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38. Yet he, being merciful, expiated their iniquity. To show the more fully that no means had succeeded in bending the Israelites, and causing them to return to a sound state of mind, we are now informed that, although God bare with their multiplied transgressions, and exercised his mercy in forgiving them, they had no less manifested their wickedness in abusing his benignity in every instance in which it was displayed, than they had shown themselves refractory and obstinate when he treated them with severity. At the same time, the reason is assigned why they did not utterly perish. They no doubt deserved to be involved in one common destruction; but it is declared that God mitigated his anger, that some seed of them might remain. That none might infer, from these examples of vengeance which have been mentioned, that God had proceeded to punish them with undue severity, we are told that the punishments inflicted upon them were moderate — yea, mild, when compared with the aggravated nature of their wickedness. God kept back his hand, not looking so much to what they had deserved, as desiring to give place to his mercy. We are not, however, to imagine that he is changeable, when at one time he chastises us with a degree of severity, and at another time gently draws and allures us to himself; for in the exercise of his matchless wisdom, he has recourse to different means by which to try whether there is really any hope of our recovery. But the guilt of men becomes more aggravated, when neither his severity can reform them nor his mercy melt them. It is to be observed, that the mercy of God, which is an essential attribute of his nature, is here assigned as the reason why he spared his people, to teach us that he was not induced by any other cause but this, to show himself so much inclined and ready to pardon. Moreover, as he pardoned them not only in one instance, nor in one respect, it is affirmed that he expiated their iniquity, that he might not destroy them; and again, that although he had been oftentimes provoked, he yet ceased not to turn away his anger; and, finally, that he mitigated his chastisements, lest the people should be overwhelmed with the weight of them.




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