1. Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.
1. Vites spoliata Israel, fructum ponet sibi: secundum multitudinem fructus sui multiplicavit altaria (in altaribus multiplicavit;) secundum bonitatem (hoc est, proventum fertilem) terrae suae benefecerunt in statuis (alii, bonas fecerunt statuas; sed prior versio mihi magis probatur.)
Interpreters explain this verse in various ways. Those who think qqwb, bukok, here applied to the vine, means "empty," are mistaken; for the Prophet means rather, that Israel was like a vine, which is robbed after the ingathering is come: for the word qqb, bekok, means properly to pillage, or to plunder. But the Prophet compares the gathering of grapes to robbing; and this view best suits the place. He says, then, that Israel is like a robbed vine; for it was stripped of its fruit; and then he adds, He will make fruit for himself. The verb hws, shue, means to equal; and many render it thus, -- He will equalize fruit to himself, or, "fruit has been squalled to him." But this rendering brings out no clear sense. I rather follow those who render it, "to lay up." This verb means also sometimes "to lie;" at least some thus render the clause, "Fruit will lie to him:" and though, in the sense of lying, it has a different final letter, hws, shue, it is yet said to be derived from this root, so that there is a change of a "alef" into h "he", as grammarians think: and yet it does not seem probable that aws, shua means to lie. But they elicit this sense, "Israel is a plundered vine; therefore fruit will lie to him;" that is, it will bring no produce, for that will happen to it which is wont to be, when robbers have laid waste fields and vineyards. But as I have said already, some more correctly render it, "to lay up;" He will lay up fruit for himself. Some, however, read the sentence as a question, -- "Will Israel lay up fruit for himself?" Then the sense is, that Israel was so plundered, that no restitution could be hoped for. But these interpreters do not seem to understand the mind of the Prophet.
I collect a different meaning from the words, and that is, that Israel would lay up fruit for himself after the robbing, and sacred history confirms this view: for this people, we know, had been in various ways chastised; so, however, that they gathered new strength. For the Lord intended only to admonish them gently, that they might be healed; but nothing, as it has before appeared, was effected by God's moderation. The case, however, was so, that Israel produced new fruit, as a vine, after having been robbed one year, brings forth a new vintage; for one ingathering does not kill the vine. Thus also Israel did lay up fruit for himself; that is, after the Lord had collected there his vintage, he again favoured the people with his blessing, and, as it were, restored them anew; as vines in the spring throw out their branches, and then produce fruit. 1
But what did happen? According to the abundance of his fruit, he says, he multiplied his altars. Here God complains, that Israel, after having been once gathered, went on in his own wickedness. Chastisements ought at least to have availed so much as to induce Israel to retake himself to the pure worship of God. But God not only reproves the people here for having been always obstinate but also for having, as it were designedly increased their vices. For it was like a horrible conspiracy against God for the people, as soon as they acquired new strength, to multiply altars to themselves, when yet the Lord had already shown, by clear evidences, that fictitious modes. of worship did not please him; nay, that they were to him the greatest abominations. We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. Then Israel, a robbed vines multiplied altars for himself; that is, Israel has indeed been gathered but the Lord restored to him wealth and abundance of provisions, and whatever appertains to a safe and happy condition; has Israel become better through correction? Has he repented after the Lord has so mercifully withdrawn his hand? By no means, he says; but he has multiplied altars for himself, he has become worse than he was wont to be; and according to the goodness of his land, he has been doing good in statues.
Now this is a very useful doctrine; for we see how the Lord forbears in inflicting punishments -- he does not execute them with the utmost rigour; for as soon as he lays on a few stripes, he withholds his hand. But how do they act who are thus moderately chastised? As soon as they can recruit their spirits, they are carried away by a more headstrong inclination, and grow insolent against God. We see this evil prevalent in the world even in our day, as it has been in all ages. We need not wonder, then, that the Prophet here expostulates with the people of Israel: but it is, at the same time, right for us to apply the doctrine for our own instruction. Though, then, the Lord should spare us, and, after having begun to chastise us, should soon show indulgence, and restore us as it were anew, let us beware lest a forgetfulness of our former sins should creep over us; but let his chastisements exert over us an influence, even after God has put a limit and an end to them. For the import of what the Prophet teaches is this, that men are not to forget the wrath of God, though he may not always, or continually, lay on stripes, but to consider that the Lord deals thus gently that they may have more time to repents and that a truce is granted them that they may more quietly reflect on their sins.
But he says, According to the goodness of their land, they have been doing good in statues. I have before stated, that some take this as meaning, that they made good statues, and consider "good" to be elegant. But I repeat the preposition l "lamed" before altars. When the Prophet said that Israel multiplied altars to himself, the literal reading is, that he multiplied in altars, or as to altars; that is, he did much, or very liberally spent money on altars. So also here, it is proper to repeat, that they did good as to statues. But a concession is made in the verb wbymyh, eithibu; 2; for it is certain that they grievously sinned; they would not have provoked the wrath of God had they not dealt wickedly in altars and statues. But the Prophet speaks ironically of the perverted worship of God, as when we say at this day, that the Papists are mad in their good intentions: when I call intentions good, I concede to them a character which does not rightly belong to them. It is therefore according to their sense that the Prophet speaks here; but he says, ironically, that they did good in statues; that is, that they seemed to themselves to be the most holy worshipers of God; for they made a show of great zeal. It was, as they say, insane devotion. But there appeared here something more than blind hardness, inasmuch as they had so soon forgotten the Lord's displeasure, of which they had been reminded by evident tokens. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet, and what is the application of his doctrine. Let us go on --
"A vine, emptying itself, is Israel,
It makes fruit equal to itself:
According to the abundance of his fruit,
He has abounded toward altars;
According to the goodness of his land,
He has made statues good."
Or, if we would coin a word to correspond with the original, the two last lines may be thus translated: --
"According to the goodness of his land,
He has goodnized statues." --Ed.