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a Bible passage
7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”
The Prophet expands more fully what he had referred to — that it was a wonder that the Jews had not perished, because they had never ceased to provoke God against themselves. He then sets this fact before them more clearly, From the days 252252 The words are singular, “days,” being preceded by two prepositions, ל and מ, למימי, “to — from the days,” etc., which seems to mean, “To this time from the days of your fathers;” or it may mean, “To and from the days of your fathers, your immediate predecessors.” — Ed. of your fathers, he says, ye have turned aside from my statutes. He increases their condemnation by this circumstance — that they had not lately begun to depart from the right way, but had continued their contumacy for many ages, according to what the apostles, as well as the Prophets in various places, have testified:
“Ye uncircumcised in heart, ye have ceased not to resist the Holy Spirit like your fathers.” (Acts 7:51.)
“Harden not your hearts as your fathers did; in the righteousness of your fathers walk not.” (Psalm 95:8.)
But I will not multiply proofs, which very often are to be met with, and must be well known.
We now understand the Prophet’s intention — that the Jews for many ages had been notorious for their impiety and wickedness, and that they had not been dealt with by God as they had deserved, because he had according to his ineffable goodness and forbearance suspended his rigour, so as not to visit them according to their demerits. It hence appears how unreasonable they were, not only in being morose and proud, but especially in being furious against God, when they accused him of tardiness, while yet he had proved himself to be really a God towards them by his continued forbearance.
The words, And ye have not kept them, are added for amplification; for he expresses more fully their contempt of his law, as though he had said, that they were not only transgressors, but had also with gross wilfulness so departed from the law as to regard it as nothing to tread God’s precepts under their feet.
He then exhorts then to repentance, and kindly addresses them, and declares that he would be propitious and reconcilable to them, if they repented. He has hitherto sharply reproved them, because their necks being hard they had need of such correction; for had the Prophet gently and kindly exhorted them, they would either have kicked or have set on him with their horns; be now mitigates his sharpness, not indeed with respect to all, but if there were any healable among the people he meant to try them; and hence he offers them reconciliation with God, as though he had said, “Though God has been in various ways wantonly offended by you, and though you have repudiated his favor, and have become wholly unworthy of being regarded by him, yet return, and he will meet you.”
We have said elsewhere that all exhortations would be in vain without a hope of pardon; for when God commands us to return to the right way, our hearts would never be touched, nay, they would on the contrary turn away, had we no hope that he would be reconciled to us. This course the Prophet now pursues, when in the person of God himself he promises pardon, provided the Jews repented.
God is said to return to us, when he ceases to demand the punishment of our sins, and when he lays aside the character of a judge, and makes himself known to us as a Father. We indeed know that God neither returns nor departs; for he who fills all places never moves here and there; and we also know that we exist and live in him, but he shows by outward evidences that he is alienated from us, and by the same he shows that he is propitious to us; for when he favors us with fruitful seasons, with peace and with other blessings, he is said to be near us; but when he lets loose the reins of his wrath, or exposes us to the assaults of Satan and to the wanton power of men, he is said to be far removed from us. But this is so well known that I need not dwell longer on the point.
The promise which the Prophet states serves to show, that God would manifest tokens of his paternal favor to the Jews, provided only they were submissive; but that it would be their own fault, if they did not find through his blessings that he was their Father. It would be on account of their sins, which, as Isaiah says, hinder the course of that beneficence to which he is of his own self inclined, (Isaiah 59:2.) And he bids them to return. Hence the Papists very foolishly conclude, that repentance is in the power of man’s free-will. But God requires what is above our strength; and yet there is no reason why we should complain that there is a too heavy burden laid on us; for he regards not what we can, or what our ability admits, but what we owe to him and what our duty requires. Though then no one can of his own self turn to God, he is not on this account excusable, because we must consider whence comes the defect; and how much soever, as I have already said, a man may pretend his own impotency, he cannot yet escape from being bound to God, though more is required of him than he of himself can perform. But this subject has often been discussed elsewhere. The import of what is said here is, — that men are not miserable through the unjust rigour of God, but always through their own sins.
It follows, Ye have said, In what shall we return? It is an evidence of perverseness, when men answer that they see not that they have erred, and that hence conversion is to no purpose required of them; for this is the meaning of these words, Whereby shall we return? that is, “What dost thou require from us? for we are not conscious of any defection; we worship God as we ought: now if our duties are repudiated by him, we see not why he should so expressly blame us; let him show in what we have offended; for conversion to him is superfluous, until we be proved guilty of apostasy, or of those sins which God determines to punish in us.” To this the Prophet answers —