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4. Unfaithful Israel

If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove. 2And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.

3For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. 5Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities. 6Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. 7The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. 8For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us. 9And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder. 10Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul. 11At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A dry wind of the high places in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to fan, nor to cleanse, 12 Even a full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence against them. 13Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled. 14O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? 15For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from mount Ephraim. 16Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 17As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the Lord. 18Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart.

19My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trump, the alarm of war. 20Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. 21How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. 23I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. 25I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. 27For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. 28For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it. 29The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein. 30And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life. 31For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.

The Prophet still pursues the same subject; for he reproves the hypocrisy of the Israelites, because they sought to discharge their duty towards God only by external ceremonies, while their hearts were full of deceits and of every kind of impiety and wickedness. Hence he says, that God required this from the Jews, — to plough again the fallow, and not to sow among thorns.

It is a most suitable comparison; for Scripture often compares us to a field, when it represents us as God’s heritage; and we have been chosen by God as a peculiar people for this end — that he may gather fruit from us, as a husbandman gathers produce from his fields. We can indeed add nothing to what God is; but there is a fruit which he demands; so that our whole life is to be devoted to his glory. God then would not have us to be idle and fruitless, but to bring forth some fruit. But what is done by hypocrites? They sow; that is, they shew some concern, yea, they pretend great ardor, when God exhorts them to repent, or when he invites them. They then make a great bustle; yet they mar everything by their own mixtures, the same as though one scattered his seed among thorns: but it will be of no avail thus to cast seed among thorns; for the ground ought to be well cleared and prepared. Hence God laughs to scorn this preposterous care and diligence, in which hypocrites pride themselves, and says, that they busy themselves without any advantage; for it is the same, as though an husbandman had wholly lost his seed; for when the ground is full of briers and thorns, the seed, though it may grow for a time, cannot yet bring forth fruit. For this reason God bids the Israelites to plough the fallows; 100100     Literally, “Plough for yourselves the ploughing,“ or, the plough-land; or, “Fallow for yourselves the fallow.” They were not to sow a land once ploughed; but they were to plough again. — Ed. as though he had said, that they were like a rough ground, which is full of thorns, and that therefore there was need of unusual and by no means a common cultivation; for when thorns and briers grow in a field, of what benefit will it be to cast seed there? Nay, a field cannot be well prepared by the plough alone, so that it may produce fruit; but much labor is also necessary, as is the case with fallow ground, which is called essarter in our language.

The Prophet then intimates that the people had become hardened in their vices, and that they were not only full of vices, like a field left uncultivated for two years; but that their vices were so deep, that they could not be well cleared away by ploughing alone, except they were drawn up by the roots, as they were like thorns and brambles, which have been growing in a field for many years. We hence see, that not only impiety and contempt of God, and other sins of the people of Israel, are referred to by the Prophet, but also their perverseness; for they had so hardened themselves for many years in their vices, that there was need not only of the plough, but also of other instruments to tear up the thorns, to eradicate those vices which had formed deep roots. As then, he had before warned them, that they would labor in vain except they returned to God with sincerity of heart and acquiesced in him; so here he bids them to examine their life, that they might not cast away their seed, like hypocrites, who formally acknowledge their sins. Hence he bids them wholly to shake off their vices, which were hid within, according to what they do, who tear up thorns and briers in a field, which has been long neglected, and left without being cultivated. It now follows —


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