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2. Israel Forsakes God

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. 3Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord. 4Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel:

5Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? 6Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt? 7And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination. 8The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.

9Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead. 10For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. 11Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. 12Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. 13For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

14 Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled? 15The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste: his cities are burned without inhabitant. 16Also the children of Noph and Tahapanes have broken the crown of thy head. 17Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way? 18And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? 19Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

20For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot. 21Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? 22For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much sope, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD. 23How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways; 24A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her. 25Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst: but thou saidst, There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. 26As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, 27Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us. 28But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah. 29Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the Lord. 30In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.

31O generation, see ye the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee? 32Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number. 33Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways. 34Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these. 35Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned. 36Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria. 37Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head: for the Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them.

We have already seen, and the Prophet will often repeat the same thing, — that the people were become so refractory that they would not willingly give way to any reproofs; for they were almost all of such a hard front, and so obdurate in their wickedness, that they dared insolently to raise objections against the prophets; whenever they severely reproved them: “What! Are not we God’s holy people? Has he not chosen us? Are we not the holy seed of Abraham?” It was therefore necessary for the prophets to apply a hard wedge to a hard knot, as they commonly say. As, then, the Israelites were like a knotty wood, it was necessary to strike hard their obstinacy.

On this account Jeremiah now says, Even if thou wert to wash thyself with nitre, and multiply to thee borith, yet thine iniquity would be before me marked; that is, “Ye effect nothing when ye set forth various pretences for the sake of excusing your impiety: wash yourselves, but your iniquity remains marked before me.” The Prophet speaks in the person of God, that he might add more weight to the denunciation he pronounced on the Israelites, and by which he reduced to nothing their self — flatteries, according to what has been already stated.

By nitre and borith they removed stains in cloth; and hence borith is often mentioned in connection with fullers. But there is no need of a laborious inquiry, whether it was an herb or dust, or something of that kind; for as to what is meant, it is generally agreed that the Prophet teaches us by this metaphor, — that hypocrites gain nothing by setting up their pretences, that they may escape, when God condemns them. Hence he says, that all their attempts would be vain and fruitless. How so? Because their iniquity remained unwashed; that is, because they could not remove by washing what is imprinted. Spots or stains can indeed be cleansed or washed away by soap or other things; but when the stain is inward, and imprinted within, washing will avail nothing, for the marks are so deep that some more efficacious remedy must be adopted. So now the Prophet says, that the stains were imprinted, and therefore could not be washed away or cleansed by soap or borith. 5252     What we call “nitre” is different from the “nitron” here mentioned. The verb, from which the noun is derived, means to loosen, to set free: and hence the article called nitron dissolves in water, and loosens and washes away spots and stains. Borith was an herb, which, being burnt, and its ashes dissolved in water, had a strong cleansing power. — Ed.

But the Prophet says, that the stains were marked, or stamped, before God; for it was a common thing with the Israelites to clear themselves from every blame; nay, so great was their audacity, that they openly opposed the prophets, as though some great wrong was done to them; and they called the prophets accusers and slanderers, Hence he says, Thine iniquity is stamped before me? 5353     The verb rendered “stamped” is only found here in Niphel, but, as a participial noun, it seems to mean gold stamped or marked to shew its genuineness. See Psalm 45:9; Proverbs 25:12. A stain or spot is not what it signifies, as given by the Septuagint and the Vulgate, nor “blot,” according to Blarney; but it refers to the stamp or mark imprinted on a hard metal, such as gold: and this idea alone corresponds with the other parts of the verse. A stain, a spot, or a blot, might be cleansed by abstergents, but not a mark stamped on a metal, —
   But thou washest thyself with nitron, And multipliest for thyself fuller’s ashes: Stamped is thine iniquity before me, Saith the Lord Jehovah.

   — Ed.
that is, “However thou mayest by self — flatteries deceive thyself, and hidest thy sins before the world, yet thou gainest nothing; for in my sight thine iniquity ever remains stamped.” He afterwards adds —


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