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This chapter contains very severe reproaches against the people of Judea who were left at Jerusalem. For although Ezekiel had been a leader to the Israelites and the Jewish exiles, yet God wished his assistance in profiting others. Hence the office which God had imposed upon his Prophet is now extended to the citizens of Jerusalem, whose abominations he is ordered to make manifest. The manner is afterwards expressed, when God shows the condition of that nation before he embraced it with his favor. But after recounting the benefits by which he had adorned the people, he reproves their ingratitude, and shows in many words, and by different figures, how detestable was their perfidy in revolting: so far from God after he had treated them so liberally. These things will now be treated in their own order. As to Ezekiel’s being ordered to lay bare to the Jews their abominations, we gather from this that men are often so blinded by their vices that they do not perceive what is sufficiently evident to every one else. And we know that the people was quite drunk with pride, for they voluntarily blinded themselves by their own flatteries. It is not surprising, then, that God orders them to bring their abominations into the midst, so that they may at length feel themselves to be sinners. And this passage is worthy of notice, since we think those admonitions superfluous until God drags us into the light, and places our sins before our eyes. There is no one, indeed, whose conscience does not reprove him, since God’s law is written on the hearts of all, and so we naturally distinguish between good and evil; but if we think how great our stupidity is concealing our faults, we shall not wonder that the prophets uttered this command, to lay open our abominations to ourselves. For not only is that self-knowledge of which I have spoken cold, but also involved in much darkness, so that he who is but partially conscious grows willingly hardened while he indulges himself. Again, we must remember that the Jews were to be argued with in this way, because they pleased themselves with their own superstitions. For the Prophet shows that their chief wickedness consisted in deserting God’s law, in prostituting themselves to idols, and in setting up adulterous worship like houses of ill fame; but in this they pleased themselves, as we daily see in the papacy, that under this pretext the foulest idolatries are disguised, since they think themselves to be thereby worshipping God.
It is not surprising, then, if God here obliquely blames the stupidity and sloth of the Jews when he commands their abominations to be laid open, which are already sufficiently known to all. Afterwards, that God may begin to show how improperly the people were behaving, he recalls them to the first origin or fountain of their race. But we must notice that God speaks differently of the origin of the people. For sometimes he reminds them of Abraham’s condition before he had stretched forth his hand and dragged them, as it were, from the lowest regions into life, as it is said in the last chapter of Joshua, (Joshua 24:2,) Thy father Abraham was worshipping idols when God adopted him. But sometimes the beginning is made from the covenant of God, when he chose Abraham with his posterity for himself. But in this passage God takes the time from the period of the small band of men emerging by wonderful increase into a nation, although they had been so wretchedly oppressed in Egypt; for the redemption of the people which immediately followed is called sometimes their nativity. So here God says that the Jews were there born when they increased so incredibly, though when oppressed by the Egyptian tyranny they had scarcely any place among living men. And what he says of Jews applies equally to all the posterity of Abraham: for the condition of the ten tribes was the same as that of Judea. But since the Prophet speaks to a people still surviving, he is silent about what he would have said, if he had been commanded to utter this mandate to the exiles and captives, as well as to the citizens of Jerusalem. Whatever its meaning, God here pronounces that the Jews sprang from the land of Canaan, from an Amorite father, and from a Hittite mother
A question arises here — When God had adopted Abraham two hundred years previously, why was not that covenant taken into account? for he here seems not to magnify his own faithfulness and the constancy of his promise when he rejects the Jews as sprung from the Canaanites or Amorites; but this only shows what they were in themselves: for although he never departed from his purpose, and his election was never in vain, yet we must hold, as far as the people were concerned, that they are looked upon as profane Gentiles. For we know how they corrupted themselves in Egypt. Since, then, they were so degenerate and so utterly unlike their fathers, it is not surprising if God says that they were sprung from Canaanites and Amorites. For by Hosea he says, that they were all born of a harlot, and that the place of their birth was a house of ill fame. (Hosea 2:4.) This must be understood metaphorically: since here God does not; chide the women who had been false to their husbands, and had borne an adulterous offspring; but he simply means that the Jews were unworthy of being called or reputed Abraham’s seed. Why so? for although God remained firm in his covenant, yet if we consider the character of the Jews, they had entirely cut themselves off by their faithlessness. Since, then, they did not differ from the profane Gentiles, they are deservedly rejected with reproach, and are called an offspring of Canaan, as in other places. Now therefore, we understand the intention of the Prophet, or rather of the Holy Spirit. For if God had only said that he would pity that race when reduced to extreme misery, it would not have been subjected to such severe and heavy reproof, as we shall see. Hence God not only relates his kindness towards them, but at the same time shows from what state he had taken the Jews when he first aided them, and what, was their condition when he deigned to draw them out of such great misery. Moreover, since he was at hand to take them up, their redemption was founded on covenant, and so they were led forth, because God had promised Abraham four centuries ago that he would be the liberator of the people. That they should not be ignorant of the favor by which God had bound himself to Abraham, the Prophet meets them, and pronounces them a seed of Canaan, having nothing in common with Abraham, because, as far as they were concerned, according to common usage, God’s promise was extinct, and their adoption dead and buried. Since they had acted so perfidiously, they could no longer boast themselves to be Abraham’s children. Hence he says, thy habitations, that is, the place of their origin. Jerome translates it “root;” but the word “nativity” suits better, or native soil, or condition of birth in the land of Canaan: and thy father an Amorite and thy mother a Hittite There were other tribes of Canaan, but two or three kinds are put here for the whole. Now it follows —
Here the Prophet metaphorically describes that most miserable state in which God found the Jews. For we know that scarcely any nation was ever so cruelly and disgracefully oppressed. For when they were all driven to servile labor without reward, the edict went forth that their males should be cut off. (Exodus 1:16.) No species of disgrace was omitted, and their life was worse than a hundred deaths. This, then, is the reason why God says that the Jews were so cast forth on the face of the earth without any supply of the common necessaries of life. He takes these figures from customary usage; for it is usual to cut the navel-string of infants: for the navel affords them nourishment in their mothers’ womb, and mother and child would both perish unless a separation took place; and if the navel-string were not tied the child would perish; for all the blood flows through that organ, as the child received its sustenance through it: and this is the midwife’s chief care as soon as the child is born, to cut away what must afterwards be restored to its place, and to bind up the part, and to do it, as I have said, with the greatest care, as the infant’s life depends upon it.
But God says, that the navel-string of the Jews is not cut off. Why so? because they were cast, says he, on the surface of the earth; that is, they were deserted and exposed, — using but a single word. He now adds, they were not washed with water: for we know how young infants require ablution; and unless it be performed immediately, they will perish. Hence he says, they were not washed with water. He adds, to soften or refresh, or “fettle” them, as the common phrase is; for water softens and smoothes the skin, though others translate it in the sense of causing it to shine: but we understand the Prophet’s meaning sufficiently. He afterwards adds, they were not rubbed with salt; for salt is sprinkled on the body of an infant to harden the flesh, while care must be taken not to render it too hard; and this moderate hardness is effected by the sprinkling of salt. The full meaning is, that the Jews at their birth were cast out with such contempt, that they were destitute of the necessary care which life requires. He adds, No eye pitied thee, so as to discharge any of these duties, and to show thee pity: and this is sufficiently evident, since the Israelites would have been destroyed had no one taken compassion on them; for they were in some sense buried in the land of Egypt; for we know how cruel was the conspiracy of the whole land against them. No wonder, then, if God here relates that they were cast upon the surface of the land, so that no eye looked upon them and showed them pity. He adds, they were cast to the loathing of their life. He simply means, that they were so despicable that they had no standing among men; for loathing of life means the same as rejection. It now follows —
I have already explained the time to which the Prophet alludes, when the seed of Abraham began to be tyrannically oppressed by the Egyptians. For God here assumes the character of a traveler when he says that he passed by. For he had said that the Jews and all the Israelites were like a girl cast forth and deserted. Now, therefore, he adds, that this spectacle met him as he passed by: as those who travel cast their eyes on either side, and if anything unusual occurs they attend and consider it; meanwhile God declares that he was taking care of his people. And truly the matter is sufficiently evident, since he seemed to have neglected those wretched ones, while he had wonderfully assisted them. For they might have perished a hundred times a-day, and if he had not taken notice of them, they had not dragged out their life to the end. That celebrated sentence is well known — I have seen, I have seen, the affliction of my people. When he sent for Moses and commanded him to liberate the people, he prefaces it in this way, I have seen, I have seen. (Exodus 3:7) Hence he had long ago seen, though he seemed to despise them by shutting his eyes. There is no doubt that the doubling of the word here means that God always watched for the safety of this desperate people, although he did not assist them directly: he now means the same thing when he says, that he passed by: I passed by, then, near thee, and saw thee defiled with blood. That spectacle could not turn away God’s eyes; for whatever is contrary to nature excites horror. God therefore here shows how compassionate he was towards the people, because he was not horrified by that disgraceful foulness, when he saw the infant so immersed in its own gore without any shape. As to the following phrase, I said to thee, he does not mean that he spoke openly so that the people heard his voice, but he announces what he had determined concerning the people. The expression, live in thy blood, may indeed be taken contemptuously, as if God had grudged moving his hand, lest the very touch should prove contagious; for we do not willingly touch any putrid gore. The words, live in thy blood, may be thus explained, since at first God did not deign to take care of the people. But it is evident from the context, that God here expresses the secret virtue by which the people was preserved contrary to the common feelings. For if we consider what has been previously said, the people surely had not lived a single day, unless it had received rigor from this voice of God. For if a new-born child is cast out, how can it bear the cold of the night? surely it will instantly expire: and I have already said that death is prepared for infants, unless their navel-string be cut. Since therefore a hundred deaths encompassed the people, they could never have continued alive, had not the secret voice of God sustained them.
God therefore in commanding them to live, already shows that he was willingly and wonderfully preserving them amidst various kinds of death. As it is said in the 68th psalm, (Psalms 68:20,) “In his hands are the issues of death,” so that death is converted into life: since he is the sovereign and lord of both. But this phrase is doubled, since the people were afflicted in Egypt for no short period. But if that tyranny had endured only a few years, they must have been consumed. But their slavery was protracted to many years: whence that remarkable wonder occurred, that their remembrance and their name were not often cut off. We see then that God has reason enough to speak that sentence in which the safety of the people was included, live in thy bloods, live in thy bloods. The fact itself shows the people to have been preserved, since it pleased God. The history which Moses relates in the book of Exodus is a glass in which we may behold the living image of that life of which we have made mention as drawing its whole vigor from the secret good pleasure of God. Now the reason is asked why God did not openly and directly take up his people, and treat them as kindly as he did during their youth? The reason is sufficiently manifest, since if the people had been freed at the very first, the memory of the benefit would have by and by vanished away, and God’s power would have been more obscure. For we know that men, unless thoroughly convinced of their own misery, never acknowledge that they have obtained safety through God’s pity. The people then thought so to live, as always to have death before their eyes — nay, as if they were bound by the chains of death. It lived, then, in bloods, that is, in the tomb, like a carcass remaining in its own putridness, and its life in the meantime lying hid: so it happened to the sons of Abraham. Now then we understand God’s intention why he did not raise up the children of Abraham with grandeur from the beginning, but suffered them to drag out a miserable life, and to be steeped in the very pollution of death. It now follows —
Here what I lately touched upon is now clearly expressed, that the people in their extreme distress were not only safe, but increased by God’s singular favor. For if the infant after exposure retains its life, it will still be a weak abortion. Hence God here by this circumstance magnifies his favor, since the people increased as if it had been properly and attentively cared for, and as if no kind office had been omitted. This is the meaning of the words they were increased; for though he looks to the propagation of Abraham’s family, yet the simile is to be observed, for the people is compared to a girl exposed in a field from its birth, and their growth took place when God increased them so incredibly, as we know. And surely God’s blessing was great when they entered Egypt, 75 in number, and were many thousands when they left it. (Acts 7:14; Exodus 12:37.) For within 250 years, the family of Abraham was so multiplied, that they amounted to 800,000 when God freed them. But since the Prophet speaks metaphorically, when he says the people were increased, and, under the image of a tender girl, until they grew up to a proper age; meanwhile he shows that this was done only by the wonderful counsel and power of God. I placed thee, says he. God claims to himself the praise for this great multiplication, and then strengthens what I have said, namely, that the people’s safety was included in that phrase live in bloods: then he says, she came into ornament of ornaments. Here
God now reproaches the Jews with his kindness towards them, since he had clothed them in splendid ornaments, and yet they afterwards cast themselves into the vilest lusts, as we shall see. But we must remember that the Prophet is now speaking of the time of their liberation. But God says that he passed by again and saw the state of the people, — not that he had ever forgotten it. For we know that even when he dissembles and seems to shut his eyes and turn them from us or even to sleep, yet he is always anxious for our safety. And we have already said that there was need of his present power, that the people might prolong their lives, since if he had not breathed life into them, a hundred deaths would have immediately prevailed. But it is sufficiently common and customary to mark an open declaration of help by God’s aspect. When God appears so openly to deliver us that it may be comprehended by our senses, then he is said to look down upon us, to rise up, and to turn himself towards us. He passed by, then, near the people, namely, when he called Moses out of the desert and appointed him the minister of his favor, (Exodus 3:0,) he then saw his people, and proved by their trial that he had not utterly cast them away. I looked, then, and behold thy time, thy time of years. Here God speaks grossly, yet according to the people’s comprehension. For he personates a man struck with the beauty of a girl and offering her marriage. But God is not affected as men are, as we well know, so that it is not according to his nature to love as young men do. But such was the people’s stupidity, that they could not be usefully taught, unless the Prophet accommodated himself to their grossness. Add also that the people had been by no means lovely, unless God had embraced them by his kindness, so that his love depended on his good pleasure towards them. So by the time of loves, we ought to understand the complete time of their redemption, for God had determined to bring the people out of Egypt when he pleased, and that had been promised to Abraham: after four hundred years I will be their avenger. (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6,) We see, then, that the years were previously fixed in which God would redeem the people. He now compares that union to a marriage. Hence if God would bind his people to himself by a marriage, so also he would pledge himself to conjugal fidelity. But I cannot proceed further — I must leave the rest till tomorrow.
Here God more clearly explains what had been formerly touched upon, namely, that he then married the people, as a young man marries his bride. But he here states that he endowed her; for they would not have been sufficiently adopted by God unless they had been adorned with superior presents; since if they had been left in that miserable slavery by which they were oppressed, God’s favor would have been very obscure. Now, therefore, God means, that by his law he had entered into a new covenant with his people, so that he did not leave them naked and bare, but clothed with remarkable gifts. First of all, he says, I washed thee with water. Although he had just said that the people were like a beautiful damsel, and had praised their beauty, yet the filth of which the prophet had spoken yet remained: it ought, therefore, to be cleansed from those stains:I have cleansed thee with water, says he, and washed off thy bloods, namely, the corrupt blood which the damsel whom Ezekiel mentions had retained from her birth. Lastly, Ezekiel says that God performed those offices which the nurse discharges for the child. Afterwards he adds —
Here the Prophet, in a metaphor, relates other benefits of God by which he liberally adorned his people; for we know that nothing has been omitted in God’s pouring forth the riches of his goodness on the people. And as to the explanations which some give of these female ornaments allegorically, I do not approve of it, as they fruitlessly conjecture many trifles which are at variance with each other. First of all, their conjectures may be refuted by the Prophet’s words: then, if we suffer the Prophet’s words to be turned and twisted, what these allegorical interpreters chatter with each other is entirely contrary in their meaning. Let us, therefore, be content with the genuine sense, that God was so generous towards the Israelites that he poured forth all his blessings in enriching them. Now, if one asks how the people were adorned? I answer, in two ways — first, God embraced them with his favor, and promised to be their God, and this was their chief honor; as Moses says they were naked, and their shame was discovered when they set up an idol in the place of God. He now adds a second kind of blessing, when God took care of them in the desert: he appeared by day in a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire: the water flowed for them from the rock; daily food was given them from heaven, as if God with his own hands had placed it within their mouths: then in his strength they conquered their enemies, and entered the promised land; while he slew the nations for them, and gave them quiet possession and dominion there: then he blessed the land, so that it nourished them abundantly, and made it testify that it was no vain promise that the land should flow with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 16:15; Exodus 17:6; Exodus 22:25; Numbers 20:11.) Ezekiel includes all these things under necklaces, bracelets, gold, silver, linen garments, broidered work, etc. As to the particular words I will not, accurately insist, unless I shortly touch on a point or two which may occasion doubt.
When he says that he clothed them,
He now adds, and I covered thee with silk, or silken garments, or silk cloth. He adds, that he placed bracelets upon the hands: barbarians call them armlets. This luxury was spread abroad almost everywhere; but the circular ornament which the Prophet adds to it was rejected by other nations. He puts a chain round the neck: chains were in common use as they are this day: nay, to necklaces were added looser chains — double, threefold, and fourfold; for this fault was too common. And what he afterwards adds of the ring was left to the Orientals, for they had jewels hanging from their nostrils: and I wonder why interpreters put earrings here, and then instead of earrings put nose-rings. But the Prophet here means a ring, whence a jewel was hung from the nose; and this with us is ridiculous and deforming: but in those barbarous regions both men and women have gems hanging from both their noses and ears. He adds, a crown on thy head. He does not mean a diadem or crown as a sign of royalty, but an ornament sufficiently common.
If any one makes any inquiry about these various kinds of dresses, whether it was lawful for women to use so many ornaments, the answer is easy, that the Prophet here does not approve of what he relates, but uses a common image. We said that his only intention was to show that God could not have treated his people more freely; since in every way he had unfolded the incomparable treasures of his beneficence in adorning the Israelites. He now describes this in a metaphor, and under figures taken from the common practice everywhere received. It does not follow, therefore, that women ought to adorn themselves in this way. For we know that superfluous ornaments are temptations; and we know also the vanity of women, and their ambition to show themselves off, as the saying is: and we see how sharply this eager desire of women is blamed, especially by Isaiah. (Isaiah 3:0.) But it is sufficient to elicit what God wished to teach by these figures, namely, that he had not omitted any kind of liberality. Whence it follows, that the people’s ingratitude was the less excusable, as Ezekiel will immediately add. But before we proceed further, we must turn this instruction to our use. What has hitherto been said of the Israelites does not suit us, I confess, in all things: but yet there is some likeness between us and them. If we reflect upon our origin, we are all born children of wrath, all cursed, all Satan’s bondsmen, (Ephesians 2:3;) and although many have been well brought up, yet as to our spiritual state we are like infant children or the new-born babe, exposed and immersed in its own filth and corruption. For what can be found in man before his renewal but the curse of God? Hence we are such slaves of Satan, that God hates us, as it is said in Genesis, (Genesis 6:7,) I repent of having formed man; where he does not acknowledge his image in us, which is not only defiled by original sin, but is all but extinct, surely this is the height of deformity: and though we do not perceive what is said by our senses, yet we are sufficiently detestable before God and the angels. We have no cause, then, to please ourselves; nay, if we open our eyes, the foulness which I have mentioned will be sufficiently clear to us. Meanwhile, God so aided us that he truly fulfilled what Ezekiel relates. For although we were not freed from any external tyranny, yet God espoused us: then he adopted us into his Church: this was our greatest honor; this was more than royal dignity. We see, then, that this instruction is useful for us also at this time, if we only consider in what we are like the ancient people. I had almost omitted one point — the nourishment. God here not only reminds them that he had adorned the people with various kinds of clothing, and necklaces, and gems, and silver; but he adds also, you did eat fine flour, or fine meal, and honey and oil, and you was very beautiful, and proceeded prosperously, even to a kingdom. Here God again commends and extols his beneficence, because he not only clothed sumptuously his spouse of whom he speaks, but also fed her plentifully with the best, and sweetest, and most delicate food. He puts only three species: he makes no mention of will or flesh; but by fine flour he means that they lacked no delicacy: the oil and honey mean the same thing. This clause points out an accumulation of grace when he says that they progressed happily even to a kingdom: all God’s benefits could not be recounted: he says that his bride was not only magnificently clothed and delicately brought up, but that she proceeded even to the royal dignity. In the next verse he still reminds them of his benefits.
Here the Prophet still continues to recite those blessings of God by which he had bound the people to himself. As to his saying, that its name had gone forth, it cannot be restricted to a short period; but it embraces a continued series of God’s favors until the people reached the highest point of happiness; and this happened under David. There is no doubt that God here means that he was so continually liberal towards the people that their fame became celebrated, for the name of the Israelites were spread far and wide; and God deservedly recounts their nobility or celebrity of fame among his benefits: hence he adds, on account of the beauty or elegance which I have placed upon thee, says he; because you was perfect through the ornament which I had placed upon thee. Here, therefore, God signifies that the people had not earned their fame by their own virtue, nor were they noble through their own native excellence, so to speak; but rather by ornament bestowed upon them. You, therefore, was of great name among the nations, said he. But wherein was that nobility and excellence? Certainly from my gifts. For nothing was accomplished by thyself so to arrive at a name and dignity more than royal. Through that ornament thy fame was spread abroad among the nations. But this enlargement must be noticed, since the people had not only experienced God’s goodness in that corner of Judea, but, when they ought to be content with their lot, were held in admiration and repute among foreigners. Now follows the reproof —
Here God begins to expostulate with his people; and with this view relates all the benefits which for a long time he had bestowed upon the Israelites, and especially upon the tribe of Judea. The Prophet now addresses them. Nothing was more unworthy or preposterous than for the Jews to be proud through the pretext of God’s gifts. But this vice has always been rife in the world, as it is now too prevalent, and especially among handsome women; for, though beauty is God’s gift, nine women out of ten who possess it are proud, and fond of men, and unite lust with elegance of form. This is quite unworthy of them; but it was customary in all ages, as it is this day: for we recognize the same in men; for as each excels in anything, so he arrogates to himself more than he ought, when he exults against God, and is reproachful towards others. If any one abounds in riches, he immediately gives himself to luxury and empty pomp; and others abuse them to various perverse, and even corrupt uses. If any one is endowed with ability, he turns his acuteness to cunning and fraud; then he plans many devices, as if he wished to mingle earth and heaven. Thus almost all men profane God’s gifts. But here the Prophet shows the fountain of this pride, when he says that the Jews trusted in their own beauty: for if modesty flourished in us, it would certainly suffice for restraining all insolence; but when that restraint has been once thrown off, there is no moderation before either God or man. This passage, then, is worthy of observation, where God reproves his ancient people for trusting in their beauty: because the figure signifies that they drew their material for pride from the gifts which ought rather to lead them to piety; for the gifts which we receive from God’s hand ought to be invitations to gratitude: but we are puffed up by pride; and luxury, so that we profane God’s gifts, in which his glory ought to shine forth. We must also observe that God has thus far recited his benefits, that the people’s ingratitude may appear more detestable: for God gives all things abundantly, and upbraids not, as James says, (James 1:5;) that is, if we acknowledge that we owe all things to him, and thus devote and consecrate ourselves in obedience to his glory, with the blessings which he has bestowed upon us. But when God sees us impiously burying and profaning his gifts, and, through trusting in them, growing insolent, it is not surprising if he reproves us beyond what is customary. Hence we see that God assumes as it were another character, when he expostulates with us concerning our ingratitude; because he willingly acknowledges his gifts in us, and receives them as if they were our own; as we call that bread ours by which he nourishes us, although it is compelled to change its nature as far as we are concerned. It always remains the same in itself; but I speak of external form. God therefore, as it were, transfigures himself, so as to reprove his own gifts, conferred for the purpose of our glorying only in him. (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13.)
God afterwards says, that the people had played the harlot according to their renown. I have no doubt that the Prophet alludes to famous harlots who excel in beauty, and interpreters have not observed this sufficiently; for they do not explain anything by saying, you have committed fornication in thy name: for as many lovers flow from all sides in troops towards a famous harlot, so the Prophet says the Jews were like her; and since they were universally noted, they were exposed to promiscuous lust, and attracted lovers to themselves. Here the Prophet condemns two kinds of fornication in the Jews; one consisting in superstitions and in the multiplication of idols, — the other in perverse and unlawful treaties: and we know this to be the worst kind of fornication, when God’s worship is vitiated; for this is our spiritual chastity, if we worship God purely according to the prescription of his teaching, if we do not bend to either the right or the left from his commands: so on the other hand, as soon as we pass the goal fixed by him, we wander like impure harlots, and all our superstitions are so many acts of defilement. The Prophet begins with the former kind, when he saysthat the Jews had committed fornication, namely, with their idols. But before he comes to that, he shows that their lust had been insatiable, since they had so eagerly and ardently approached their various idols, just as a harlot burns with unsatisfied desire, and is carried hither and thither, and must have a number of men; so the Prophet here says that the Jews committed fornication, not with one or two only, but with whomsoever they met; and this was occasioned by that favor of which we formerly spoke. It now follows —
He says that the Jews erected houses of ill fame for themselves; and the language is mixed, because the Prophet, expresses simply the kind of harlotry of which he is speaking, and yet in the meantime mingles another figure; for he says that they took garments and made themselves altars. No doubt he compares the high places to tents, just as if a harlot wished to attract a number of eyes to herself, and, through desire of a crowd, should place her standard on a lofty place. So also the Prophet says that the Jews, when they gave themselves up to fornication, made high places for themselves. When he says high places with different colors, some refer this to ornaments; yet it may be taken in a bad sense, since those high places were stained, so that they could be distinguished from chase and modest dwellings; as if he had said, If you had been a modest woman, you had remained in retirement at home, as honest matrons do, and you would not have done anything to attract men to thee; but you has erected thy high places, like conspicuous houses of ill fame, as if a female, forgetful of modesty and delicacy, should set up a sign, and show her house to be open to all, and especially to her own adulterers. It seems to me that the Prophet intends this; for when he adds, that they committed fornication with them, he means doubtless with their lovers, and all besides; but this is not the sense of the words
The Prophet reproves them because they used silver and gold in making idols for themselves. He not only condemns idolatry, but ingratitude, since they turned to God’s dishonor the gifts which he had bestowed. First, the profanation of his gifts was base; besides this, they had rashly and purposely abused his liberality to his dishonor, and that was not to be endured. He reproves at the same time their blind intemperance, since they willingly gave themselves up to licentiousness, and buried themselves in their superstitions. But he does not say that they simply took gold and silver, but vessels of elegance or beauty of gold and silver. Whence it appears that they were blinded by furious lusts, as we have seen. He still pursues the simile of fornication, when he calls these manufactured deities images of males; and it seems obliquely to mark the excess of lust in having to do with shadows; by which he means that they were hurried away about nothing by their unbridled appetites, just as a woman feeds her passion by the mere picture of her paramour. It now follows —
Here God complains that the Jews turned their abundance of all things to perverse worship: for, as a husband who indulges his wife freely supplies all her wants, so a woman who is immodest was what she has received from her husband, and bestows it on adulterers; so also the Jews were prodigal in the worship of idols, and wasted upon them the blessings which God had bestowed upon them. Ezekiel, therefore, now follows up this sentiment. He says that they took those variegated garments, of which we spoke yesterday, and covered their idols; just as if an adulteress were to clothe her paramours in the very garments which she had received from her husband’s liberality: you have covered them, he says. He afterwards adds, you have offered my oil and incense. Here he speaks more clearly, although he does not depart far from the figure, for they were accustomed to use oil in sacrifices; and incense was used by all nations when they wished to propitiate their deities. There is no doubt that the unbelievers imitated the holy fathers, but sinfully, because they did not consider the right end. We know that the fathers used oil in their sacrifices, (Leviticus 2:1, and often elsewhere;) we know that incense was prescribed by God’s law, and it was used promiscuously by all the nations, but without reason and judgment. So now God complains that they made incense of his herbs, and an offering of the oil which he had bestowed upon the Jews. He then adds the same of bread, and fine flour, oil, and honey. We said yesterday that by these words ample and delicate food was intended; for by the figure, a part for the whole, fine flour comprehends the best and sweetest bread, as well as other viands. Oil and honey are added. It is then just as if the Prophet had said that the Jews overflowed with all luxuries, yet consumed them badly. But this was a mockery not. to be borne, when the Jews, after being enriched by God’s beneficence, rashly threw it all away, and not only so, but adorned their false gods to the dishonor of God himself, when they ought to have offered to him what they wasted upon idols. For this reason he calls it his own bread, and explains the passage in this sense, that the Jews could neither ascribe to themselves the abundance of their possessions, nor boast in the fruitfulness of the soil; for all these things flowed from the mere benevolence of God. This ingratitude, then, was too foul — to bestow upon idols what God had given for a far different purpose. I, says he, have fed thee He shows the legitimate use of such manifold abundance. Since they abounded in wheat, whence they obtained fine flour, and were stuffed full of other delicacies, they thought to be elevated towards God, and to exercise themselves in the duties of gratitude; but they abused that abundance in adorning false deities.
You have offered it to them, therefore, for a savor of peace. Rest no doubt signifies appeasing here, as frequently with Moses, though others translate “for an odor of sweetness;” but they do not sufficiently express the meaning of Moses; for he means that when God is appeased there is peace between himself and men. (Leviticus 3:9, and often.) There is no doubt that “the odor of quiet” signifies a just expiation, by which God is appeased, so that he receives men into favor. This is everywhere said of the sacrifices of the law, since there was no other means by which men could be reconciled to God, unless by offering sacrifices according to his command. Now the Prophet transfers this ironically to their impious worship, when he says that they offered to idols all the delicacies by which God nourishes his people. To what purpose? for a sweet savor; that is, that they may be propitious to you. But it was ridiculous to wish to appease gods of stone and wood and silver. We see then how Ezekiel reproves the people’s folly, when he says, that they offered both fine flour and other things to their idols to reconcile themselves to them. Now the crime is increased since the Jews did not recognize that singular blessing of being so reconciled to God, that he no longer imputed their sins to them. Woe indeed to us if we are destitute of this remedy! because we constantly commit various faults, and are thus subject to God’s judgments. Unless, then, God receives us into favor, we see that nothing can be more miserable for us. But he has prescribed a fixed and easy rule by which he will be appeased, namely, by sacrifices — I am speaking of the fathers who lived under the law: for we know that we of this day must flee to the only sacrifice of Christ, which the sacrifices of the law shadowed forth. Since, therefore, the Jews could return to God’s favor, and bury all their sins, and redeem themselves from the curse, how great was their madness in willingly depriving themselves of so inestimable a boon! Hence the Prophet now rebukes this folly, when he says that they propitiated their idols that they might appease them. He concludes at length, and it was so, says the Lord Jehovah. Here God takes away all occasion for their turning aside, when he says it was so; for we know that men always have various pretenses by which they lay the blame on some other parties, or soften it off, or cover it with some disguise. But God here says that there is no occasion for dispute, since the matter is perfectly plain. We see, then, that this word is used emphatically, when he says I am the Lord; for, if Ezekiel had announced it, they would not have listened to him; but God himself comes before them, and cuts off all excuses from the Jews. It follows —
Here God blames them for another crime, that of sacrificing their offspring to idols. This was a very blind superstition, by which parents put off the sense of humanity. It is indeed a detestable prodigy when a father rejects his children, and has no regard or respect for them. Even philosophers place among the principles of nature those affections which they call natural affections. (98) When, therefore, the affection of a father towards his children ceases, which is naturally implanted in all our hearts, then a man becomes a monster indeed. But not only did an inconsiderate fury seize upon the Jews, but, by slaying their own offspring, they thought that they obeyed God, as at this day the Papists are content with the name of good intentions, and do not think that any offering can be rejected if it be only daubed over with the title of either good intention or zeal for good. Such also was the confidence of the Jews; but, as I have said, we see that they were seized with a diabolic fury when they slew their sons and daughters. Abraham prepared to offer his son to God, but he had a clear command. (Genesis 22:9, and Hebrews 11:19.)
Then we know that his obedience was founded on faith, because he was certainly persuaded, as the Apostle says, that a new offspring could spring up from the ashes of his son. Since, therefore, he extols the power of God as equal to this effect, he did not hesitate to slay his son. But since these wretches slew their sons without a command, they must be deservedly condemned for prodigious madness. The Prophet therefore now brings this crime before us: that they had taken, their sons and their daughters, and slew them to idols. He now adds, to consume them, since it is probable, and may be collected from various passages, that the sons were not always slain, but there were two kinds of offerings. (99) Sometimes they either slew their sons or cast them alive into the fire and burnt them as victims. Sometimes they carried them round and passed them through the fire, so that they received them safe again. But God here shows that he treats of that barbarous and cruel offering, since they did not spare their sons.
In this sense he adds, that they slew their sons to eat them up, or consume them. But another exaggeration of their crime is mentioned, when God expostulates concerning the insult offered: thou, says he, hath slain thy sons and daughters, but they are mine also, for you barest them to me. Here God places himself in the position of a parent, because he had adopted the people as his own: the body of the people was as it were his spouse or wife. All their offspring were his sons, since, if God’s treaty with the people was a marriage, all who sprung from the people ought to be esteemed his children. God therefore calls those his sons who were thus slain, just as if a husband should reproach his wife with depriving him of their common children. God therefore not only blames their cruelty and superstition, but adds also that he was deprived of his children. But this, as is well known, is a most atrocious kind of injury. For who does not prefer his own blood to either fields, or merchandise, or money? As children are more precious than all goods, so a father is more grievously injured if children are taken away, as God here pronounces that he had done: you had born them unto me, says he. Hence sacrilege was added to idolatry when you did deprive me of them. He will soon call them again his own in the same sense. A question arises here, how God reckons among his sons those who were complete strangers to him? He had said in the beginning of the chapter (Ezekiel 1:3) that the people derived their origin from the Amorites and Hittites, since they had declined from the piety of Abraham and the other fathers. Since then the Jews were cast off while they were in Egypt, and after that had been such breakers of the covenant as the Prophet had thus far shown, were they not aliens? Yes; but God here regards his covenant, which was inviolable and could not be rendered void by man’s perfidy. The Jews, then, of whom the Prophet now speaks, could no longer bear children to God: for he said that the body of the people was like a foul harlot, who walks about and turns round and seeks vague and promiscuous meetings. Since it was so, the children whom such idolaters bore were spurious, instead of being worthy of such honor that God should call them his sons: this is true with respect to them, but as concerns the covenant, they are called sons of God. And this is worthy of observation, because in the Papacy such declension has grown up through many ages, that they have altogether denied God. Hence they have no connection with him, because they have corrupted his whole worship by their sacrilege, and their religion is vitiated in so many ways, that it differs in nothing from the corruption’s of the heathen. And yet it is certain that a portion of God’s covenant remains among them, because although they have cut themselves off from God and altogether abandoned him by their perfidy, yet God remains faithful. (Romans 3:3.) Paul, when he speaks of the Jews, shows that God’s covenant with them is not abolished, although the greater part of the people had utterly abandoned God. So also it must be said of the papists, since it was not in their power to blot out God’s covenant entirely, although with regard to themselves, as I have said, they are without it; and show by their obstinacy that they are the sworn enemies of God. Hence it arises, that our baptism does not need renewal, because although the Devil has long reigned in the papacy, yet he could not altogether extinguish God’s grace: nay, a Church is among them; for otherwise Paul’s prophecy would have been false, when he says that Antichrist was seated in the temple of God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4.) If in the papacy there had been only Satan’s dungeon or brothel, and no form of a Church had remained in it, this had been a proof that Antichrist did not sit in the temple of God. But this, as I have said, exaggerates their crime, and is very far from enabling them to erect their crests as they do. For when they thunder out with full cheeks — “We are the Church of God,” or, “The seat of the Church is with us,” — the solution is easy; the Church is indeed among them, that is, God has his Church there, but hidden and wonderfully preserved: but it does not follow that they are worthy of any honor; nay, they are more detestable, because they ought to bear sons and daughters to God: but they bear them for the Devil and for idols, as this passage teaches. It follows —
(98) Calvin uses here the appropriate Greek word
(99) A passage in Dionysius Halicarnassus illustrates this idolatrous practice: “And after this, having ordered that fires should be made before the tents, he brings out the people to leap over the flames, for the purifying of their pollutions.” — Antiq. Romans Bk. 1, sect. 88, p. 72, and marg. 75. Edit. Hudson.
He strengthens the same sentence, and more clearly explains that they offered their sons and daughters by cruelly sacrificing them when they passed them through the fire. This was a kind of purifying, as we have seen elsewhere. When, therefore, they passed their children through the fire, it was a rite of illustration and expiation; and they brought them to the fire, as I have lately explained, in two different ways. Here the Prophet speaks especially of that cruel and brutal offering. We have already mentioned the sense in which God claims a right in the sons of his people, not as members of the Church properly speaking, but as adopted by God. And here again we must hold what Paul says, that all the progeny of Abraham were not lawful sons, since a difference must be made between sons of the flesh and sons of promise. (Romans 9:7.) This is as yet partially obscure, but it may be shortly explained. We may remark that there was a twofold election of God: since speaking generally, he chose the whole family of Abraham. For circumcision was common to all, being the symbol and seal of adoption: since when God wished all the sons of Abraham to be circumcised from the least to the greatest, he at the same time chose them as his sons: this was one kind of adoption or election. But the other was secret, because God took to himself out of that multitude those whom he wished: and these are sons of promise, these are remnants of gratuitous favor, as Paul says. (Romans 11:8.) This distinction, therefore, now takes away all doubt, since the Prophet speaks of the unbelievers and the profane who had departed from the worship of God. For this their unbelief was a complete abdication. It is true, then, that as far as themselves were concerned, they were strangers, and so God’s secret election did not flourish in them, but yet they were God’s people, as far as relates to external profession. If any one objects that this circumcision was useless, and hence their election without the slightest effect, the answer is at hand: God by his singular kindness honored those miserable ones by opening a way of approach for them to the hope of life and salvation by the outward testimonies of adoption. Then as to their being at the same time strangers, that happened through their own fault. Hence we may shortly hold, that the Jews were naturally accursed through being Adam’s seed: but by supernatural and singular privilege, they were exempt and free from the curse: since circumcision was a testimony of the adoption by which God had consecrated them to himself: hence they were holy; and as to their being impure, it could not, as we have said, abolish God’s covenant. The same thing ought at this time to prevail in the Papacy. For we are all born under the curse: and yet God acknowledges supernaturally as his sons all who spring from the faithful, not only in the first or second degree, but even to a thousand generations. And so Paul says that the children of the faithful are holy, since baptism does not lose its efficacy, and the adoption of God remains fixed, (1 Corinthians 7:14,) yet the greater part is without the covenant through their own unbelief. God meanwhile has preserved to himself a remnant in all ages, and at this day he chooses whom he will out of the promiscuous multitude.
Now let us go on. I had omitted at the end of the last verse the phrase, Are thy fornications a small matter? By this question God wishes to press the Jews home, since they had not only violated their conjugal fidelity by prostituting themselves to idols, but had added the cruelty which we have seen in slaying their sons. Lastly, he shows that their impiety was desperate.
Here God accommodates to his own ends what he has hitherto related, namely, the extreme wickedness and baseness of the people’s ingratitude in thus prostituting themselves to idols. Hence he recalls to mind their condition when he espoused them. For if the wretched slavery from which they had been delivered had been present to their mind, they had not been so blinded with perverse confidence, nor had they exulted in their lasciviousness. But since they had forgotten all God’s benefits, they became lascivious, and prostrated themselves to foul idolatries, and provoked God in every way. Now the Prophet proves this when he says, behold, through these abominations the people did not remember their youth. Whence happens it that impure and lustful women thus despise their husbands, unless through being blinded by their own beauty? And since they do not recognize their own disgrace, they please themselves in foul loves, as says the Prophet Hosea, (Hosea 2:5.) Such then was the self-confidence of the, Jews, that they pleased themselves by their beauty and ornaments: though God’s glory and brightness shone forth in them, yet they did not perceive the source of their dignity; and hence the addition of ingratitude to pride. You have not remembered, says he, the days of thy youth, when you was naked, and bare, and defiled in thy blood. It follows —
The first verse is variously explained. Some read the clause separately,
If any one objects that this was not a greater crime than others, the answer is easy, that God does not speak of one high place only, or of one altar, but he comprehends all the signs of idolatry by which they had infected the land; for it was the height of impudence to erect everywhere the standard of their superstitions. For every high place and every altar was a testimony of their backsliding; just as if they had openly boasted that they would not magnify the worship of the law, and intended purposely to overthrow whatever God had prescribed. God therefore, not without cause, burns with wrath because the Jews had erected high places and altars everywhere. Now, then, we understand the Holy Spirit’s meaning as far as these words are concerned. It is added, after all thy wickedness, says he; that is, in addition to all thy crimes, this sin and impudence is added, that you have built not only one, but innumerable high places in every street, nay, in every pathway of importance, that is, in the most celebrated places. For the heads of the pathways are the most conspicuous places, and whatever is done there is more exposed to the eyes of all.
We must now notice the exclamation which is interposed. Alas! alas! for thee, says the Lord Jehovah. Since the Jews, through their sloth, were not at all attentive to the reproofs of the prophets, that God might waken them up, he here pronounces his curse twice. It is clear that they were not moved by it: but this vehemence tended to their severer condemnation, since, though they were drowned and sunk in deep sleep, yet they might be raised by this formidable voice. There is no doubt that they applauded themselves for their own superstitions; but it is on that account profitable to estimate the weight of these words of God. For we gather from hence, that when idolaters indulge in their own fictions, and think themselves entirely free from blame, the word of God is sufficient, by which he thunders against them, saying, alas! alas! for thee. Hence men cease to judge according to their own notions, and are rather attentive to the sentence of God, and acknowledge his curse passing on them when they think that they are rightly discharging the duty of piety in worshipping idols.
He now adds, that he made their beauty to be abhorred. I have no doubt that the Prophet alludes to the filthiness of abandoned women; and even the Latins called them “worn out,” whose foulness arises from their utterly giving themselves up to every wickedness. The Prophet then says that the people were not only like an abandoned woman who engages in impure amours, but that their conduct was gross in the extreme; for though many gratify improper desires through intemperate lust, yet they fastidiously reject those foul and shameless females who are notorious for profligacy. The Prophet means, then, that the people had come to such a pitch of abomination, just as the most abandoned of the sex. He now adds, you have spread thy feet to every passer-by, and have multiplied thy fornications. This is taken also from the conduct of harlots and confirms what we have already explained, that the Jews indulged not only in one kind of idolatry, but were prone to all abominations, like females who beset the paths, and address all they meet, and not only so, but shamelessly spread their feet everywhere to entice admirers.
I Mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, that the Prophet blames the Jews not for one single kind of fornication, but for two different kinds. Interpreters do not observe this, but think that the Prophet is always discoursing of idols and superstitions. But if we prudently weigh all the circumstances, what I have said will not appear doubtful, namely, that the Jews were condemned not only for vitiating the worship of God by their perverse fictions, but for flying, now to the Egyptians, now to the Assyrians, and thus involving themselves in unlawful covenants. It is a very common method with the Prophets to call such covenants fornications: for as a wife ought to lie under the shadow of her husband, so God wished the Jews to be content under his protection. But as soon as any danger frightened them, they fled tremblingly to either Egypt, or Assyria, or Chaldea. We see, then, that they had in some sense renounced God’s help, since they could not rest under his protection, but were hurried hither and thither by vague impulse. After the Prophet had inveighed against their superstitions, he now approaches another crime, namely, the Jews implicating themselves in forbidden treaties. He begins with Egypt. God had clearly forbidden the elect people to have any dealings with Egypt. Even if God had not made known the reason, yet they ought to have obeyed his command. But I have already explained the reason why God was unwilling that the Israelites should enter into any covenant with the Egyptians, because he wished to try their faith and patience, and if they would fly to his help when any danger pressed upon them, as the saying is, like a sacred anchor. There was also another reason, because from the time when God drew his people out from thence, he wished them separated from that nation which had raged so cruelly against their miserable guests. As far as the Chaldmans and Assyrians are concerned, the former reason prevailed thus far, that it was not lawful for them to distrust God’s aid in their dangers.
Now, therefore, we understand the Prophet’s meaning when he says, that the Jews had committed fornication with the sons of Egypt He adds, they were gross in flesh. He means that they were foul and immodest, and were inflamed with disgraceful lust. (104) He uses a grosser simile by and by, for the perfidy of this detestable people could not be sufficiently condemned. The Prophet here says reproachfully, you have committed fornication with the Egyptians, as a licentious woman acting most basely. He adds, you have multiplied thy fornications: he speaks to the people under the character of a woman, as we have formerly seen: to irritate me. Here the Prophet takes away all excuse for error from the impious people. He says, therefore, since they so wandered after these impure desires, that they had not fallen through ignorance, since they knew well enough what God had commanded in his law. And there is no doubt that they darkened their own minds, as the impious always dig hiding-places for themselves, and have specious pretexts, by which they not only hide their malice before men, but also deceive themselves. Hence it is probable that the Jews were not free from such pretenses. But, on the other hand, we must remark that they were abundantly instructed by God’s law what was lawful and right. Since, therefore, through neglect of the law they were so ravenous in impious desires, the Prophet says that they had purposely and designedly entered into a contest with God. For if any one raises the question whether it is lawful to enter into an alliance with the impious, the answer is easy, that we must beware of all alliances which may couple us under the same yoke; for we are naturally enough inclined towards all vices: and when we invent fresh occasions for sin we tempt God. And when any one joins himself in too great familiarity with the impious, it is just like using a fan to inflame his corrupt affections, which, as I have said, were already sufficiently flagrant in his mind. We must take care, therefore, as far as we can, not to make agreements with the impious. But, if necessity compels us, this conduct cannot be thought wrong in itself, as we see that Abraham entered into an agreement with his neighbors, though their religion was different. (Genesis 21:27.) But because he could not otherwise obtain peace, that was a kind of agreement by which Abraham hoped to acquire peace for himself. (Genesis 14:13; Isaiah 51:2.) Nor did he hesitate to use the assistance of allies when he succored his nephew. But if we seek the principle and the cause which induced Abraham to enter into a treaty with his neighbors, we shall find his intention to be nothing else but to dwell at home in peace, and to be safe from all injury. He was solitary, as Isaiah calls him: he had, indeed, a numerous family, but no offspring; and hence he could not escape making treaties with his neighbors. But when the Lord placed the people in the land of Canaan on the condition of defending them there, of protecting them on all sides, and of opposing all their foes, we see them enclosed, as it were, by his protection, so as to render all treaties useless; since they could not treat with either the Egyptians or the Assyrians without at the same time withdrawing themselves from God’s aid.
As far as we are concerned, I have said that we have more freedom, if we are only careful that the lusts of the flesh do not entice us to seek alliances which may entangle us in the sins of others; for it is difficult to retain the favor of those with whom we associate, unless we entirely agree with them. If they are impious, they will draw us into contempt of God and adulterous rites, and so it will happen that one evil will spring from another. Nothing, therefore, is better than to reef our sails, and to look to God alone, and to have our minds fixed on him, and not to allow any kind of alliance, unless necessity compels us. And though we must prudently take care that no condition be mingled with it which may draw us off from the pure and sincere worship of God, since the devil is always cleverly plotting against the sons of God, and draws them into hidden snares. When, therefore, we are about to contract an alliance, we should always take care lest our liberty be in any degree abridged, and lest we be drawn aside by stealthy and concealed arts from the simple worship of God. It now follows —
(104) Calvin’s Latin adds, “
Here God reproves the hardness of the Jews because admonition did not render them wise. The common proverb aptly says, “fools grow wise only by the rod;” and when their obstinacy is such that the rod does no good, their faults are indeed desperate. Hence God complains, when he had chastised the Jews, that even this did not profit them, for they were so perverse that they did not apply their minds to reflect upon their sins. For God’s blows ought to rouse us up, so that our faults previously hidden ought to be brought to light and knowledge; but when we champ the bit, and are not affected by the blows, then our abandoned disposition is made manifest. Now the Prophet condemns this obstinacy in the Jews: I have extended, says he, my hand over thee. He now enumerates two kinds of chastisement, first, when God deprived the Jews of the abundance of the possessions by which they were enriched; and then because he had subjected them to the lust of their enemies. Those who translate justification as Jerome does, depart from the sense of the Prophet:
Now the other chastisement follows — their being harassed by their enemies; for not only did the Jews find themselves encompassed by the Philistines, but they were delivered up and bound to slavery, as Moses says, (Deuteronomy 32:30,) How, then, could one vanquish ten, and ten chase a thousand, unless we had been shut up in his hand? He shows, therefore, that our enemies are never our superiors unless God enslaves us to them. But those who do not calmly subject themselves to God’s command, but are refractory, are delivered into the enemy’s hand, that their contumacy may be subdued by severe tyranny. Now we understand what the Prophet means by this verse: he enlarges upon the people’s wickedness in not turning to God, though they felt by clear experience that they were under a curse. They ought to examine their lives, to groan before God, to acknowledge their fault, and to beg for pardon: since no feeling was awakened, the Prophet gathers that their obstinacy was desperate. This passage is worthy of our notice, that we may be attentive to God’s chastisements. Whenever God even raises his finger and threatens us, let us know that he is anxious for our safety: hence in our turn let us rouse ourselves and implore his pity, and especially let us repent of our sins by which we see his anger to have been enflamed. (Jeremiah 2:30.) But if we remain slothful, we see that no excuse for us remains, since God elsewhere complains that he is trifled with, when he has chastised his children in vain. Here,
I interpret this verse also of the covenant by which the Jews had entangled themselves, when they willingly joined themselves to the Assyrians; for this was a sure sign of distrust, when they so desired foreign aid, as if they had been deprived of God’s protection. And it would be absurd to explain this verse of idolatries, since the prophets were not accustomed to speak in this way, that the people committed fornication with the Assyrians, because they imitated their superstitions and perverse worship. As, therefore, we formerly saw that the Jews had defiled themselves with idols, and prostituted themselves to impious ceremonies, forgetful of God’s law; so now the Prophet accuses them of a different kind of pollution, since they eagerly sought for aid from all quarters, as if God had not sufficient strength for their protection. For otherwise there was no religious reason for their not making peace with the Assyrians; but when they saw themselves oppressed by the kings of Israel and Syria, then they thought of sending for the Assyrians; and this was like thrusting God from his place. (2 Kings 16:7.) For God was willing to defend the land with extended wings, and to cherish the Jews as a hen does her brood, as Moses says, (Deuteronomy 32:11.) Now, in thinking themselves exposed to any danger, they really throw off the help of God. It is not surprising, then, that the Prophet says, that they had polluted themselves with the Assyrians, because they were not satisfied. He pursues the simile on which we have dwelt sufficiently; for he blames the Jews for their insatiable lust, just as when a woman is not content with a single follower, and attracting a crowd obtrudes herself without modesty or delicacy, and sells herself to wickedness. Such was the licentiousness of the Jews, that they united many acts of pollution together. They had already departed from the true faith in making a treaty with the Egyptians, and they added another imagination, that it was useful to have the Assyrians in alliance with them: hence that unbridled lust which the Prophet metaphorically rebukes. It follows —
Here the Prophet teaches that the Jews were immoderate in their desires, just as if a woman was not satisfied with two or three followers, should wantonly crave after many lovers: such, says the Prophet, was the Jews’ licentiousness. As to his saying, over the land of Canaan in Chaldaea, some think it means, that they heaped up the impure rites of all the nations, and not only defiled themselves with the ancient. idolatries of the nations of Canaan, but imitated the Chaldaeans in their impiety. Others say in Chaldea, which is next to the land of Canaan; but this comment, like the last, is too forced: others take
The Prophet seems at variance with himself when he compares the Jews to a robust or very strong woman, and yet says that their heart was dissolute. For those who translate an obstinate heart are without a reason for it, for this seems to imply some kind of resistance, as they were strong and bold, and yet of a soft or weak or infirm heart. But in the despisers of God both evils are to be blamed when they flow away like water and yet are hard as rocks. They flow away, then, when there is no strength or constancy in them; for they are drawn aside this way and that, as some explain it, by a distracted heart, but we must always come to the idea of softness. All who revolt from God are borne along by their own levity, so that the minds of the impious are changeable and moveable: for the heart is here taken for the seat of the intellect, as in many other places. Hence the Prophet accuses the Jews of sloth, but under the name of a dissolute heart: as in French we say
(112) The readers of Shakespeare will readily translate this into idiomatic English.
Here the Prophet again reproves the superstitions to which the Jews had devoted themselves: but yet he speaks figuratively, because by high places he does not simply mean altars, but tents by which the Jews had attempted to entice their neighbors: just as if an immodest female should choose a high place, and build her couch there conspicuously to attract her followers. Although therefore he inveighs against superstitions, the language is not simple, but retains the same simile as had been previously used. He says that the Jews were so prone to lust, that they were ostentatious and thought followers from a distance, and erected their tents or couches in high places. Since this has been treated before, I now pass it over slightly. But we may remark that a thing which seems of slight importance is here seriously condemned by the Prophet, whence we may learn that the worship of God is not to be estimated by our natural perception. For who would think it so great a crime to build an altar on a high place to God’s honor? but we see that the Prophet abhors that superstition. Since therefore God wishes nothing to be changed in his worship, as the principal part of his worship is obedience, which he prefers to all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,) let us learn that things which we might tolerate ought to be detested by us, because God condemns them so severely.
Since therefore you have erected and made for thyself a high place at the head of all streets and paths, that is in every celebrated place. Here we see how ardently they were enflamed by idolatry so as to provoke the anger of God, and this seemed unworthy of them, as the papists at this day, who are bent upon idol worship, and under the title of “devotion,” think that any vice both can and ought to be excused before God. But, on the other side, the Holy Spirit says that idolaters sin the more grievously in being so eager for those impure rites. He says, thou wast not like a harlot in despising hire Some explain this coldly, that harlots mentally despise the folly of those who reward them, but this comment is incorrect: the other view is more probable, namely, that the Jews were not like a harlot who despises the bribe by which she is deceived: for by this craftiness they gain most influence when they contemptuously despise what is offered them, and scarcely deign to touch it: they do this that the wretched lover may not think himself sufficiently liberal, and so may double his gift and squander away all his goods. This passage then may mean that the people were not like a harlot who despises her reward that the wretched lover may feel ashamed and increase his offer. But the Prophet’s sense seems to me different, though I do not altogether reject this. I interpret it thus: the Jews were not like a harlot, since they despised any reward for their sin, and harlots do not: they make a gain of their lusts, whence the name they bear. Since then such persons sell themselves for reward, the Prophet say’s that the Jews were not like them: how so? because they despised reward, and through the mere desire of gratifying their appetites, they neither asked nor expected any reward. Afterwards it follows —
Some translate it an adulteress under her husband’s roof, and
Here the Prophet shows the great folly of the Jews in shamelessly squandering their goods; for gain impels harlots to their occupation: they feel the disgrace of it, but want urges them on. But the Prophet says, that when the Jews committed sin they did it with extravagance, since they spared no expense in attracting their lovers. He pursues the simile which we have had before; for he compares the nation to a perfidious woman who leaves her husband and offers herself to adulterers. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. It is clear that the Jews did not act thus on purpose, for they thought they would profit by their treaties with the Egyptians and Assyrians’ they were unwilling to serve their idols for nothing, since they hoped for most ample rewards from this their adulterous worship. But the Holy Spirit does not regard either what they wished or hoped for, but speaks of the matter as it was. It is clear, then, that the Jews were very prodigal in their superstitions, and we see this even now in the papacy. Those who grudge even a farthing for the relief of the poor will throw away guineas when they wish to compound for their sins; and there is no end to their extravagance under this madness. The very same rage prevailed among the Jews for which Ezekiel now reproves them. He says, then, that they offered gifts to their lovers; for, as I have said, they were so prodigal in the worship of false gods, that when they desired a treaty with either the Egyptians or Assyrians, they were necessarily loaded with valuable presents; and history bears witness that they entirely exhausted themselves. Lastly, the Prophet here shows that the Jews were so blind, that in leaving God, and devoting themselves to idols, they failed to obtain any advantage. Then, when they implicated themselves in perverse and wicked treaties, he shows that they were so utterly deranged as to deprive themselves of all their goods, and yet to receive nothing but disgrace in return for their extravagance: presents are given to all harlots, but thou bestowest thine. Jerome takes the pronoun passively, meaning the blessings which God had bestowed upon the people: and this passage is like that in Hosea, (Hosea 2:5) where God complains that the Jews had profaned the blessings which he had conferred upon them, just as if a wife should bestow on adulterers what she had received from her husband. Foul indeed is this! for a husband thought these would be pledges of chastity when he adorned his wife with precious garments, or enriched her with other presents and ornaments; but when a wife, forgetful of modesty and propriety, throws her husband’s gifts at the feet of adulterers, this is indeed outrageous. Hence this sense does not displease me, although it would be more simple to understand it that the Jews had washed away all their goods. He says, that they had hired their lovers to come in from every side for wickedness. He repeats again what we saw before, that the Jews were abandoned sinners, for some, though impure, are content with a single lover. But as he had before said that the Jews spread their feet widely, so he now adds, that they hired lovers from all sides. Shameful indeed is such conduct in any woman: yet Ezekiel reproves the Jews for this indelicacy, and we saw the reason in yesterday’s lecture. It follows —
But the Prophet only confirms his former teaching, that the Jews were seized with such lust, and in so unaccustomed a manner, that they could only satisfy their desires with severe loss; but this comparison only magnifies their crime, since they were worse than any harlots; for although they basely sell themselves, yet the hope of gain is a kind of pretext and excuse, and a starving woman may be led into great excess; but far fouler and less excusable is her conduct who purchases her lovers. It now follows —
After God has inveighed against the people’s sins, and treated the whole nation as guilty, he now pronounces judgment on their wickedness. He repeats shortly what he had said, as a judge explains the reason of his sentence. Since, says he, the lower parts of thy body and thy disgrace has been discovered before thy lovers. This is the reason of the judgment, whence it is collected that God is induced to treat his people harshly for just and necessary causes. It now follows: therefore, says he, I will assemble all thy lovers, with those also whom you hate, I will assemble them, and uncover thy shame before them. We may now see what the Jews are threatened with, namely, a disgraceful destruction, so that they become a common laughingstock without any one to succor them; for the diction is metaphorical when he speaks of lovers and of parts of the body; for by lovers he here means the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Chaldeeans. Whence their opinion is refuted who think that the Prophet treats only of superstitions. Nor can this language be transferred to idols, since we know that false gods were not spectators of the punishment which the Prophet denounces against the Jews. Whence it follows that this language will only suit those persons to whose protection the Jews trusted, so as to treat God’s help as useless. Since, then, such is the metaphorical sense of the passage, we understand that shame means spoliation and slaughter; nay, the destruction of both the kingdom and city, and even of the temple. Thus the nation was a common laughingstock, and in this way like a foul and aged harlot. Now we understand the Prophet’s intention. As to Jerome translating “wealth,” it is altogether adverse to the Prophet’s meaning; there is no doubt that he means the lower part of the body, and it follows in the same sense, thy shame was uncovered. But at the same time God expresses why it was done, namely, for fornication, as if an abandoned woman were to act so disgracefully. He now says it was done towards your lovers, towards the idols of your abominations:
And in bloods, says he. He here adds another crime, namely, that of barbarous cruelty, because they did not spare their own sons, as we saw before: many offered up their children, and some were found so excited as to cast them into the fire: it was indeed a monstrous crime when they hesitated not to rage against their own offspring: but they were so carried away by insane zeal that they burnt, up their children when others only drew them through the fire. Hence the Prophet again accuses them of cruelty for offering their children to idols, and so pouring forth innocent blood. Now follows the punishment. Behold, says he, I collect all thy lovers. We said that this ought to be understood of the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Chaldreans, all of whom looked upon the slaughter of that perverse and perfidious nation, but none of them helped her. God therefore pronounces the destruction of the people just like that of a harlot abandoned by her lovers, and perishing through hunger, want, and other miseries: for it very often happens that a person under the impulse of love prefers a harlot to his own life; for he will throw off all regard for his wife; he will be disrespectful to both his father and mother, and will break through every restraint to enjoy her company: but when such persons are grown old, and their hair becomes white, which represents the winter of life, and when wrinkles deform the face, then they are despised, and especially if they suffer through disease. So also the Prophet now says that the Jews would be despised by all, so that their lovers should be compelled to behold that example; and meanwhile they scarcely deign to look at the foul appearance which had formerly sweetly delighted them.
Then he proceeds further, namely, that their enemies should behold their ignominy: we know that the Jews were surrounded on all sides by enemies, and that all their neighbors were hostile to them. The Prophet now says that the nations disgrace should be exposed before their lovers, that is, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, Chaldaeans, Philistilles, Edomites, and other nations. This passage teaches us, that although the reason for God’s judgments does not always clearly appear, yet they are never too severe; and when he condescends to afford us a reason, he grants us a gratuitous indulgence. But when he silently executes his judgments, let us learn to acquiesce in his justice, and not to cry out if he exceeds moderation; because when he has once explained that his severity is only justice, hence we must gather the general rule, that whenever he seems to treat his people too severely and harshly, yet he has just reasons for it. Let us learn, also, that the Jews only suffered a just recompense when God so cursed all their counsels. They thought themselves very provident and circumspect when they engaged in alliances with Egyptians and Assyrians. But all their plans turned out unhappily for them, since they consulted their own will contrary to that of God. Let us learn, then, if we wish to promote our own salvation, and to obtain a prosperous result, to do nothing without God’s permission, and not to undertake any deliberations except those which God has dictated and suggested by his word and Spirit. For here every future event is shown to us as in a glass when we wish to be wiser than they ought, and than God permits them. It now follows —
This verse is only added for the sake of explanation. Already God had explained shortly and clearly every event which should happen to the Jews, yet they should perish in the greatest disgrace and be destitute of all help, since through distrust in God they sought the favor of men, like a woman eager for lovers. But he confirms the same teaching, that they should suffer double punishment, since they not only polluted themselves thus shamefully, but also by impious slaughters, since they burnt their children in honor of false gods. This sentence may be explained generally, I will judge you with the judgments of women pouring out blood, as we know that not only idolatry was rampant at Jerusalem, but rapine, and all kinds of cruelty; for since they had departed from God and his worship, they boldly violated his law. By the second word we may understand all the crimes by which they had provoked God’s anger on account of their cruelty. But since he has lately spoken of sons, I willingly retain that sense,that they should suffer as an adulteress and a parricide who has put her children to death. But they thought that they obeyed: but he not only rejects, but abominates such foolish thoughts; for nothing is more disgraceful than, under the pretense of piety, to slay and to burn one’s own children: this, I say, was a profanation of God’s name scarcely tolerable. No wonder, then, that he denounces double vengeance, since, when the Jews pleaded their zeal, God branded upon them the mark of wickedness, though they thought him bound to their interests. It afterwards follows —
Here Ezekiel enlarges upon God’s judgment, when he teaches that the Jews would not only be exposed to every disgrace, as if they were brought forward into a noble and conspicuous theater, but they would suffer spoliation and rapine from those in whom they formerly trusted. I will give thee, says he, into their hands He speaks of lovers and enemies: in truth, he says all shall meet together — your ancient allies and friends as well as your enemies: and we know that they were spoiled at one time or another by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Chaldaeans. For at the time when Jerusalem was taken and cut off, the Assyrians were reduced under the monarchy of the Chaldees. Babylon had oppressed Nineveh, as is well known, but the strength of both people were joined together. Thus the Jews were spoiled by them when they thought that they had provided for themselves very successfully by an alliance with the Assyrians against the kings of Israel and Syria: and afterwards, when they had formed an alliance with the Chaldaeans, they thought themselves beyond the reach of all danger. But now the Prophet derides there foolish confidence, and says that they should be spoiled by all their friends: so also he says that their altars should be thrown down. Those who translate it “a house of sin” do not sufficiently consider what I yesterday observed, that the Prophet uses the figure so as to mark a thing simply from any part of it. The Prophet’s language is moderate or mixed, because he speaks partially of lofty and profane altars, and at the same time follows out its own simile. There is no doubt, therefore, that by a high place and lofty things he means altars themselves: although he does allude to these sinful houses, because he said in yesterday’s lecture that the Jews stood at the top of the streets so as to entice any casual and unknown strangers to them. As also the Chaldaeans did not spare the temple, so there is no doubt that they destroyed all the altars promiscuously. and yet the Jews had wished to gratify them by destroying a part of them. But God shows how foolishly men imagine they shall succeed while they purposely fight against him: and experience teaches that the same thing happens to all unbelievers. For when any one has embraced his own superstitions, and despises what others think sacred and holy, then the conquerors destroy temples and images, and deform the region which they wish to be ruined and desolate. So also it is now said, they shall destroy your altars and high places. He now adds, and they shall spoil thee of thy garments, and take away the vessels of thy beauty. The Prophet comprehends in these words whatever benefits God had conferred on the Jews; for we know how liberally he had adorned them with his gifts, and especially in rendering the earth wonderfully fruitful by his blessing. He signifies in a word, that the Jews, when deprived of all their ornaments, would be disgraced; as it follows, and they shall send thee away naked and bare; that is, they shall cast thee off, just as a lover when satisfied rejects the companion of his iniquity.
Since what Ezekiel has hitherto brought forward was incredible, he now explains the manner of its accomplishment — that the Chaldmans and Assyrians should bring a large army and bury the whole of Judea with stones, and pierce it through with swords. By these figures he simply means that there should be such slaughter that the whole region should be made desolate, just as if the enemy should slay all that they met with stones and swords. Some think that he alludes to stones which were thrown by engines of war; but I doubt whether the Prophet thought of this. What I have stated is more simple, that the Jews had no cause to think themselves free from that final slaughter of which the Prophet spoke, since numerous and powerful armies should come and overwhelm them with stones, and pierce them through with swords. It follows —
After he had spoken of the slaughter of men, he adds the burning of their dwellings. This was sad indeed, that the whole land should be deprived of inhabitants: but the deformity of this last slaughter was heaped upon them when the houses were burnt up; for the country was laid waste for the future, and for a length of time. For when men are slain others may succeed, if they find houses prepared, and fields not uncultivated. But when all these things are consumed by fire, and by other means of ruin, all hope for the future is taken away. The Prophet now means this when he says, that the houses were burnt up. He adds, they shall execute judgment against thee in the sight of many women. As he had used the simile of a harlot for the Jewish people, that the clauses of the sentence may correspond, he understands the neighboring people under the name of women. He confirms what we formerly saw, that the penalty which should be exacted of the Jews should be joined with the greatest disgrace. But this is very bitter, when not only we must perish, but the cruelty of enemies must be satiated while many behold us; and doubtless it was much more severe for the Jews to sustain the ridicule of their foes than to perish at once. If they had perished at once, death had not been such a torture to them as those mockeries by which they were harassed by their enemies. For we said that they were hated by almost all; and in the 137th Psalm (Psalms 137:7) it is shown that the Edomites, and others like them, said, by way of congratulation, Hail! hail! when Jerusalem was destroyed: Remember, O Lord, the sons of Edom, who said in the day of Jerusalem, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground. The Prophet, therefore, announces this, that the punishment which he formerly mentioned should be an example to all nations. He speaks improperly of the Chaldaeans, when he says that they should be executors of God’s judgments, for there was not a duty assigned to them; but God often transfers to man as the instrument of his wrath what peculiarly belongs to himself alone. And in this way he wounds the Jews more severely when he makes the Chaldaeans their judges. God, properly speaking, was the sole judge who avenged the people’s wickedness; but meanwhile he substitutes the Chaldaeans for himself, that the punishment might be the more disgraceful. He adds, and I will make thee cease from fornication, nor shall you offer gifts any more God does not mean that the Jews would be better when in exile, but simply reminds them that the opportunity for their sinning would be wanting, as when an immodest person is ashamed through being despised by every one, not through any improvement in her disposition, since her licentious feelings are the same as before. So also the Jews were always obstinate in their wickedness, though deprived of the opportunity of sinning. It follows —
Although God seems here to promise some mitigation of his wrath, there is no doubt that he expresses what we formerly saw, namely, that such should be the destruction of the nation that there would be no need to return again to punish them. When, therefore, he says, I will make my indignation rest upon thee, it means that he would satiate himself with vengeance for all their crimes: so that the consumption of the people is here called the rest of God’s indignation, as if he had said, When I have utterly reduced you to nothing, then my indignation against thee shall rest. In the same way he afterwards adds, and my indignation shall depart from thee. But I cannot finish today.
He first blames the Jews for not reflecting on the liberality of their treatment. But that ingratitude was too shameful, since God had not omitted any kind of beneficence for their ornament. But since they thought themselves not adorned with sufficient splendor by God, and that he was less munificent than he ought to be, it may here be gathered that they were unworthy of such great and remarkable benefits. Finally, God here shows that how severely soever he punished the Jews, yet they deserved it for their ingratitude in not thinking him sufficiently liberal towards them: for their spirits were utterly broken. If a wife leave her husband, she is either compelled to do so by his perverse conduct, or else she betrays an illiberal disposition if she has been treated honorably. But since the Jews were bound to God so strongly in so many ways, their perfidy and revolt was so much the more detestable; for God does not suffer his blessings to be despised by us: since we must always mark the reason of his omitting nothing which may testify his paternal love towards us, namely, that we may celebrate his goodness. But when we turn his benefits to the profanation of his name, that is like mingling heaven and earth. Hence this passage against ingratitude must be remarked.
He now adds, thou, has been tumultuous against me, or has moved or irritated me.
(135) We must understand the pronoun “thy” before “head.” — Calvin.
Here the Prophet uses another form of speech; for he says that the Jews deserved to be subject to the taunting proverbs of those who delight in wickedness. The sense is, that they were worthy of extreme infamy, so that their disgrace was bandied about in vulgar sayings. This is one point: he now adds, that proverbs of this kind were the Jews’ desert — the daughter is like her mother and sisters Then he says, their mother was a Hittite, and their sisters Samaria and Sodom. We must briefly treat these clauses in order. When the Prophet speaks of proverbs, he doubtless means what I have touched on, namely, that the crimes of the nation deserved that their infamy should fly abroad on the tongues of all; for there are many sins which are hidden, through either their being spared, or their not seeming to be much noticed. If any one surpass all others in cruelty, avarice, lust, and other vices, his disgrace will be notorious, and he will be pointed at by vulgar proverbs. Hence Ezekiel dwells on the people’s wickedness, since they supply material for all men to laugh at their expense; for he alludes to buffoons and wits, and such as are ingenious in fabricating vulgar sayings.
The maker of proverbs shall utter this proverb against thee: like mother like daughter. There is no doubt that they used this saying at that period, and it often happens that daughters’ faults are like their mothers’. Daughters indeed often degenerate from the best mothers, and matrons will be found who excel in the virtues of modesty, chastity, sobriety, and watchfulness, while their daughters are rash and proud, luxurious, lustful, and intemperate; but it usually happens that a mother has wicked daughters like herself: this happens less by nature than by education; for a woman of a perverse inclination will think that a stigma attaches to herself if her daughter is better than she is, and so she will wish to form her after her own morals; hence it happens that few daughters are found modest whose mothers are immodest: few sober who have been brought up by drunkards. Since therefore experience always taught the similarity between mothers and daughters, hence this proverb was in the mouth of every one. Proverbs, however, are not always true, but only on the whole; but God sometimes extends his pity so far that the daughter of a wicked woman is honorable and well conducted. But this is very rare: hence this proverbial saying cannot be rejected, — like mother like daughter. It now follows: thou art the daughter of thy mother; that is, altogether like her: and this phrase is equally common among us, “Thou art thy father’s son, ” namely, you are like him in thy sins. Thus the Prophet means that the nation was like their mother, since it differed in nothing from the Canaanites and the Hittites. He adds also, sister and their daughters, as if he would collect the whole family. He says that Samaria is their elder sister, and Sodom their younger. I know not whether those who think that Samaria is called older than Jerusalem, through its revolting first from the worship of God, have sufficient grounds for their interpretation: for as we go on we shall see that Samaria is compared with Sodom, and since Sodom is the worst, it is very naturally compared with it. For Jerusalem will afterwards be placed in the highest rank, because it had surpassed them all in enormity. Samaria therefore is one of the sisters, and so is Sodom these towns are called daughters, for we know that Sodom was not the only one destroyed by fire from heaven, since there were five cities. (Genesis 10:19, and Genesis 19:25.) We see, then, why those smaller cities near at hand were called daughters of Sodom, and as far as Samaria is concerned, it was the head of the kingdom of Israel: hence all the cities of the ten tribes were called its daughters.
With relation to the father, the Prophet says here more than he had ventured before. He says, their father was an, Amorite, as if the Jews had sprung from profane nations, and did not draw their origin from a holy parent; and the Prophet very often makes this objection, not that they were spurious or descended according to the flesh from the uncircumcised Gentiles, but because they were unworthy of their father Abraham, through being degenerate. In fine, God here signifies that the parents of the Jews were not only profane nations but utterly reprobate, and those whom God for very just reasons had ordered to be destroyed, since they had contaminated the earth with their crimes far too long. He says that the Jews were like a daughter sprung from most abandoned parents. As to his saying, that the mother as well as sisters had despised their husbands, this may seem absurd. But we know that in proverbs, parables, examples, and comparisons, all things ought not to be exacted with the utmost nicety. When Christ’s coming is said to be stealthy, (Matthew 24:43,) if any one here desires to be cunning and inquires how Christ is like a thief, that will be absurd. And also in this place when it is said, thy mother has abandoned her husband and her sons, and thy sisters have done the same. God simply means that both the mother and sisters of Jerusalem were impure and perfidious women; and cruel also, since they not only had violated the marriage pledge and had thus broken through all chastity, but were like ferocious beasts against their own sons. (Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2.) He reproves the crime which we yesterday exposed, that of the Jews burning their own sons. In fine, he means to compare the Jews with the Canaanites, the Samaritans, and the Sodomites, in both perfidy and cruelty. Hence they are first condemned for throwing away all modesty and conjugal fidelity, and next for forgetting all humanity. It now follows —
Now the Prophet, not content with the simile which he had used, says that the Jews were far worse than either their mothers or sisters. Yet he is not inconsistent, for God wished by degrees to drag the wicked to trial. If at the very first word he had said that they were worse than the Sodomites, they would have been less attentive to this accusation. But when he proposed a thing incredible, namely, that they were the daughters of the nations of Canaan, and the sisters of Samaria and Sodom, and afterwards proceeded further, and pronounced that they surpassed both their mother and sisters, this, as I have said, would stir up their minds more vehemently. This difference then contains no inconsistency, but rather tends to magnify their crimes. You, says he, have not walked according to their ways. He does not here exempt the Jews from participating in sins as if they were faultless through not imitating the Hittites, or Sodomites, or Israelites: but the word walking ought to be restricted to the sense of equality, as if he said, you are not equal. But it is a kind of correction when God says that the Jews were not equal to the Hittites or Sodomites, meaning that their impiety was more detestable, since they rushed forward to all kinds of wickedness with greater license. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning when he says that; the Jews had not walked in the ways of either Sodom or Samaria or the nations of Canaan, since they had gone before them, and even with greater ardor of pursuit; for if they had simply imitated the three people of whom mention has been made, they had walked in their ways. But when they were so hurried on in their intemperance as to run before them, they did not walk in their ways only through leaving them behind. And this comparison will sufficiently explain the Prophet’s mind, that the Jews did not follow either the Sodomites, Israelites, or Canaanites, but through their base and headlong violence left them far behind. And he says, as if it were only a small matter, that is, as if it were of little moment to thee to be like thy mother and sisters. But you have been corrupt, says he, before them. He now explains the case more clearly, since they had not walked in their ways through precipitating themselves with greater license, as we have already said. It follows —
Since what we have lately seen was difficult to be believed, hence God interposes an oath. Nor is it surprising that shame was so despised and cast far away by the Jews, since they were inured to it; and we know how they were swollen with pride, for they always boasted in their adoption and gloried in the name of God. Besides, we know that at this day, if any one accuses a wicked nation, yet it is not so detestable as Sodom, and if he uses this phrase, he inflames all against himself, and causes them to reject his language with indignation. For who will suffer either one city or nation to be compared with Sodom? As far as concerned the Jews, we have said that it was intolerable in them to be fastidious and proud. There was also another reason why they should be indignant at being pronounced worse than the Sodomites: since God had not chosen them as his peculiar treasure in vain and marked them with magnificent titles: you shall be a nation of priests unto me, you shall be my inheritance, and besides, my son — my first-born Israel. (Exodus 19:6, and Exodus 4:22.) We now see how necessary the interposition by oath was to sanction what the Prophet had said. God therefore here swears by himself, because we call him in as a witness and judge when we swear. But he swears by himself or by his life, because, as the Apostle teaches, he has no greater by whom to swear. (Hebrews 6:13.) Whatever it be, he here prostrates all foolish boasting, by which the Jews were puffed up when he swears by himself, that they were worse than Sodom and her daughters. And here also he calls in like manner the smaller cities daughters of Jerusalem. This was very hard upon the Jews, when the Prophet says and often repeats, thy sister Sodom. But he wounds their feelings far more bitterly, that Sodom was just in preference to Jerusalem: this was indeed intolerable, and yet we see that the Holy Spirit by no means indulges them here. Hence we must not regard what the reprobate are able to bear, but they must be treated according to their own disposition, and since they rise fiercely against God, so also are they to be subdued, and, according to the common proverb, “a hard wedge must be formed for a hard knot.” It now follows —
Here God begins to show the reason why he extenuated the wickedness of Sodom in comparison with that of his own people: for if he had spoken generally, without explaining the counsel of God, his language would have been incredible, and so would have been ineffectual. But now God shows that he did not pronounce rashly what we heard before, namely, that the Jews were worse than the Sodomites. How so? for this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, says he, first pride, then fullness of bread, and luxury in which they were in the habit of indulging, and of drowning themselves in ease to enjoy a long peace; afterwards, they did not seize the hand of the poor. Now he adds —
We must diligently attend to this passage; for God does not here excuse the wickedness of Sodom; but, abominable as that people was, he says that the Jews were yet more abandoned. We know why God inflicted his vengeance in a terrible manner against the Sodomites and their neighbors, for that was a fearful example; and Judea says that it was a kind of mirror of the wrath of God which awaits all the impious, (Judges 1:7;) and Scripture often recalls us to that proof of God’s judgement: but we must see how Sodom rushed forward to that degree of licentiousness so as to be horrified by no enormity. God says that they began by pride, and surely pride is the mother of all contempt of God and of all cruelty. Let us learn, then, that we cannot be restrained by the fear of God, unless moderation and humility reign within us. Pride, we know, has two horns, so to speak; one is, when men forget their own condition, and claim to themselves not only more than is right, but what God alone calls his own. This, then, is one horn of pride, when men, trusting in their dignity, excellence, plenty, and wealth, are intoxicated by false imaginations, so as to think themselves equal to God. Now, another horn of pride is, when they do not acknowledge their vices, and despise others in comparison with themselves, and please themselves in enormities, just as if they were free from any future account. Since, therefore, pride is contained in these two clauses, when men arrogate too much to themselves, and thus are blind to their own vices, each of these is doubtless condemned in the Sodomites, since they first raised themselves by a rash confidence, and then refused to subject themselves to God, and rebelled against him as if they could shake off his yoke.
He afterwards adds fullness of bread. But the Prophet seems to condemn in the Sodomites what was not blamable in itself: for when God feeds us bountifully, fullness is not to be considered a crime; but he takes it here for immoderate gluttony; for those who have abundance are often luxurious, and nothing is more rare than self-restraint when materials for luxury are supplied to us. Hence fullness of bread is here taken for intemperance, since the Sodomites were so addicted to gluttony and drunkenness, that they gratified their appetites worse than the brutes, who do retain some moderation, for they are content with their own food: but men’s covetousness is altogether insatiable. Let us observe, then, that by fullness of bread we are to understand that intemperance in which profane men indulge when God supplies them bountifully with the means of living; for they do not consider why they abound in wine, and corn, and abundance of all things, but they drown themselves in luxuries with a blind and brutal impulse. Hence such greediness, so inflaming to the spirits of the Sodomites, is added to pride, that they arrogate to themselves more than is just. He afterwards adds, and rest; תולש, sheloth: some translate it abundance, but almost everywhere it means peace; the noun טקש, sheket, which is added next, means properly rest; so that it will be the peace of rest or ease, and this seems without blame: for why shall we not be permitted to enjoy ease, if no one molests or troubles us? nay, it is reckoned among God’s blessings: you shall sleep, and no one shall frighten thee. (Leviticus 26:6.) Since God, therefore, wishes this to be considered among his blessings, that the faithful should sleep soundly, without any anxiety or trouble, why is Sodom condemned for thus enjoying ease and peace? But here its excess is pointed out, not its true use, since the use of peace is to render our minds tranquil, that we may return thanks to God, and dwell calmly under his sway. But how do the reprobate act? They grow brutish, so to speak, in their own peacefulness. Hence sloth is in this passage meant by the peacefulness of ease, and God means that the Sodomites were intoxicated by their luxuries when they enjoyed peace. We must put off the remainder.
God now pronounces the same thing concerning Samaria, whom he had formerly called the younger sister. By Samaria, as we said, he means the Israelites, because that city was the head of the Kingdom of Israel: the ten tribes had been already driven into exile; and he says they were not half so wicked when compared with the Jews. This, at the first glance, may seem absurd; for we know that God’s worship was continued at Jerusalem when the Israelites rejected the law, and basely and openly turned aside to idolatry. Since, therefore, some sound piety flourished at Jerusalem when the Israelites wickedly revolted from God’s law, what can it mean by the Jews being censured as worse than they were? We must always come to the fountain which I have pointed out; for ingratitude has great influence in exaggerating men’s crimes. But another reason must also be remarked. The Jews had seen how severely God had avenged the superstitions of the kingdom of Israel: they were so far from repenting that they rather courted their alliance, as if for the very purpose of provoking God afresh. If we reflect upon these two points, the question will be solved as far as relates to the present passage. God says what is incredible to us, that the Jews were worse than the Israelites: but he asserts this, because ingratitude had rendered them less excusable; for God had retained them under his own charge when that wretched dispersion happened, and the ten tribes were all but absorbed. God’s candle was always shinning at Jerusalem, as it is said. (Exodus 27:20.) When, therefore, God had preserved for himself that small band as the very flower of the people, safe and sound, the revolt of this people was far more criminal than that of the ten tribes: for these tribes were drawn away from the worship of God by little and little, as is well known. For Jeroboam always set before himself one definite object — the worship of God as the liberator of the people, (1 Kings 12:0:) for the Israelites did not look on themselves as apostates, although they had degenerated from their fathers. But the Jews addicted themselves to gross superstitions, of which the Israelites at first were ashamed; and then they were warned by many penalties not to imitate their kinsmen: still, as we saw before, the temple was defiled by many pollution’s; for Ezekiel, in the eighth chapter, says that he saw there many defilement’s. Since then the Jews profited so badly, though God set his vengeance before their eyes, it is not surprising that they are said to have sinned grievously.
In conclusion, he adds, thou hast multiplied your abominations beyond them; and you have justified thy sisters in all the abominations which you have perpetrated. Here the word “justified” is to be received at first comparatively: it does not signify that the fault of others is extenuated by the wickedness of the Jews; but if the people wished to offer excuses, they might easily be convinced that both Sodom and the kingdom of Israel were just in comparison with the Jews. To justify is usually received for to absolve; and we must observe this when we treat of justification, since the papists always seize upon the quality, as if to be justified was in reality to be just. Hence they are unable to comprehend a doctrine sufficiently familiar to Scripture, and plain enough — that we are justified by faith: for they examine man, that they may find justice there, and do not ascend any higher: but to be justified by faith signifies nothing but to be absolved, though we are not just in ourselves; hence a justification by faith without us must be sought for, and hence we gather that it is not a quality. Hence Jerusalem justified her sisters, although Sodom and Samaria were found worse than herself. It follows —
Here at length God announces that he would punish the Jews according to their deserts. Hitherto he has recounted their crimes, as judges are accustomed, when they condemn criminals, to state the reasons which induce them to pass sentence: thus God shortly shows how wicked the Jews were. He now adds, that he would avenge them according to the magnitude of their crimes. For they would easily have swallowed all reproaches if the fear of punishment had not been infused into them. This second head, then, was necessary, lest they should Judea off with impunity, since they had surpassed both Sodom and Samaria. Do thou also bear thy disgrace who has judged thy sisters. Here Ezekiel seems to be at variance with himself, for he said just now and will repeat again shortly, that Jerusalem had justified her sisters; and this is contrary to judging. But he says that Samaria was condemned by the Jews; and the solution of this discrepancy is easy: for the Jews justified both the Israelites and the Sodomites, not by absolving them in any sentence passed on them, but because they were worthy of double condemnation; as Christ says, In the last day it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the Jews. (Matthew 11:24.) But what is here said of condemnation has another meaning — that the Jews insulted over their brethren when they saw their kingdom destroyed, and the Israelites driven away from their land. Since they spoke so proudly of the slaughter of the ten tribes, as if innocent themselves, the Prophet here reproves them as if they judged them. And this is too common with all hypocrites, to inveigh hardly against all others, and to grow hot against them, as if in this way they covered their own crimes. And Paul reproves this vice in them, since they were supercilious censors of others, and at the same time committed every sin. Thinkest you, O man, says he, when you judge others, that God will not condemn thee; for who art you, O mortal man? Do you claim the office of a judge? (Romans 2:1.) Meanwhile will God be deprived of his rights, so as not to call thee to account for thy sins? Now, therefore, we understand the Prophet’s intention: for he exaggerates the crimes of the Jews when he pronounces sentence from on high against the ten tribes. Truly God blotted out this kingdom deservedly: for they were apostates; they had revolted from the family of David, and had violated that sacred unity by which God had bound to himself the whole family of Abraham. They had indeed just cause for speaking thus in condemning the Israelites; but when they were worse than them, what arrogance it was to harass their brethren, and to be blind to their own vices, nay, to grow utterly callous to them!
Thou, therefore, have judged thy sister, that is, you have taken God’s office upon thee, and yet you were worse than thy sister. Some explain it otherwise, that the Jews judged the ten tribes as long as they remained in a moderate degree worshipers of God: but they do not attend to the context. There is no doubt that the Prophet here rebukes the pride with which the Jews were puffed up, while they judged others severely and themselves leniently. They were justified in comparison with thee, says he: you, therefore, he repeats, blush and bear thy disgrace. This repetition is not superfluous, although in the former words there was nothing obscure, for it was difficult to persuade the Jews that they should suffer punishment, since God had borne with them so long. God’s goodness, then, which invited them to repentance, had rather hardened them, and had occasioned so much torpor that they thought themselves free from all danger. Hence this is the reason why the Prophet confirms his former teaching concerning the nearness of God’s vengeance against them. He says, when you have justified them. He here repeats the cause, and does so to restrain all pretenses by which the Jews could in any way protect themselves. For by one word he shows that they must perish, since they had justified those who had been treated so strictly. For it is by no means likely, that God should cease from his office of judge in one direction, since he had been so severe against the Sodomites, who were in some way excusable for their errors. This then is the reason why the Prophet affirms again that Sodom and Samaria were justified by the Jews. It follows —
He here confirms again what we lately saw, that the Jews were doomed and devoted to final destruction, nor was it possible for them to escape any more than for Sodom to rise again and Samaria to be restored to her original dignity. The Jews foolishly corrupt this passage, since they think that restoration is promised to Israel and Sodom. But by Sodomites they mean the Moabites and Ammonites, the descendants of Lot who dwell at Sodom: but a child may see that this is trifling. There is no doubt that the Prophet here deprives the Jews of all hope of safety by reasoning upon an impossibility: as if he had said, you shall be safe when Sodom and Samaria are. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. But the inquiry arises — how can he pronounce none of the Israelites safe, when their return home is so often promised? But we must bear in mind, what we saw elsewhere, and what it is often necessary to repeat, since many passages in the prophets would otherwise give rise to scruples. Therefore we have sometimes said, that the prophets speak of the people in two ways; for they sometimes regard the whole body of the nation promiscuously: but the Israelites were already alienated from God; afterwards the Jews also cut themselves off from him. Since therefore each people, considering them in a body and in the mass, to speak roughly, was outcast, it is not surprising if the prophets use this language — that no hope of mercy remained — since they had excluded themselves from God’s mercy. But afterwards they change their discourse to the remnant: for God always preserves a hidden seed, that the Church should not be utterly extinguished: for there must always be a Church in the world, but sometimes it is preserved miserably as it were in a sepulcher, since it is nowhere apparent. God, therefore, when he denounces final vengeance on the Jews, regards the body of the people, but then he promises that there shall be a small seed which he wishes to remain safe. Hence it is said in Isaiah, (Isaiah 8:16,) seal my law, bind up my testimony among my disciples; that is, address my disciples as if you were reading in a hidden corner any writing which you did not wish to be made public. Do you therefore collect my disciples together, that you may deliver to them my law and my testimony like a sealed letter. But now God cites to his tribunal those degenerate Jews who had nothing in common with Abraham, since they had made void and utterly abolished his covenant: Now, therefore, we see how the Jews perished together with Sodom and Samaria, and were never restored, that is, as far as relates to that. filth and dregs which were utterly unworthy of the honor of which they boasted.I will restore, therefore, their captivities; namely, the captivity of Sodom and of its cities, and the captivity of Samaria and its cities, and the captivity of thy captivities, that is, and the captivity of all thy land; I will restore you, says he, altogether; but he speaks ironically, and, as I have said, he shows that God’s taking pity upon the Jews was impossible. It follows —
Hence we gather from the last verse, that God gave the Jews no hope of safety, but rather confirms their utter destruction, so that no future safety was to be hoped for. For he says, that you may bear thy reproach and become ashamed, namely, because they had sinned grievously, as I have said before, and had not repented of their wickedness. He adds, in consoling them. He speaks after the ordinary manner of men, since the miserable feel some consolation in seeing themselves perish among a great multitude. This then is the consolation of which the Prophet speaks, not that the sorrow of Sodom and Samaria was mitigated when they saw the Jews joined to themselves, but, as I have said, God adopts the common language of men. It follows —
A clearer explanation of the former doctrine now follows, that the Jews, should thus feel God merciful when his mercy reached Samaria and Sodom; but that never could be done, and hence the Jews were reduced to despair; for, as I have said, the Prophet argues from what is impossible and almost absurd. Just as Virgil writes —
“The inhabitants of seas and skies shall change,
And fish on shore, and stags in air shall range:”
Virgil, Dryden’s, Eclogue 1. V. 60 —
which can never take place: so that it implies the complete denial of what might seem doubtful. This way of speaking is proverbial, when Ezekiel says that the Sodomites and Israelites should return to their ancient state or their former dignity; and that could never be hoped for, as I have said: hence it follows, that the Jews could not be safe when God draws them into the same punishment. Besides, the Prophet speaks as if the city should be cut off and temple overthrown, since the Jews had often been threatened with this, and he had shown them the wrath of God present before their eyes. But, although they had always hoped well, yet he despises their pride by which they were blinded, and utters his prophecies openly as if God had executed whatever he had threatened. For this reason he says, the captivity of thy captivities shall be in the midst of them. But they might object, that they enjoyed their country, that they still cultivated their fields, and had sufficient food for their support although besieged by their enemies. But the Prophet looked down upon it all, because before God the city was as it were taken and all were exiles, since God had not threatened them in vain. Weakness here compels me to break off.
God here blames the Jews because they did not attend to that remarkable judgment which he had executed against the Sodomites: for they had always before their eyes what ought to retain them in the fear of God; for that was a formidable spectacle, as it is this day. They knew that region to have been like the paradise of God, as it is called by Moses. (Genesis 13:10.) Since, then, the fertility and pleasantness of the place was so great, to see there the lake of sulphur and bitumen was sufficient material for instructing them, unless they had been utterly sluggish. But the Prophet says, that there was no mention of Sodom while the Jews lived happily; and we know that it was a great crime not to consider God’s judgments, as we read in Isaiah. (Isaiah 5:12.) Among other things he says, that the Jews and Israelites were so corrupt that they did not regard God’s works: hence as it is a useful exercise to consider God’s judgments, yea, this is the chief prudence of the faithful; so, on the other hand, those who shut their eyes to the manifest judgments of God are like the brutes. And yet this is a very common fault, especially when the circumstance here expressed is added, that profane men do not attend to God’s operations through being intoxicated by prosperity; for in this passage we have two ways of explaining the word
Besides, interpreters explain this of the slaughter which the Jews suffered in the time of Ahaz. (2 Kings 16:0.) For then the King of Syria laid waste almost the whole region, and the citizens of Jerusalem were grievously fined. The Philistines took advantage of this occasion and made an irruption: they think, therefore, that the time is pointed out when the King of Syria made war upon the Israelites, and violently assaulted Judea. But I know not whether the Prophet looks to the future, as I said yesterday; for he speaks of punishment at hand, just as if God was fulfilling what he had already determined. I am inclined to think that the beginning and the end ought to be united. Hence God begins to disclose the wickedness of the people from the time when the burning consumed their neighbors till it reached themselves; for the slaughter of the tribes of Israel brought upon them many losses, as we know well enough. But God seems to embrace their ultimate destruction, which was now at hand. Hence he says, that they had been, and would be, a laughingstock to the daughters of Syria, and the nations all around, and also to the daughters of the Philistines. But because they were spoiled by the Philistines, who took their cities, as the sacred narrative informs us, it is very suitable thus to explain the word
Here God repeats what we saw before, that the Jews were deprived of all excuse. We know how bold they were in their expostulations, and how they always cried out when God treated them severely. Because, therefore, complaints were always flying about from this proud people, here, as before, God pronounces that they deserved their sufferings: you bear, says he, not any immoderate rigor of which you falsely accuse me, but your abominations and crimes.
Here, also, God meets the false objection by which the Jews might strive with him; for whatever they were, yet God had entered into covenant with them. They might, therefore, fly to this refuge, that God had bound himself in covenant with them, since he had adopted Abraham with his seed. Although they had provoked God’s anger a thousand times, yet this exception remained, that God ought to stand to his agreement, and not to look at what they had deserved by their ingratitude, but rather to be consistent with his promises. Now, therefore, he returns to this cavil, and says that he is free to break the covenant since they have done so first.I will do, says he,to thee as thou has done. We see, therefore, that the calumny is here repelled by which the Jews could obliquely defame God, as they were accustomed to do, as if he had rendered his covenant void. He says, then, that in agreement it is customary for a person, when deceived, no longer to be necessarily bound to a perfidious breaker of agreements; for covenanting requires mutual faith: but the Jews had violated their agreement, and reduced it to nothing. Hence, through their perfidy and wickedness, God had acquired the liberty of rejecting them, and of no longer reckoning them among his people. Hence, as in the last verse, he said that the Jews paid a just penalty; so now, he adds specially, that he could not be condemned for bad faith in departing from his agreement, because he had to deal with traitors and covenant-breakers who had rendered void their agreement: for there is no covenant when either party declines it. I will do, therefore, to thee as you has done, namely, because you have despised an oath, so as to render the covenant void Here God enlarges upon the crime of revolt, because the Jews had not only dissipated the covenant, but had despised an oath.
Because God here promises that he would be propitious to the Jews, some translate the former verse as if it had been said, “Shall I do with thee as you have done?” or, I would do as you have done, unless I had been mindful; but that is too forced in my opinion. I have no doubt that the Prophet restrains himself, so to speak, and directs his discourse peculiarly to the elect, of whom we spoke yesterday. Hitherto he had regarded the whole body of the people which was abandoned, and hence he put before them nothing but despair. But he now turns himself to the election of grace, of which Paul speaks, (Romans 11:5;) and for this reason promises them that God would be mindful of his covenant, though he would not restore the whole people promiscuously. For the body on the whole must perish; a small band only was reserved. We know, therefore, that this promise was not common to all the sons of Abraham who were his offspring according to the flesh, but it was peculiar to the elect alone. God therefore pronounces, that he would be mindful of his covenant which he had made with that people in their youth, by which words he signifies, that his pity should not go forth except from the covenant. For God always recalls the faithful, as it were, to the fountain, lest they should claim anything as their right, or imagine this or that to be the cause of God’s being reconciled to them. He shows, therefore, that this pity has no other foundation than the covenant; and this is the reason why he says, that he would be mindful of his covenant. He now adds, and I will establish a perpetual covenant with thee. Here God promises, without obscurity, a better and more excellent covenant than that ancient one already abolished through the people’s fault. This passage, then, cannot be understood except of the new covenant which God has established by the hand of Christ. But these two clauses are so mutually united that they ought to be carefully weighed, namely, that God here gives the hope of a new covenant, and yet teaches us that it originates in the old one already abolished through the people’s fault. Thus we see that the New Testament flows from that covenant which God made with Abraham, and afterwards sanctioned by the hand of Moses. That which is promulgated for us in the Gospel is called the; New Covenant, not because it had no beginning previously, but because it was renewed, and better conditions added; for we know that the Law was abrogated by the New Covenant. Whether it be so or not, the excellence of the New Testament is not injured, because it has its source and occasion in the Old Covenant, and is founded on it. It follows —
As God, then, shows that he would not be merciful to the Jews for any other reason than through being mindful of his covenant, so now, in return, he informs us what he requires from them, namely, that they should begin to acknowledge how basely they had abjured their pledged fidelity — how unworthily they had despised his law — how impiously obstinate they had been against all his prophets in deriding their threats, and in being stupid under manifest penalties. But this passage is worthy of notice, since we gather that none are capable of obtaining God’s mercy except those who are dissatisfied with themselves, and, being ashamed and confounded, betake themselves to his mercy. In fine, we see that God’s grace does not profit the obstinate at all: it is offered to all in common; but none receive it except those who condemn themselves, and bear in mind their crimes, so that they are forgotten before God. If, therefore, we wish our sins to be buried before God, we must remember them ourselves; if we wish our iniquities to be blotted out before God and the angels, we must disgrace ourselves; that is, we must blush and be ashamed of our baseness whenever we transgress and provoke God’s wrath. Hence we here see that the whole contents of the Gospel are shortly summed up; for the Gospel contains nothing else but repentance and faith, as is well known. Concerning faith, Ezekiel has proclaimed that God, mindful of his covenant, will become reconciled to the lost; but he now adds an exhortation that they should acknowledge their faults: but we know that the shame of which the Prophet speaks is the fruit or part of repentance, as is evident from Paul’s description of penitence in the seventh chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 7:9.) But we shall have yet to speak on this subject, so that I now hasten forwards, because what I have hitherto taught cannot be understood until we come to the end of the verse. He says, when you shall receive thy sisters, as well the elder as the younger; for he does not speak here of Sodom and Samaria alone,, but of all nations; for all the nations may properly be called sisters, for all the world was corrupt. Since, therefore, they were all alike in vices, their union was like that of relationship. For this reason he says, that when the Jews shall return to favor, they shall then have a great multitude with them, who shall receive their own sisters; that is, shall collect from all sides an immense multitude, so that all shall be assembled in obedience to God, and shall be partakers of the same covenant. If any one object that this has never been fulfilled, the answer is at hand, that the prophets speak of the calling of the Gentiles in two ways. They sometimes proclaim it so as to declare that the Jews and Israelites are the leaders of all the others, so as to confer upon them the favor and patronage of God. In that day seven men shall lay hold of the skirt of a single Jew, and shall say, Lead us to your God, (Zechariah 8:23;) and this was the legitimate order, that the Jews, as first-born, should join others in alliance to themselves, and thus unite all into one body and one Church: but because the Jews were cut off through their ingratitude, the prophets make mention of another calling, that the Gentiles should succeed in the place of the ungrateful people, as Paul says that the natural branches were cut off, and that we were grafted in who belonged to the unfruitful tree. (Romans 11:16.) The Prophet adds this former reason, that the Jews should receive their sisters, both elder and younger, since they should collect God’s Church from all nations; and this has been partly fulfilled. For whence came the Gospel except from this fountain? as it had been foretold, A law shall go out from Zion, and God’s word from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2.) Again, in the 110th Psalm, (Psalms 110:1,) Thy scepter shall go forth from Zion; that is, the kingdom of Christ shall be propagated throughout the whole world: because, therefore, salvation flowed from the Jews, and the Gospel emanated from thence, what is here promised was partly fulfilled, namely, that other people were received by the Jews.
He now subjoins, I will give them to thee for daughters: for if the Jews had not, by their ingratitude, rejected the honor of which God had reckoned them worthy, they had always been the first-born in the Church. Then the Gentiles would have been, as it were, under a mother, since they were “ the primitive Church “ (according to the language of the day,) and thus they would have obtained the degree of mother among all nations. Therefore God here deservedly pronounces that he would give them, all nations for daughters, to be added to the Jews, when the Gentiles were grafted into the same body of the Church by faith in the Gospel. But he adds, not from thy covenant. Some refer this to ceremonies, since, when the Gentiles were adopted, they still remained free from the ceremonies of the law; but that is cold. Others compare this passage with Jeremiah: I will establish a new covenant with you, not such as I established with your fathers, which they rendered vain; but this is the covenant which I will make with you, etc. (Jeremiah 31:31.) Since, then, it is here said, the covenant shall not be according to the covenant of the people, this is said with truth, because it will be a New Testament. But such expounders are partly right, but not wholly so; for a contrast must be understood between the people’s covenant and God’s. He had said just before, I will be mindful of my covenant: he now says, not of thine. Hence he reconciles what seemed opposites, namely, that he would be mindful of his own agreement, and yet it had been dissipated, broken, and abolished. He shows that it was fixed on his own side, as they say, but vain on the people’s side.I will be reconciled, then, but not through thy covenant; for there was now no covenant, as Hosea says — Not my people, not beloved. (Hosea 1:9.) All the progeny of Abraham were not God’s people, nor all their daughters beloved: but although the covenant was vain through the people’s perfidy, yet God overcame their malice, and so he again erected his own covenant towards them. And when he says, I will establish a covenant, we may explain it, I will set it up again, or restore it afresh: for we said that the New Testament was so distinguished from the Old, that it was founded upon it. For what is proposed to us in Christ, unless what God had promised in the law? and therefore Christ is called the end of the law, and elsewhere its spirit: for if the law be separated from Christ, it is like a dead letter: Christ alone gives it life. Since, therefore, God at this day exhibits to us nothing in his only-begotten Son but what he had formerly promised in the law, it follows that his covenant is set up again, and so perpetually established; and yet this is not man’s part. Wherefore? For men had so revolted from the faith, that God was free; nay, the covenant itself had no force, and lost its effect through their perfidy: for it is easy to collect the points in which the New and Old Testaments are alike, and those, in which they differ. They have this similarity, that God to this day confirms to us what he had formerly promised to Abraham, and in no other sense could Abraham be called the Father of the Faithful.
Since, therefore, Abraham is at this time the father of all the faithful, it, follows that our safety is not to be thought otherwise than in that covenant which God established with Abraham; but afterwards the same covenant was ratified by the hand of Moses. A difference must now be briefly remarked from a passage in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 31:32,) namely, because the ancient covenant was abolished through the fault of man, there was reed of a better remedy, which is there shown to be twofold, namely, that God should bury men’s sins, and inscribe his law on their hearts: that also was done in Abraham’s time. Abraham believed in God: faith was always the gift of the Holy Spirit; therefore God inscribed his covenant in Abraham’s heart. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Ephesians 2:8.) He inscribed his law on the heart of Moses and on the rest of the faithful. This is true: but at first that inner grace was more obscure under the law, and then it was an additional benefit. It could not therefore be ascribed to the law that God regenerated his own elect, because the spirit of regeneration was from Christ, and therefore from the Gospel and the new covenant. But yet we must remember what I have said, that the faithful under the ancient covenant were gifted and endowed with a spirit of regeneration. As far as relates to the remission of sins, it was still more obscure: for cattle were sacrificed, which could not acquire salvation for miserable men, nor blot out their sins. Therefore, if the law is regarded in itself, the promise in the new covenant will not be found in it: I will not remember thy sins: yet to this day God is propitious to us, because he promised to Abraham that all nations should be blest in his seed. (Jeremiah 31:34; Genesis 12:3, and Genesis 18:18.) We see then that the difference which Jeremiah points out was really true; and yet the new covenant so flowed from the old, that it was almost the same in substance, while distinguished in form.
The Prophet here confirms his former teaching, namely, that although the Jews rendered God’s covenant vain as far as they possibly could, yet it should be firm and fixed. But we must hold what I have mentioned, that this discourse is specially limited to the elect, because the safety of the whole people was already desperate. Hence God shows that the covenant which he had made with Abraham could not be abolished by the, perfidy of man. And this is what Paul says in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 3:4,) Even if the whole world were liars, yet God must always remain true. But we see that the covenant of which we are now teaching was new, and yet had its origin from the old, because we are so reconciled to God by Christ that we ought to be grafted into the body of the ancient Church, and be made sons of Abraham, since, as we saw before, he is not called the father of the faithful in vain. God says, therefore, that his own covenant should be firm with the people, not with that people which had been already deserted through its perfidy, but with the true and genuine children of Abraham, who followed their father in faith and piety, as it is said in the 102d Psalm, (Psalms 102:18,) A people shall be created to the praise of God. For the Prophet now shows that God’s covenant could not be otherwise constituted afresh unless a new Church were formed, and God was to create a new world: for this is the meaning of the words, A people when created shall praise God. The Spirit, therefore, obliquely reproves the Israelites, as if he had said that the praises of God were abolished among them: but when the new people shall come forth, then God should be glorified. He adds, and you shall know that I am Jehovah. This phrase is often repeated, but in a different sense. For when a prophet threatened the people, he always added this particle, and thus a contrast must be understood between the people’s stupidity and good sense; for all their prophecies were neglected by the people. God’s servants indeed uttered their voice, and severely blamed the impious and wicked, but without any effect. Since, therefore, they so wantonly played with reproaches and threats, it was often said to them, You shall begin to feel me to be God when I shall cease to speak to you, and shall instruct you by scourges. But now the Prophet, as we see, preaches concerning the gratuitous reconciliation of the people with God. Hence they really felt him to be God, because he stood firm to his promises, although, through the fault of man, his covenant had fallen to pieces and become invalid. The Prophet here announces that they should feel God to be unlike themselves, that is, not to change his counsels, or to vary with the levity and inconstancy of men: as also it is said in Isaiah, My thoughts are not as your thoughts: as far as the heavens are distant from the earth, so are my thoughts distant from yours, and my ways from your ways. (Isaiah 55:8.) God here means that the Jews acted wrong in estimating his pity by their own common sense: for he says that he differed very much from them, since his pity was unfathomable, and his truth incomprehensible.
Now, therefore, we understand what the Prophet means in this verse. In the first clause he pronounces, that the covenant which God would make with his new and elect people should be firm: then he adds, that the Jews should know that they were dealing with God, because they could not take away what God was then promising. Now we can understand the reason why God’s covenant in Christ was perpetual: because, as we read in Jeremiah, he inscribed his law on the hearts of the righteous, and remitted their iniquities. (Jeremiah 31:33.) This, then, was the cause of its perpetuity. Besides, although the Prophet magnifies God’s grace in the second clause, yet at the same time he recalls the Jews from every perverse imagination which might entirely shake their confidence. For when they thought themselves plunged in an abyss, they were ready to collect that there was no further remedy. But if God wished to preserve them, why did he not send them help in time? But when he suffered them to be led into exile, and to be plunged into the lowest depths, there was no hope of restoration. For this cause Ezekiel announces that the faithful ought not to persist in their own thoughts, but rather to raise their minds to heaven, and to expect what seemed altogether out of place, since they thought to judge according to the nature of God, and to measure the effects of his promises by the immensity of his power rather than by their own perceptions.
Ezekiel again exhorts the faithful to repentance and constant meditation. We have said that these members cannot be divided, namely, the testimony of grace with the doctrine of repentance: we have said, also, that this is the substance of the gospel, that God wishes those to repent whom he reconciles by gratuitous pardon. For he is appeased by us only when he makes us new creatures in Christ, and regenerates us by his Spirit; as it is said in Isaiah, God will be propitious to the people who shall have returned from their iniquity. (Isaiah 59:20.) That promise is restricted to those who do not indulge and revel in sin, but humble themselves before God, and decide their own salvation to be impossible without their being severe judges to their own condemnation. Therefore Ezekiel follows up this point when he says that you may remember and be ashamed. I have said that penitence is not only to be commended here, but the continual desire for it. And this must be remarked, because it is troublesome to us to be often shaking off our sins; and hence we escape as far as we can from the perception of them: for we desire our own enjoyment, and every one willingly puts his sins out of sight. Surely if we do look upon them, they first compel us to be ashamed, and then we are wounded with serious grief; conscience summons us to God’s tribunal: we then acknowledge the formidable vengeance which slays even the boldest, unless they are upheld by the assurance of pardon. Since, then, the acknowledgment of sins brings us both shame and sorrow, we endeavor to put it far away from us by all means. But no other way of access to embracing God’s favor is open to us, except that of repentance of sins. This, then, is the reason why God insists so much on this point: we do not follow him directly; hence it is not sufficient to show us what ought to be done, unless God pricks us sharply, and violently draws us to himself. This passage, then, must be remarked where the Prophet commands the faithful, after they have obtained pardon, to remember their sins, for hypocrites are here distinguished from the true sons of God. Hypocrites boast with swelling words, that they rely on the mercy of God, and speak mightily of the grace of Christ, but meanwhile they wish the memory of their sins to remain buried. On the other hand, we cannot be otherwise truly humble before God, unless we judge ourselves, as I have said. If we desire, therefore, our sins to be blotted out before God, and to be buried in the depths of the sea, as another Prophet says, (Micah 7:19,) we must recall them often and constantly to our remembrance: for when they are kept before our eyes we then flee seriously to God for mercy, and are properly prepared by humility and fear.
The Prophet adds also, that you may be ashamed: for it is not sufficient simply to remember, unless we add the shame of which the Prophet speaks. For we see that many remember their faults and confess their sins, but they do it lightly, and as a matter of duty; nay, they acknowledge them so as to remain in their integrity, and, as they say, to preserve their credit. But the recognition here required is accompanied by shame, as Paul, when addressing the faithful, puts before them their past life thus:
“What fruit could you gather from that course of life.”
You blush now in truth when so many crimes are heaped upon you: you were then blind, and wandered in darkness: but when God shone upon you by the gospel, you acknowledge your baseness and foulness, from which shame is produced. He now adds, neither may thou open thy mouth any more. It is not surprising if the Prophet uses many words in explaining one thing which is not obscure in itself. But I have already shown why he does so, because we are with the greatest difficulty led on to that shame which the Prophet mentions. We condemn ourselves indeed verbally at once; but scarcely one in a hundred can be found so to cast himself down as to sustain willingly the reproach which he deserves. Since then voluntary submission is not found in man, it is necessary that we should be impelled more hardly and sharply, as the Prophet does here. When he says, there shall be no opening of the mouth, he means, that no partial confession of sins shall be exacted by which men bear witness, and acknowledge themselves liable to God’s judgment; but a full and entire confession, so that they may be held convicted on all sides. And this must be diligently noticed. For we see that the world is always endeavoring to escape God’s sentence by turning away from it; and since it cannot do this completely, it invents subterfuges, so as to retain some portion of its innocence.
Hence the fiction among the papists of partial justification: hence also their satisfactions; for they are compelled, whether they wish it or not, to confess themselves worthy of death: but afterwards they use the exception, that they have merited something before from God through their good works, and are not altogether worthy of condemnation: then they descend to compensations, and wish to treat with God, as if they could appease him by what they call works of supererogation. Whatever be the sense, men can scarcely be found who sincerely and honestly acknowledge that there exists in themselves nothing but material for condemnation. We confess, as I have said, that we are guilty before God, but only for one or two faults. What then does the Holy Spirit here prescribe?that there should be no opening of the mouth; as also Paul says, adopting his form of speech from this and similar passages. It is often said in the Prophets, Let all flesh be silent before God, (Zechariah 2:13;) but here the Prophet speaks specially of the shame by which God’s children lie so confused, that they are altogether silent. Paul also says, that every mouth may be shut, and all flesh humbled before God. (Romans 3:19.) He afterwards shows that Jews as well as Gentiles were involved in the same condemnation, and that there was no hope of safety left except through God’s mercy: he then adds, that God’s justice truly shines forth when our mouth is stopped, that is, when we do not turn aside and offer any excuses, as hypocrites divide the merit between God and themselves. I indeed confess that I have sinned; but why may not my good works come into the account? why should I be condemned for one fault only? as if those who violate law do not depart from righteousness. We see, then, that we are properly humbled when we are silent and do not reproach God, when we do not quibble or allege first one thing and then another to extenuate or excuse our fault. God indeed wishes our mouth to be open; as Peter says, that we are called out of darkness into marvelous light, to show forth his praises who delivered us. (1 Peter 2:9.) For this purpose, then, God was merciful to us, that we might be heralds of his grace. And in this sense, also, David says, Lord, open you my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise; that is, by giving me material for a song, as he elsewhere says, He has put a new song into my mouth. (Psalms 51:15; Psalms 40:3.) God, therefore, opens the mouths or lips of the faithful whenever he is liberal or beneficent towards them. But he is here treating of the exceptions of those who would willingly transact business with God, as if they were not wholly worthy of condemnation. In fine, Ezekiel signifies that this is the true fruit of penitence when we do not defend ourselves, but silently confess ourselves convicted. A passage of Paul’s may possibly be objected as apparently contrary to this of our Prophet, in which he reckons defense among the effects or fruits of penitence, (2 Corinthians 7:11;) but defense is not here used in our customary sense: for any one who asserts that he has acted rightly, and so without fault is said to defend himself. But a defense in Paul’s sense is nothing else but a prayer against punishment when a sinner comes forward, and after confessing his fault, begs of God to pardon it, and, as it were, covers himself with mercy, so that his condemnation is nowhere apparent. We see, then, that the language of Paul is not in opposition to that of the Prophet.
He now adds, from thy disgrace, verbally from the face of thy disgrace, when I shall be propitious to thee. We again see that these things agree well together, that God buries our sins and we recall them to memory. For we turn aside his judgment when we willingly accuse and condemn ourselves. For when conscience is asleep, it nourishes a hidden fire, which at length emerges into a flame and lights up God’s wrath. If, therefore, we desire the fire of God’s wrath to be extinguished, there is no other remedy than to shake off our sins and to set before our eyes the disgrace which we deserve, and God’s mercy induces us to this. For we must remark the connection, when I shall be propitious to thee, you shall be silent in thy disgrace. And surely the more any one has tasted of the grace of God, the more ready he is to condemn himself, and as unbelief is proud, so the more any one proceeds in the faith of God’s grace, he is thus humbled more and more before him. And that is best expressed in the words of the Prophet, since he teaches that silence is the effect of grace or of gratuitous reconciliation. When therefore he says, I shall have been propitious to thee, then you shall blush that thou may be mute, namely, on account of thy disgrace. And we see that the people were so taught by legal ceremonies to apprehend the mercy of God, and to be touched at the same time with the serious affection of penitence; for without a victim, God was never appeased under the law. And now although animals are not sacrificed, yet when we consider that no other price was sufficient to satisfy God, except his only-begotten Son poured forth his blood in expiation, there matter is set before us for embracing the grace of God, and at the same time we are touched, as the saying is, with the true affection of penitence. Besides, God amplifies the magnitude of his grace when he says
(154) In commenting on this chapter, Calvin takes occasion to explain the gospel doctrines of justification, faith, and repentance, and refers to the adverse fictions of the papacy. This interesting subject is fully treated by Bishop Davenant in his
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany