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He will again have compassion upon us;

he will tread our iniquities under foot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.


You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our ancestors

from the days of old.

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Encouraging Prospects; Encouraging Promises. (b. c. 700.)

14 Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.   15 According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.   16 The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf.   17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee.   18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.   19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.   20 Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.

Here is, I. The prophet's prayer to God to take care of his own people, and of their cause and interest, v. 14. When God is about to deliver his people he stirs up their friends to pray for them, and pours out a spirit of grace and supplication, Zech. xii. 10. And when we see God coming towards us in ways of mercy, we must go forth to meet him by prayer. It is a prophetic prayer, which amounts to a promise of the good prayed for; what God directed his prophet to ask no doubt he designed to give. Now, 1. The people of Israel are here called the flock of God's heritage, for they are the sheep of his hand, the sheep of his pasture, his little flock in the world; and they are his heritage, his portion in the world. Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. 2. This flock dwells solitarily in the wood, or forest, in the midst of Carmel, a high mountain. Israel was a peculiar people, that dwelt alone, and was not reckoned among the nations, like a flock of sheep in a wood. They were now a desolate people (v. 13), were in the land of their captivity as sheep in a forest, in danger of being lost and made a prey of to the beasts of the forest. They are scattered upon the mountains as sheep having no shepherd. 3. He prays that God would feed them there with his rod, that is, that he would take care of them in their captivity, would protect them, and provide for them, and do the part of a good shepherd to them: "Let thy rod and staff comfort them, even in that darksome valley; and even there let them want nothing that is good for them. Let them be governed by thy rod, not the rod of their enemies, for they are thy people." 4. He prays that God would in due time bring them back to feed in the plains of Bashan and Gilead, and no longer to be fed in the woods and mountains. Let them feed in their own country again, as in the days of old. Some apply this spiritually, and make it either the prophet's prayer to Christ or his Father's charge to him, to take care of his church, as the great Shepherd of the sheep, and to go in and out before them while they are here in this world as in a wood, that they may find pasture as in Carmel, as in Bashan and Gilead.

II. God's promise, in answer to this prayer; and we may well take God's promises as real answers to the prayers of faith, and embrace them accordingly, for with him saying and doing are not two things. The prophet prayed that God would feed them, and do kind things for them; but God answers that he will show them marvellous things (v. 15), will do for them more than they are able to ask or think, will out-do their hopes and expectations; he will show them his marvellous lovingkindness, Ps. xvii. 7. 1. He will do that for them which shall be the repetition of the wonders and miracles of former ages—according to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt. Their deliverance out of Babylon shall be a work of wonder and grace not inferior to their deliverance out of Egypt, nay, it shall eclipse the lustre of that (Jer. xvi. 14, 15), much more shall the work of redemption by Christ. Note, God's former favours to his church are patterns of future favours, and shall again be copied out as there is occasion. 2. He will do that for them which shall be matter of wonder and amazement to the present age, v. 16, 17. The nations about shall take notice of it, and it shall be said among the heathen, The Lord has done great things for them, Ps. cxxvi. 2. The impression which the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon shall make upon the neighbouring nations shall be very much for the honour both of God and his church. (1.) Those that had insulted over the people of God in their distress, and gloried that when they had them down they would keep them down, shall be confounded, when they see them thus surprisingly rising up; they shall be confounded at all the might with which the captives shall now exert themselves, whom they thought for ever disabled. They shall now lay their hands upon their mouths, as being ashamed of what they have said, and not able to say more, by way of triumph over Israel. Nay, their ears shall be deaf too, so much shall they be ashamed at the wonderful deliverance; they shall stop their ears, as being not willing to hear any more of God's wonders wrought for that people, whom they had so despised and insulted over. (2.) Those that had impudently confronted God himself shall now be struck with a fear of him, and thereby brought, in profession at least, to submit to him (v. 17): They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall be so mortified, as if they were sentenced to the same curse the serpent was laid under (Gen. iii. 14), Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat. They shall be brought to the lowest abasements imaginable, and shall be so dispirited that they shall tamely submit to them. His enemies shall lick the dust, Ps. lxxii. 9. Nay, they shall lick the dust of the church's feet, Isa. xlix. 23. Proud oppressors shall now be made sensible how mean, how little, they are, before the great God, and they shall with trembling and the lowest submission move out of the holes into which they had crept (Isa. ii. 21), like worms of the earth as they are, being ashamed and afraid to show their heads; so low shall they be brought, and such abjects shall they be, when they are abased. When God did wonders for his church many of the people of the land became Jews, because the fear of the Jews, and of their God, fell upon them, Esth. viii. 17. So it is promised here: They shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee, O Israel! Forced submissions are often but feigned submissions; yet they redound to the glory of God and the church, though not to the benefit of the dissemblers themselves.

III. The prophet's thankful acknowledgment of God's mercy, in the name of the church, with a believing dependence upon his promise, v. 18-20. We are here taught,

1. To give to God the glory of his pardoning mercy, v. 18. God having promised to bring back the captivity of his people, the prophet, on that occasion, admires pardoning mercy, as that which was at the bottom of it. As it was their sin that brought them into bondage, so it was God's pardoning their sin that brought them our of it; Ps. lxxxv. 1, 2, and Isa. xxxiii. 24; xxxviii. 17; lx. 1, 2. The pardon of sin is the foundation of all other covenant-mercies, Heb. viii. 12. This the prophet stands amazed at, while the surrounding nations stood amazed only at those deliverances which were but the fruits of this. Note, (1.) God's people, who are the remnant of his heritage, stand charged with many transgressions; being but a remnant, a very few, one would hope they should all be very good, but they are not so; God's children have their spots, and often offend their Father. (2.) The gracious God is ready to pass by and pardon the iniquity and transgression of his people, upon their repentance and return to him. God's people are a pardoned people, and to this they owe their all. When God pardons sin, he passes it by, does not punish it as justly he might, nor deal with the sinner according to the desert of it. (3.) Though God may for a time lay his own people under the tokens of his displeasure, yet he will not retain his anger for ever, but though he cause grief he will have compassion; he is not implacable; yet against those that are not of the remnant of his heritage, that are unpardoned, he will keep his anger for ever. (4.) The reasons why God pardons sin, and keeps not his anger for ever, are all taken from within himself; it is because he delights in mercy, and the salvation of sinners is what he has pleasure in, not their death and damnation. (5.) The glory of God in forgiving sin is, as in other things, matchless, and without compare. There is no God like unto him for this; no magistrate, no common person, forgives as God does. In this his thoughts and ways are infinitely above ours; in this he is God, and not man. (6.) All those that have experienced pardoning mercy cannot but admire that mercy; it is what we have reason to stand amazed at, if we know what it is. Has God forgiven us our transgressions? We may well say, Who is a God like unto thee? Our holy wonder at pardoning mercy will be a good evidence of our interest in it.

2. To take to ourselves the comfort of that mercy and all the grace and truth that go along with it. God's people here, as they look back with thankfulness upon God's pardoning their sins, so they look forward with assurance upon what he would yet further do for them. His mercy endures for ever, and therefore as he has shown mercy so he will, v. 19, 20. (1.) He will renew his favours to us: He will turn again; he will have compassion; that is, he will again have compassion upon us as formerly he had; his compassions shall be new every morning; he seemed to be departing from us in anger, but he will turn again and pity us. He will turn us to himself, and then will turn to us, and have mercy upon us. (2.) He will renew us, to prepare and qualify us for his favour: He will subdue our iniquities; when he takes away the guilt of sin, that it may not damn us, he will break the power of sin, that it may not have dominion over us, that we may not fear sin, nor be led captive by it. Sin is an enemy that fights against us, a tyrant that oppresses us; nothing less than almighty grace can subdue it, so great is its power in fallen man and so long has it kept possession. But, if God forgive the sin that has been committed by us, he will subdue the sin that dwells in us, and in that there is none like him in forgiving; and all those whose sins are pardoned earnestly desire and hope; to have their corruptions mortified and their iniquities subdued, and please themselves with the hopes of it. If we be left to ourselves, our iniquities will be too hard for us; but God's grace, we trust, shall be sufficient for us to subdue them, so that they shall not rule us, and then they shall not ruin us. (3.) He will confirm this good work, and effectually provide that his act of grace shall never be repealed: Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea, as when he brought them out of Egypt (to which he has an eye in the promises here, v. 15) he subdued Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and cast them into the depth of the sea. It intimates that when God forgives sin he remembers it no more, and takes care that it shall never be remembered more against the sinner. Ezek. xviii. 22, His transgressions shall not be mentioned unto him; they are blotted out as a cloud which never appears more. He casts them into the sea, not near the shore-side, where they may appear again next low water, but into the depth of the sea, never to rise again. All their sins shall be cast there without exception, for when God forgives sin he forgives all. (4.) He will perfect that which concerns us, and with this good work will do all that for us which our case requires and which he has promised (v. 20): Then wilt thou perform thy truth to Jacob and thy mercy to Abraham. It is in pursuance of the covenant that our sins are pardoned and our lusts mortified; from that spring all these streams flow, and with these he shall freely give us all things. The promise is said to be mercy to Abraham, because, as made to him first, it was mere mercy, preventing mercy, considering what state it found him in. But it was truth to Jacob, because the faithfulness of God was engaged to make good to him and his seed, as heirs to Abraham, all that was graciously promised to Abraham. See here, [1.] With what solemnity the covenant of grace is ratified to us; it was not only spoken, written, and sealed, but which is the highest confirmation, it was sworn to our fathers; nor is it a modern project, but is confirmed by antiquity too; it was sworn from the days of old; it is an ancient charter. [2.] With what satisfaction it may be applied and relied upon by us; we may say with the highest assurance, Thou wilt perform the truth and mercy; not one iota or tittle of it shall fall to the ground. Faithful is he that has promised, who also will do it.