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a Bible passage

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Between the vestibule and the altar

let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.

Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,

and do not make your heritage a mockery,

a byword among the nations.

Why should it be said among the peoples,

‘Where is their God?’ ”


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Then it follows, Between the court and the altar let the priests, the ministers of Jehovah, weep. It was the priests’ office, we know, to pray in the name of the whole people; and now the Prophet follows this order. It was not, indeed, peculiar to the priests to pray and to ask pardon of God; but they prayed in the name of all the people. The reason must be well known to us; for God intended by these legal types to remind the Jews, that they could not offer prayers to him, except through some mediator; the people were unworthy to offer prayers by themselves. Hence the priest was, as it were, the middle person. The whole of this is to be referred to Christ; for by him we now pray; he is the Mediator who intercedes for us. The people stood then afar off, we now dare to come nigh to God; for the vail is rent, and through Christ we are all made priests. Hence, we are allowed in familiar way and in confidence to call God our Father: and yet without Christ’s intercession, no access to God would be open to us. This then was the reason for the legal appointment. Hence the Prophet now says, Let the priests weep; not that he wished the people in the meantime to neglect their duty; but he expresses what had been prescribed by the law of God; that is, that the priests should offer supplications in the name of the people.

And he says, Between the court and the altar; for the people remained in the court, the priests themselves had a court by its side which they called the sacerdotal court; but the people’s court was over against the sanctuary. Then the priest stood, as it were, in the middle between God, that is, the ark of the covenant, and the people: the people also were standing there. We now perceive that what the Prophet meant was, that the people had the priests as their mediators to offer prayers; and yet the confession of them all was public. He calls the priests the ministers of Jehovah, as we have before found. He thus designates their office; as though he had said, that they were not more worthy than the rest of the people, as though they excelled by their own virtue or merits; but that the Lord had conferred this honor on the tribe of Levi by choosing them to be his ministers. It was then on account of their office that they came nearer to God, and not for any merit in their own works.

He further adds, Spare, Lord, or be propitious to, thy people; and give not thy heritage to reproach, that the Gentiles may rule over them. Here the Prophet leaves nothing to the priests, but to flee to God’s mercy; as though he had said that now no plea remained for the people, and that they were greatly deceived if they pretended any excuse, and that their whole hope was in God’s mercy. He afterwards shows the ground on which they were to seek and to hope for mercy; and he calls their attention to God’s gratuitous covenant, Give not thy heritage for a reproach to the Gentiles. By these words he shows, that if the Jews depended on themselves, they were past recovery; for they had so often and in such various ways provoked God’s wrath, that they could not hope for any pardon: they had also been so obstinate that the door as it were had been closed against them on account of their hardness. But the Prophet here reminds them, that as they had been freely chosen by God as his peculiar people, there remained for them a hope of deliverance, but that it ought not to have been sought in any other way. We now then understand the design of the Prophet, when he speaks of God’s heritage; as though he had said, that the people could now undertake nothing to pacify God, had they not been God’s heritage: Give not then thy heritage to reproach. He had in view the threatening, which he had before mentioned; for it was an extreme kind of vengeance, when the Lord determined to visit his people with utter destruction; after having worn them out and consumed them by famine and want, God resolved wholly to consume them by the sword of enemies. It is then to this vengeance that he now alludes when he says, That the Gentiles may not rule over them. It is therefore absurd, as many do, to connect with this the discourse concerning the locusts: such a thing is wholly inconsistent with the design of the Prophet. 77     Dr. Henderson, in his learned work on the Minor Prophets, lately published, agrees with Calvin in rejecting the interpretation alluded to here, though adopted by many learned men. He considers that the Assyrians, and not locusts, are described in the beginning of this chapter and that the Prophet “employs language borrowed from the appearance and movements of these insects, in order to make a deeper impression upon his hearers, whose minds were full of ideas derived from them as instruments of the calamity under which they were suffering.” The locusts in the first chapter are spoken of as having already appeared; but the judgment detailed in this chapter is represented as future. — Ed.

It is then added, Why should they say among the people, Where is their God? The Prophet now adduces another reason, by which the Jews might propitiate God, and that is, because his own glory is concerned: this reason has indeed an affinity to the former, for God could not expose his heritage to the reproaches of the Gentiles without subjecting also his holy name to their blasphemies. But the Prophet shows here more distinctly that God’s glory would be subject to reproach among the nations, if he dealt with the people according to the full demands of justice; for the Gentiles would contemptuously deride him, as though he could not save his people. Hence in this second clause he reminds us, that when engaged in seeking pardon, we ought to place before our eyes The glory of God, that we ought not to seek our own salvation without remembering the holy name of God, which ought of right to be preferred to all other things. And at the same time he strengthens also the hope of the people, when he teaches that the glory of God is connected with the salvation of those who had sinned; as though he had said, “God, that he may provide for his own glory, will have mercy on you.” They must then have come more willingly to God’s presences when they saw that their salvation was connected with the glory of God, and that they would be saved that the name of God might be preserved safe and free from blasphemies.

We now then perceive what the Prophet meant in this verse: he first strips the Jews of all confidence in works, showing that nothing remained for them except they fled to God’s free mercy. He then shows that this mercy is folded on God’s gratuitous covenant, because they were his heritage. In the third place, he shows that God would be merciful to them from a regard to his own glory, lest he should expose it to the reproaches of the Gentiles, if he exercised extreme severity towards his people. Let us now proceed —