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Lecture Twenty-fourth.

We began to explain the precept given to the angel before God sent forth the Chaldeans to cut off the city, and destroy the people. The angel is at length commanded to sign the foreheads of all the pious. But many take the noun תו, tho, which means the same as a mark, for the last letter of the alphabet, and yet there is no reason to compel them to do so. תו, tho, is a Hebrew mark. It is puerile to invent that subtle comment, that the foreheads of the pious were signed with that letter, because the noun תורה, thoreh, which signifies the doctrine of the law, begins with the same letter. Jerome brings forward another figment: he says that in his time, among the Samaritans, the letter ת was like a cross, with which the Christians used then to sign themselves. But all see how nugatory this is. Although it was not the figure which is now in use among the Papists, but was the mark which the brothers Antonii used: but I omit that as unworthy of mention. If puzzles please you, it would be a better reason why the faithful were marked with the last letter, because they were last among men, and as it were the offscouring of the world. Since therefore from the beginning, the world has treated the sons of God as if they were castaways, therefore I have said that they may be signed with the last letter: but we may be content with the simple and genuine sense of the Prophet: therefore God orders their foreheads to be signed. We yesterday explained the cause, and said that a most useful doctrine could be collected from this place, namely, when all things seem mingled on the earth, and turned upwards and downwards, yet that God never casts away the care of his own, but protects them from all harm. God therefore always restrains his judgments, so that he really proves that the safety of his people is dear and precious to himself. We gather also that angels are ministers of this grace, because they watch over the safety of the faithful, as Scripture everywhere testifies. (Psalm 91:11, 12, and elsewhere often.) Now, if any one asks what this sign was? it must be simply answered, that this vision was presented to the Prophet for the common perception of all; for if we wish to single out a few in a crowd, we need some sign. God therefore here borrows what we read concerning a sign from the customs of men: for the faithful could not otherwise understand that they were beyond the reach of weapons, when mixed with the unbelieving. Because therefore it seems the common condition of all, they might be frightened just as if God should raise his hand to chastise their sins. Therefore he says here, that they were signed in some way. It is true then that we daily bear a sign by which God distinguishes us from the reprobate. For the blood of Christ reconciles us to the Father, as is sufficiently known; but perhaps that also may be too far-fetched. It is also true that when God struck the land of Egypt, the Israelites were passed over by the angel, since the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the door-posts. (Exodus 12:22, 23.) Every house which had the mark of blood was secure and safe, when God’s vengeance was inflicted upon all the Egyptians. But as to this passage, I interpret it thus: when God gives liberty to unbelievers, so float they seem to be able to overturn the whole world, the angels are at the same time sent forth, who hinder their lust that they should not touch the sons of God. This then is sufficient for us.

Now the Prophet adorns the faithful with various titles, when he says, upon the foreheads of men who groan and cry. There is a great likeness between these two words, אנך, anek, and אנה, aneh; but one is written by K final, and the other by ה. He says then, that the faithful groan over the abominations: and then, that they cry out: for thus they translate the latter clause, although it may also be taken for bewailing, if we only understand outward sorrow, and that which openly appears. Hence we gather how God receives us under his guardianship, and sends us his angels as protectors, so that if mixed with the impious, we may yet keep ourselves undefiled by their pollutions, and then when we cannot correct their wickedness, yet we bear testimony by grief and sorrow that they displease us. When the Apostle commends to us the patience of Lot, he says, that he tormented his heart while he dwelt in Sodom. A single stranger could not recall those abandoned ones to a sound mind, who had given themselves over to all wickedness. (2 Peter 2:7.) But he did not grow hardened to the foulness of so much sin, but continually groaned before God, and Was in perpetual grief. The Prophet now bears the same witness concerning other believers. Whatever it is, God here shows what he wishes his sons to be. Therefore if we allow ourselves to approve the sins of the impious, and take pleasure in them and applaud them, we boast ourselves in vain to be God’s sons, because he does not reckon any among his own who do not groan at abominations. And truly this is the sign of too much sloth, when we see the sacred name of God made the subject of ridicule, and all order overthrown, and yet are not affected with grief. Nor is it surprising if we are involved in the punishment of sins which our own connivance has fostered, instead of their being a torment to us. For that exhortation must be remembered, that the zeal of God’s house may eat us up, and the reproaches of those who reproach God may fall upon us, (Psalm 69:10,) as it is said elsewhere, May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I am unmindful of thee, O Jerusalem, at the summit of my mirth. (Psalm 137:6.) Therefore when we see on one side the name of God trodden as it were under foot, and all justice violated, we see on the other side the Church of God miserably and cruelly afflicted, if we smile in security, by this very thing we sufficiently show that we have nothing in common with God, and in vain we call him Father. Hence these titles must be marked, by which the Prophet marks all God’s elect, when he says, whosoever groan over the abominations: then he adds the word, crying out, the better to express the ardor and vehemence of their zeal, — just as if he said that groaning was not sufficient, as many groan in a corner, when they see the whole order of God so perverted, but when they come to the light and the sight of men, they dare not give any sign of the least suspicion, because they are unwilling to incur hatred and ill-will. The Prophet therefore here exacts more from the sons of God than secret groaning, when he wishes them to groan openly and vociferate; so that they bear witness that they abominate those things which God has condemned in his law. Now it follows —

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