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a Bible passage
78. Psalm 78
1Give ear, O my people, to my alaw:
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
3Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
Telling to the generation to come the praises of Jehovah,
And his strength, and his wondrous works that he hath done.
5For he established a testimony in Jacob,
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which he commanded our fathers,
That they should make them known to their children;
6That the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born;
Who should arise and tell them to their children,
7That they might set their hope in God,
And not forget the works of God,
But keep his commandments,
8And might not be as their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation athat set not their heart aright,
And whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
9The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows,
Turned back in the day of battle.
10They kept not the covenant of God,
And refused to walk in his law;
11And they forgat his doings,
And his wondrous works that he had showed them.
12Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers,
In the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13He clave the sea, and caused them to pass through;
And he made the waters to stand as a heap.
14In the day-time also he led them with a cloud,
And all the night with a light of fire.
15He clave rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink abundantly as out of the depths.
16He brought streams also out of the rock,
And caused waters to run down like rivers.
17Yet went they on still to sin against him,
To rebel against the Most High in the adesert.
18And they tempted God in their heart
By asking food aaccording to their desire.
19Yea, they spake against God;
They said, Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?
20Behold, he smote the rock, so that waters gushed out,
And streams overflowed;
Can he give bread also?
Will he provide flesh for his people?
21Therefore Jehovah heard, and was wroth;
And a fire was kindled against Jacob,
And anger also went up against Israel;
22Because they believed not in God,
And trusted not in his salvation.
23Yet he commanded the skies above,
And opened the doors of heaven;
24And he rained down manna upon them to eat,
And gave them afood from heaven.
25aMan did eat the bread of the mighty:
He sent them food to the full.
26He acaused the east wind to blow in the heavens;
And by his power he guided the south wind.
27He rained flesh also upon them as the dust,
And winged birds as the sand of the seas:
28And he let it fall in the midst of their camp,
Round about their habitations.
29So they did eat, and were well filled;
And he gave them their own desire.
30They were not estranged from that which they desired,
Their food was yet in their mouths,
31When the anger of God went up against them,
And slew of the fattest of them,
And smote down the young men of Israel.
32For all this they sinned still,
And believed not in his wondrous works.
33Therefore their days did he consume in vanity,
And their years in terror.
34When he slew them, then they inquired after him;
And they returned and sought God earnestly.
35And they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their redeemer.
36But they flattered him with their mouth,
And lied unto him with their tongue.
37For their heart was not aright with him,
Neither were they faithful in his covenant.
38But he, being merciful, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not:
Yea, many a time turned he his anger away,
And did not stir up all his wrath.
39And he remembered that they were but flesh,
A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
40How oft did they rebel against him in the wilderness,
And grieve him in the desert!
41And they turned again and tempted God,
And aprovoked the Holy One of Israel.
42They remember not his hand,
Nor the day when he redeemed them from the adversary;
43How he set his signs in Egypt,
And his wonders in the field of Zoan,
44And turned their rivers into blood,
And their streams, so that they could not drink.
45He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them;
And frogs, which destroyed them.
46He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar,
And their labor unto the locust.
47He adestroyed their vines with hail,
And their sycomore-trees with afrost.
48He gave over their cattle also to the hail,
And their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
49He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger,
Wrath, and indignation, and trouble,
aA band of angels of evil.
50He amade a path for his anger;
He spared not their soul from death,
But gave atheir life over to the pestilence,
51And smote all the first-born in Egypt,
The achief of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52But he led forth his own people like sheep,
And guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53And he led them safely, so that they feared not;
But the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary,
To this amountain, which his right hand had gotten.
55He drove out the nations also before them,
And allotted them for an inheritance by line,
And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
56Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God,
And kept not his testimonies;
57But turned back, and dealt treacherously like their fathers:
They were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
58For they provoked him to anger with their high places,
And moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
59When God heard this, he was wroth,
And greatly abhorred Israel;
60So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh,
The tent which he placed among men;
61And delivered his strength into captivity,
And his glory into the adversary's hand.
62He gave his people over also unto the sword,
And was wroth with his inheritance.
63Fire devoured their young men;
And their virgins had no marriage-song.
64Their priests fell by the sword;
And their widows made no lamentation.
65Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep,
Like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
66And he smote his adversaries backward:
He put them to a perpetual reproach.
67Moreover he refused the tent of Joseph,
And chose not the tribe of Ephraim,
68But chose the tribe of Judah,
The mount Zion which he loved.
69And he built his sanctuary like the heights,
Like the earth which he hath established for ever.
70He chose David also his servant,
And took him from the sheepfolds:
71From following the ewes that have their young he brought him,
To be the shepherd of Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
72So he was their shepherd according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
The Importance of Religious Instruction.
Maschil of Asaph.
1 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: 7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
These verses, which contain the preface to this history, show that the psalm answers the title; it is indeed Maschil—a psalm to give instruction; if we receive not the instruction it gives, it is our own fault. Here,
I. The psalmist demands attention to what he wrote (v. 1): Give ear, O my people! to my law. Some make these the psalmist's words. David, as a king, or Asaph, in his name, as his secretary of state, or scribe to the sweet singer of Israel, here calls upon the people, as his people committed to his charge, to give ear to his law. He calls his instructions his law or edict; such was their commanding force in themselves. Every good truth, received in the light and love of it, will have the power of a law upon the conscience; yet that was not all: David was a king, and he would interpose his royal power for the edification of his people. If God, by his grace, make great men good men, they will be capable of doing more good than others, because their word will be a law to all about them, who must therefore give ear and hearken; for to what purpose is divine revelation brought our ears if we will not incline our ears to it, both humble ourselves and engage ourselves to hear it and heed it? Or the psalmist, being a prophet, speaks as God's mouth, and so calls them his people, and demands subjection to what was said as to a law. Let him that has an ear thus hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, Rev. ii. 7.
II. Several reasons are given why we should diligently attend to that which is here related. 1. The things here discoursed of are weighty, and deserve consideration, strange, and need it (v. 2): I will open my mouth in a parable, in that which is sublime and uncommon, but very excellent and well worthy your attention; I will utter dark sayings, which challenge your most serious regards as much as the enigmas with which the eastern princes and learned men used to try one another. These are called dark sayings, not because they are hard to be understood, but because they are greatly to be admired and carefully to be looked into. This is said to be fulfilled in the parables which our Saviour put forth (Matt. xiii. 35), which were (as this) representations of the state of the kingdom of God among men. 2. They are the monuments of antiquity—dark sayings of old which our fathers have told us, v. 3. They are things of undoubted certainty; we have heard them and known them, and there is no room left to question the truth of them. The gospel of Luke is called a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us (Luke i. 1), so were the things here related. The honour we owe to our parents and ancestors obliges us to attend to that which our fathers have told us, and, as far as it appears to be true and good, to receive it with so much the more reverence and regard. 3. They are to be transmitted to posterity, and it lies as a charge upon us carefully to hand them down (v. 4); because our fathers told them to us we will not hide them from their children. Our children are called theirs, for they were in care for their seed's seed, and looked upon them as theirs; and, in teaching our children the knowledge of God, we repay to our parents some of that debt we owe to them for teaching us. Nay, if we have no children of our own, we must declare the things of God to their children, the children of others. Our care must be for posterity in general, and not only for our own posterity; and for the generation to come hereafter, the children that shall be born, as well as for the generation that is next rising up and the children that are born. That which we are to transmit to our children is not only the knowledge of languages, arts and sciences, liberty and property, but especially the praises of the Lord, and his strength appearing in the wonderful works he has done. Our great care must be to lodge our religion, that great deposit, pure and entire in the hands of those that succeed us. There are two things the full and clear knowledge of which we must preserve the entail of to our heirs:— (1.) The law of God; for this was given with a particular charge to teach it diligently to their children (v. 5): He established a testimony or covenant, and enacted a law, in Jacob and Israel, gave them precepts and promises, which he commanded them to make known to their children, Deut. vi. 7, 20. The church of God, as the historian says of the Roman commonwealth, was not to be res unius ætatis—a thing of one age but was to be kept up from one generation to another; and therefore, as God provided for a succession of ministers in the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron, so he appointed that parents should train up their children in the knowledge of his law: and, when they had grown up, they must arise and declare them to their children (v. 6), that, as one generation of God's servants and worshippers passes away, another generation may come, and the church, as the earth, may abide for ever; and thus God's name among men may be as the days of heaven. (2.) The providences of God concerning them, both in mercy and in judgment. The former seem to be mentioned for the sake of this; since God gave order that his laws should be made known to posterity, it is requisite that with them his works also should be made known, the fulfilling of the promises made to the obedient and the threatenings denounced against the disobedient. Let these be told to our children and our children's children, [1.] That they may take encouragement to conform to the will of God (v. 7): that, not forgetting the works of God wrought in former days, they might set their hope in God and keep his commandments, might make his command their rule and his covenant their stay. Those only may with confidence hope for God's salvation that make conscience of doing his commandments. The works of God, duly considered, will very much strengthen our resolution both to set our hope in him and to keep his commandments, for he is able to bear us out in both. [2.] That they may take warning not to conform to the example of their fathers (v. 8): That they might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation. See here, First, What was the character of their fathers. Though they were the seed of Abraham, taken into covenant with God, and, for aught we know, the only professing people he had then in the world, yet they were stubborn and rebellious, and walked contrary to God, in direct opposition to his will. They did indeed profess relation to him, but they did not set their hearts aright; they were not cordial in their engagements to God, nor inward with him in their worship of him, and therefore their spirit was not stedfast with him, but upon every occasion they flew off from him. Note, Hypocrisy is the high road to apostasy. Those that do not set their hearts aright will not be stedfast with God, but play fat and loose. Secondly, What was a charge to the children: That they be not as their fathers. Note, Those that have descended from wicked and ungodly ancestors, if they will but consider the word and works of God, will see reason enough not to tread in their steps. It will be no excuse for a vain conversation that it was received by tradition from our fathers (1 Pet. i. 18); for what we know of them that was evil must be an admonition to us, that we dread that which was so pernicious to them as we would shun those courses which they took that were ruinous to their health or estates.
Wonders Wrought in Behalf of Israel; The Crimes of the Israelites;
9 The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. 10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; 11 And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had showed them. 12 Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as a heap. 14 In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. 15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. 16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. 17 And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness. 18 And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. 19 Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? 20 Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? 21 Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; 22 Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation: 23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, 24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. 25 Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full. 26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. 27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: 28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. 29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; 30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, 31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. 32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. 33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. 34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. 35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. 36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. 37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. 38 But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
In these verses,
I. The psalmist observes the late rebukes of Providence that the people of Israel had been under, which they had brought upon themselves by their dealing treacherously with God, v. 9-11. The children of Ephraim, in which tribe Shiloh was, though they were well armed and shot with bows, yet turned back in the day of battle. This seems to refer to that shameful defeat which the Philistines gave them in Eli's time, when they took the ark prisoner, 1 Sam. iv. 10, 11. Of this the psalmist here begins to speak, and, after a long digression, returns to it again, v. 61. Well might that event be thus fresh in mind in David's time, above forty years after, for the ark, which in that memorable battle was seized by the Philistines, though it was quickly brought out of captivity, was never brought out of obscurity till David fetched it from Kirjath-jearim to his own city. Observe, 1. The shameful cowardice of the children of Ephraim, that warlike tribe, so famed for valiant men, Joshua's tribe; the children of that tribe, though as well armed as ever, turned back when they came to face the enemy. Note, Weapons of war stand men in little stead without a martial spirit, and that is gone if God be gone. Sin dispirits men and takes away the heart. 2. The causes of their cowardice, which were no less shameful; and these were, (1.) A shameful violation of God's law and their covenant with him (v. 10); they were basely treacherous and perfidious, for they kept not the covenant of God, and basely stubborn and rebellious (as they were described, v. 8), for they peremptorily refused to walk in his law, and, in effect, told him to his face they would not be ruled by him. (2.) A shameful ingratitude to God for the favours he had bestowed upon them: They forgot his works and his wonders, his works of wonder which they ought to have admired, v. 11. Note, Our forgetfulness of God's works is at the bottom of our disobedience to his laws.
II. He takes occasion hence to consult precedents and to compare this with the case of their fathers, who were in like manner unmindful of God's mercies to them and ungrateful to their founder and great benefactor, and were therefore often brought under his displeasure. The narrative in these verses is very remarkable, for it relates a kind of struggle between God's goodness and man's badness, and mercy, at length, rejoices against judgment.
1. God did great things for his people Israel when he first incorporated them and formed them into a people: Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, and not only in their sight, but in their cause, and for their benefit, so strange, so kind, that one would think they should never be forgotten. What he did for them in the land of Egypt is only just mentioned here (v. 12), but afterwards resumed, v. 43. He proceeds here to show, (1.) How he made a lane for them through the Red Sea, and caused them, gave them courage, to pass through, though the waters stood over their heads as a heap, v. 13. See Isa. lxiii. 12, 13, where God is said to lead them by the hand, as it were, through the deep that they should not stumble. (2.) How he provided a guide for them through the untrodden paths of the wilderness (v. 14); he led them step by step, in the day time by a cloud, which also sheltered them from the heat, and all the night with a light of fire, which perhaps warmed the air; at least it made the darkness of night less frightful, and perhaps kept off wild beasts, Zech. ii. 5. (3.) How he furnished their camp with fresh water in a dry and thirsty land where no water was, not by opening the bottles of heaven (that would have been a common way), but by broaching a rock (v. 15, 16): He clave the rocks in the wilderness, which yielded water, though they were not capable of receiving it either from the clouds above or the springs beneath. Out of the dry and hard rock he gave them drink, not distilled as out of an alembic, drop by drop, but in streams running down like rivers, and as out of the great depths. God gives abundantly, and is rich in mercy; he gives seasonably, and sometimes makes us to feel the want of mercies that we may the better know the worth of them. This water which God gave Israel out of the rock was the more valuable because it was spiritual drink. And that rock was Christ.
2. When God began thus to bless them they began to affront him (v. 17): They sinned yet more against him, more than they had done in Egypt, though there they were bad enough, Ezek. xx. 8. They bore the miseries of their servitude better than the difficulties of their deliverance, and never murmured at their taskmasters so much as they did at Moses and Aaron; as if they were delivered to do all these abominations, Jer. vii. 10. As sin sometimes takes occasion by the commandment, so at other times it takes occasion by the deliverance, to become more exceedingly sinful. They provoked the Most High. Though he is most high, and they knew themselves an unequal match for him, yet they provoked him and even bade defiance to his justice; and this in the wilderness, where he had them at his mercy and therefore they were bound in interest to please him, and where he showed them so much mercy and therefore they were bound in gratitude to please him; yet there they said and did that which they knew would provoke him: They tempted God in their heart, v. 18. Their sin began in their heart, and thence it took its malignity. They do always err in their heart, Heb. iii. 10. Thus they tempted God, tried his patience to the utmost, whether he would bear with them or no, and, in effect, bade him do his worst. Two ways they provoked him:—(1.) By desiring, or rather demanding, that which he had not thought fit to give them: They asked meat for their lust. God had given them meat for their hunger, in the manna, wholesome pleasant food and in abundance; he had given them meat for their faith out of the heads of leviathan which he broke in pieces, Ps. lxxiv. 14. But all this would not serve; they must have meat for their lust, dainties and varieties to gratify a luxurious appetite. Nothing is more provoking to God than our quarrelling with our allotment and indulging the desires of the flesh. (2.) By distrusting his power to give them what they desired. This was tempting God indeed. They challenged him to give them flesh; and, if he did not, they would say it was because he could not, not because he did not see it fit for them (v. 19): They spoke against God. Those that set bounds to God's power speak against him. It was as injurious a reflection as could be cat upon God to say, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? They had manna, but the did not think they had a table furnished unless they had boiled and roast, a first, a second, and a third course, as they had in Egypt, where they had both flesh and fish, and sauce too (Exod. xvi. 3, Num. xi. 5), dishes of meat and salvers of fruit. What an unreasonable insatiable thin is luxury! Such a mighty thing did these epicures think a table well furnished to be that they thought it was more than God himself could give them in that wilderness; whereas the beasts of the forest, and all the fowls of the mountains, are his, Ps. l. 10, 11. Their disbelief of God's power was so much the worse in that they did at the same time own that he had done as much as that came to (v. 20): Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, which they and their cattle drank of. And which is easier, to furnish a table in the wilderness, which a rich man can do, or to fetch water out of a rock, which the greatest potentate on the earth cannot do? Never did unbelief, though always unreasonable, ask so absurd a question: "Can he that melted down a rock into streams of water give bread also? Or can he that has given bread provide flesh also?" Is any thing too hard for Omnipotence? When once the ordinary powers of nature are exceeded God has made bare his arm, and we must conclude that nothing is impossible with him. Be it ever so great a thing that we ask, it becomes us to own, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst.
3. God justly resented the provocation and was much displeased with them (v. 21): The Lord heard this, and was wroth. Note, God is a witness to all our murmurings and distrusts; he hears them and is much displeased with them. A fire was kindled for this against Jacob; the fire of the Lord burnt among them, Num. xi. 1. Or it may be understood of the fire of God's anger which came up against Israel. To unbelievers our God is himself a consuming fire. Those that will not believe the power of God's mercy shall feel the power of his indignation, and be made to confess that it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. Now here we are told, (1.) Why God thus resented the provocation (v. 22): Because by this it appeared that they believed not in God; they did not give credit to the revelation he had made of himself to them, for they durst not commit themselves to him, nor venture themselves with him: They trusted not in the salvation he had begun to work for them; for then they would not thus have questioned its progress. Those cannot be said to trust in God's salvation as their felicity at last who cannot find in their hearts to trust in his providence for food convenient in the way to it. That which aggravated their unbelief was the experience they had had of the power and goodness of God, v. 23-25. He had given them undeniable proofs of his power, not only on earth beneath, but in heaven above; for he commanded the clouds from above, as one that had created them and commanded them into being; he made what use he pleased of them. Usually by their showers they contribute to the earth's producing corn; but now, when God so commanded them, they showered down corn themselves, which is therefore called here the corn of heaven; for heaven can do the work without the earth, but not the earth without heaven. God, who has the key of the clouds, opened the doors of heaven, and that is more than opening the windows, which yet is spoken of as a great blessing, Mal. iii. 10. To all that by faith and prayer ask, seek, and knock, these doors shall at any time be opened; for the God of heaven is rich in mercy to all that call upon him. He not only keeps a good house, but keeps open house. Justly might God take it ill that they should distrust him when he had been so very kind to them that he had rained down manna upon them to eat, substantial food, daily, duly, enough for all, enough for each. Man did eat angels' food, such as angels, if they had occasion for food, would eat and be thankful for; or rather such as was given by the ministry of angels, and (as the Chaldee reads it) such as descended from the dwelling of angels. Every one, even the least child in Israel, did eat the bread of the mighty (so the margin reads it); the weakest stomach could digest it, and yet it was so nourishing that it was strong meat for strong men. And, though the provision was so good, yet they were not stinted, nor ever reduced to short allowance; for he sent them meat to the full. If they gathered little, it was their own fault; and yet even then they had no lack, Exod. xvi. 18. The daily provision God makes for us, and has made ever since we came into the world, though it has not so much of miracle as this, has no less of mercy, and is therefore a great aggravation of our distrust of God. (2.) How he expressed his resentment of the provocation, not in denying them what they so inordinately lusted after, but in granting it to them. [1.] Did they question his power? He soon gave them a sensible conviction that he could furnish a table in the wilderness. Though the winds seem to blow where they list, yet, when he pleased, he could make them his caterers to fetch in provisions, v. 26. He caused an east wind to blow and a south wind, either a south-east wind, or an east wind first to bring in the quails from that quarter and then a south wind to bring in more from that quarter; so that he rained flesh upon them, and that of the most delicate sort, not butchers' meat, but wild-fowl, and abundance of it, as dust, as the sand of the sea (v. 27), so that the meanest Israelite might have sufficient; and it cost them nothing, no, not the pains of fetching it from the mountains, for he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitation, v. 28. We have the account Num. xi. 31, 32. See how good God is even to the evil and unthankful, and wonder that his goodness does not overcome their badness. See what little reason we have to judge of God's love by such gifts of his bounty as these; dainty bits are no tokens of his peculiar favour. Christ gave dry bread to the disciples that he loved, but a sop dipped in the sauce to Judas that betrayed him. [2.] Did they defy his justice and boast that they had gained their point? He made them pay dearly for their quails; for, though he gave them their own desire, they were not estranged from their lust (v. 29, 30); their appetite was insatiable; they were well filled and yet they were not satisfied; for they knew not what they would have. Such is the nature of lust; it is content with nothing, and the more it is humoured the more humoursome it grows. Those that indulge their lust will never be estranged from it. Or it intimates that God's liberality did not make them ashamed of their ungrateful lustings, as it would have done if they had had any sense of honour. But what came of it? While the meat was yet in their mouth, rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, the wrath of God came upon them and slew the fattest of them (v. 31), those that were most luxurious and most daring. See Num. xi. 33, 34. They were fed as sheep for the slaughter: the butcher takes the fattest first. We may suppose there were some pious and contented Israelites, that did eat moderately of the quails and were never the worse; for it was not the meat that poisoned them, but their own lust. Let epicures and sensualists here read their doom. The end of those who make a god of their belly is destruction, Phil. iii. 19. The prosperity of fools shall destroy them, and their ruin will be the greater.
4. The judgments of God upon them did not reform them, nor attain the end, any more than his mercies (v. 32): For all this, they sinned still; they murmured and quarrelled with God and Moses as much as ever. Though God was wroth and smote them, yet they went on frowardly in the way of their heart (Isa. lvii. 17); they believed not for his wondrous works. Though his works of justice were as wondrous and as great proofs of his power as his works of mercy, yet they were not wrought upon by them to fear God, nor convinced how much it was their interest to make him their friend. Those hearts are hard indeed that will neither be melted by the mercies of God nor broken by his judgments.
5. They persisting in their sins, God proceeded in his judgments, but they were judgments of another nature, which wrought not suddenly, but slowly. He punished them not now with such acute diseases as that was which slew the fattest of them, but a lingering chronical distemper (v. 33): Therefore their days did he consume in vanity in the wilderness and their years in trouble. By an irreversible doom they were condemned to wear out thirty-eight tedious years in the wilderness, which indeed were consumed in vanity; for in all those years there was not a step taken nearer Canaan, but they were turned back again, and wandered to and fro as in a labyrinth, not one stroke struck towards the conquest of it: and not only in vanity, but in trouble, for their carcases were condemned to fall in the wilderness and there they all perished but Caleb and Joshua. Note, Those that sin still must expect to be in trouble still. And the reason why we spend our days in so much vanity and trouble, why we live with so little comfort and to so little purpose, is because we do not live by faith.
6. Under these rebukes they professed repentance, but they were not cordial and sincere in this profession. (1.) Their profession was plausible enough (v. 34, 35): When he slew them, or condemned them to be slain, then they sought him; they confessed their fault, and begged his pardon. When some were slain others in a fright cried to God for mercy, and promised they would reform and be very good; then they returned to God, and enquired early after him. So one would have taken them to be such as desired to find him. And they pretended to do this because, however they had forgotten it formerly, now they remembered that God was their rock and therefore now that they needed him they would fly to him and take shelter in him, and that the high God was their Redeemer, who brought them out of Egypt and to whom therefore they might come with boldness. Afflictions are sent to put us in mind of God as our rock and our redeemer; for, in prosperity, we are apt to forget him. (2.) They were not sincere in this profession (v. 36, 37): They did but flatter him with their mouth, as if they thought by fair speeches to prevail with him to revoke the sentence and remove the judgment, with a secret intention to break their word when the danger was over; they did not return to God with their whole heart, but feignedly, Jer. iii. 10. All their professions, prayers, and promises, were extorted by the rack. It was plain that they did not mean as they said, for they did not adhere to it. They thawed in the sun, but froze in the shade. They did but lie to God with their tongues, for their heart was not with him, was not right with him, as appeared by the issue, for they were not stedfast in his covenant. They were not sincere in their reformation, for they were not constant; and, by thinking thus to impose upon a heart-searching God, they really put as great an affront upon him as by any of their reflections.
7. God hereupon, in pity to them, put a stop to the judgments which were threatened and in part executed (v. 38, 39): But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity. One would think this counterfeit repentance should have filled up the measure of their iniquity. What could be more provoking than to lie thus to the holy God, than thus to keep back part of the price, the chief part? Acts v. 3. And yet he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity thus far, that he did not destroy them and cut them off from being a people, as he justly might have done, but spared their lives till they had reared another generation which should enter into the promised land. Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it, Isa. lxv. 8. Many a time he turned his anger away (for he is Lord of his anger) and did not stir up all his wrath, to deal with them as they deserved: and why did he not? Not because their ruin would have been any loss to him, but, (1.) Because he was full of compassion and, when he was going to destroy them, his repentings were kindled together, and he said, How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? Hos. xi. 8. (2.) Because, though they did not rightly remember that he was their rock, he remembered that they were but flesh. He considered the corruption of their nature, which inclined them to evil, and was pleased to make that an excuse for his sparing them, though it was really no excuse for their sin. See Gen. vi. 3. He considered the weakness and frailty of their nature, and what an easy thing it would be to crush them: They are as a wind that passeth away and cometh not again. They may soon be taken off, but, when they are gone, they are gone irrecoverably, and then what will become of the covenant with Abraham? They are flesh, they are wind; whence it were easy to argue they may justly, they may immediately, be cut off, and there would be no loss of them: but God argues, on the contrary, therefore he will not destroy them; for the true reason is, He is full of compassion.