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12. Israel's Sin

Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt. 2The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him. 3He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: 4Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us; 5Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial. 6Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.

7 He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. 8And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin. 9And I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast. 10I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets. 11 Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields. 12And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep. 13And by a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved. 14Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.

Here God complains by his Prophet, that the Israelites flattered themselves in their vices, because their affairs succeeded prosperously and according to their wishes: and it is a vice too common, that men felicitate themselves as long as fortune, as they commonly say, smiles on them, thinking that they have God then propitious to them. Since then the condition of the people was such, they despised all the Prophets and their reproofs. Of this hardihood the Lord now complains. Ephraim has said I am yet become rich There is an emphasis to be noticed in the adversative particle אךach”. It is sometimes in Hebrew a simple affirmative; but here the Prophet meant to express another thing, even this, that the Israelites laughed at all reproofs, because God seemed to be propitious to them, as though he manifested his favour by prosperity. “I am, however, become rich; and therefore I care nothing for what the Prophets may say, for I am contented with my lot.” This, as I have said, is a common evil; and hence this passage ought to be carefully noted, lest when the Lord spares us for a time, we may think that we are innocent before him; for there is nothing more to be feared than the dazzling of our eyes by a prosperous and desirable state of things. Though the Lord then may bear with us, and not immediately draw forth his vengeance against us, but, on the contrary, cherish us as it were kindly in his bosom; yet if he reproves us by his word, we ought to attend to his threatenings.

But they further add, All my labours shall not find iniquity, or, they shall not find iniquity in all my labours. Many read simply as the words are, “My labours shall not find iniquity:” but as the expression seems stiff, I have tried to render it smoother, as others also have done, “They shall not find iniquity in all my labours.” This boasting went farther, for the Prophet shows that the people were not only secure, because the Lord gave them some tokens of his paternal favour; but that they were also inebriated with this impious confidence, that God would not have favoured them had they not been exempt from every fault and vice: and this second clause ought to be carefully noticed. Now it is a depravity that is by no means to be endured, when men begin to despise God, because he deals kindly with them, and when they abuse his levity so as to condemn all his teaching and all his threatening; this is indeed a very great perversion: but when to all this is added such a pride, that ungodly and reprobate men persuade themselves that they are just, because God does not immediately punish them, — this is, as it were, a diabolical madness; and yet we see that it is a common thing. For godless men are not only proud of their wealth, they are not only inflated with their own power; but they also think that God is in some way under obligations to them. “Why! it must be that God regards me innocent, and pure from every vice, for he favours me: he then does not find in me what is worthy of punishment.” Thus the wicked raise up their horns against God, while he indulges them, and appears not so severe towards them as they have deserved.

When at the present day we perceive these evils prevailing among the greater portion of mankind, there is no reason to feel astonished: but we ought at the same time to profit by the instruction of the Prophet, so that we may not be blinded by prosperity, and despise reproofs, and flatter ourselves in our sin; and also, that we may not accumulate for ourselves a store of God’s wrath, when he deals kindly with us. Let us not then abuse his forbearance; let us not think that we are innocent before him, because he does not immediately execute his judgements; but let us rather learn to make a scrutiny of ourselves, and to shake off our vices, so that we may humble ourselves under his hand, though he restrains himself from inflicting punishment. This is the application of the present doctrine.

But we must notice what the Prophet adds, They shall not find iniquity in my labours; that is, iniquity shall not be found in my labours, because this is wickedness or a crime requiring expiation. I wonder that interpreters explain this place so frigidly; for they say, that there shall not be found in my labours iniquity or sin. But the Prophet does not set down a copulative, but uses the particle אשר, asher, which is to be taken here exegetically. And the meaning is, that hypocrites, while they claim to themselves the praise of innocence, for the sake of dissembling, detest ostensibly every wickedness and crime. “Iniquity shall not be found in my labours, for this is wickedness; far be it that I should be discovered to be a wicked person in my doings; for I am without fraud in all my dealings.” But is this the case? By no means; but as they judge of God’s favour by prosperous fortune, they think that God would not be so kind to them unless he regarded them as just and pure. Hence we see how securely hypocrites mock God, when they begin to despise his teaching and warnings. We need not then wonder that at this day so much perverseness prevails everywhere in the world. But let us also use this mode of teaching which the Prophet sets before us. Let us now proceed —

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