3. If so he they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil which I purpose to do unto them, because of the evil of their doings.
3. Si forte audiant et convertantur quisque a via sua mala, et poeniteat me mali quod ego cogitans ad faciendum (id est, cogito facere) ipsis propter (a facie, ad verbum) malitiam actionurn ipsorum.
In this verse God briefly shows for what end he sent his Prophet. For it would not have been sufficient for him to announce what he taught, except it was known to have been the will of God. Here then God asserts that he would not be propitious to the people, except they complied with what he required, that is, to repent. Thus he testifies that what was taught would be useful to them, because it had reference to their safety; and a truth cannot be rendered more entitled to our love than when we know that it tends to promote our wellbeing. Therefore God, when he saw the people rushing headlong through blind despair into all kinds of impiety, designed to make the trial whether or not some of them were healable; as though he had said, "What are ye doing, ye miserable beings? It is not yet wholly over with you; only obey me, and the remedy for all your evils is ready at hand." We now see what God's design was, even that he wished to give those Jews the hope of mercy who were altogether irreclaimable, so that they might not reject what he taught on hearing that it would be for their good.
But we may hence gather a general doctrine; that when God is especially displeased with us, it is yet an evidence of his paternal kindness when he favors us with the prophetic teaching, for that will not be without its fruit, except it be through our own fault. But at the same time we are rendered more and more inexcusable, if we reject that medicine which would certainly give us life. Let us then understand that the Prophet says here, that he was sent that he might try whether the Jews would repent; for God was ready to receive them into favor.
By saying ylwa, auli, "if peradventure," he made use of a common mode of speaking. God indeed has perfect knowledge of all events, nor had he any doubt respecting what would take place, when the prophets had discharged their duties; but what is pointed out here, and also condemned, is the obstinacy of the people; as though he had said, that it was indeed difficult to heal those who had grown putrid in their evils, yet he would try to do so. And thus God manifests his unspeakable goodness, that he does not wholly cast away men who are almost past remedy, and whose diseases seem to be unhealable. He also strengthens his Prophet; for he might from long experience have been led to think that all his labor would be in vain; therefore God adds this, that he might not cease to proceed in the course of his calling; for what seemed incredible might yet take place beyond his expectation. We now see why it was said, If so be that they will hear.
It is then added, and turn, etc. From the context we learn, that repentance as well as faith proceeds from the truth taught: for how is it that those alienated from God return, confess their sins, and change their character, minds, and purposes? It is the fruit of truth; not that truth in all cases is effectual, but he treats here of the elect: or were they all healable, yet God shews that the use and fruit of his truth is to turn men, as it is said also by the Prophet, (Malachi 4:6,) and repeated in the first chapter of Luke,
"He will turn many of the children of Israel." (Luke 1:6.)
What follows is not without its weight, every one from his evil way; for God intimates that it was not enough that the whole people should ostensibly confess their sins, but that every one was required to examine himself: for when we seek God in a troop, and one follows another, it is often done with no right feeling. Repentance therefore is only true and genuine, when every one comes to search his own case; for its interior and hidden seat is in the heart. This is the reason why he says, If a man, that is, if every one turns from his evil way.
As to God's repentance, of which mention is made, there is no need of long explanation. No change belongs to God; but when God is said to turn away his wrath, it is to be understood in a sense suitable to the comprehension of men: in the same way also we are to understand the words, that he repents. (Psalm 85:5; 110:4.) It is at the same time sufficiently evident what God means here, even that he is reconcilable, as soon as men truly turn to him: and thus we see that men cannot be called to repent, until God's mercy is presented to them. Hence also it follows, that these two things, repentance and faith, are connected together, and that it is absurd and an impious sacrilege to separate them; for God cannot be feared except the sinner perceives that he will be propitious to him: for as long as we are apprehensive of God's wrath, we dread his judgment; and thus we storm against him, and must necessarily be driven headlong into the lowest abyss, hence under the Papacy they speak not only foolishly, but also coldly of repentance; for they leave souls doubtful and perplexed, nay, they take away every kind of certainty. Let us then understand the reason why the Holy Spirit teaches us, that repentance cannot be rightly and profitably taught, unless it be added, that God will be propitious to miserable men whenever they turn to him.
With regard to the word I think, I have already said, that God forms no contrary purposes; but this refers to those men who deserved his dreadful vengeance; it is the same as though he had said, -- "Their iniquity has already ripened; I am therefore now ready to take vengeance on them: nevertheless let them return to me, and they shall find me to be a Father. There is, then, no reason for them to despair, though I have already manifested tokens of my vengeance." This is the meaning; but he repeats the reason of his wrath, On account of the wickedness of their doings; for we know that they were proud and obstinate; it was therefore necessary to close their mouths, otherwise they would have raised a clamor, and said, that God was unjustly angry, or that he exceeded all bounds. Whatever evils then were at hand, God briefly shews that they came from themselves, that the cause was their own wickedness,1 It follows, --
3. It may be they will hear and turn every one from his way that is evil; then I will repent as to the evil which I purpose to bring on them for the evil of their doings.
Here is "evil for evil," the evil of punishment for the evil of sin. The word is often used in these two senses. It is changed in the Sept., ka>kwn and ponh>rwn; and in the Vulg., "malum" and "malitia." "Thus evil," says Gataker, "begetteth evil, a just retaliation of evil for evil. The evil of iniquity and the evil of penalty are as the needle and the thread; the one goeth before and maketh way for the other; and when one hath found a passage it draweth on the other." -- Ed.