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56. And they tempted and provoked the Most High God. Here they are upbraided for having, notwithstanding the many tokens of the divine favor by which they were distinguished, persevered in acting perfidiously: yea, even although God from time to time conferred upon them new benefits, to recover them to their allegiance to him, they, notwithstanding, by their rebellion, shook off his yoke. With respect to the word tempt, we have already explained its import. But it is added in general, that they provoked God, because they had not kept his covenant By this last clause, their open and gross rebellion is the more completely demonstrated; for, although they had been plainly taught their duty, they nevertheless refused to submit to the authority of God. The law is called testimonies or agreements, 357357 “Ou, Convenances.” — Fr. because, as men enter into contracts upon certain conditions, so God, by his covenant, entered into a contract with this people, and bound them to himself. In speaking of them in this manner, there is pronounced upon them no light censure; but when they are charged in the next verse with apostasy and perfidiousness, that fills up the measure of their guilt. God had adopted them to be his people: they, on the other hand, despising his favor, voluntarily renounce it. He had gathered them together under his wings; and they, by their waywardness, scatter themselves in all directions. He had promised to be a father to them; and they refuse to be his children. He had shown them the way of salvation; and they, by going astray, willingly precipitate themselves into destruction. The prophet, therefore, concludes, that in every age they showed themselves to be an impious and wicked people. It is again to be noticed, that the fault which is most severely condemned in them is, that they too much resembled their fathers. This is particularly mentioned, to prevent any man from deceiving himself by supposing, that in indiscriminately imitating his ancestors he is doing right, and that he may not think of making use of their example as an argument for defending his own conduct. The instability of the people is next expressed by a very apposite figure, which Hosea also employs in Hosea 7:16. As archers are deceived when they have a bow which is too weak, or ill bent, or crooked and flexible, so it is stated, that this people turned back, and slipped away by their deceitful and tortuous craftiness, that they might not be governed by the hand of God.
58. And they provoked him to anger with their high places. We have here adduced the species of defection by which the Israelites afforded incontestable evidence that they refused to be faithful to God, and to yield allegiance to him. They had been sufficiently, and more than sufficiently warned, that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word; and now, disregarding his whole law, they recklessly follow their own inventions. And the fruits which uniformly proceed from the contempt of the law are, that men who choose rather to follow their own understanding than to submit to the authority of God, become wedded to gross superstitions. The Psalmist complains that the service of God was corrupted by them in two ways; in the first place, by their defacing the glory of God, in setting up for themselves idols and graven images; and, secondly, by their inventing strange and forbidden ceremonies to appease the anger of God.
59 God heard it, and was wroth. The prophet again shows that God, when he found that no good resulted from his long-suffering, which the people abused, yea, even treated with mockery, and perverted as an encouragement to greater excess in sinning, at length proceeded to inflict severe punishments upon them. The metaphor, which he borrows from earthly judges, is frequently to be met with in the Scriptures. When God is said to hear, it is not meant that it is necessary for him to make inquisition, but it is intended to teach us that he does not rush forth inconsiderately to execute his judgments, and thus to prevent any from supposing that he ever acts precipitately. The amount of what is stated is, that the people continued so pertinaciously in their wickedness, that at length the cry of it ascended to heaven; and the very weight of the punishment demonstrated the aggravated nature of the offense.
After it is said that Israel, whom God had loved so much, was become an abomination in his sight, it is added, (verse 60,) that they were bereft of the presence of God, which is the only source of true felicity and comfort under calamities of every kind. God, then, is said to have abhorred Israel, when he permitted the ark of the covenant to be carried into another country, as if he intended by this to indicate that he had departed from Judea, and bidden the people farewell. It is indeed very obvious, that God was not fixed to the outward and visible symbol; but as he had given the ark to be a token or sign of the close union which subsisted between him and the Israelites, in suffering it to be carried away, he testified, that he himself had also departed from them. Shiloh having been for a long time the abode of the ark, and the place where it was captured by the Philistines, (1 Samuel 4:11,) it is termed the habitation or dwelling-place of God. The manner of his residence, in short, is beautifully expressed in the next sentence, where Shiloh is described as his dwelling-place among men. God, it is true, fills both heaven and earth; but as we cannot attain to that infinite height to which he is exalted, in descending among us by the exercise of his power and grace, he approaches as near to us as is needful, and as our limited capacity will bear. It is a very emphatic manner of speaking to represent God as so incensed by the continual wickedness of his people, that he was constrained to forsake this place, the only one which he had chosen for himself upon the earth.
61. And he delivered his strength into captivity. In this verse, the same subject is prosecuted: it is declared, that the strength of God, by which the Israelites had been shielded and defended, was at that time in captivity. Not that his power could only be exerted in connection with the outward symbol; but instead of opposing their enemies as he had formerly done, it was now his will that the grace by which he had preserved his people should, so to speak, be led captive. This, however, is not to be understood as implying that the Philistines had made God their prisoner. The meaning simply is, that the Israelites were deprived of the protection of God, in consequence of which they fell into the hands of their enemies, even as an army is put to flight when the general is taken prisoner. The ark is also termed the beauty of God; because, being in himself invisible, he made it the symbol of his presence, or, as it were, a mirror in which he might be seen. It is a bold, and at first sight, an absurd hyperbole, to say that the strength of God was taken prisoner by the Philistines; but it is expressly used for the purpose of aggravating the wickedness of the people. As he had been accustomed mightily to display the power of his arm in aiding them, the offenses with which he had been provoked must have been of a very heinous character, when he suffered that symbol of his power to be forcibly carried away by a heathen army. We are taught by the prophet Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 7:12,) that what is here related of Shiloh, is addressed as a warning to all those who, flattering themselves upon false grounds, that they enjoy the presence of God, are lifted up with vain confidence: “But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.” If, therefore, when God approaches us familiarly, we do not sincerely receive him with that reverence which becomes us, we have ground to fear that what happened to the people of Shiloh will happen also to us. So much the more disgusting, then, is the boasting of the Pope and his adherents, who support the claims of Rome as the special dwelling-place of God, from the fact, that the Church in former times flourished in that city. It is to be remembered, — what they seem to forget, — that Christ, who is the true temple of the Godhead, was born in Bethlehem, and brought up in Nazareth, and that he dwelt and preached in Capernaum and Jerusalem; and yet the miserable desolation of all these cities affords a dreadful testimony of the wrath of God.
62. And he shut up his people to the sword. Other parts of the calamity which befell Israel in the time of the high priest Eli are here mentioned. God, in permitting the ark to be carried away, showed that he had withdrawn his favor from them. This was also demonstrated from the fact, that all the flower of the people — those who were in the prime and blush of manhood — were consumed by the wrath of God: which is expressed by the fire devouring them. But this language is metaphorical, as is evident from the history of the event referred to, which informs us, that those that perished who were of the chosen of Israel, to the number of thirty thousand men, fell by the sword of the enemy, and not by fire, (1 Samuel 4:10.) This figure points out the suddenness of the dreadful calamity. It is as if it had been said, They were destroyed in a moment, even as fire quickly consumes chaff and the dry leaves of trees. 361361 “Que c’en a este fait en un moment, ainsi que le feu a incontinent consume de la paille ou des fueilles d’arbres bieu seiches.” — Fr.
The great extent of this slaughter is heightened by another figure, which is, that for want of men, the maidens continued unmarried. This is the meaning of the clause, Their virgins were not applauded; the reference being to the nuptial songs which were wont to be sung at marriages in praise of the bride. To aggravate still more the unwonted and appalling nature of the calamity, it is added, that even the priests, whom God had taken under his special protection, perished indiscriminately with others. When it is said, that the widows made no lamentation, I would explain it as denoting, either that they themselves died first for sorrow, so that they had no opportunity of mourning for others, or else, that when led captive by their enemies, they were prohibited to mourn. By all these expressions, the object is to show, in a few words, that all kinds of calamities were heaped upon them. 362362 That is, the order of enumerating first the judgments inflicted by God upon his own people, and then those inflicted upon their enemies.
65. But the Lord awoke as one asleep. Some understand this as spoken of the Israelites, implying that the Lord awoke against them; and others, as spoken of their enemies. If the first sense is adopted, it need not excite our surprise, that the Israelites are termed, in the 66th verse, the enemies of God, even as they are so designated in Isaiah 1:24,
“Therefore, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” (Isaiah 1:24)
And thus the meaning will be, that the Israelites paid dearly for abusing the patience of God, by taking encouragement from it to indulge to greater excess in the commission of sin; for awaking suddenly, he rushed upon them with so much the greater fury. But as we find the prophets drawing their doctrine from Moses, and also framing their language according to his as a standard, the opinion of those who understand this and the following verse, as referring to the Philistines, is no less probable. The prophet here appears to have borrowed this order, from the song of Moses, (Deuteronomy 32:27,) where God declares, that while he punished his own people, he, at the same time, did not forget to repress their enemies. Since it is a common proverb, that the issue of wars is uncertain, if, after the enemies of the chosen tribes had obtained the victory, no change had happened to them, it would not have been so manifest, that what befell his own people was a punishment inflicted upon them by God. But when God, after having afflicted and humbled the Israelites, made his judgments to fall on their conquerors, without the instrumentality of man, beyond all human expectation, and contrary to what happens in the ordinary course of events; — from this it is the more plainly manifest, that when the Israelites were laid in the dust, it was the work of God, who intended thus to punish them. The prophet, however, at the same time, gives us to understand, that God was constrained, as it were, by necessity, to punish them with greater severity; because, in afterwards inflicting his judgments upon the Philistines, he gave abundant evidence of his regard to his covenant, which the Israelites might be very apt to think he had quite forgotten. Although he had, so to speak, taken the side of the Philistines for a time, it was not his intention utterly to withdraw his love from the children of Abraham, lest the truth of his promise should become void.
The figure of a drunken man may seem somewhat harsh; but the propriety of using it will appear, when we consider that it is employed in accommodation to the stupidity of the people. Had they been of a pure and clear understanding, 363363 “S’il eust eu un entendement rassis et bien dispose a escouter.” — Fr. “Had they been possessed of a clear understanding, and disposed to listen.” God would not have thus transformed himself, and assumed a character foreign to his own. When he, therefore, compares himself to a drunken man, it was the drunkenness of the people; that is to say, their insensibility that constrained him to speak thus: which was so much the greater shame to them. With respect to God, the metaphor derogates nothing from his glory. If he does not immediately remedy our calamities, we are ready to think that he is sunk into a profound sleep. But how can God, it may be said, be thus asleep, when he is superior in strength to all the giants, and yet they can easily watch for a long time, and are satisfied with little sleep? I answer, when he exercises forbearance, and does not promptly execute his judgments, the interpretation which ignorant people put upon his conduct is, that he loiters in this manner like a man who is stupified, and knows not how to proceed. 364364 “Les gens stupides prenent cela comme s’il s’arrestoit ainsi qu’un homme estonne, qui ne scait par ou commencer.” — Fr. The prophet, on the contrary, declares, that this sudden awaking of God will be more alarming and terrible than if he had at the first lifted up his hand to execute judgment; and that it will be as if a giant, drunken with wine, should start up suddenly out of his sleep, while as yet he had not slept off his surfeit. Many restrict the statement in the 66th verse, concerning God’s smiting his enemies behind, to the plague which he sent upon the Philistines, recorded in 1 Samuel 5:12. The phrase, everlasting disgrace, agrees very well with this interpretation; for it was a shameful disease to be afflicted with haemorrhoids in their hinder parts. But as the words, They were smitten behind, admit of a more simple sense, I leave the matter undecided.
67. And he rejected the tabernacle of Joseph. Those who suppose that the word enemies, in the 66th verse, applies to the Israelites, connect these verses with the preceding, and suppose the meaning to be, that the wound which God had inflicted upon them was incurable. But, preferring the other opinion, which regards the Philistines as spoken of, and the scope to be, that God, in punishing them so severely, evidently showed that the covenant which he had made with his people was not disannulled, since he had avenged himself in such an awful manner upon their enemies, the explanation which I would rather give is, that this is added by way of correction, as if it had been said, That God was not yet fully reconciled towards his people who had wickedly revolted from him, and that, as an evidence of this, there remained among them some traces of the punishment with which he had visited them. The meaning of the text, therefore, is, that when the ark was taken by the Philistines, God was, so to speak, asleep, having been made drunk by the sins of his people, so that he could no longer keep watch for their defense as he had been accustomed to do; and yet, that he did not continue long sunk in sleep, but that, whenever he saw the ungodly Philistines treating with mockery the glory of his majesty, this heinous insult awoke and provoked him, just as if a giant, having well supped, had awoke from his first sleep before he had recovered from the exciting effects of his wine; and that, at the same time, his anger had not been so provoked against this heathen and uncircumcised nation as to prevent him from exhibiting some signs of the chastisement which he had inflicted upon the wicked and ungrateful Israelites even to the end. The rejection spoken of amounts to this, that when God permitted his ark to be carried away to another place, the Israelites were thereby deprived of the honor with which, by special privilege, they had been previously distinguished.
There are two principal points which should here be particularly attended to; in the first place, when the Philistines were smitten with unseemly ulcers, the plainest evidence was afforded that when the Israelites were conquered by them, this happened solely because God willed it to be so. He did not recover new strength, or gather together a new army for the purpose of invading, some short time after, the Philistines who had been victorious, nor did he have recourse, in doing this, to foreign aid. The other point is, that although God stretched forth his hand against the Philistines, to show that he had still some remembrance of his covenant, and some care of the people whom he had chosen, yet in restoring the Israelites in some measure to their former state, he made the rejection of Shiloh a perpetual monument of his wrath. He, therefore, rejected the tribe of Ephraim; 366366 Shiloh, as formerly observed, was a city in the tribe of Ephraim, and it was rejected as the resting-place of the ark. not that he cast them off for ever, or completely severed them from the rest of the body of the Church, but he would not have the ark of his covenant to reside any longer within the boundaries of that tribe. To the tribe of Ephraim is here opposed the tribe of Judah, in which God afterwards chose for himself a dwelling-place.
Thus the prophet proceeds to show, that when the ark of the covenant had a resting-place assigned to it on mount Zion, the people were in a manner renewed; and this symbol of reconciliation being restored to them, they were recovered to the favor of God from which they had fallen. As God had, so to speak, been banished from the kingdom, and his strength led into captivity through the sins of the Israelites, they had need to be taught, by this memorial, that God had been so highly displeased with their wickedness, that he could not bear to look upon the place in which he had formerly dwelt. After this separation, although to teach the people to be more on their guard in time to come, there was not a full and perfect restitution, yet God again chose a fixed residence for his ark, which was a manifestation of wonderful goodness and mercy on his part. The ark, after its return, was carried from one place to another, as to Gath, Ekron, and other places, until mount Zion was pointed out by an oracle as its fixed abode; but this intervening period is not taken notice of by the prophet, because his design went no farther than to impress upon the memory, both the example of the punishment, and the grace of God, which was greater than any could have ventured to hope for. 367367 “La grace de Dieu plus grande qu’on n’eust ose esperer.” — Fr. That which is often repeated by Moses should also be remembered:
“But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come,” etc., (Deuteronomy 12:5.)
Shiloh having acquired this renown, because the ark had dwelt there for a long time, when the ark was carried away into the country of the enemies of Israel, the minds of men were strangely perplexed, until they knew the place which God had chosen for its future residence. The ten tribes were not at that time rejected, and they had an equal interest in the kingdom and the priesthood with the tribe of Judah; but in process of time their own rebellion cut them off. This is the reason why the prophet says, in scorn, that the tribe of Ephraim was rejected, and that the tribe of Joseph, from whom it sprung, was not chosen.
68. But he chose the tribe of Judah. The meaning is, that God preferred the tribe of Judah to all the rest of the people, and chose from it a king, whom he might set over all the Israelites as well as the Jews. And he chose the mountain of Zion, appointing a certain spot upon it to be the seat of his sanctuary. That the cause of this choice might not be sought any where else but in God, it is particularly stated that the preferring of mount Zion to all other places, and the enriching of it in such a distinguished manner, proceeded entirely from the free and unmerited love of God. The relative which is here put instead of the causal adverb for; the meaning being, that the sanctuary of God was established there, not for any worthiness of the place, but solely because it was the good pleasure of God. It was proper that this second restitution of the people should be no less free than their first adoption was, when God made his covenant with Abraham, or when he delivered them from the land of Egypt. God’s love to the place had a respect to men. From this it follows, that the Church has been gathered together from the beginning, and in all ages, by the pure grace and goodness of God; for never have men been found to possess any intrinsic meritorious claims to his regard, and the Church is too precious to be left to depend upon the power of men.
69. And built his sanctuary like high places. 368368 In our English Bible it is, “And he built his sanctuary like high palaces.” On which Archbishop Secker has the following note: — “That God built his tabernacle like high palaces, is not a strong expression. On high, which Hare adopts, is better. And perhaps changing כ, into ב, would suffice for this sense. But the old versions have כ, and yet in the latter part of the verse they have ב, for כ. It is a remarkable anticipation to mention the temple, which Solomon built, before the mention of David.” In this verse, what is intimated is simply this, that Mount Zion was singularly beautified; which, however, ought to be referred to the heavenly pattern. It was not the will of God that the minds of his people should be entirely engrossed with the magnificence of the building, or with the pomp of outward ceremonies; but that they should be elevated to Christ, in whom the truth of the figures of the former economy was exhibited. It is, therefore affirmed, that the sanctuary was built like high places; that is to say, it was conspicuous among all the high mountains: even as Isaiah (Isaiah 2:2,) and Micah, (Micah 4:1,) prophesying of the building of the new and spiritual temple, declare that it “shall be established in the tops of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” And it is well known that fortresses were in those days erected upon high places. Zion is next compared to the entire mass of the globe: He hath built his sanctuary like the earth, 369369 “Like the earth; the simile is intended to point out the fixedness of the temple, in opposition to the frequent different stations in which the tabernacle had been placed.” — Warner. which he has established for ever. Some regions of the globe are visited by earthquakes, or perish by the opening of the earth, or are agitated by some violent commotion, or undergo some alteration; but the body of the earth itself continues always stable and unchanged, because it rests upon deep foundations. It is, therefore, here taught that the building spoken of was not temporary, like the sumptuous palaces of kings, which fall into ruins during the lapse of time, or are in danger of being destroyed by other means; but that it was founded to stand entire, even to the end of the world. If it is objected that the temple was destroyed by the Chaldeans and Assyrians, the answer is obvious, That the stability celebrated consists in Christ alone; for, if the ancient sanctuary, which was only a figure, is considered merely in itself, without any regard to that which it typified, it will be only an empty shadow. But as God intended it to be a pledge to show that Christ was to come, perpetuity is justly attributed to it. In like manner it is said, in another place, (Psalm 87:1,) “His foundation is in the holy mountains;” and in Isaiah, (Isaiah 14:32,) “The Lord hath founded Zion;” and again, in Psalm 74:2, God is said “to dwell in mount Zion,” so that it should never be moved.
70. And he chose David his servant. After having made mention of the temple, the prophet now proceeds to speak of the kingdom; for these two things were the chief signs of God’s choice of his ancient people, and of his favor towards them; and Christ also hath appeared as our king and priest to bring a full and perfect salvation to us. He proves that David was made king by God, who elevated him from the sheepfold, and from the keeping of cattle, to the royal throne. It serves in no small degree to magnify the grace of God, that a peasant was taken from his mean shepherd’s cot, and exalted to the dignity of a king. Nor is this grace limited to the person of David. We are taught that whatever worth there was in the children of Abraham, flowed from the fountain of God’s mercy. The whole glory and felicity of the people consisted in the kingdom and priesthood; and both these are attributed to the pure grace and good pleasure of God. And it was requisite that the commencement of the kingdom of Christ should be lowly and contemptible, that it might correspond with its type, and that God might clearly show that he did not make use of external aids in order to accomplish our salvation.
71. He took him from following the suckling ewes, etc. The grace of God is farther commended from the circumstance, that David, who was a keeper of sheep, was made the shepherd of the chosen people and heritage of God. There is an allusion to David’s original condition; but the Spirit of God, at the same time, shows us the difference between good and lawful kings, and tyrants, robbers, and insatiable extortioners, by telling us that whoever would aspire to the character of the former must be like shepherds.
It is afterwards added, (verse 72,) that David had faithfully performed the duties of the trust committed to him. By this the prophet indirectly rebukes the ingratitude and perverseness of the people, who not only overturned the holy and inviolable order which God had established, but who had also, in shaking off his salutary yoke, thrown themselves into a state of miserable dispersion. What follows concerning the prudence of David’s hands seems to be an improper form of expression. But it is intended forcibly to express, that he not only was successful in what he had undertaken, but that he was governed by the Spirit of God, which prevented him from putting his hand at random to any work which might come in his way, and led him prudently and skilfully to do that to which faith and duty called him; and thus, in the success of his undertakings, his wisdom appears more conspicuous than his good fortune.