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The Ruined Loincloth
1Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” 2So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. 3And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, 4“Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” 5So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. 6And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” 7Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.
8Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9“Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.
The Jars Filled with Wine
12“You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’ And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ 13Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David's throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 14And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the Lord. I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’”
15Hear and give ear; be not proud,
for the Lord has spoken.
16Give glory to the Lord your God
before he brings darkness,
before your feet stumble
on the twilight mountains,
and while you look for light
he turns it into gloom
and makes it deep darkness.
17But if you will not listen,
my soul will weep in secret for your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,
because the Lord's flock has been taken captive.
18Say to the king and the queen mother:
“Take a lowly seat,
for your beautiful crown
has come down from your head.”
19The cities of the Negeb are shut up,
with none to open them;
all Judah is taken into exile,
wholly taken into exile.
20“Lift up your eyes and see
those who come from the north.
Where is the flock that was given you,
your beautiful flock?
21What will you say when they set as head over you
those whom you yourself have taught to be friends to you?
Will not pangs take hold of you
like those of a woman in labor?
22And if you say in your heart,
‘Why have these things come upon me?’
it is for the greatness of your iniquity
that your skirts are lifted up
and you suffer violence.
23Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard his spots?
Then also you can do good
who are accustomed to do evil.
24I will scatter you11Hebrew them like chaff
driven by the wind from the desert.
25This is your lot,
the portion I have measured out to you, declares the Lord,
because you have forgotten me
and trusted in lies.
26I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,
and your shame will be seen.
27I have seen your abominations,
your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings,
on the hills in the field.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem!
How long will it be before you are made clean?”
The Marred Girdle. (b. c. 606.)
1 Thus saith the Lord unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water. 2 So I got a girdle according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins. 3 And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, 4 Take the girdle that thou hast got, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock. 5 So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. 6 And it came to pass after many days, that the Lord said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. 7 Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing. 8 Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 9 Thus saith the Lord, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.
Here is, I. A sign, the marring of a girdle, which the prophet had worn for some time, by hiding it in a hole of a rock near the river Euphrates. It was usual with the prophets to teach by signs, that a stupid unthinking people might be brought to consider, and believe, and be affected with what was thus set before them. 1. He was to wear a linen girdle for some time, v. 1, 2. Some think he wore it under his clothes, because it was linen, and it is said to cleave to his loins, v. 11. It should rather seem to be worn upon his clothes, for it was worn for a name and a praise, and probably was a fine sash, such as officers wear and such as are commonly worn at this day in the eastern nations. He must not put it in water, but wear it as it was, that it might be the stronger, and less likely to rot: linen wastes almost as much with washing as with wearing. Being not wet, it was the more stiff and less apt to bend, yet he must make a shift to wear it. Probably it was very fine linen which will wear long without washing. The prophet, like John Baptist, was none of those that wore soft clothing, and therefore it would be the more strange to see him with a linen girdle on, who probably used to wear a leathern one. 2. After he had worn this linen girdle for some time, he must go, and hide it in a hole of a rock (v. 4) by the water's side, where, when the water was high, it would be wet, and when it fell would grow dry again, and by that means would soon rot, sooner than if it were always wet or always dry. 3. After many days, he must look for it, and he should find it quite spoiled, gone all to rags and good for nothing, v. 7. It has been of old a question among interpreters whether this was really done, so as to be seen and observed by the people, or only in a dream or vision, so as to go no further than the prophet's own mind. It seems hard to imagine that the prophet should be sent on two such long journeys as to the river Euphrates, each of which would take him up some week's time, when he could so ill be spared at home. For this reason most incline to think the journey, at least, was only in vision, like that of Ezekiel, from the captivity in Chaldea to Jerusalem (Ezek. viii. 3) and thence back to Chaldea (ch. xi. 24); and the explanation of this sign is given only to the prophet himself (v. 8), not to the people, the sign not being public. But there being, it is probable, at that time, great conveniences of travelling between Jerusalem and Babylon, and some part of Euphrates being not so far off but that it was made the utmost border of the land of promise (Josh. i. 4), I see no inconvenience in supposing the prophet to have made two journeys thither; for it is expressly said, He did as the Lord commanded him; and thus gave a signal proof of his obsequiousness to his God, to shame the stubbornness of a disobedient people: the toil of his journey would be very proper to signify both the pains they took to corrupt themselves with their idolatries and the sad fatigue of their captivity; and Euphrates being the river of Babylon, which was to be the place of their bondage, was a material circumstance in this sign.
II. The thing signified by this sign. The prophet was willing to be at any cost and pains to affect this people with the word of the Lord. Ministers must spend, and be spent, for the good of souls. We have the explanation of this sign, v. 9-11.
1. The people of Israel had been to God as this girdle in two respects:—(1.) He had taken them into covenant and communion with himself: As the girdle cleaves very closely to the loins of a man and surrounds him, so have I caused to cleave to me the houses of Israel and Judah. They were a people near to God (Ps. cxlviii. 14); they were his own, a peculiar people to him, a kingdom of priests that had access to him above other nations. He caused them to cleave to him by the law he gave them, the prophets he sent among them, and the favours which in his providence he showed them. He required their stated attendance in the courts of his house, and the frequent ratification of their covenant with him by sacrifices. Thus they were made so as to cleave to him that one would think they could never have been parted. (2.) He had herein designed his own honour. When he took them to be to him for a people, it was that they might be to him for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory, as a girdle is an ornament to a man, and particularly the curious girdle of the ephod was to the high-priest for glory and for beauty. Note, Those whom God takes to be to him for a people he intends to be to him for a praise. [1.] It is their duty to honour him, by observing his institutions and aiming therein at his glory, and thus adorning their profession. [2.] It is their happiness that he reckons himself honoured in them and by them. He is pleased with them, and glories in his relation to them, while they behave themselves as become his people. He was pleased to take it among the titles of his honour to be the God of Israel, even a God to Israel, 1 Chron. xvii. 24. In vain do we pretend to be to God for a people if we be not to him for a praise.
2. They had by their idolatries and other iniquities loosed themselves from him, thrown themselves at a distance, robbed him of the honour they owed him, buried themselves in the earth, and foreign earth too, mingled among the nations, and were so spoiled and corrupted that they were good for nothing: they could no more be to God, as they were designed, for a name and a praise, for they would not hear either their duty to do it or their privilege to value it: They refused to hear the words of God, by which they might have been kept still cleaving closely to him. They walked in the imagination of their heart, wherever their fancy led them; and denied themselves no gratification they had a mind to, particularly in their worship. They would not cleave to God, but walked after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them; they doted upon the gods of the heathen nations that lay towards Euphrates, so that they were quite spoiled for the service of their own God, and were as this girdle, this rotten girdle, a disgrace to their profession and not an ornament. A thousand pities it was that such a girdle should be so spoiled, that such a people should so wretchedly degenerate.
3. God would by his judgments separate them from him, send them into captivity, deface all their beauty and ruin their excellency, so that they should be like a fine girdle gone to rags, a worthless, useless, despicable people. God will after this manner mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. He would strip them of all that which was the matter of their pride, of which they boasted and in which they trusted; it should not only be sullied and stained, but quite destroyed, like this linen girdle. Observe, He speaks of the pride of Judah (the country people were proud of their holy land, their good land), but of the great pride of Jerusalem; there the temple was, and the royal palace, and therefore those citizens were more proud than the inhabitants of other cities. God takes notice of the degrees of men's pride, the pride of some and the great pride of others; and he will mar it, he will stain it. Pride will have a fall, for God resists the proud. He will either mar the pride that is in us (that is, mortify it by his grace, make us ashamed of it, and, like Hezekiah, humble us for the pride of our hearts, the great pride, and cure us of it, great as it is; and this marring of the pride will be making of the soul; happy for us if the humbling providences our hearts be humbled) or else he will mar the thing we are proud of. Parts, gifts, learning, power, external privileges, if we are proud of these, it is just with God to blast them; even the temple, when it became Jerusalem's pride, was marred and laid in ashes. It is the honour of God to took upon every one that is proud and abase him.
The Bottles Filled with Wine; Punishment Predicted; A Call to Repentance. (b. c. 606.)
12 Therefore thou shalt speak unto them this word; Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Every bottle shall be filled with wine: and they shall say unto thee, Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine? 13 Then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings that sit upon David's throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness. 14 And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the Lord: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them. 15 Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken. 16 Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. 17 But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive. 18 Say unto the king and to the queen, Humble yourselves, sit down: for your principalities shall come down, even the crown of your glory. 19 The cities of the south shall be shut up, and none shall open them: Judah shall be carried away captive all of it, it shall be wholly carried away captive. 20 Lift up your eyes, and behold them that come from the north: where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? 21 What wilt thou say when he shall punish thee? for thou hast taught them to be captains, and as chief over thee: shall not sorrows take thee, as a woman in travail?
Here is, I. A judgment threatened against this people that would quite intoxicate them. This doom is pronounced against them in a figure, to make it the more taken notice of and the more affecting (v. 12): Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, every bottle shall be filled with wine; that is, those that by their sins have made themselves vessels of wrath fitted to destruction shall be filled with the wrath of God as a bottle is with wine; and, as every vessel of mercy prepared for glory shall be filled with mercy and glory, so they shall be full of the fury of the Lord (Isa. li. 20); and they shall be brittle as bottles; and, like old bottles into which new wine is put, they shall burst and be broken to pieces, Matt. ix. 17. Or, They shall have their heads as full of wine as bottle are; for so it is explained, v. 13, They shall be filled with drunkenness; compare Isa. li. 17. It is probable that this was a common proverb among them, applied in various ways; but they, not being aware of the prophet's meaning in it, ridiculed him for it: "Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine? What strange thing is there in that? Tell us something that we did not know before." Perhaps they were thus touchy with the prophet because they apprehended this to be a reflection upon them for their drunkenness, and probably it was in part so intended. They loved flagons of wine, Hos. iii. 1. Their watchmen were all for wine, Isa. lvi. 12. They loved their false prophets that prophesied to them of wine (Mic. ii. 11), that bade them be merry, for that they should never want their bottle to make them so. "Well," says the prophet, "you shall have your bottles full of wine, but not such wine as you desire." They suspected that he had some mystical meaning in it which prophesied no good concerning them, but evil; and he owns that so he had. What he meant was this,
1. That they should be a giddy as men in drink. A drunken man is fitly compared to a bottle or cask full of wine; for, when the wine is in, the wit, and wisdom, and virtue, and all that is good for any thing, are out. Now God threatens (v. 13) that shall they shall all be filled with drunkenness; they shall be full of confusion in their counsels, shall falter in all their talk and stagger in all their motions; they shall not know what they say or do, much less what they should say or do. They shall be sick of all their enjoyments and throw them up as drunken men do, Job xx. 15. They shall fall into a slumber, and be utterly unable to help themselves, and, like men that have drunk away their reason, shall lie at the mercy and expose themselves to the contempt of all about them. And this shall be the condition not of some among them (if any had been sober, they might have helped the rest), but even the kings that sit upon the throne of David, that should have been like their father David, who was wise as an angel of God, shall be thus intoxicated. Their priests and prophets too, their false prophets, that pretended to guide them, were as indulgent of their lusts, and therefore were justly as much deprived of their senses, as any other. Nay, all the inhabitants, both of the land and of Jerusalem were as far gone as they. Whom God will destroy he infatuates.
2. That, being giddy, they should run upon one another. The cup of the wine of the Lord's fury shall throw them not only into a lethargy, so that they shall not be able to help themselves or one another, but into a perfect frenzy, so that they shall do mischief to themselves and one another (v. 14): I will dash a man against his brother. Not only their drunken follies, but their drunken frays, shall help to ruin them. Drunken men are often quarrelsome, and upon that account they have woe and sorrow (Prov. xxiii. 29, 30); so their sin is their punishment; it was so here. God sent an evil spirit into families and neighbourhoods (as Judg. ix. 23), which made them jealous of, and spiteful towards, one another; so that the fathers and sons went together by the ears, and were ready to pull one another to pieces, which made them all an easy prey to the common enemy. This decree against them having gone forth, God says, I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them; for they will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy one another; see Hab. ii. 15, 16.
II. Here is good counsel given, which, if taken, would prevent this desolation. It is, in short, to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. If they will hearken and give ear, this is that which God has to say to them, Be not proud, v. 15. This was one of the sins for which God had a controversy with them (v. 9); let them mortify and forsake this sin, and God will let fall his controversy. "Be not proud.; when God speaks to you by his prophets do not think yourselves too good to be taught; be not scornful, be not wilful, let not your hearts rise against the word, nor slight the messengers that bring it to you. When God is coming forth against you in his providence (and by them he speaks) be not secure when he threatens, be not impatient when he strikes, for pride is at the bottom of both." It is the great God that has spoken, whose authority is incontestable, whose power is irresistible; therefore bow to what he says, and be not proud, as you have been. They must not be proud, for,
1. They must advance God, and study how to do him honour: "Give glory to the Lord your God, and not to your idols, not to other gods. Give him glory by confessing your sins, owning yourselves guilty before him, and accepting the punishment of your iniquity, v. 16. Give him glory by a sincere repentance and reformation." The and not till then, we begin to live as we should, and to some good purpose, when we begin to give glory to the Lord our God, to make his honour our chief end and to seek it accordingly. "Do this quickly, while your space to repent is continued to you; before he cause darkness, before you will see no way of escaping." Note, Darkness will be the portion of those that will not repent to give glory to God. When those that by the fourth vial were scorched with heat repented not, to give glory to God. When those that by the fourth vial were scorched with heat repented not, to give glory to God, the next vial filled them with darkness, Rev. xvi. 9, 10. The aggravation of the darkness here threatened is, (1.) That their attempts to escape shall hasten their ruin: Their feet shall stumble when they are making all the haste they can over the dark mountains, and they shall fall, and be unable to get up again. Note, Those that think to out-run the judgments of God will find their road impassable; let them make the best of their way, they can make nothing of it, the judgments that pursue them will overtake them; their way is dark and slippery, Ps. xxxv. 6. And therefore, before it comes to that extremity, it is our wisdom to give glory to him, and so make our peace with him, to fly to his mercy, and then there will be no occasion to fly from his justice. (2.) That their hopes of a better state of things will be disappointed: While you look for light, for comfort and relief, he will turn it into the shadow of death, which is very dismal and terrible, and make it gross darkness, like that of Egypt, when Pharaoh continued to harden his heart, which was darkness that might be felt. The expectation of impenitent sinners perishes when they die and think to have it satisfied.
2. They must abase themselves, and take shame to themselves; the prerogative of the king and queen will not exempt them from this (v. 18): "Say to the king and queen, that, great as they are, they must humble themselves by true repentance, and so give both glory to God and a good example to their subjects." Note, Those that are exalted above others in the world must humble themselves before God, who is higher than the highest, and to whom kings and queens are accountable. They must humble themselves, and sit down—sit down, and consider what is coming—sit down in the dust, and lament themselves. Let them humble themselves, for God will otherwise take an effectual course to humble them: "Your principalities shall come down, the honour and power on which you value yourselves and in which you confide, even the crown of your glory, your goodly or glorious crown: when you are led away captives, where will your principality and all the badges of it be then?" Blessed be God there is a crown of glory, which those shall inherit who do humble themselves, that shall never come down.
III. This counsel is enforced by some arguments if they continue proud and unhumbled.
1. It will be the prophet's unspeakable grief (v. 17): "If you will not hear it, will not submit to the word, but continue refractory, not only my eye, but my soul shall weep in secret places." Note, The obstinacy of people, in refusing to hear the word of God, will be heart-breaking to the poor ministers, who know something of the terrors of the Lord and the worth of souls, and are so far from desiring that they tremble at the thoughts of the death of sinners. His grief for it was undissembled (his soul wept) and void of affectation, for he chose to weep in secret places, where no eye saw him but his who is all eye. He would mingle his tears not only with his public preaching, but with his private devotions. Nay, thoughts of their case would make him melancholy, and he would become a perfect recluse. It would grieve him, (1.) To see their sins unrepented of: "My soul shall weep for your pride, your haughtiness, and stubbornness, and vain confidence." Note, The sins of others should be matter of sorrow to us. We must mourn for that which we cannot mend, and mourn the more for it because we cannot mend it. (2.) To see their calamity past redress and remedy: "My eyes shall weep sorely, not so much because my relations, friends, and neighbours are in distress, but because the Lord's flock, his people and the sheep of his pasture, are carried away captive." That should always grieve us most by which God's honour suffers and the interest of his kingdom is weakened.
2. It will be their own inevitable ruin, v. 19-21. (1.) The land shall be laid waste: The cities of the south shall be shut up. The cities of Judah lay in the southern part of the land of Canaan; these shall be straitly besieged by the enemy, so that there shall be no going in or out, or they shall be deserted by the inhabitants, that there shall be none to go in and out. Some understand it of the cities of Egypt, which was south from Judah; the places there whence they expected succours shall fail them, and they shall find no access to them. (2.) The inhabitants shall be hurried away into a foreign country, there to live in slavery: Judah shall be carried away captive. Some were already carried off, which they hoped might serve to answer the prediction, and that the residue should still be left; but no: It shall be carried away all of it. God will make a full end with them: It shall be wholly carried away. So it was in the last captivity under Zedekiah, because they repented not. (3.) The enemy was now at hand that should do this (v. 20): "Lift up your eyes. I see upon their march, and you may if you will behold, those that come from the north, from the land of the Chaldeans; see how fast they advance, how fierce they appear." Upon this he addresses himself to the king, or rather (because the pronouns are feminine) to the city or state. [1.] "What will you do now with the people who are committed to your charge, and whom you ought to protect? Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? Whither canst thou take them now for shelter? How can they escape these ravening wolves?" Magistrates must look upon themselves as shepherds, and those that are under their charge as their flock, which they are entrusted with the care of and must give an account of; they must take delight in them as their beautiful flock, and consider what to do for their safety in times of public danger. Masters of families, who neglect their children and suffer them to perish for want of a good education, and ministers who neglect their people, should think they hear God putting this question to them: Where is the flock that was given thee to feed, that beauteous flock? It is starved; it is left exposed to the beasts of prey. What account wilt thou give of them when the chief shepherd shall appear? [2.] "What have you to object against the equity of God's proceedings? What will thou say when he shall visit upon thee the former days? v. 21. Thou canst say nothing, but that God is just in all that is brought upon thee." Those that flatter themselves with hopes of impunity, what will they say? What confusion will cover their faces when they shall find themselves deceived and that God punishes them! [3.] "What thoughts will you now have of your own folly, in giving the Chaldeans such power over you, by seeking to them for assistance, and joining in league with them? Thus thou hast taught them against thyself to be captains and to become the head." Hezekiah began when he showed his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon, tempting him thereby to come and plunder him. Those who, having a God to trust to, court foreign alliances and confide in them, do but make rods for themselves and teach their neighbours how to become their masters. [4.] "How will you bear the trouble that is at the door? Shall not sorrows take thee as a woman in travail? Sorrows which thou canst not escape nor put off, extremity of sorrows; and in these respects more grievous than those of a woman in travail that they were not expected before, and that there is no manchild to be born, the joy of which shall make them afterwards to be forgotten."
Punishment Predicted; Causes of Jerusalem's Ruin. (b. c. 606.)
22 And if thou say in thine heart, Wherefore come these things upon me? For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare. 23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. 24 Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness. 25 This is thy lot, the portion of thy measures from me, saith the Lord; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood. 26 Therefore will I discover thy skirts upon thy face, that thy shame may appear. 27 I have seen thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, and thine abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?
Here is, I. Ruin threatened as before, that the Jews shall go into captivity, and fall under all the miseries of beggary and bondage, shall be stripped of their clothes, their skirts discovered for want of upper garments to cover them, and their heels made bare for want of shoes, v. 22. Thus they used to deal with prisoners taken in war, when they drove them into captivity, naked and barefoot, Isa. xx. 4. Being thus carried off into a strange country, they shall be scattered there, as the stubble that is blown away by the wind of the wilderness, and nobody is concerned to bring it together again, v. 24. If the stubble escape the fire, it shall be carried away by the wind. If one judgment do not do the work, another shall, with those that by sin have made themselves as stubble. They shall be stripped of all their ornaments and exposed to shame, as harlots that are carted, v. 26. They made their pride appear, but God will make their shame appear; so that those who have doted on them shall be ashamed of them.
II. An enquiry made by the people into the cause of this ruin, v. 22. Thou wilt say in thy heart (and God knows how to give a proper answer to what men say in their hearts, though they do not speak it out; Jesus, knowing their thoughts, replied to them, Matt. ix. 4), Wherefore came these things upon me? The question is supposed to come into the heart, 1. Of a sinner quarrelling with God and refusing to receive correction. They could not see that they had done any thing which might justly provoke God to be thus angry with them. They durst not speak it out; but in their hearts they thus charged God with unrighteousness, if he had laid upon them more than was meet. They seek for the cause of their calamities, when, if they had not been willfully blind, they might easily have seen it. Or, 2. Of a sinner returning to God. If there come but a penitent thought into the heart at any time (saying, What have I done? ch. viii. 6, wherefore am I in affliction? why doth God contend with me?) God takes notice of it, and is ready by his Spirit to impress the conviction, that, sin being discovered, it may be repented of.
III. An answer to this enquiry. God will be justified when he speaks and will oblige us to justify him, and therefore will set the sin of sinners in order before them. Do they ask, Wherefore come these things upon us? Let them know it is all owing to themselves.
1. It is for the greatness of their iniquities, v. 22. God does not take advantage against them for small faults; no, the sins for which he now punishes them are of the first rate, very heinous in their own nature and highly aggravated—for the multitude of thy iniquity (so it may be read), sins of every kind and often repeated and relapsed into. Some think we are more in danger from the multitude of our smaller sins than from the heinousness of our greater sins; of both we may say, Who can understand his errors?
2. It is for their obstinacy in sin, their being so long accustomed to it that there was little hope left of their being reclaimed from it (v. 23): Can the Ethiopian change his skin, that is by nature black, or the leopard his spots, that are even woven into the skin? Dirt contracted may be washed off, but we cannot alter the natural colour of a hair (Matt. v. 36), much less of the skin; and so impossible is it, morally impossible, to reclaim and reform these people. (1.) They had been long accustomed to do evil. They were taught to do evil; they had been educated and brought up in sin; they had served an apprenticeship to it, and had all their days made a trade of it. It was so much their constant practice that it had become a second nature to them. (2.) Their prophets therefore despaired of ever bring them to do good. This was what they aimed at; they persuaded them to cease to do evil and learn to do well, but could not prevail. They had so long been used to do evil that it was next to impossible for them to repent, and amend, and begin to do good. Note, Custom in sin is a very great hindrance to conversion from sin. The disease that is inveterate is generally thought incurable. Those that have been long accustomed to sin have shaken off the restraint of fear and shame; their consciences are seared; the habits of sin are confirmed; it pleads prescription; and it is just with God to give those up to their own hearts' lusts that have long refused to give themselves up to his grace. Sin is the blackness of the soul, the deformity of it; it is its spot, the discolouring of it; it is natural to us, we were shapen in it, so that we cannot get clear of it by any power of our own. But there is an almighty grace that is able to change the Ethiopian's skin, and that grace shall not be wanting to those who in a sense of their need of it seek it earnestly and improve it faithfully.
3. It is for their treacherous departures from the God of truth and dependence on lying vanities (v. 25): "This is thy lot, to be scattered and driven away; this is the portion of thy measures from me, the punishment assigned thee as by line and measure; this shall be thy share of the miseries of this world; expect it, and think not to escape it: it is because thou hast forgotten me, the favours I have bestowed upon thee and the obligations thou art under to me; thou hast no sense, no remembrance, of these." Forgetfulness of God is at the bottom of all sin, as the remembrance of our Creator betimes is the happy and hopeful beginning of a holy life. "Having forgotten me, thou hast trusted in falsehood, in idols, in an arm of flesh in Egypt and Assyria, in the self-flatteries of a deceitful heart." Whatever those trust to that forsake God, they will find it a broken reed, a broken cistern.
4. It is for their idolatry, their spiritual whoredom, that sin which is of all sins most provoking to the jealous God. They are exposed to a shameful calamity (v. 26) because they have been guilty of a shameful iniquity and yet are shameless in it (v. 27): "I have seen thy adulteries (thy inordinate fancy for strange gods, which thou hast been impatient for the gratification of, and hast even neighed after it), even the lewdness of thy whoredoms, thy impudence and insatiableness in them, thy eager worshipping of idols on the hills in the fields, upon the high places. This is that for which a woe is denounced against thee, O Jerusalem! nay, and many woes."
IV. Here is an affectionate expostulation with them, in the close, upon the whole matter. Though it was adjudged next to impossible for them to be brought to do good (v. 23), yet while there is life there is hope, and therefore still he reasons with them to bring them to repentance, v. 27. 1. He reasons with them concerning the thing itself: Wilt thou not be made clean? Note, It is the great concern of those who are polluted by sin to be made clean by repentance, and faith, and a universal reformation. The reason why sinners are not made clean is because they will not be made clean; and herein they act most unreasonably: "Wilt thou not be made clean? Surely thou will at length be persuaded to wash thee, and make thee clean, and so be wise for thyself." 2. Concerning the time of it: When shall it once be? Note, It is an instance of the wonderful grace of God that he desires the repentance and conversion of sinners, and thinks the time long till they are brought to relent; but it is an instance of the wonderful folly of sinners that they put that off from time to time which is of such absolute necessity that, if it be not done some time, they are certainly undone for ever. They do not say that they will never be cleansed, but not yet; they will defer it to a more convenient season, but cannot tell us when it shall once be.