15. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.
15. Ibo, revertar ad locum meum, donex agnoscant se peccasse (ad verbum est, peccare,) et quaerant faciem meam: ubi fuerit ipsis afflictio, properabunt ad me (vel, me quaerent.)
The word rxs, shicker, signifies the morning: hence the verb means, "to seek early," or, "to rise early," as men do when they apply themselves diligently to anything: but in many places of Scripture it is taken simply in the sense of seeking; and this simple meaning seems most suitable to this place, They will seek me in their tribulation. God here declares, that after having been dreadfully fierce against both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, he would for a time rest quietly and wait from heaven what they would do. He then adds, "They will at length return to a sane mind: when they shall perceive the finishing part, they will then, having lost their perverseness, acknowledge their sins and be truly humbled." This is the meaning.
The mode of speaking seems apparently strange, when God says, that he will go away; for he neither so hides himself in heaven, that he neglects human affairs, nor withdraws his hand, but that he sustains the world by the continued exercise of his power, nor even takes away his Spirit from men, especially when he would lead them to repentance; for men never of their own accord turn themselves to God, but by his hidden influence. What then does he mean by this, I will go and return to my place? Why, indeed, he speaks here of the external state of the people: then the meaning is, "After the two kingdoms shall be cut off, I will then for a time hide my face from both the people; and they will think that I care not for their salvation; they will think that they are far removed from me." We hence see that the Prophet here only refers to what would be the external condition of the people; and then we also see, that these forms of speech are accommodated to the perceptions of men. So God also himself speaks in Isaiah 18, though for a different purpose; yet the Prophet expresses there in reality the same thing; 'I will rest,' he says, 'and I will wait in my tabernacle.' What was that rest of God, and what was his tabernacle? Why, when God exercised his judgments, we are then constrained to feel his presence, and when he kindly favors us and exhibits the kindness of a Father, he then really shows himself propitious to us: but when he neither visits us for our sins, nor gives us tokens of his favor, he seems to withdraw himself from us, and to show no regard for our life. We now then understand that the Prophet speaks of the time of exile; as though he said, "After God shall execute against you his extreme judgment, and ye shall be liken away into exile, God will then forsake you, as if he in no way regarded you, but were unmindful of you; for he will leave you there to rest, even in Chaldea and Assyria; and then he will not send forth any light of salvation. God therefore will be as it were idle in heaven." This is one thing.
But the Prophet shows at the same time the final issue, that is, that they will afterwards return to the Lord; and that this is also the purpose of God he affirms, Till they acknowledge, he says, that they have sinned. For it is the beginning of healing, when men consider the cause of their disease. He had said before that Israel saw his disease, but not in a right way; for the origin of the disease was hid from him, and continued as yet hid. But now the Prophet distinctly shows that it is to seek God, when people acknowledge and confess their sins. This word continually occurs in Scripture when sacrifices are spoken of. Hence men are said then to sin, when they go forth before God, making a true confession, when they acknowledge their guilt and pray for pardon. So also in this place he says, Until they confess that they have sinned I will for a time hide myself. And he adds, "They will seek my face". This is the second thing in attaining salvation -- to seek the face of God: for we are reconciled to God, we know, by repentance and faith; not that repentance procures pardon for us, but because it is necessarily required; it is a cause, as they say, which is indispensable.
The first step then towards healing, as we have already said, is to be touched with grief, when we perceive that we have provoked the wrath of God, and when thus our sins displease us. But he who is thus become in himself a sinner, that is, who begins to be his own judge, ought afterwards to add this second thing -- to seek the face of God, that is, to present himself a suppliant before God, and to ask for pardon; and this arises from faith. It is then to repentance that the word Msa, ahsim, belongs, which is to "acknowledge sin:" and to "seek the face of God," properly belongs to faith.
Now let us see what is the application of this doctrine as to both people. When the Israelites and the Jews lived in exile, it was of great benefit for them to have this testified, that God was hiding his face for a time, that he might afford them time to repent; this is one thing. Now when men considerately attend to this, that they are to seek God, that they may repent, they are encouraged; and this is the sharpest goad to rouse men, that they may no longer be torpid in their vices: and this is what the Prophet meant. When the Lord shall banish into exile both the Jews and the Israelites, let them not think that though for a time he will seem to cast them away they are wholly deserted; for as yet a convenient time for repentance will be given them. He afterwards describes the way of reconciliations that is, that they shall acknowledge that they have sinned, and then that they shall seek the face of God.
And at the same time he makes known the fruit of affliction, and says, When affliction shall be to them, then they will seek me. The Prophet here shows, that exile, though very bitter to Israel, would yet be useful; as when a physician gives a bitter draughts or is compelled to use strong medicine to cure an inveterate disease; so the Prophet shows that this punishment would be useful to the people, and even pleasant, however bitter it might be for a time. How so? For they will return to the Lord; and he says distinctly, "They will seek me". He includes in this expression both faith and repentance; for he separates not the two clauses as before, but shows generally that the end of affliction would be, that the people would turn themselves to God. With respect to the expression, "to seek early," I have said already that I do not approve of that meaning; for neither the Israelites nor the Jews, sought God early, but were with difficulty at lasts after a long period, and a long series of seventy years, led to repentance. What sort of seeking early was this? I do not then approve of rendering the word, 'They shall seek me early;' but, as I have said the simple idea of "seeking" is more suitable.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue to kindle often thy wrath against us by our innumerable sins, -- O grant, that when thou warnest and wouldest restore us to the right way, we may at least be pliant, and without delay attend to the scourges of thy hand, and not wait for extreme severity, but timely repent; and that we may truly and from the heart seek thee, let us not put on false repentance, but strive to devote ourselves wholly to thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.