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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.

The Prophet here shews that the Jews were possessed of such a brazen front, that they could not be led by any admonitions to feel any shame. Though then they were like adulterous women, and though they gave meretricious hire to such as they ran to in all parts, and though also they had murdered the prophets and the pious ministers of God, yet they boasted, as persons conscious of no evil, that they were innocent.

Thou hast yet said; that is, “How darest thou to pretend to be innocent, since thou art proved to be guilty, not by allegations, but by manifest and glaring proofs?” In short, the Prophet shews that the condition of the people was past remedy, for they would not receive any admonition; nay, they dared, as it were with the front of brass, obstinately to boast that they were innocent: Thou hast said, (he still speaks of a woman, in the feminine gender,) Thou hast yet said, surely I am clean Thus hypocrites not only excuse themselves, and allege vain pretences, but dare to come forth publicly, and to fly as it were above the clouds, elated by their own self — confidence. “Who will dare to allege anything against me?” Thus hypocrites willfully and impertinently challenge all the servants of God and seek by their own presumption to close the mouth of all. The Prophet now condemns this petulancy in the Jews; for though they were manifestly proved guilty, yet they boastingly asserted that they were innocent. Only (אך, ak, I take here to mean only) depart, etc. The Prophet upbraids the Jews with another crime, — that they said, that wrong was done to them by God in seeking to bring them to a right mind by punishment and by reproofs. For God, as it is well known, had inflicted many punishments on the Jews, and had also added serious reproofs. He tried by these means to find out whether they were capable of being healed. What did they say? “I am innocent; and God is angry with me without a cause. Let him remove his anger from me;” that is, “only let not God deal severely with us, nor use his supreme authority, and we shall be able to prove our innocency.” Thus ungodly men, when urged with severe warnings, vomit forth their blasphemies against God, — “O what can I do? I know that I am not able to resist; God fights with a shadow when he afflicts me; his violence I must indeed bear though he may overwhelm me; yet he doeth me wrong: but were he to deal justly and fairly with me, I could prove that I do not deserve these evils.” Such then was the language of the Jews, — only depart let his fury from me, we could then shew that we are just, or at least excusable.

Now also in this part we perceive the design of the Prophet: it was to shew, that the Jews not only dared dishonestly and proudly to claim innocency for themselves, but hesitated not to contend with God, and to intimate that he with too much severity oppressed them, and did not treat them justly, but announced a cruel sentence for the purpose of overwhelming them.

Behold, he says, I will judge thee, because thou hast said, I have not sinned Some give this version, “I judge, or, condemn thee.” But there is here no doubt a contrast between the fury of God and his judgment. The people said, that God was too rigorous; this was his fury: God now mentions his judgment. “There is no reason,” he says, “for you to allege such a pretext as this, as it will vanish into nothing; for I will in judgment contend with you;” that is, “I will really prove that I am a just judge and not a tyrant, that I execute just punishments and according to the law, and that I am not like a man in anger, who takes vengeance on his enemies and does so precipitantly and rashly: I will shew,” he says, “that I am a just judge.”

We may hence gather a profitable instruction. Let it in the first place be observed, that nothing is so displeasing to God as this headstrong presumption, that is, when we seek to appear innocent, while our own conscience condemns us. Then in the second place observe, that all who thus perversely rebel and strive dishonestly and shamelessly to defend their own vices, contend at the same time with God: for false excuses have ever this tendency — to charge God with unjust severity. But we see what such men gain for themselves; for God shews that he will be at length their judge, and that he will openly discover the vices of those who thought that they could excuse themselves by evasions and by false charges against himself. They then who thus obstinately resist God, must at length, according to what the Prophet declares, come to this end, — that they will be constrained to acknowledge that God has not been too violently angry with them, but has only executed a just punishment. 6767     The literal rendering of this verse is as follows: —
   35. And thou hast said, “Verily I have been innocent; Surely turned away has he his anger from me:“ Behold I will contend in judgment with thee, On account of thy saying, “I have not sinned.”

   The Septuagint have rendered the second line, “Let his anger be turned away from me;” the Vulgate and the Arabic are the same. The Syriac is, “therefore he turns away his anger from me.” “Turned away is his anger,“ is the Targum, Piscator, Jun. and Trem. Blayney renders it, —

   Surely his wrath shall turn from me.

   There is no reason for construing the verb in the future tense, or in the imperative mood. It is in the past tense, and there is no other reading. The claim of innocency is made on the supposition that God had turned away his displeasure. Hence the declaration that follows — that God would contest the matter — would bring it as it were into trial, as the verb here when in Niphal means. — Ed.

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