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God Challenges Israel


Hear what the L ord says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.


Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the L ord,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the L ord has a controversy with his people,

and he will contend with Israel.



“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you? Answer me!


For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses,

Aaron, and Miriam.


O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the saving acts of the L ord.”


What God Requires


“With what shall I come before the L ord,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?


Will the L ord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the L ord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?


Cheating and Violence to Be Punished


The voice of the L ord cries to the city

(it is sound wisdom to fear your name):

Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city!


Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,

and the scant measure that is accursed?


Can I tolerate wicked scales

and a bag of dishonest weights?


Your wealthy are full of violence;

your inhabitants speak lies,

with tongues of deceit in their mouths.


Therefore I have begun to strike you down,

making you desolate because of your sins.


You shall eat, but not be satisfied,

and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you;

you shall put away, but not save,

and what you save, I will hand over to the sword.


You shall sow, but not reap;

you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;

you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.


For you have kept the statutes of Omri

and all the works of the house of Ahab,

and you have followed their counsels.

Therefore I will make you a desolation, and your inhabitants an object of hissing;

so you shall bear the scorn of my people.


God, having testified that he had in nothing been troublesome to the people, now states with how great and with how many benefits he had bound them to himself. But we may prefer taking the words as explanatory and somewhat ironical that he records his benefits in the place of trouble or vexation; though, in my judgment, it is better to read the two clauses apart. I have brought thee, he says, from the land of Egypt, from that miserable bondage; and then he says, I have redeemed thee 163163     The complete sentence is, “from the house of servants,” or rather, slaves: for they were not properly what we call servants, but slaves, in Egypt. The Septuagint has εξ οικου δουλειας — from the house of slavery. “The house of slaves,” is the version both of Newcome and of Henderson. They are the same words as we find in Exodus 20:2, rendered, “out of the house of bondage;” which ought to be translated slavery rather than bondage, if we depart from the literal rendering — the house of slaves. — Ed. By the word, redeem, he expresses more clearly and more fully illustrates his kindness. Then he adds, I have set over thee as leaders Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam, the sister of them both. Benefits, we know, are often accompanied with injuries; and he who obliges another destroys all his favor, when he turns kindness as it often happens, into reproach. It is hence frequently the case, that he who has been kind to another brings so serious an injury, that the memory of his kindness ought not to continue. God mentions here these two things, — that he had conferred vast benefits on the people, — and yet that he had in nothing been burdensome to them; as though he said “Many are those things which I can, if necessary, on my part bring forward, by which I have more than a hundred times made thee indebted to me; now thou canst not in thy turn bring anything against me; thou canst not say that I have accompanied my benefits with wrongs, or that thou hast been despised, because thou were under obligations to me, as it is often the case with men who proudly domineer, when they think that they have made others bound to them. I have not then thought proper to accompany my great favors with anything troublesome or grievous to thee.” We now understand why the Prophet expressly mentions these two things, — that God had in nothing been vexatious to his people, — and that he had brought them up from the land of Egypt.

That redemption was so great, that the people ought not to have complained, had it been the will of God to lay on their shoulders some very heavy burdens: for this answer might have been ever readily given, — “Ye have been delivered by me; ye owe to me your life and your safety. There is therefore no reason why any thing should be now burdensome to you; for the bondage of Egypt must have been bitterer to you than hundred deaths; and I redeemed you from that bondage.” But, as the Lord had treated his redeemed people so kindly and so humanely, yea, with so much indulgence, how great and how intolerable was their ingratitude in not responding to his great kindness? We now more fully understand the Prophet’s meaning in these words.

I have made thee to ascend, he says, from Egypt; and then, I have redeemed thee. He goes on, as we have said, by degrees. He afterwards adds, I have sent before thy face Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. God means here that it had not been a momentary kindness; for he continued his favor towards the Jews when he set over them Moses and Aaron, and Miriam, which was an evidence of his constant care, until he had completed his work of delivering them. For Moses was a minister of their deliverance in upholding civil order, and Aaron as to the priesthood and spiritual discipline. With regard to Miriam, she also performed her part towards the women; and as we find in Exodus 15, she composed a song of thanksgiving after passing through the Red Sea: and hence arose her base envy with regard to Moses; for being highly praised, she thought herself equal to him in dignity. It is at the same time right to mention, that it was an extraordinary thing, when God gave authority to a woman, as was the case with Deborah that no one may consider this singular precedent as a common rule. It now follows —

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