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God’s Compassion Despite Israel’s Ingratitude


When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.


The more I called them,

the more they went from me;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals,

and offering incense to idols.



Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms;

but they did not know that I healed them.


I led them with cords of human kindness,

with bands of love.

I was to them like those

who lift infants to their cheeks.

I bent down to them and fed them.



They shall return to the land of Egypt,

and Assyria shall be their king,

because they have refused to return to me.


The sword rages in their cities,

it consumes their oracle-priests,

and devours because of their schemes.


My people are bent on turning away from me.

To the Most High they call,

but he does not raise them up at all.



How can I give you up, Ephraim?

How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah?

How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me;

my compassion grows warm and tender.


I will not execute my fierce anger;

I will not again destroy Ephraim;

for I am God and no mortal,

the Holy One in your midst,

and I will not come in wrath.



They shall go after the L ord,

who roars like a lion;

when he roars,

his children shall come trembling from the west.


They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,

and like doves from the land of Assyria;

and I will return them to their homes, says the L ord.



Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,

and the house of Israel with deceit;

but Judah still walks with God,

and is faithful to the Holy One.

This verse is variously rendered. Some explain the word תלואים, teluaim, as signifying “perplexed;” as though the Prophet had said, that the people would suffer a just punishment through being anxious and looking around them, and yet finding no comfort; for this would be the reward of their defection or apostasy. Hence he says, My people are in suspense; that is, there is no wonder that the Israelites are now tormented with great anxiety, and find no end to their evils; for they who have rebelled against the Lord are worthy of being thus bound fast by him. It is the fruit of their defection that they are now so full of sorrow, and also of despair. This is one exposition. Others say that God here complains of the wickedness of the people, as of those who deliberated whether they ought to repent. They then take suspense for doubt, My people are in suspense; that is, they debate on the subject as on a doubtful matter, when I exhort them to repent, and they cannot at once decide what to do, but alternate between divers opinions, and now incline to one thing and then to another; as if truly the subject itself made it necessary for them to deliberate. Doubtless what is right is in no way hid from them: but as they are unwilling, they seek for themselves, by evasions, some excuses for doubting; for the Prophets cry to them, and no one extols them. This is the second exposition.

It must at the same time be observed, that the word משובת, meshubat, is variously taken; for the first render it, “turning away,” and the “jod” that is affixed must then be expounded passively, and must mean their turning away from God, because the Israelites had fallen away from him; as in Isaiah chapter 56 8080     Isaiah 56:7. — fj. he calls that the house of his prayer in which the people were wont to pray. Then the turning away from God, according to them, is to be taken passively, because the people were alienated from him. Others render it, “conversion.” But the Hebrew doctors will have this word to be ever taken in a bad sense, and affirm that there is no place where it signifies any thing but rebellion or apostasy. Since it is so, I am inclined to consider it to be turning away; and thus the second sense, that the people deliberated whether they ought to hear the admonitions of the Prophets, will not stand.

The Prophet also seems to me to mean what is different from what I have referred to in the first place, as the opinion of those who say, My people are in suspense; that is, they anxiously torment themselves on account of their defection, because I punish them for their apostasy; through which it has happened, that, forsaking me, they have wandered after their own inventions. But I take the passage otherwise, as I have already said, My people are fastened; that is, my people have not only once departed from me, but they are, as it were, fastened in their defection. He says, that they were fastened, not that they were sorrowful and endured great tortures, and found their affairs perplexed; but that they were fastened, because they remained obstinate; as when one says, that a man is fastened to a thing, when he cannot be moved. This being fastened, is indeed nothing else but the obstinacy of the people. They were then fastened to defection.

He afterwards adds, To him on high they call them; none at all rises up What an indefinite sentence signifies we stated yesterday. The Prophet means that instruction had been given the people, and that many witnesses or preachers had been sent by the Lord, but that all this had been wholly useless. Hence he says, They call them to him on high, no one raises up himself. Some indeed consider the word, God, to be understood; and this is the commonly received opinion; but in my judgement they are mistaken; for the Prophet, speaking of the Israelites, doubtless means that they remained in the same state, and were not moved by any instruction to make any progress, or to show any sign of repentance. Hence, no one rises up. He uses the singular number, and puts down the particle יחד, ichad, as though he said, “There is no one, from the first to the last, who is touched with grief, for they continue obstinate in their wickedness.” And when he says, No one raises up himself, he seems to allude to the word, fastened. They are then fastened to their defection; and when the Prophets cry and diligently exhort them to repent, they do not rise up; that is, they do not aspire to God; and this indeed they neglect with one consent, as if they all alike blindly united in one and the same wickedness.

In this verse then the Prophet brings again to view the sins of the people, that it might more fully appear that God threatened them so dreadfully not without a cause; for they who were so perversely rebellious against God were worthy of the most grievous punishment. This is the sum of the whole. Let us now proceed —

Here God consults what he would do with the people: and first, indeed, he shows that it was his purpose to execute vengeance, such as the Israelites deserved, even wholly to destroy them: but yet he assumes the character of one deliberating, that none might think that he hastily fell into anger, or that, being soon excited by excessive fury, he devoted to ruin those who had lightly sinned, or were guilty of no great crimes. That no one then might assign to God an anger too fervid, he says here, How shall I set thee aside, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I set thee as Sodom? By these expressions God shows what the Israelites deserved, and that he was now inclined to inflict the punishment of which they were worthy and yet not without repentance, or at least not without hesitation. He afterwards adds in the next clause, This I will not do; my heart is within me changed; I now alter my purpose, and my repenting are brought back again; that is it was in my mind to destroy you all, but now a repenting, which reverses that design, lays hold on me. We now apprehend what the Prophet means.

As to this mode of speaking, it appears indeed at the first glance to be strange that God should make himself like mortals in changing his purposes and in exhibiting himself as wavering. God, we know, is subject to no passions; and we know that no change takes place in him. What then do these expressions mean, by which he appears to be changeable? Doubtless he accommodates himself to our ignorances whenever he puts on a character foreign to himself. And this consideration exposes the folly as well as the impiety of those who bring forward single words to show that God is, as it were like mortals; as those unreasonable men do who at this day seek to overturn the eternal providence of God, and to blot out that election by which he makes a difference between men. “O!” they say, “God is sincere, and he has said that he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.” God must then in this case remain as it were uncertain, and depend on the free-will of every one: it is hence in the power of man either to procure destruction to himself, or to come to salvation. God must in the meantime wait quietly as to what men will do, and can determine nothing except through their free-will. While these insane men thus trifle, they think themselves to be supported by this invincible reason, that God’s will is one and simple. But if the will of God be one, it does not hence follow that he does not accommodate himself to men, and put on a character foreign to himself, as much as a regard for our salvation will bear or require. So it is in this place. God does not in vain introduce himself as being uncertain; for we hence learn that he is not carried away too suddenly to inflict punishment, even when men in various ways provoke his vengeance. This then is what God shows by this mode of speaking. At the same time, we know that what he will do is certain, and that his decree depends not on the free-will of men; for he is not ignorant of what we shall do. God then does not deliberate as to himself, but with reference to men. This is one thing.

But we must also bear in mind what I have already said, that the Prophet here strikes with terror proud and profane despisers by setting before their eyes their own destruction, and by showing how little short they were of the lot of Gomorra and other cities. “For what remains,” the Lord says, “but that I should set you as Sodom and Zeboim? This condition and this recompense awaits you, if I execute the judgement which has been already as it were decreed.” Not that God would immediately do this; but he only reminds the Israelites of what they deserved, and of what would happen to them, except the Lord dealt mercifully with them. Thus much of the first part of the verse.

But when he says that his heart was changed, and that his repentings were brought back again, the same mode of speaking after the manner of men is adopted; for we know that these feelings belong not to God; he cannot be touched with repentance, and his heart cannot undergo changes. To imagine such a thing would be impiety. But the design is to show, that if he dealt with the people of Israel as they deserved, they would now be made like Sodom and Gomorra. But as God was merciful, and embraced his people with paternal affection, he could not forget that he was a Father, but would be willing to grant pardon; as is the case with a father, who, on seeing his son’s wicked disposition, suddenly feels a strong displeasure, and then, being seized with relenting, is inclined to spare him. God then declares that he would thus deal with his people.

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