.
The Prophet says, in the first place, that the day of vengeance was now at hand, because the Lord by forbearance could prevail nothing with the obstinate. He then adds, that as all threatenings were despised by the people, and as they were deaf to every instruction, they would at length know that God had not spoken in vain but would perceive that their were justly treated; for the Lord would not now teach them by his word, but by scourges. He adds, in the third place, that the Prophet was foolish and delirious, and also, that they who boasted themselves to be the men of the spirit were mad: by which expressions he meant that the flatteries, by which the people were lulled asleep were foolish; for God would not fail at last, when the time came, to execute his office. And, lastly he reminds them that this would happen through the fault of the people, that there was no reason for them to trace or to ascribe the cause of the evil to any thing else; for this blindness was their just punishment. The Lord would have never permitted Satan thus to prevail in his own inheritance, had not the people, by the immense filth of their sins, provoked God for a long time, and as it were with a determined purpose. It now follows —
Interpreters obscure this verse by their various opinions. Almost all suppose a verb to be understood that Ephraim “had set” a watchman. But I see no need to make any change in the words of the Prophet: I therefore take them simply as they are. Now some think that there is here a comparison between the old Prophets who had not turned aside from God’s command, and those flatterers who pretended the name of God, while they were the ministers of Satan to deceive. They therefore thus distinguish them, The watchman of Ephraim was with my God; that is, there was a time formerly when the watchmen of Ephraim were connected with God, and declared no strange doctrine, when they drew from the true fountain all that they taught; there was then a connection between God and the Prophets, for they depended on the mouth of God, and the Prophets delivered to the people, as from hand to hand, whatever God commanded; there was then nothing corrupt, or impure, or adventitious in their words. But now the Prophet is a snare of a fowler; that is, the dice is turned, a deplorable change has taken place; for now the Prophets lay snares to draw people by their disciples into destruction; and this abomination bears rule, that is, this monstrous wickedness prevails in the temple of God: these Prophets live not in caves nor traverse public roads, but they occupy a place in the temple of God; so that of the sacred temple of God they make a brothel for the impostures of Satan. Such is their view.
But I read the verse as connected together, The watchman of Ephraim, who ought to have been with God, even the Prophet, is a snare of a fowler on all his ways The former view would have indeed met my approbations did not the words appear to be forced; and I do not love strained meanings. This is the reason which prevents me from subscribing to an exposition which in itself I approve, as it embraces a useful doctrine. But this simple view is more correct, that the watchman of Ephraim, a Prophet, is a snare of a fowler: and he adds, with God; for it is the duty of teachers to have nothing unconnected with God. Hosea then shows what Prophets ought to do, not what they may do. A Prophet then is he who is a watchman of Israel; for this command, we know, is given in common to all Prophets — to be as it were on their watch-tower, and to be vigilant over the people of God. It is therefore no wonder that the Prophet dignifies with his own title all those who were then teachers among God’s people. But he thus doubles their crime, by saying that they were only keen and sharp-sighted to snare the people. Then the watchmen of Israel, the Prophet, who was placed on the watch-tower to watch or to exercise vigilance over the safety of the whole people — this Prophet was a snare of a fowler! But he triplicates the crime when he says, With my God: for as we have already observed, teachers could not faithfully discharge their office, except they were connected with God, and were able truly to testify that they brought forth nothing that was invented, but what the Lord himself had spoken, and that they were his organs. We now then apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet; and according to this view there is nothing strained in the words.
The Prophet also thus confirms what he had said before, that the Prophets were fools, that is, that their prophecies would at length appear empty and vain; for they could not prevent God from inflicting punishment on the wicked by their fallacious flatteries; he confirms this truth when he says, The watchmen of Ephraim is a snare of a fowler on all his ways: that is, he ought to have guided the people, and to have kept them safe from intrigues. But now the people could not move a foot without meeting with a snare; and whence came this snare but from false doctrine and impostures? What then was to be at last? Could the snares avail to make them cautious? By no means; but Satan thus hunts his prey, when he soothes the people by his false teachers, and keeps them, as it were, asleep, that they may not regard the hand of God. There was then no reason for the Israelites to think well of the fowlers by whom they were drawn into ruin.
This indignity is more emphatically expressed, when he says, that there was a detestable thing in the temple of God There was not, indeed, a temple of God in Bethel, as we have often said; but as the people were wont to pretend the name of God, the Prophet, conceding this point, says, that these abominations were covered over by this pretence. There is then no need anxiously to inquire here, whether it was the temple at Samaria or at Bethel, or the house and sanctuary of God; for a concession proves not a thing to be so, but it is to speak according to the general opinion. So then the Prophet does not without reason complain, that the place, on which was inscribed the name of God, was profaned, and that, instead of the teaching of salvation, there was fowling everywhere, which drew the people into apostasy, and finally into utter ruin. It follows —
Hosea declares here, that the people were so sunk in their vices, that they could not be drawn out of them. He who has fallen can raise up himself when one extends a hand to him; and he who strives to emerge from the mire, finding a helper to assist him, can plant his foot again on solid ground: but when he is cast into a gulf, he has no hope of a recovery. I extend my hand in vain, when one sinks in a shipwreck, and is fallen into the deep. So now the Prophet says, that the people were unhealable, because they were deeply fixed; and further, because they were infected with corruptions. He therefore intimates that their diseases were incurable, that they had struck roots so deeply, that they could by no means be cleansed. They were then deeply fixed, and were corrupt as in the days of Gibeah
The Gibeonites, we know, were so fallen, that their city differed nothing from Sodom; for unbridled licentiousness in all kinds of vices prevailed there, and lusts so monstrous reigned among them, that there was no distinction between good and evil, no shame whatever. Hence it was, that they ravished the Levite’s wife, and killed her by their filthy obscenities: and this was the cause of that memorable slaughter which nearly demolished the whole tribe of Benjamin. The history is related in the Book of Judges 19, 20, 21; and it deserved to be recorded, that people might know what it is not to walk with care and fear in obedience to the Lord. Who could indeed have believed that a people taught in the law of God could have fallen into such a state of madness as this city did, which was nigh to Jerusalem, the destined place of the temple, though not yet built? and, not to mention the temple, who could have thought that this city, which was in the midst of the people, could have been so demented, that, like brute beasts, they should abandon themselves to the filthiest lusts? nay, that they should have been more filthy than the beasts? For monstrous lusts, as I have said, were there left unpunished, as at Sodom and in the neighbouring cities.
The Prophet says now, that the whole of Israel had become as corrupt as formerly the citizens of Gibeah. Deeply sunk, then, were the Israelites in their vices, and were as addicted as the inhabitants of Gibeah to their corruptions. What, then, is to follow? God, he says, will remember their iniquities, and will visit their sins The Prophet means two things first, that as the Israelites were wholly disobedient, and would receive no instruction, God would in no other way deal with them, as though he said, “The Lord will no longer spend labour in vain in teaching you, but he will seize the sword and execute his vengeance; for ye are not worthy of being taught by him any longer; for his teaching is counted a mockery by you.” This is one thing; and the other is, that though God had hitherto spared the people of Israel, he had not yet forgotten the filth of sins which prevailed among them. Hence God, he says, will at length remember and, as he had said before, will visit your sins.
We now then perceive the simple meaning of the Prophet. But let us hence also learn to rouse ourselves; and let us, in the first place, notice what the Prophet says of the Israelites, that they were deeply fixed; for men must be filled with contempt to God, when they thus descend, as Solomon says, (Proverbs 18:4,) to the deep. Lets then each of us stir up himself to repentance and carefully beware lest he should descend into this deep gulf. But since he says, “the Lord will remember and will visit”, let us know that they are greatly deceived who indulge themselves as long as the Lord mercifully bears with their sins; for though he may for a time conceal his displeasure yet an oblivion will never possess him: but at a fit time he will remember, and prove that he does so by executing a just punishment.
In this verse God reproves the Israelites for having preferred to prostitute themselves to idols, rather than to continue under his protection, though he had from the beginning showed his favour to them; as though he had said that they having been previously favoured with his free love, had transferred their affections to others; for he says, that he had found them as grapes in the wilderness. The word wilderness, ought to be joined with grapes, as if he had said, that they had been as sweet and acceptable to him as a grape when found in a desert. When a traveller finds, by chance, a grape in a barren and desolate place, he not only admires it, but takes great delight in a fruit so unlooked for. And thus the Lord, by this comparison, shows his great love towards the Israelites. He adds, — As the first fruit of the figtree; for the fig-tree, we know, produces fruit twice every year. Therefore, God says, — As figs at the beginning (or, as they say, the first fruits) are delightful, so have I taken delight in this people. The Prophet does not however mean, that the people were worthy of being so much loved. But the Hebrews use the word, to find, in the same sense as we do, when we say in French, — Je treuve cela a mon gout, (I find this to my taste.) I have therefore regarded Israel as grapes in the wilderness And this remark is needful, lest some one should subtilely infer, that the Israelites were loved by God, because they had something savoury in them. For the Prophet relates not here what God found in the people, but he only reproves their ingratitude, as we shall presently see.
The first part then shows that God had great delight in this people. It is the same or similar sentence to that in Hosea 11, where he says, ‘When Ephraim was yet a child, I loved him,’ except that there is not there so much fervour and warmth of love expressed; but the same argument is there handled, and the object is the same, and it is to prove, that God anticipated his people by his love. There remained, in this case, less excuse, when men rejected God calling them, and responded not to his love. A perverseness like this would be hardly endured among men. Were any one to love me freely, and I to slight him, it would be an evidence of pride and rudeness: but when God himself gratuitously treats us with kindness, and when, not content with common love, he regards us as delectable fruit, does not the rejection of this love, does not the contempt of this favour, betray, on our part, the basest depravity? We now then understand the design of the Prophet. In the first clause, he says, in the person of God, “I have loved Israel, as a traveller does grapes, when he finds them in the desert, and as the first ripe figs are wont to be loved: since then, I so much delighted in them, ought they not to have honoured me in return? Ought not my gratuitous love to have inflamed their hearts, so as to induce them to devote themselves wholly to me?”
But they went in unto Baal-peor. So I interpret the verb באו, bau; and it is taken in this sense in many other places. For the Hebrews say, “they went in,” to express in a delicate way the intercourse between husbands and wives. And the Prophet does not, without reason, compare the sacrifices which the people offered to Baal-peor to adultery, as being like the intercourse which an adulterer has with an harlot. They then went in unto Baal-peor; and he adds, that they “separated themselves”. Some interpret the word נזר, nesar, as referring to worship, and as meaning that they consecrated themselves to Baal-peor; and others derive it from זרה, sare, which they think is here in a passive sense, and means, “to be alienated.” But I take it in the same sense as when Ezekiel says, “They have separated themselves from after me,” מאחרי, macheri, Ezekiel 14; that is, that they may not follow me. God here expostulates with the people for following their fornication, and for thus repudiating that sacred marriage which God contracts with all his people. I therefore read the two sentences as forming one context, The Israelites went in unto Baal-peor, as an adulterer goes in unto a harlot; and they separated themselves; for they denied God, and violated the faith pledged to him; they discarded the spiritual marriage which God made with them.” For the Prophet, we know, whenever he refers to idolatries speaks allegorically or metaphorically, and mentions adultery.
They have separated themselves, he says, to reproach; that is, though their filthiness was shameful, they were yet wholly insensible: as when a wife disregards her character, or as when a husband cares not that he is pointed at by the finger, and that his baseness is to all a laughing-stock; so the Israelites, he says, had separated themselves to reproach, having cast away all shame, they abandoned themselves to wickedness. Some render the word בשת, beshet, obscenity, and others refer it to Baal-peor, and render the sentence thus, “They have separated themselves to that filthy idol.” For some think Priapus to have been Baal-peor; and this opinion has gained the consent of almost all. But I extend wider the meaning of the word “reproach,” as signifying that the people observed no difference between what was decent and what was shameful, but that they were senseless in their impiety. They were therefore abominable, or abominations according to their lovers The Prophet, I doubt not, connects here the Israelites with idols and with Baal-peor itself, that he might strip them of all that holiness which they had obtained through God’s favour. We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
Now, what is here taught is worthy of being noticed and is useful. For, as we have said, inexcusable is our wickedness, if we despise the gratuitous love of God, bestowed unasked. When God then comes to us of his own accord, when he invites us, when he offers to us the privilege of children, an inestimable benefit, and when we reject his favour, is not this more than savage ferocity? It was to reprobate such conduct as this that the Prophet says, that God had loved Israel, as when one finds grapes in the desert, or as when one eats the first ripe figs. But it must, at the same time, be noticed why the Prophet so much extols the dealings of God with the people of Israel; it was for this reason, because their adoption, as it is well known, was not an ordinary privilege, nor what they enjoyed in common with other nations. Since, then, the people had been chosen to be God’s special possession, the Prophet here justly extols this love with peculiar commendation. And the like is our case at this day; for God vouchsafes not to all the favour which has been presented to us through the shining light of the gospel. Other people wander in darkness, the light of life dwells only among us: does not God thus show that he delights especially in us? But if we continue the same as we were, and if we reject him and transfer our love to others, or rather if lust leads us astray from him, is not this detestable wickedness and obstinacy?
But what the Prophet says, that they separated themselves to reproach, is also worthy of being noticed; for he exaggerates their crime by this consideration, that the Israelites were so blinded, that they perceived not their own turpitude, though it was quite manifest. The superstitions which then prevailed in the land of Moab were no doubt very gross; but Satan had so fascinated their minds that they gave themselves up to a conduct which was worse than shameful. Let us then know that our sin is worthy of a heavier punishment in such a case as this, that is, when every distinction is done away among us, and when we are hurried away by the spirit of giddiness into every impiety and when we no longer distinguish between light and darkness, between white and black; for it is a token of final reprobation. When, therefore, shame ought to have restrained them, he says, that the Israelites had yet “separated themselves to reproach, and became abominable like their lovers”; that is, As Baal-peor is the highest abomination to me, so the people became to me equally abominable. It now follows —
The Hebrews, we know, have often abrupt sentences as in this place, Ephraim! their glory has fled Ephraim is to be placed by itself; and the speech seems striking, when the Lord thus breaks off the sentence, Ephraim! he does not continue the sense, but immediately adds, Like a bird their glory has fled. When he speaks of Ephraim, he no doubt refers especially to his offspring; and by mentioning a part for the whole, he includes whatever was then deemed to be wealth, or glory, or power. The Prophet, I say, speaks of offspring, for he immediately adds, from the birth, and the womb, and the conception But they are mistaken who confine this sentence to offspring only; for it is, as I have said, a mode of speaking, by which a part is taken for the whole. According to the letter, he mentions children or offspring; but yet he includes generally the whole condition of the people.
Then as a bird the glory of Ephraim fled away In what respect? From the birth, from the womb, from the conception. The Prophet, no doubt, sets forth here the gradations of God’s vengeance, which was yet in part near at hand to the Israelites, and which was in part already evident by clear proofs. He says, from the birth, then from the womb, and, lastly, from the conception If, then, the glory of Ephraim had vanished at the beginning, the Prophet would not have thus spoken; but as the Lord showed signs of his wrath by degrees, that vengeance at length might reach the highest point, the Prophets in the first place, mentions birth, then the womb; as though he said, “The glory of Israel shall vanish from the birth, but if they still continue proud, and seem not subdued by this punishment, I will slay them in the womb itself; nay, in the conception, if they repent not; they shall be suffocated as in the very womb.”
He then adds, Though they shall bring up children, I will yet exterminate them, so that they shall not be men, or, before they grow up, as some expound the words. The meaning is, that though Ephraim then flattered himself, yet a dreadful ruin was at hand, which would extinguish the whole seed, so that there would be nothing remaining. But lest they should think that all was over, when the Lord had inflicted on them one punishment, he lays down three gradations; that God would slay them first in the birth, then extinguish them in the womb, and, lastly, before conception; but if he spared them, so that they would raise up children, it would yet be without advantage, inasmuch as God would take away the youths in the flower of their age. Thus, then he threatens entire destruction to the kingdom of Israel.
And, lastly, he closes the verse in these words, And surely woe will be to them when I shall depart from them The Prophet means by these words, that men become miserable and accursed, when they alienate themselves from God, and when God takes away from them his favour. After having mentioned especially the vengeance of Godwhich was at hand, he says here that the cause and occasion of all evils would be, that God would depart from them, inasmuch as they had previously renounced their faith in him. But we must bear in mind the reason why the Prophet added this clause, and that is, because wicked men dream, that though God be displeased, things will yet go on prosperously with them: for they neither ascribe adversities to the wrath of God, nor acknowledge the fountain of all blessings to be God’s free and paternal favour. As then profane men do not understand this truth, however much God may proclaim that he is an enemy to them, that he is armed to destroy them, they care nothing, but promise to themselves a prosperous fortune: until they feel the hand of God and the signs of destruction appear, they continue still secure. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that there is woe to men when God departs from them. Forasmuch, then, as Scripture teaches everywhere that every desirable thing comes and flows to us from the mere grace of God and his paternal favour, so the Prophet declares in this place, that men are miserable and accursed when God is angry with them. But it follows —
Hosea here confirms his previous statements that the Israelites in vain trusted in their present condition, for the Lord could reverse their prosperity whenever it pleased him. Men, we know, harden themselves in their vices, when they enjoy their wishes and when they are sunk in pleasures; for prosperity is not without reason often compared to wine, because it inebriates men; nay, rather it dementates them. We see what happened to the Sodomites and to others; yea, the abuse of God’s forbearance has ever been the cause of destruction to almost all the reprobate, as Paul also says. Such pride reigned in the people of Israel, that they heedlessly despised all threatening, as it has been already often stated. To this then the Prophet refers when he says, Ephraim is like a tree planted in Tyrus: yet he shall bring forth his children to the slaughter The Prophet then points out here the indulgences of Israel, and then adds, that in a short time the Lord would draw them forth to judgement, though he had treated them as a precious tree, by fostering them gently and tenderly for a time.
Some render this place thus, “I have seen Ephraim planted like Tyrus;” and they render the next word, בנוה, benue, “in pleasantness.” But since it means a house or a habitation, I am disposed to retain its proper sense. Interpreters, however, vary in their opinion; for some say, “I have seen Ephraim like Tyrus;” because an event awaits this people similar to that which happened to Tyrus; for, as punishment was inflicted on Tyrus, so Ephraim shall not escape unpunished. This is the exposition of some, but in my view it is too refined. As, however, there is here a preposition, ל“lamed”, I am inclined to consider “a tree” or “plant,” or some such word, understood. Ephraim then was, as if one beheld a tree in Tyrus, literally to Tyrus, or in Tyrus. This letter, as a preposition, I allow, is redundant in many places; and yet it preserves some propriety, except when necessity interferes: and in this place what I have already stated is the most suitable rendering, “Ephraim is like a tree planted in Tyrus, in a dwelling” or shed. Tyrus, we know, was built on an island in the sea; it had gardens the most pleasant, but not formed without much expense and labour. It was washed on every side by the sea; and unless mounds were set up, the dwellings were confined. Since, then, it was difficult to raise trees there, much work and labour was doubtless necessary, as it is usually the case; for men often struggle with nature. And if we say that Ephraim was planted like Tyrus in a dwelling, what can it mean? We therefore say, that he was like a tree preserved as in a dwelling: for we see that there are some trees which cannot bear the cold air, and are kept during winter in a house that they may be preserved; and it is probable that the Syrians, who were rich and had a lucrative trade, employed much care in rearing their trees.
The meaning is, that Ephraim was like tender trees, preserved by men with great care and with much expense; but that they should hereafter bring forth their children for the slaughter. This bringing forth is set in opposition to the house or dwelling. They had been kept without danger from the cold and heat, like a tender tree under cover; but they would be constrained to draw forth their children to the slaughter; that is, there would be no longer any dwelling for them to protect them from the violence of their enemies, but that they would be drawn forth to the light.
We now see that the words harmonise well with the view, that the people of Israel in vain flattered themselves because they had hitherto been subject to no evils, and that God had preserved them free from calamity. There is no reason, the Prophet says, for the people to be proud, because they had been hitherto so indulgently treated; for though they had been like tender trees, they would yet be forced to draw forth their children to be killed. And this comparison, which he amplifies, is what often occurs in Scripture. ‘If Jehoiakim were as a ring on my right hand, saith the Lord, I would pluck him thence.’ 5959 Jeremiah 22:24. There is a mistake here. The text is, ‘Coniah the son of Jehoiakim.’ — Ed. Men are wont to abuse even the promises of God. As king Jehoiakim was of the posterity of David, he thought it impossible that hid enemies could ever deprive him of his kingdom; “But it shall not be so; for though he were as a ring on my hand, I would pluck him thence.” So also in this place; “Though the Israelites had been hitherto brought up in my bosom, and though I have kindly given them all kinds of blessings, and though they have been like tender trees, yet their condition hereafter shall be entirely different.” Then it follows —
Interpreters translate these words in a different way: “Give them what thou art about to give,” then they repeats “Give them;” but, as I think, they do not comprehend the design of the Prophet, and are wholly mistaken; for the Prophet appears here as one anxious and perplexed. He therefore presents himself here before God as a suppliant, as though he said, “Lord, I would gladly intercede for this people: what then is it that I should chiefly desire for them? Doubtless my chief wish for them in their miserable dispersion is, that thou wouldest give them a killing womb and dry breasts;” that is, that none may be born of them. Christ says, that when the last destruction of Jerusalem should come, the barren would be blessed (Luke 23:29;) and this he took from the common doctrine of Scripture, for many such passages may be observed in the Prophets. Among the blessings of God, this, we know, is not the least, the birth of a numerous offspring. It is, therefore, a token of dreadful judgement, when barrenness, which in itself is deemed a curse, is desired as an especial blessing. For what can be more miserable than for infants to be snatched from their mothers’ bosom? and for children to be killed before their eyes, or for pregnant women to be slain? or for cities and fields to be consumed by fire, so that children, not yet born, should perish together with their mothers? But all these things happen when there is an utter destruction.
We hence see what the prophet chiefly meant: the state of the people would be so deplorable that nothing could be more desirable than the barrenness of the women, that no offspring might be afterwards born, but that the name and memory of the people might by degrees be blotted out.
He has, indeed, already denounced punishments sufficiently grievous and dreadful; but we know that the contumacy and hardness of those are very great on whom religion has no hold. Hence all threatening were derided by that obstinate people. This is the reason why the Prophet now takes the part of an intercessor. “O Lord,”, he adds “give them;” that is, “O Lord, forgive them at least in some measure, and grant them yet something.” And “what wilt thou give?” Here he reasons with himself, being as it were in suspense and perplexity; and he also reasons with God as to what would be the most desirable thing. “I am indeed a suppliant for my own nation, whom I pity; but what shall I ask? I would wish thee, Lord, to pardon this people; but what shall be the way, what can give me comfort, or what sort of remedy yet remains? Certainly I see nothing better than that they should be barren, that none hereafter should be born of them; but that thou shouldest suffer them to consume and die away; for this will be their chief happiness in a condition so deplorable.” It was then the Prophet’s design here, to strike hypocrites and profane men with terror, that they might understand that God’s vengeance, which was at hand, could by no means be fully expressed; for it would be the best thing for them to be deprived of the blessing of an offspring, that their infants might not perish with them, that they might not see women with child cruelly slain by their enemies, or their children led away as a spoil. That such things as these might not take place, the Prophet says, that barrenness ought to be desired by them as the chief blessing. The Prophet, I doubt not, meant this. It now follows —
He says first, that all their evil was in Gilgal; though they thought that they had the best pretence for offering there their sacrifices to God’s honour, because it had been from old times a sacred place. He had said before that they had multiplied to themselves altars to sin, and by these to give way to sins; he now repeats the same in other words, All their evil, he says, is in Gilgal; as though he said, “They indeed obtrude on me their sacrifices, which they offer in Gilgal, and think that they avail to excuse all their wickedness. I might, perhaps, forgive them, if they were given to plunder and cruelty, and were perfidious and fraudulent, provided pure worship had continued among them, and religion had not been so entirely adulterated; but as they have changed whatever I commanded in my law, and turned this celebrated place to be the seat of the basest impiety, so that it is become, as it were, a brothel, where religion is prostituted, it is hence evident, that the whole of their wickedness is in Gilgal.”
It is certain that the people were also addicted to other crimes; but the word כל, cal, all, is to be taken for what is chief or principal. The Prophet speaks comparatively, not simply; as though he had said, that this corruption of offering sacrifices at Gilgal was more abominable in the sight of God than adulteries, or plunder, or frauds, or unjust violence, or any crime that prevailed among them. Their whole evil then was at Gilgal. But why the Prophet speaks thus, I have lately explained; and that is because superstitious men put forth their own devices, when God reproves them, “O! we have still many exercises of religion.” They bring forward these by way of compensation. But the Lord shows that he is far more grievously offended with these superstitions, with which hypocrites cover themselves as with a shield, than with a life void of every appearance of religion: for “these,” he says, “I conceived a hatred against them, on account of the wickedness of their works.”
Here again the Prophet condemns what men think to be their special holiness. Who indeed can persuade hypocrites that their fictitious modes of worship are the greatest abominations? Nay, they even extol and imagine themselves to be like angels, and, as it were, cover all their wickedness with these disguises; as we see to be the case with the Papists who think, that when they obtrude on God their many masses and other devised forms, every sort of wickedness is redeemed. Since then hypocrites are thus wont to put on a disguise before God, and at the same time flatter themselves, the Prophet here declares that they are the more hated by God for this very wickedness, of daring to corrupt and adulterate his pure worship.
He then adds, I will eject them from my house When God threatens to eject Israel from his house, it is the same as though he said, “I will wholly cast you away;” as when one cuts off a withered branch from a tree, or a diseased member from the body. It is indeed certain that the Israelites were then like bastards; for they were not worthy of any account or station in the Church, inasmuch as they had a strange temple and profane sacrifices; but as circumcision, and the priesthood in name, still remained among them, they boasted themselves to be the children of Abraham, and a holy people; hence the Prophet denounces here such a destruction, that it might appear that they in vain gloried in these superior distinctions, for God would expunge them from his catalogue. We now understand the design of the Prophet: but we shall, to-morrow, notice the remaining portion.
The Prophet again threatens extreme vengeance to the Israelites. It is no wonder that the same sentence is so often repeated; for hypocrites, we know, too much flatter themselves, and are not frightened even by the most grievous threatening. As then hypocrites are so stupid, they must be often, nay, frequently pricked, and most sharply, that they may at length be awakened out of their torpor. Hence the Prophet repeats the threatening which he had often before announced, and says, that Israel had been so smitten, that their root had dried up The comparison is taken from a tree, which not only has had its branches cut off, but has also been torn from the roots. The meaning is, that God would take such vengeance on this miserable people, as wholly to destroy them, without any hope of recovery. The root then is dried up, they will produce fruit no more.
He then leaves this similitude or metaphor, and says, If they generate, I will slay the desirable fruit of their womb; that is, though some seed be begotten, I will yet destroy it.
We now then apprehend the design of the Prophet, which was to show, that the Lord would no more be content with some moderate punishment, for he had often found that this abandoned people were in vain chastised by paternal love; but that extreme vengeance awaited them, which would consume not only the men, but also their children so that no residue should remain. The reason is afterwards added —
The Prophet, as I have lately hinted, assigns a reason why God had resolved to deal so severely with this people, namely because he saw their unnameable perverseness. For the Prophets always defend the justice of God against the impious complaints of those men who murmur whenever God severely punishes them, and cry out that he is cruel, and exceeds moderation. The Prophets do therefore shut up the mouth of the ungodly, that they may not vomit out their blasphemies against God; and the Prophet is now on this subject. Hence he says, that destruction was nigh the Israelites, because God had rejected them; for the verb מאס, mas, means to reject, to cast away, to despise. As long then as the Lord vouchsafed to care for this people, they possessed at least some eminence; but the Prophet says that now they were wholly cast away. What then remained for them but entire ruin?
And he says, My God will cast them away By this expression he claims authority to himself, and thunders against the whole people; for though the whole worship of God was shamefully corrupted in the kingdom of Israel, they yet boasted that they were the holy seed of Abraham, and the name of God was as yet ready in every mouth, as we know that the ungodly take to themselves the liberty of profaning the name of God without any hesitation or shame. Since then this false glorying prevailed as yet among the Israelites, the Prophet says, “He is no more your God, mine he is.” Thus he placed himself on one side, and set himself alone in opposition to the whole people. But at the same time he proves that he has more authority than they all; for he brings forward God as the supporter and defender of his doctrine. ‘My God,’ he says, ‘will cast them away.’ So also Isaiah says, when reproving Ahab,
‘Is it not enough that ye be troublesome to men, except ye be also troublesome to my God?’ (Isaiah 7:13.)
And yet Isaiah was not the only one who worshipped God purely. This is true; but he had respect to the king and his company; and therefore he connected himself with God, and separated them all from himself, inasmuch as they had already by their perfidy separated themselves from him.
Then he says, ‘My God will cast them away.’ So at this day we may safely take the name of God in opposition to the Papists; for they have nothing in common with the true God, since they have polluted themselves with so many abominations: and though they may be proud against us, trusting in their vast multitude, and because we are few; yet we may boldly oppose them, since God, we know, can never be separated nor drawn away from his word, and his word, we know, stands on our side. We may then lawfully reprove the Papists, and say that God is opposed to them, for we fight under his banner.
Because, he says, they have not obeyed me We see that the cause of extreme vengeance is perverseness; that is, when men designedly harden their hearts against God. The Gentiles also perish, indeed, without any instruction; but vengeance is doubled, when the Lord extends his hand to the erring, and seeks to recall them to the way of salvation, and when they obstinately refuse to obey; yea, when they show their heart to be perverse in their wickedness. When, then, such perverseness is added to errors and vicious affections, God must necessarily come forth with his extreme vengeance, as he threatens here by his Prophet.
As, then, they obeyed not, the Lord will cast them away, and they shall be fugitives among the nations This seems to be a lighter punishment than what he had previously stated respecting their seed being destroyed. But we must remember the contrast between the rest given them by God, and this vagrant wandering, of which the Prophet now speaks. The land of Canaan was to them a quiet habitation, where they rested as though God cherished them under his wings; and hence it is even called the rest of God in Psalm 95. 6060 Psalm 95:11. — fj. But now, when the Israelites wandered as fugitives, and sought rest here and there, and could not find it, it was more evidently a rejection of them; for the Lord proved, every day and every moment, that they were repudiated by him, inasmuch as they were deprived of that rest which he had promised them. Let us proceed —