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The meaning of the first verse is somewhat doubtful: some refer what the Prophet says to punishment; and others to the wickedness of the people. The first think that the calamity, with which the Lord had visited the sins of the people, is bewailed; as though the Prophet looked on the disordered state of the whole land. But it may be easily gathered from the second verse, that the Prophet speaks here of the wickedness of the people, rather than of the punishment already inflicted. I have therefore put the two verses together, that the full meaning may be more evident to us.
Woe then to me! Why? I am become as gatherings Too free, or rather too licentious is this version, — “I am become as one who seeks to gather summer-fruits, and finds none;” so that being disappointed of his hope, he burns with desire. This cannot possibly be considered as the rendering of the Prophet’s words. There is indeed some difficulty in the expressions: their import, however, seems to be this, — that the land, which the Prophet undertakes here to represent and personify, was like to a field, or a garden, or a vineyard, that was empty. He therefore says, that the land was stripped of all its fruit, as it is after harvest and the vintage. So by gatherings we must understand the collected fruit. Some understand the gleanings which remain, as when one leaves carelessly a few clusters on the vines: and thus, they say, a few just men remained alive on the land. But the former comparison harmonizes better with the rest of the passage, and that is, that the land was now stripped of all its fruit, as it is after the harvest and the vintage. I am become then as the gatherings of summer, that is, as in the summer, when the fruit has been already gathered; and as the clusters of the vintage, that is when the vintage is over. (181)
There is no cluster, he says to eat. The Prophet refers here to the scarcity of good men; yea, he says that there were no longer any righteous men living. For though God had ever preserved some hidden seed, yet it might have been justly declared with regard to the whole people, that they were like a field after gathering the corn, or a vineyard after the vintage. Some residue, indeed, remains in the field after harvest, but there are no ears of corn; and in the vineyard some bunches remain, but they are empty; nothing remains but leaves. Now this personification is very forcible when the Prophet comes forth as though he represented the land itself; for he speaks in his own name and person, Woe is to me, he says, for I am like summer-gatherings! It was then the same thing, as though he deplored his own nakedness and want, inasmuch as there were not remaining any upright and righteous men.
(181) Newcome renders the verse somewhat different, and makes the comparison more clear, —
“Woe is me! For I am become
As the gatherers of late figs,
As the gleaners of the vintage:
There isno cluster to eat;
My soul desireth the first ripe fig.”
Substantially the same is the version of Dathius and of Henderson. “Late figs” is not strictly the meaning of
In the second verse he expresses more clearly his mind, Perished, he says, has the righteous (182) from the land, and there is none upright (183) among men. Here now he does not personify the land. It was indeed a forcible and an emphatic language, when he complained at the beginning, that he groaned as though the land was ashamed of its dearth: but the Prophet now performs the office of a teacher, Perished, he says, has the righteous from the land; there is no one upright among men; all lay in wait for blood; every one hunts his brother as with a net In this verse the Prophet briefly shows, that all were full both of cruelty and perfidy, that there was no care for justice; as though he said, In vain are good men sought among this people; for they are all bloody, they are all fraudulent. When he says, that they all did lay in wait for blood, he no doubt intended to set forth their cruelty, as though he had said, that they were thirsting for blood. But when he adds, that each did lay in wait for their brethren, he alludes to their frauds or to their perfidy.
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet: and the manner he adopts is more emphatical than if God, in his own name, had pronounced the words: for, as men were fixed, and as though drowned, in their own carelessness, the Prophet introduces here the land as speaking, which accuses its own children, and confesses its own guilt; yea, it anticipates God’s judgment, and acknowledges itself to be contaminated by its own inhabitants, so that nothing pure remained in it. It follows —
(182) Justus, rendered in the text
This verse is properly addressed to the judges and governors of the people, and also to the rich, who oppressed the miserable common people, because they could not redeem themselves by rewards. The Prophet therefore complains, that corruptions so much prevailed in judgments, that the judges readily absolved the most wicked, provided they brought bribes. The sum of what is said then is, that any thing might be done with impunity, for the judges were venal. This is the Prophet’s meaning.
But as interpreters differ, something shall be said as to the import of the words.
This view is consistent with what the Prophet immediately subjoins, The great, he says, speaks of the wickedness of his soul, even he By the great, he does not mean the chief men, as some incorrectly think, but he means the rich, who had money enough to conciliate the judges. They then who could bring the price of redemption, dared to boast openly of their wickedness: for so I render the word
And further, they fold up wickedness; which means, that raging cruelty prevailed, because the governors, and those who wished to purchase liberty to sin, conspired together; as though they made ropes, and thus rendered firm their wickedness. For the great man, that is, the rich and the monied, agreed with the judge, and the judge with him; and so there was a collusion between them. It hence happened, that wickedness possessed, as it were, a tyrannical power; for there was no remedy. We now apprehend the real design of the Prophet, at least as far as I am able to discover. It now follows —
(184) This clause, though the general sense is allowed by most to be the same, is yet variously rendered. Drusius says, “
The most satisfactory rendering is that which is offered by Marckius, which is this, —
For doing evil [ aretheir] hands instead of doing good.
Rabbi Jonathan, as quoted by Marckius, gives substantially the same rendering, though not literally, —
Evil they do with their hands, and they do no good.
Our version is that of Junius andTremelius, and is substantially followed by Newcome; and Henderson’s version is, —
For evil their hands are well prepared;
which is nearly that of the Septuagint,—
But the following would be as literal a translation as that of Marckius, —
For doing evil aretheir hands, to do itthoroughly.
The last verb means not only to do good, but also to make a thing good or complete, fully to execute it. — Ed.
(185) The whole verse may be rendered thus,—
For doing evil aretheir hands, to execute it fully:
The prince asks, and the judge also,for reward;
When the great man speaks of oppression,
That it ishis desire, then they contrive it together,
or, literally, entwine it.
The Prophet confirms what he had previously said, — that the land was so full of every kind of wickedness, that they who were deemed the best were yet thorns and briers, full of bitterness, or very sharp to prick; as though he said, “The best among them is a thief; the most upright among them is a robber.” We hence see, that in these words he alludes to their accumulated sins, as though he said, “The condition of the people cannot be worse; for iniquity has advanced to its extreme point: when any one seeks for a good or an upright man, he only finds thorns and briers; that is, he is instantly pricked.” But if the best were then like thorns, what must have been the remainder? We have already seen that the judges were so corrupt that they abandoned themselves without feeling any shame to any thing that was base. What then could have been said of them, when the Prophet compares here the upright and the just to thorns; yea, when he says, that they were rougher than briers? Though it is an improper language to say, that the good and the upright (186) among them were like briers; for words are used contrary to their meaning, as it is certain, that those who inhumanely pricked others were neither good nor just: yet the meaning of the Prophet is in no way obscure, — that there was then such license taken in wickedness, that even those who retained in some measure the credit of being upright were yet nothing better than briers and thorns. There is then in the words what may be deemed a concession.
He then adds, The day of thy watchmen, thy visitation comes He here denounces the near judgment of God, generally on the people, and especially on the rulers. But he begins with the first ranks and says The day of thy watchmen; as though he said, “Ruin now hangs over thy governors, though they by no means expect it.” Watchmen he calls the Prophets, who, by their flatteries, deceived the people, as well as their rulers: and he sets the Prophets in the front, because they were the cause of the common ruin. He does not yet exempt the body of the people from punishment; nay, he joins together these two things, — the visitation of the whole people, and the day of the watchmen.
And justly does he direct his discourse to these watchmen, who, being blind, blinded all the rest; and who, being perverted, led astray the whole people. This is the reason why the Prophet now, in an especial manner, threatens them; but, as I have already said, the people were not on this account to be excused. There may seem indeed to have been here a fair pretense for extenuating their guilt: the common people might have said that they had not been warned as they ought to have been; nay, that they had been destroyed through delusive falsehoods. And we see at this day that many make such a pretense as this. But a defense of this kind is of no avail before God; for though the common people are blinded, yet they go astray off their own accord, since they lend a willing ear to impostors. And even the reason why God gave loose reins to Satan as well as to his ministers, and why he gives, as Paul says, (2 Thessalonians 2:11,) power to delusion, is this, — because the greater part of the world ever seeks to be deceived. The denunciation of the Prophet then is this, — that as the judges and the Prophets had badly exercised their office, they would be led to the punishment which they deserved, for they had been, as it has been elsewhere observed, the cause of ruin to others: in the meantime, the common people were not excusable. The vengeance of God then would overtake them and from the least to the greatest, without any exemption. Thy visitation then comes.
He afterwards speaks in the third person, Then shall be their confusion, or perplexity, or they shall be ashamed. The Prophet here alludes indirectly to the hardness of the people; for though the Prophets daily threatened them, they yet remained all of them secure; nay, we know that all God’s judgments were held in derision by them. As then the faithful teachers could not have moved wicked men either with fear or with shame, the Prophet says, Then confusion shall come to them; as though he said, “Be hardened now as much as ye wish to be, as I see that you are stupid, yea, senseless, and attend not to the word of the Lord; but the time of visitation will come, and then the Lord will constrain you to be ashamed, for he will really show you to be such as ye are; and he will not then contend with you in words as he does now; but the announced punishment will divest you of all your false pretenses; and he will also remove that waywardness which now hardens you against wholesome doctrine and all admonitions.”
(186) It is better, as it is done here, to take the words simply as they are, and not to make superlatives of them: nor is there any change necessary in the second line as proposed by Dathius, Newcome, and others, by taking the
Their good manis like a brier,
The upright worse than a thorny hedge.
The Prophet pursues the subject we discussed yesterday, — that liberty, in iniquity, bad arrived to its highest point, for no faithfulness remained among men; nay, there was no more any humanity; for the son performed not his duty towards his father, nor the daughter-in-law towards her mother-in-law; in short, there was then no mutual love and concord. He does not here speak of that false confidence, by which many deceive themselves, who rely on mortals, and transfer to them the glory which belongs to God. Those therefore without any reason, philosophize here, who say, that we ought not to trust in men; for this was not the design of the Prophet. But our Prophet complains of his times according to the tenor of Ovid’s description of the iron age, who says -
“ —A guest is not safe from his host;
Nor a brother-in-law from a son-in-law; and brotherly love is rare:
A husband seeks the death of his wife, and she, of her husband;
Cruel stepmothers mingle the lurid poison;
The son, before the day, inquires into the years of his father.” (187)
So also our Prophet says, that there was no regard to humanity among men; for the wife was ready to betray her husband, the son treated his father with reproach; in short, they had all forgotten humanity or natural affection. We now then understand what the Prophet means by saying, Trust not a friend; (188) that is, if any one hopes for any thing from a friend, he will be deceived; for nothing can be found among men but perfidy.
Put no faith in a counselor So I render the word
(187) See Ov. Met. Lib. I. 144-148.
The Prophet points out here the only remedy, to preserve the faithful from being led away by bad examples and that is, to fix their eyes on God, and to believe that he will be their deliverer. Nothing is more difficult than to refrain from doing wrong, when the ungodly provoke us; for they seem to afford us a good reason for retaliation. And when no one injures us, yet custom is deemed almost a law: thus it happens that we think that to be lawful which is sanctioned by the manners and customs of the age; and when success attends the wicked, this becomes a very strong incentive. Thus it happens, that the faithful can hardly, and with no small difficulty, keep themselves within proper bounds: when they see that wickedness reigns everywhere, and that with impunity; and still more, when they see the abettors of wickedness increasing in esteem and wealth, immediately the corrupt lust of emulation creeps in. But when the faithful themselves are provoked by injuries, there seems then to be a just reason for doing wrong; for they say that they willfully do harm to no one, but only resist an injury done to them, or retaliate fraud with fraud: this they think is lawful. The Prophet, in order to prevent this temptation, bids the faithful to look to God. The same sentiment we often meet with in Psalms 119:0: its import is, that the faithful are not to suffer themselves to be led away by bad examples, but to continue ever obedient to God’s word, however great and violent the provocations they may receive. Let us now consider the words of the Prophet.
To Jehovah, he says, will I look The verb
He then adds, I will wait for the God of my salvation The Prophet says nothing new here, but only explains more clearly the last clause, defining the manner of the looking of which he had spoken; as though he said, — “Patiently will I bear, while God helps me:” for when the wicked harass us on every side, we shall no doubt soon turn away our eyes from Gods except we be armed with patience. And how comes patience, unless we be fully persuaded that God will be our deliverer, when the suitable time shall come? We now perceive the intention of the Prophet. He shows that the godly cannot otherwise continue constant in their integrity, except they turn their eyes to the only true God. Then he adds, that they cannot be preserved in this contemplation, unless they wait patiently for God, that is, for his help.
And he calls him the God of his salvation; by which he intimates that, relying on his word, he thus perseveres in enduring injuries: for it cannot be but that every one will submit himself to God, and surrender himself to be protected by him, if this truth be first fixed in his mind — that God will never forsake his own people. This then is the reason why he calls him the God of his salvation. But this title must be referred to his present circumstances, as though he said, — “Though God’s hand does not now appear to help or to bring me aid, I yet feel assured of his favor, and I know that my salvation is secured by it.”
He then adds, Hear me will my God He here confirms what we have already said, — that, being supported by the promises of God, he thus composes his mind to patience; for patience would often vanish or would be shaken off by temptations, unless we were surely persuaded that God provides for our salvation, and that we shall not hope in him in vain. Nor is it to no purpose that he says, that God was his God. He was one of his people; and this seems to have been the common privilege of all the Jews: yet the Prophet no doubt connects God with himself here in a peculiar manner; for men in general had fallen away into ungodliness. They all indeed gloried in the name of God, but absurdly and falsely. Hence the Prophet intimates, that he was under his protection in a manner different from the rest: for when any one allows himself the liberty of doing evil, he, at the same time, renounces God and his protection. Therefore, the Prophet no doubt alludes indirectly to the irreligion of the people. For though the vain boasting, that they had been adopted by God, that they were the holy race of Abraham, was everywhere in the mouth of all, yet hardly one in a hundred had any regard for God. But it is also of importance to notice, that the Prophet, by saying, Hear me will God, gives a testimony, at the same time, respecting his own faith, — that he would always apply to God for help, and exercise himself in prayer whenever necessity urged him; for God hears not except when he is called upon. The Prophet then recommends here, by his example, an attention to prayer.
Now this verse shows to us in general that there is no excuse for us if we suffer ourselves to be led away, as it is daily the case, by bad examples. And then to look to God is especially needful, when all excesses of wickedness prevail in the world: when the lusts of men become the rule and the law, we ought then to renounce in a manner the society of men, that they may not implicate us in their wickedness. They, therefore, who allege for themselves the examples of others, employ a frivolous excuse, as many do in the present day, who set up the shield of custom: though they are clearly condemned by the word of God, yet they think it a sufficient defense, that they follow others. But we see how frivolous is this confidence; for the Prophet no doubt prescribes here a law for all the children of God as to what they ought to do, when the devil tempts them to sin by the bad examples and shameful deeds of the majority. Let us go on —
Here the Prophet assumes the character of the Church and repels a temptation, which proves very severe to us in adversities; for there is not so much bitterness in the evil itself, as in the mockery of the wicked, when they petulantly insult us and deride our faith. And to noble minds reproach is ever sharper than death itself: and yet the devil almost always employs this artifice; for when he sees that we stand firm in temptations, he suborns the wicked and sharpens their tongues to speak evil of use and to wound us with slanders. This is the reason why the Prophet directs his discourse now to the enemies of the Church. But as God calls the Church his spouse, and as she is described to us under the character of a woman, so also he compares here the enemies of the holy people to a petulant woman. As, therefore, when there is emulation between two women, she, who sees her enemy pressed down by evils and adverse events, immediately raises up herself and triumphs; so also the Prophet says respecting the enemies of the Church; they sharpened their tongues, and vomited forth their bitterness, as soon as they saw the children of God in trouble or nearly overwhelmed with adversities. We now then understand the design of the Prophet, — that he wished to arm us, as I have said, against the taunts of the ungodly, lest they should prevail against us when God presses us down with adversities, but that we may stand courageously, and with composed and tranquil minds, swallow down the indignity.
Rejoice not over me, he says, O my enemy Why not? He adds a consolation; for it would not be enough for one to repel with disdain the taunts of his enemy; but the Prophet says here, Rejoice not, for should I fall, I shall rise; or though I fall, I shall rise: and the passage seems to harmonize better when there is a pause after Rejoice not over me; and then to add, Though I fall, I shall rise, though I sit in darkness, Jehovah shall be a light to me (189) The Prophet means, that the state of the Church was not past hope. There would be ample room for our enemies to taunt us, were it not that this promise cannot fail us, — seven times in the day the just falls, and rises again, (Proverbs 24:16.) — How so? For God puts under him his own hand. We now perceive the meaning of this passage. For if God deprived us of all hope, enemies might justly deride us, and we must be silent: but since we are surely persuaded that God is ready at hand to restore us again, we can boldly answer our enemies when they annoy with their derisions; though I fall, I shall rise: “There is now no reason for thee to triumph over me when I fall; for it is God’s will that I should fall, but it is for this end — that I may soon rise again; and though I now lie in darkness, yet the Lord will be my light.”
We hence see that our hope triumphs against all temptations: and this passage shows in a striking manner, how true is that saying of John, — that our faith gains the victory over the world, (1 John 5:4.) For when sorrow and trouble take possession of our hearts, we shall not fail if this comes to our mind — that God will be our aid in the time of need. And when men vomit forth their poison against us, we ought to be furnished with the same weapons: then our minds shall never succumb, but boldly repel all the taunts of Satan and of wicked men. This we learn from this passage.
Now, from what the Prophet says, Though I fall, I shall rise again, we see what God would have us to expect, even a happy and joyful exit at all times from our miseries; but on this subject I shall have to speak more copiously a little farther on. As to the latter clause, When I sit in darkness, God will be my light, it seems to be a confirmation of the preceding sentence, where the Prophet declares, that the fall of the Church would not be fatal. But yet some think that more is expressed, namely, that in the very darkness some spark of light would still shine. They then distinguish between this clause and the former one, which speaks of the fall and the rise of the faithful, in this manner, — that while they lie, as it were, sunk in darkness, they shall not even then be without consolation, for God’s favor would ever shine on them. And this seems to be a correct view: for it cannot be that any one will expect the deliverance of which the Prophet speaks, except he sees some light even in the thickest darkness, and sustains himself by partaking, in some measure, of God’s goodness: and a taste of God’s favor in distresses is suitably compared to light; as when one is cast into a deep pit, by raising upward his eyes, he sees at a distance the light of the sun; so also the obscure and thick darkness of tribulations may not so far prevail as to shut out from us every spark of light, and to prevent faith from raising our eyes upwards, that we may have some taste of God’s goodness. Let us proceed —
(189) This is not exactly the Hebrew. The verb for rising, as well as that for falling, is in the past tense. The verse, literally rendered, is the following: —
Rejoice not, my enemy, on my account;
Though I have fallen, I have risen;
Though I shall sit in darkness,
Jehovah will be a light to me.
There are no copies which give a different reading as to the verb “I have risen.” Newcome follows the Septuagint, and thinks that a conversive
Here the Church of God animates and encourages herself to exercise patience, and does so especially by two arguments. She first sets before herself her sins, and thus humbles herself before God, whom she acknowledges to be a just Judge; and, in the second place, she embraces the hope of the forgiveness of her sins, and from this arises confidence as to her deliverance. By these two supports the Church sustains herself, that she fails not in her troubles, and gathers strength, as I have already said, to endure patiently.
First then he says, The wrath (190) of Jehovah will I bear, for sinned have I against him This passage shows, that when any one is seriously touched with the conviction of God’s judgment, he is at the same time prepared to exercise patience; for it cannot be, but that a sinner, conscious of evil, and knowing that he suffers justly will humbly and thankfully submit to the will of God. Hence when men perversely glamour against God, or murmur, it is certain that they have not as yet been made sensible of their sins. I allow indeed that many feel guilty who yet struggle against God, and fiercely resist his hand as much as they can, and also blaspheme his name when he chastises them: but they are not touched hitherto with the true feeling of penitence, so as to abhor themselves. Judas owned indeed that he had sinned, and freely made such confession, (Matthew 27:3.) Cain tried to cover his sin, but the Lord drew from him an unwilling confession, (Genesis 4:13.) They did not yet repent; nay, they ceased not to contend with God; for Cain complained that his punishment was too heavy to be borne; Judas despaired. And the same thing happens to all the reprobate. They seemed then to have been sufficiently convinced to acknowledge their guilt, and, as it were, to assent to the justice of God’s judgment; but they did not really know their sins, so as to abhor themselves, as I have said, on account of their sins. For true penitence is ever connected with the submission of which the Prophet now speaks. Whosoever then is really conscious of his sins, renders himself at the same time obedient to God, and submits himself altogether to his will. Thus repentance does ever of itself lead to the bearing of the cross; so that he who sets himself before God’s tribunal allows himself to be at the same time chastised, and bears punishment with a submissive mind: as the ox, that is tamed, always takes the yoke without any resistance, so also is he prepared who is really touched with the sense of his sins, to bear any punishment which God may be pleased to inflict on him. This then is the first thing which we ought to learn from these words of the Prophet, The wrath of Jehovah will I bear, for sinned have I against him.
We also learn from this passage, that all who do not patiently bear his scourges contend with God; for though they do not openly accuse God, and say that they are just, they do not yet ascribe to him his legitimate glory, by confessing that he is a righteous judge. — How so? Because these two things are united together and joined by an indissoluble knot — to be sensible of sin — and to submit patiently to the will of the Judge when he inflicts punishment.
Now follows the other argument, Until he decides my cause, and vindicates my right; he will bring me forth into the light, I shall see his righteousness Here the Church leans on another support; for though the Lord should most heavily afflict her, she would not yet cast aside the hope of deliverance; for she knew, as we have already seen, that she was chastised for her good: and indeed no one could even for a moment continue patient in a state of misery, except he entertained the hope of being delivered, and promised to himself a happy escape. These two things then ought not to be separated, and cannot be, — the acknowledgment of our sins, which will humble us before God, — and the knowledge of his goodness, and a firm assurance as to our salvation; for God has testified that he will be ever propitious to us, how much soever he may punish us for our sins, and that he will remember mercy, as Habakkuk says, in the midst of his wrath, (Habakkuk 3:2.) It would not then be sufficient for us to feel our evils, except the consolation, which proceeds from the promises of grace, be added.
The Prophet shows further, that the Church was innocent, with regard to its enemies, though justly suffering punishment. And this ought to be carefully observed; for whenever we have to do with the wicked, we think that there is no blame belonging to us. But these two things ought to be considered, — that the wicked trouble us without reason, and thus our cause as to them is just, — and yet that we are justly afflicted by God; for we shall ever find many reasons why the Lord should chastise us. These two things, then, ought to be both considered by us, as the Prophet seems to intimate here: for at the beginning of the verse he says, The wrath of God will I bear, for sinned have I against him; and now he adds, The Lord will yet vindicate my right, literally, “will debate my dispute,” that is, plead my cause. Since the Church is guilty before God, nay, waits not for the sentence of the judge, but anticipates it, and freely confesses herself to be worthy of such punishment, what does this mean, — that the Lord will decide her quarrel, that he will undertake her cause? These two things seem to militate the one against the other: but they agree well together when viewed in their different bearings. The Church had confessed that she had sinned against God; she now turns her eyes to another quarter; for she knew that she was unjustly oppressed by enemies; she knew that they were led to do wrong by cruelty alone. This then is the reason why the Church entertained hope, and expected that God would become the defender of her innocence, that is, against the wicked: and yet she humbly acknowledged that she had sinned against God. Whenever, then, our enemies do us harm, let us lay hold on this truth, — that God will become our defender; for he is ever the patron of justice and equity: it cannot then be, that God will abandon us to the violence of the wicked. He will then at length plead our pleading, or undertake our cause, and be its advocate. But, in the meantime, let our sins be remembered by us, that, being truly humbled before God, we may not hope for the salvation which he promises to us, except through gratuitous pardon. Why then are the faithful bidden to be of good comfort in their afflictions? Because God has promised to be their Father; he has received them under his protection, he has testified that his help shall never be wanting to them. But whence is this confidence? Is it because they are worthy? Is it because they have deserved something of this kind? By no means: but they acknowledge themselves to be guilty, when they humbly prostrate themselves before God, and when they willingly condemn themselves before his tribunal, that they may anticipate his judgment. We now see how well the Prophet connects together these two things, which might otherwise seem contradictory.
Now follow the words, He will bring me to the light, I shall see his righteousness! (191) The Church still confirms herself in the hope of deliverance: art it is hence also manifest how God is light to the faithful in obscure darkness, because they see that there is prepared for them an escape from their evils; but they see it at a distance, for they extend their hope beyond the boundaries of this life. As then the truth of God diffuses itself through heaven and earth, so the faithful extend their hope far and wide. Thus it is, that they can see light afar off, which seems to be very remote from them. And having this confidence, the Prophet says, The Lord will bring me into the light. They have, in the meantime, as I have already said, some light; they enjoy a taste of God’s goodness in the midst of their evils: but the Prophet now refers to that coming forth which we ought to look for even in the worst circumstances.
He then adds, I shall see his righteousness By God’s righteousness is to be understood, as it has been elsewhere stated, his favor towards the faithful; not that God returns for their works the salvation which he bestows, as ungodly men foolishly imagine; for they lay hold on the word righteousness, and think that whatever favors God freely grants us are due to our merits. — How so? For God in this way shows his own righteousness. But far different is the reason for this mode of speaking. God, in order to show how dear and precious to him is our salvation, does indeed say, that he designs to give an evidence of his justice in delivering us: but there is a reference in this word righteousness to something else; for God has promised that our salvation shall be the object of his care, hence he appears just whenever he delivers us from our troubles. Then the righteousness of God is not to be referred to the merits of works, but, on the contrary, to the promise by which he has bound himself to us; and so also in the same dense God is often said to be faithful. In a word, the righteousness and faithfulness of God mean the same thing. When the Prophet says now in the person of the Church, I shall see his righteousness, he means, that though God concealed his favor for a time, and withdrew his hand, so that no hope of aid remained, it could not yet be, as he is just, but that he would succor us: I shall see then his righteousness, that is, God will at length really show that he is righteous. It now follows —
(191) “I shall see the equity of his proceedings concerning me, and the performance of his promises to me.” — Henry.
In the last lecture I repeated the tenth verse of the last chapter, in which the prophet adds, as a cause of the greatest joy, that the enemies of the Church shall see granted, to their great mortification, the wonderful favor of which the Prophet had been speaking. But he describes these enemies, under the character of an envious woman, as the Church of God is also compared to a woman: and this mode of speaking is common in Scripture. He then calls Jerusalem his rival, or Babylon, or some city of his enemies.
And he says, Covered shall she be with shame We know that the ungodly grow insolent when fortune smiles on them: hence in prosperity they keep within no bounds, for they think that God is under their feet. If prosperity most commonly has the effect of making the godly to forget God and even themselves, it is no wonder that the unbelieving become more and more hardened, when God is indulgent to them. With regard then to such a pride, the Prophet now says, When my enemy shall see, shame shall cover her; that is, she will not continue in her usual manner, to elate herself with her own boastings: nay, she will be compelled for shame to hide herself; for she will see that she had been greatly deceived, in thinking that I should be wholly ruined.
He afterwards adds, Who said to me, Where is Jehovah thy God? The Church of God in her turn triumphs here over the unbelieving, having been delivered by divine power; nor does she do this for her own sake, but because the ungodly expose the holy name of God to reproach, which is very common: for whenever God afflicts his people, the unbelieving immediately raise their crests, and pour forth their blasphemies against God, when yet they ought, on the contrary, to humble themselves under his hand. But since God executes his judgments on the faithful, what can be expected by his ungodly despisers? If God’s vengeance be manifested in a dreadful manner with regard to the green tree, what will become of the dry wood? And the ungodly are like the dry wood. But as they are blind as to God’s judgments, they petulantly deride his name, whenever they see the Church afflicted, as though adversities were not the evidences of God’s displeasure: for he chastises his own children, to show that he is the judge of the world. But, as I have already said, the ungodly so harden themselves in their stupor, that they are wholly thoughtless. The faithful, therefore, after having found God to be their deliverer, do here undertake his cause; they do not regard themselves nor their own character, but defend the righteousness of God. Such is this triumphant language, Who said, Where is now Jehovah thy God? “I can really show that I worship the true God, who deserts not his people in extreme necessity: after he has assisted me, my enemy, who dared to rise up against God, now seeks hiding-places.”
She shall now, he says, be trodden under foot as the mire of the streets; and my eyes shall see her. What the Prophet declares in the name of the Church, that the unbelieving shall be like mire, is connected with the promise, which we already noticed; for God so appears as the deliverer of his Church, as not to leave its enemies unpunished. God then, while he aids his own people, leads the ungodly to punishment. Hence the Church, while embracing the deliverance offered to her, at the same time sees the near ruin, which impends on all the despisers of God. But what is stated, See shall my eyes, ought not to be so taken, as though the faithful exult with carnal joy, when they see the ungodly suffering the punishment which they have deserved; for the word to see is to be taken metaphorically, as signifying a pleasant and joyful sight, according to what it means in many other places; and as it is a phrase which often occurs, its meaning must be well known. See then shall my eyes, that is, “I shall enjoy to look on that calamity, which now impends over all the ungodly.” But, as I have already said, carnal joy is not what is here intended, which intemperately exults, but that pure joy which the faithful experience on seeing the grace of God displayed and also his judgment. But this joy cannot enter into our hearts until they be cleansed from unruly passions; for we are ever excessive in fear and sorrow, as well as in hope and joy, except the Lord holds us in, as it were, with a bridle. We shall therefore be only then capable of this spiritual joy, of which the Prophet speaks, when we shall put off all disordered feelings, and God shall subdue us by his Spirit: then only shall we be able to retain moderation in our joy. The Prophet proceeds —
Micah pursues the subject on which he had previously spoken, — that though the Church thought itself for a time to be wholly lost, yet God would become its deliverer. He says first, that the day was near, in which they were to build the wall. The word
Then he adds, This day shall drive afar off the edict; some render it tribute; but the word properly means an edict, and this best suits the passage; for the Prophet’s meaning is, that the people would not, as before, be subject to the tyranny of Babylon. For after the subversion of Jerusalem, the Babylonians, no doubt, triumphed very unfeelingly over the miserable people, and uttered dreadful threatening. The Prophet, therefore, under the name of edict, includes that cruel and tyrannical dominion which the Babylonians for a time exercised. We know what God denounces on the Jews by Ezekiel,
‘Ye would not keep my good laws;
I will therefore give you laws which are not good,
which ye shall be constrained to keep;
and yet ye shall not live in them,’
Those laws which were not good were the edicts of which the Prophet now speaks. That day then shall drive far away the edict, that the Jews might not dread the laws of their enemies. For the Babylonians no doubt forbade, under the severest punishment, any one from building even a single house in the place where Jerusalem formerly was; for they wished that place to remain desolate, that the people might know that they had no hope of restoration. That day then shall put afar off; or drive to a distance, the edict; for liberty shall be given to the Jews to build their city; and then they shall not tremblingly expect every hour, until new edicts come forth, denouncing grievous punishments on whomsoever that would dare to encourage his brethren to build the temple of God.
Some draw the Prophet’s words to another meaning: they first think that he speaks only of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, and then they take
The faithful doubtless prayed in their adversities, and depended on such prophecies as we find in Psalms 102:0,
‘The day is now come to show mercy to Zion, and to build its walls; for thy servants pity her stones.’
Nor did the faithful pray thus presumptuously, but taking confidence, as though God had dictated a form of prayer by his own mouth, they dealt with God according to his promise, “O Lord, thou hast promised the rebuilding of the city, and the time has been prefixed by Jeremiah and by other Prophets: since then the time is now completed, grant that the temple and the holy city may again be built.”
Some render the words, “In the day in which thou shalt build (or God shall build) thy walls — in that day shall be removed afar off the decree.” But I doubt not but that the Prophet promises here distinctly to the faithful both the restoration of the city and a civil freedom; for the sentence is in two parts: the Prophet intimates first, that the time was now near when the faithful would build their own walls, that they might not be exposed to the will of their enemies, — and then he adds, that they would be freed from the dread of tyranny; for God, as it is said by Isaiah, would break the yoke of the burden, and the scepter of the oppressor, (Isaiah 9:4;) and it is altogether the same kind of sentence.
He afterwards adds, In that day also to thee shall they come from Asshur. There is some obscurity in the words; hence interpreters have regarded different words as being understood: but to me the meaning of the Prophet appears not doubtful. In that day, he says,to thee shall they come from Asshur, and cities of the fortress and from the fortress even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain; but some think
Let us now see what the Prophet means. With regard to the passage, as I have said, there is no ambiguity, provided we bear in mind the main subject. Now the Prophet had this in view, — That Jerusalem, when restored by God, would be in such honor along all nations that there would be flowing to her from all parts. He then says, that the state of the city would be very splendid, so that people from all quarters would come to it: and therefore the copulative vau is to be taken twice for even for the sake of emphasis, In that day, even to thee, and then, even to the river; for it was not believed that Jerusalem would have any dignity, after it had been entirely destroyed, together with the temple. It is no wonder then that the Prophet so distinctly confirms here what was by no means probable, at least according to the common sentiments of men, — that Jerusalem would attract to itself all nations, even those far away. Come, then, shall they, (for the verb
The Prophet then promises what all men deemed as fabulous, — that the dignity of the city Jerusalem should be so great after the return of the Jews from exile, that it would become, as it were, the metropolis of the world. One thing must be added: They who confine this passage to Christ seem not indeed to be without a plausible reason; for there follows immediately a threatening as to the desolation of the land; and there seems to be some inconsistency, except we consider the Prophet here as comparing the Church collected from all nations with the ancient people. But these things will harmonize well together if we consider, that the Prophet denounces vengeance on the unbelieving who then lived, and that he yet declares that God will be merciful to his chosen people. But the restriction which they maintain is too rigid; for we know that it was usual with the Prophets to extend the favor of God from the return of the ancient people to the coming of Christ. Whenever, then, the Prophets make known God’s favor in the deliverance of his people, they make a transition to Christ, but included also the whole intermediate time. And this mode the Prophet now pursues, and it ought to be borne in mind by us. Let us go on —
(192) It is somewhat singular that Newcome renders the first “fenced” and the second “Egypt:” but Henderson renders both “Egypt.” It is not the common name for Egypt, which is
11. The day for building thy walls!
That day! Removed far shall be the decree:
12. That day! Even to thee shall they come,
From Assyria and cities of fortress,
And from the fortress even to the river,
And fromsea to sea, and frommountain to mountain,
or, word for word,
And from the fortress even to the river and the sea,
From the sea and the mountain of the mountain.
The last expression seems to mean, “every mountain.” — Ed.
The Prophet, as I have already said, seems to be inconsistent with himself: for after having spoken of the restoration of the land, he now abruptly says, that it would be deserted, because God had been extremely provoked by the wickedness of the people. But, as I have stated before, it was almost an ordinary practice with the Prophets, to denounce at one time God’s vengeance on all the Jews, and then immediately to turn to the faithful, who were small in number, and to raise up their minds with the hope of deliverance. We indeed know that the Prophets had to do with the profane despisers of God; it was therefore necessary for them to fulminate, when they addressed the whole body of the people: the contagion had pervaded all orders, so that they were all become apostates, from the highest to the lowest, with very few exceptions, and those hidden amidst the great mass, like a few grains in a vast heap of chaff. Then the Prophets did not without reason mingle consolations with threatening; and their threatening they addressed to the whole body of the people; and then they whispered, as it were, in the ear, some consolation to the elect of God, the few remnants, — “Yet the Lord will show mercy to you; though he has resolved to destroy his people, ye shall yet remain safe, but this will be through some hidden means.” Our Prophet then does, on the one hand, as here, denounce God’s vengeance on a people past remedy; and, on the others he speaks of the redemption of the Church, that by this support the faithful might be sustained in their adversities.
He now says, The land shall be for desolation (193) But why does he speak in so abrupt a manner? That he might drive hypocrites from that false confidence, with which they were swollen though God addressed not a word to them: but when God pronounced any thing, as they covered themselves with the name of Church, they then especially laid hold of any thing that was said to the faithful, as though it belonged to them: “Has not God promised that he will be the deliverer of his people?” as though indeed he was to be their deliverer, who had alienated themselves by their perfidy from him; and yet this was a very common thing among them. Hence the Prophet, seeing that hypocrites would greedily lay hold on what he had said, and by taking this handle would become more audacious, says now, The land shall be for desolation, that is, “Be ye gone; for when God testifies that he will be the deliverer of his Church, he does not address you; for ye are the rotten members; and the land shall be reduced to a waste before God’s favor, of which I now speak, shall appear.” We now then perceive the reason for this passage, why the Prophet so suddenly joined threatenings to promises: it was, to terrify hypocrites.
He says, On account of its inhabitants, from the fruit, or, on account of the fruit of their works Here the Prophet closes the door against the despisers of God, lest they should break forth, according to their custom, and maintain that God was, as it were, bound to them: “See,” he says, “what ye are; for ye have polluted the land with your vices; it must therefore be reduced to desolation.” And when the land, which is in itself innocent, is visited with judgment, what will become of those despisers whose wickedness it sustains? We hence see how emphatical was this mode of speaking. For the Prophet summons here all the unbelieving to examine their life, and then he sets before them the land, which was to suffer punishment, though it had committed no sin; and why was it to suffer? because it was polluted as I have said by their wickedness. Since this was the case, we see, that hypocrites were very justly driven away from the false confidence with which they were inflated, while they yet proudly despised God and his Word. It now follows —
(193) The copulative
Here the Prophet turns to supplications and prayers; by which he manifests more vehemence, than if he had repeated again what he had previously said of the restoration of the Church; for he shows how dreadful that judgment would be, when God would reduce the land into solitude. This prayer no doubt contains what was at the same time prophetic. The Prophet does not indeed simply promise deliverance to the faithful, but at the same time he doubly increases that terror; by which he designed to frighten hypocrites; as though he said, “Most surely except God will miraculously preserve his own people, it is all over with the Church: there is then no remedy, except through the ineffable power of God.” In short, the Prophet shows, that he trembled at that vengeance, which he had previously foretold, and which he did foretell, lest hypocrites, in their usual manner, should deride him. We now see why the Prophet had recourse to this kind of comfort, why he so regulates his discourse as not to afford immediate hope to the faithful, but addresses God himself. Feed then thy people; as though he said, — “Surely that calamity will be fatal, except thou, Lord, wilt be mindful of thy covenant, and gather again some remnant from the people whom thou hast been pleased to choose: Feed thy people.”
The reason why he called them the people of God was, because they must all have perished, unless it had been that it was necessary that what God promised to Abraham should be fulfilled, —
‘In thy seed shall all nations be blessed,’ (Genesis 12:3.)
It was then the adoption of God alone which prevented the total destruction of the Jews. Hence he says emphatically, — O Lord, these are yet thy people; as though he said, — “By whom wilt thou now form a Church for thyself?” God might indeed have collected it from the Gentiles, and have made aliens his family; but it was necessary that the root of adoption should remain in the race of Abraham, until Christ came forth. Nor was there then any dispute about God’s power, as there is now among fanatics, who ask, Can God do this? But there was reliance on the promise, and from this they learnt with certainty what God had once decreed, and what he would do. Since then this promise, ‘By thy seed shall all nations be blessed,’ was sacred and inviolable, the grace of God must have ever continued in the remnant. It is indeed certain, that hypocrites, as it has been already stated, without any discrimination, abused the promises of God; but this truth must be ever borne in mind, that God punished the ungodly, though relying on their great number, they thought that they would be always preserved. God then destroyed them, as they deserved; and yet it was his purpose, that some remnant should be among that people. But it must be observed, that this distinction ought not to be extended to all the children of Abraham, who derived their origin from him according to the flesh, but to be applied to the faithful, that is, to the remnant, who were preserved according to the gratuitous adoption of God.
Feed then thy people by thy crook (194) He compares God to a shepherd, and this metaphor often occurs. Though
He afterwards adds, Who dwell apart, or alone. He no doubt refers here to the dispersion of the people, when he says, that they dwelt alone. For though the Jews had been scattered in countries delightful, fertile and populous, yet they were everywhere as in a desert and in solitude, for they were a mutilated body. The whole of Chaldea and of Assyria was then really a desert to the faithful; for there they dwelt not as one people, but as members torn asunder. This is the dispersion intended by the words of the Prophet. He also adds, that dwell in the forest For they had no secure habitation except in their own country; for they lived there under the protection of God; and all other countries, as I have already said, were to them like the desert.
He adds, In the midst of Carmel The preposition
He afterwards adds, according to ancient days Here he places before God the favors which he formerly showed to his people, and prays that he would, like himself, go on to the end, that is that he would continue to the end his favors to his chosen people. And it availed not a little to confirm their faith, when the faithful called to mind how liberally had God dealt from the beginning with the posterity of Abraham: they were thus made to feel assured, that God would be no less kind to his elect, though there might be, so to speak, a sad separation: for when God had banished the Jews into exile, it was a kind of divorce, as though they were given to utter destruction. Yet now when they recollect that they had descended from the holy fathers, and that a Redeemer had been promised them, they justly entertain a hope of favor in future from the past benefits of God, because he had formerly kindly treated his people.
(194) “The crook signifies God’s peculiar care for his people.” — Grotius.
(195) “He compares the elect people,” says Marckius, “to a flock of sheep, because they resemble them in weakness, in innocency, in meekness, in usefulness, in fruitfulness, and in close union. See Psalms 95:7; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:12; Zechariah 9:16; John 10:16, etc.” “They are thy sheep, thy peculiar property, who hear thee, who need thy guidance and feeding, for they are weak and helpless, and liable to go astray without the preserving care of their Shepherd.” — Cocceius.
(196) These two lines are better arranged by Newcome, and the necessity of a preposition understood is obviated, while the original is more strictly rendered, —
In the midst of Carmel let them feed,
In Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.
It is also better to render “feed” as a prayer than in the future tense, to correspond in tenor with the beginning of the verse. Henderson connects “Carmel” with the former line, and thinks that “dwelling alone in the wood” refers to the condition of the Jews when restored, and quotes the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 23:9. But this seems to be a far-fetched exposition; and the word “wood,” which means generally a dreary place, renders it wholly inadmissible. A state of destitution and misery is evidently intended. “They were now,” says Henry, “a desolate people; they were in the land of their captivity as sheep in a forest, in danger of being lost and made a prey to the beasts of the forest.” — Ed.
The Prophet here introduces God as the speaker; and he so speaks as to give an answer to his prayer. God then promises that he will be wonderful in his works, and give such evidences of his power, as he exhibited when he brought up his people from the land of Egypt. We now see that there is more force in this passage, than if the Prophet had at first said, that God would become the deliverer of his people: for he interposed entreaty and prayer and God now shows that he will be merciful to his people; and at the same time the faithful are reminded, that they must be instant in prayer, if they desire to be preserved by God.
Now God says that he will show wonderful things, as when the people formerly came out of Egypt. (197) That redemption, we know, was a perpetual monument of God’s power in the preservation of his Church; so that whenever he designs to give some hope of deliverances he reminds the faithful of those miracles that they may feel assured that there will be no obstacles to prevent them from continuing in a state of safety, provided God will be pleased to help them, for his power is not diminished.
And this deserves to be noticed; for though we all allow the omnipotence of God, yet when we struggle with trials, we tremble, as though all the avenues to our preservation had been closed up against God. As soon then as any impediment is thrown in our way, we think that there is no hope. Whence is this? It is because we make no account of God’s power, which yet we confess to be greater than that of the whole world.
This is the reason why God now refers to the miracles which he wrought at the coming forth of the people. They ought to have known, that God ever continues like himself, and that his power remains as perfect as it was formerly; and there is in him sufficient support to encourage the hope of assistance. We now perceive the object of the Prophet. He indeed changes the persons; for in the beginning he addresses the people, according to the days of thy going forth, and then he adds,
(197) “The Prophet prayed that God would feed them, and do kind things for them; but God answers, that he will show them marvelous things, will outdo their hopes and expectations. — Their deliverance from Babylon shall be a work of wonder and grace, not inferior to their deliverance out of Egypt, nay, it shall eclipse the luster of that, Jeremiah 16:14. — God’s former favors to his Church are patterns of future favors, and shall again be copied out as there is occasion.” — Henry.
Here again the Prophet shows, that though the Church should be assailed on every side and surrounded by innumerable enemies, no doubt ought yet to be entertained respecting the promised aid of God; for it is in his power to make all nations ashamed, that is, to cast down all the pride of the world, so as to make the unbelieving to acknowledge at length that they were elated by an empty confidence. Hence he says, that the nations shall see; as though he said, “I know what makes you anxious, for many enemies are intent on your ruin; and when any help appears, they are immediately prepared fiercely to resist; but their attempts and efforts will not prevent God from delivering you.”
They shall then see and be ashamed of all their strength (198) By these words the Prophet means, that however strongly armed the unbelieving may think themselves to be to destroy the Church, and that how many obstacles soever they may have in their power to restrain the power of God in its behalf, yet the whole will be in vain, for God will, in fact, prove that the strength of men is mere nothing.
He adds, They shall lay their hand on their mouth; that is, they shall not dare to boast hereafter, as they have hitherto done; for this phrase in Hebrew means to be silent. Since then the enemies of the Church made great boastings and exulted with open mouth, as though the people of God were destroyed, the Prophet says, that when God would appear as the Redeemer of his people, they should become, as it were, mute. He subjoins, their ears shall become deaf; (199) that is, they shall stand astounded; nay, they shall hardly dare to open their ears, lest the rumor, brought to them, should occasion to them new trembling. Proud men, we know, when matters succeed according to their wishes, not only boast of their good fortune with open mouths, but also greedily catch at all rumors; for as they think they are all so many messages of victories, — “What is from this place? or what is from that place?” They even expect that the whole world will come under their power. The Prophet, on the other hand, says, “They shall lay the hand on the mouth, and their ears shall become deaf; that is they shall tremblingly shun all rumors, for they shall continually dread new calamities, when they shall see that the God of Israel, against who they have hitherto fought, is armed with so much power.
Some apply this to the preaching of the Gospel; which I readily allow, provided the deliverance be made always to begin with the ancient people: for if any one would have this to be understood exclusively of Christ, such a strained and remote exposition would not be suitable. But if any one will consider the favor of God, as continued from the return of the people to the restoration effected by Christ, he will rightly comprehend the real design of the Prophet. Really fulfilled, then, is what the Prophet says here, when God spreads the doctrine of his Gospel through the whole world: for those who before boasted of their own inventions, begin then to close their mouth, that, being thus silent, they may become his disciples; and they also close their ears, for now they give not up themselves, as before, to foolish and puerile fables, but consecrate their whole hearing to the only true God, that they may attend only to his truth, and no more vacillate between contrary opinions. All this, I allow, is fulfilled under the preaching of the Gospel; but the Prophet, no doubt, connected together the whole time, from the return of the people from the Babylonian exile, to the manifestation of Christ.
(198) “They shall be ashamed of the strength in which they trusted,” — Drusius; or as Grotius says, “of all their strength which had been so suddenly destroyed;” or, as another author says, “of all their strength when found ineffectual for the purpose of destroying the people of God.” — Ed.
(199) “Malice,” says Jerome, “not only blinds the eyes, but also deafens the ears.” — Ed.
He afterwards adds, They shall lick the dust as a serpent He intimates, that however the enemies of the Church may have proudly exalted themselves before, they shall then be cast down, and lie, as it were, on the ground; for to lick the dust is nothing else but to lie prostrate on the earth. They shall then be low and creeping like serpents; and then, They shall move themselves as worms and reptiles of the ground The verb
‘Men,’ he says, ‘trembled from their fortresses;’
though they occupied well-fortified citadels, they yet were afraid, because the very fame of David had broken down their boldness. But as the Prophet speaks here of worms, I prefer this rendering, — ‘from their lurkingplaces;’ as though he said, “Though they have hitherto thought themselves safe in their enclosures, they shall yet move and flee away like worms and reptiles; for when the ground is dug, the worms immediately leap out, for they think that they are going to be taken; so also, when any one moves the ground, the reptiles come forth, and tremblingly run away in all directions.” And the Prophet says that, in like manner, the enemies of the Church, when the Lord shall arise for its help, shall be smitten with so much fear, that they shall in every direction run away. And this comparison ought to be carefully noticed, that is, when the Prophet compares powerful nations well exercised in wars, who before were audaciously raging, and were swollen with great pride — when he compares them to worms and reptiles of the ground, and also to serpents: he did this to show, that there will be nothing to hinder God from laying prostrate every exalted thing in the world, as soon as it shall please him to aid his Church.
And hence the Prophet adds, On account of Jehovah our God they shall treed, and they shall fear because of thee Here the Prophet shows, that the faithful ought not to distrust on account of their own weakness, but, on the contrary, to remember the infinite power of God. It is indeed right that the children of God should begin with diffidence, — sensible that they are nothing, and that all their strength is nothing; but they ought not to stop at their own weakness, but, on the contrary, to rise up to the contemplation of God’s power, that they may not doubt but that, when his power shall appear, their enemies shall be soon scattered. This is the reason why the Prophet here mentions the name of God, and then turns to address God himself. Tremble thenshall they at Jehovah our God, that is, on account of Jehovah our God; and then Fear shall they because of thee. (200) It now follows —
(200) Dathius renders these two lines differently, “
Ac ovnant rhagddot
To fear because of thee, and to fear thee, are two distinct things. You will have the first form in Joshua 10:8; and the second in Deuteronomy 31:12. The first refers to the fear of the Canaanites, the dread of their power; the second, to the fear of Jehovah. — Ed.
The Prophet here exclaims that God ought to be glorified especially for this — that he is merciful to his people. When he says, Who is God as thou art? he does not mean that there are other gods; for this, strictly speaking, is an improper comparison. But he shows that the true and only God may be distinguished from all idols by this circumstance — that he graciously forgives the sins of his people and bears with their infirmities. It is indeed certain, that all nations entertained the opinion, that their gods were ready to pardon; hence their sacrifices and hence also their various kinds of expiations. Nor has there been any nation so barbarous as not to own themselves guilty in some measure before God; hence all the Gentiles were wont to apply to the mercy of their gods; while yet they had no firm conviction: for though they laid hold on this first principle, — that the gods would be propitious to sinners, if they humbly sought pardon; yet they prayed, we know, with no sure confidence, for they had no certain promise. We hence see that what the Prophet means is this, — that the God of Israel could be proved to be the true God from this circumstance — that having once received into favor the children of Abraham, he continued to show the same favor, and kept his covenant inviolably, though their sins had been a thousand times a hindrance in the way. That God then in his goodness surmounted all the wickedness of the people, and stood firm in his covenant, which had been so often violated by vices of the people — this fact may be brought as an evidence, that he is the true God: for what can be found of this kind among idols? Let us suppose that there is in them something divine, that they were gods, and endued with some power; yet with regard to the gods of the Gentiles, it could not be known that any one of them was propitious to his own people. Since then this can apply only to the God of Israel, it follows that in this instance his divinity shines conspicuously, and that his sovereignty is hence sufficiently proved. We also learn, that all the gods of heathens are vain; yea, that in the religion of heathens there is nothing but delusions: for no nation can with confidence flee to its god to obtain pardon, when it has sinned. This is the sum of the whole. I shall now come to the words of the Prophet.
Who is a God like thee, taking away iniquity, and passing by wickedness? By these two forms of expression, he sets forth the singular favor of God in freely reconciling himself to sinners. To take away sins is to blot them out; though the verb
This passage teaches us, as I have already reminded you, that the glory of God principally shines in this, — that he is reconcilable, and that he forgives our sins. God indeed manifests his glory both by his power and his wisdom, and by all the judgments which he daily executes; his glory, at the same time, shines forth chiefly in this, — that he is propitious to sinners, and suffers himself to be pacified; yea, that he not only allows miserable sinners to be reconciled to him, but that he also of his own will invites and anticipates them. Hence then it is evident, that he is the true God. That religion then may have firm roots in our hearts, this must be the first thing in our faith, — that God will ever be reconciled to us; for except we be fully persuaded as to his mercy, no true religion will ever flourish in us, whatever pretensions we may make; for what is said in Psalms 130:0 is ever true, ‘With thee is propitiation, that thou mayest be feared.’ Hence the fear of God, and the true worship of him, depend on a perception of his goodness and favor; for we cannot from the heart worship God, and there will be, as I have already said, no genuine religion in us, except this persuasion be really and deeply seated in our hearts, — that he is ever ready to forgive, whenever we flee to him.
It hence also appears what sort of religion is that of the Papacy: for under the Papacy, being perplexed and doubtful, they ever hesitate, and never dare to believe that God will be propitious to them. Though they have some ideas, I know not what, of his grace; yet it is a vain presumption and rashness, as they think, when any one is fully persuaded of God’s mercy. They therefore keep consciences in suspense; nay, they leave them doubtful and trembling, when there is no certainty respecting God’s favor. It hence follows, that their whole worship is fictitious; in a word, the whole of religion is entirely subverted, when a firm and unhesitating confidence, as to his goodness, is taken away, yea, that confidence by which men are enabled to come to him without doubting, and to receive, whenever they sin and confess their guilt and transgressions, the mercy that is offered to them.
But this confidence is not what rises spontaneously in us; nay, even when we entertain a notion that God is merciful, it is only a mere delusion: for we cannot be fully convinced respecting God’s favor, except he anticipates us by his word, and testifies that he will be propitious to us whenever we flee to him. Hence I said at the beginning, that the Prophet here exhibits the difference between the God of Israel and all the idols of the Gentiles, and that is, because he had promised to be propitious to his people. It was not in vain that sacrifices were offered by the chosen people, for there was a promise added, which could not disappoint them: but the Gentiles ever remained doubtful with regard to their sacrifices; though they performed all their expiations, there was yet no certainty; but the case was different with the chosen people. What then the Prophet says here respecting the remission of sins, depends on the testimony which God himself has given.
We must now notice the clause which immediately follows, as to the remnant of his heritage Here again he drives away the hypocrites from their vain confidence: for he says that God will be merciful only to a remnant of his people; and, at the same time, he takes away an offense, which might have grievously disquieted the weak, on seeing the wrath of God raging among the whole people, — that God would spare neither the common nor the chief men. When therefore the fire of God’s vengeance flamed terribly, above and below, this objection might have greatly disturbed weak minds, — “How is this? God does indeed declare that he is propitious to sinners, and yet his severity prevails among us. — How can this be?” The Prophet meets this objection and says, God is propitious to the remnant of his heritage; which means, that though God would execute terrible vengeance on the greater part, there would yet ever remain some seed, on whom his mercy would shine; and he calls them the remnant of his heritage, because there was no reason, as it was stated yesterday, why God forgave the few, except that he had chosen the posterity of Abraham.
He also adds, He will not retain his wrath perpetually. By this second consolation he wished to relieve the faithful: for though God chastises them for a time, he yet forgets not his mercy. We may say, that the Prophet mentions here two exceptions. He had spoken of God’s mercy; but as this mercy is not indiscriminate or common to all, he restricts what he teaches to the remnant. Now follows another exception, — that how much soever apparently the wrath of God would rage against his elect people themselves, there would yet be some moderation, so that they would remain safe, and that their calamities would not be to them fatal. Hence he says, God retains not wrath; for though, for a moment, he may be angry with his people, he will yet soon, as it were, repent, and show himself gracious to them, and testify that he is already reconciled to them; — not that God changes, but that the faithful are made for a short time to feel his wrath; afterwards a taste of his mercy exhilarates them, and thus they feel in their souls that God has in a manner changed. For when dread possesses their minds, they imagine God to be terrible, but when they embrace the promises of his grace, they call on him, and begin to entertain hope of pardon; then God appears to them kind, gentle, and reconcilable; yea, and altogether ready to show mercy. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that God retains not his wrath
Then follows the cause, for he loveth mercy Here the Prophet more clearly shows, that the remission of sins is gratuitous, and that it has no foundation but in the nature of God himself. There is then no reason, since Scripture declares God to be reconcilable, why any one should seek the cause in himself, or even the means by which God reconciles himself to us: for He himself is the cause. As God then by nature loves mercy, hence it is, that he is so ready to forgive sinners. Whosoever then imagines that God is to be propitiated by expiations or any satisfactions, subverts the doctrine of the Prophet; and it is the same thing as to build without a foundation: for the only prop or support that can raise us up to God, when we desire to be reconciled to him, is this, — that he loves mercy. And this is the reason why God so much commends his mercy, why he says that he is merciful to thousand generations, slow to wrath, and ready to pardon. For though the unbelieving harden themselves against God, yet when they feel his wrath, there is nothing so difficult for them as to believe that God can be pacified. Hence this reason, which is not in vain added by the Prophet, ought to be especially noticed.
Let us now see to whom God is merciful. For as Satan could not have obliterated from the hearts of men a conviction of God’s mercy, he has yet confined mercy to the unbelieving, as though God should forgive sinners only once, when they are admitted into the Church. Thus the Pelagians formerly thought, that God grants reconciliation to none but to aliens; for whosoever has been once received into the Church cannot, as they imagined, stand otherwise before God than by being perfect. And this figment led Novatus and his disciples to create disturbances in the Church. And there are at this day not only deluded men, but devils, who, by the same figment, or rather delirious notions, fascinate themselves and others, and hold, that the highest perfection ought to exist in the faithful; and they also slander our doctrine, as though we were still continuing in the Alphabet or in the first rudiments, because we daily preach free remission of sins. But the Prophet declares expressly that God not only forgives the unbelieving when they sin, but also his heritage and his elect. Let us then know, that as long as we are in the world, pardon is prepared for us, as we could not otherwise but fall every moment from the hope of salvation, were not this remedy provided for us: for those men must be more than mad who arrogate to themselves perfection, or who think that they have arrived at that high degree of attainment, that they can satisfy God by their works. It now follows —
The Prophet now prescribes to the faithful a form of glorying, that they may boldly declare that God will be pacified towards them. Since then God loves mercy, he will return, he will have mercy on us The context here ought to be observed by us; for it would avail us but little to understand, I know not what, concerning God’s mercy, and to preach in general the free remission of sins, except we come to the application, that is, except each of the faithful believed that God, for his own sake, is merciful, as soon as he is called upon. This conclusion, then, is to be borne in mind, — “God forgives the remnant of his heritage, because he is by nature inclined to show mercy: he will therefore be merciful to us, for we are of the number of his people.” Except we lay hold on this conclusion, “He will therefore show mercy to us,” whatever we have heard or said respecting God’s goodness will vanish away.
This then is the true logic of religion, that is, when we are persuaded that God is reconcilable and easily pacified, because he is by nature inclined to mercy, and also, when we thus apply this doctrine to ourselves, or to our own peculiar benefit, — As God is by nature merciful, I shall therefore know and find him to be so. Until then we be thus persuaded, let us know that we have made but little progress in the school of God. And hence it appears very clear from this passage, that the Papacy is a horrible abyss; for no one under that system can have a firm footing, so as to be fully persuaded that God will be merciful to him; for all that they have are mere conjectures. But we see that the Prophet reasons very differently, God loves mercy; he will therefore have mercy on us: and then he adds, He will return; (202) and this is said lest the temporary wrath or severity of God should disquiet us. Though God then may not immediately shine on us with his favor, but, on the contrary, treat us sharply and roughly, yet the Prophet teaches us that we are to entertain good hope. — How so? He will return, or, as he said shortly before, He will not retain perpetually his wrath: for it is for a moment that he is angry with his Church; and he soon remembers mercy.
The Prophet now specifies what sort of mercy God shows to the faithful, For he will tread down our iniquities; he had said before that he passes by the wickedness of his elect people. He will then tread down our iniquities; and he will cast (203) into the depth of the sea all their sins; that is our sins shall not come in remembrance before him. We hence learn what I have said before — that God cannot be worshipped sincerely and from the heart until this conviction be fixed and deeply rooted in our hearts, that God is merciful, not in general, but toward us, because we have been once adopted by him and are his heritage. And then were the greater part to fall away, we should not fail in our faith; for God preserves the remnant in a wonderful manner. And lastly, let us know, that whenever we flee to God for mercy, pardon is ever ready for us, not that we may indulge in sin, or take liberty to commit it, but that we may confess our faults and that our guilt may appear before our eyes: let us know, that the door is open to us; for God of his own good will presents himself to us as one ready to be reconciled.
It is also said, He will cast our sins into the depth of the sea. We hence learn that there is a full remission of sins, not half as the Papists imagine, for God, they say, remits the sin, but retains the punishment. How frivolous this is, the thing itself clearly proves. The language of the Prophet does however import this, that our sins are then remitted when the records of them are blotted out before God. It follows — for I will run over this verse, that I may today finish this Prophet —
(202) Grotius, Dathius, and Henderson, consider that this verb, placed before another, without a conjunction, expresses only a reiteration; and they render it adverbially, “again.” But, in this place, it would be better to give it its proper meaning; for as God is said to depart from his people, Hosea 9:12, so he may be said also to return. The Septuagint renders it
(203) There is a mistake as to this verb; it is the second person, as are all the verbs which follow. The Prophet resumes here his address to God, which he commenced in the two first lines of the last verse. To show the difference between what he speaks to and what he speaks of God, the whole passage shall be here given, —
18. What God is like thee!
Taking away iniquity, and passing over transgression!
Against the remnant of his heritage
He retains not forever his anger;
For a lover of mercy isHe;
19. He will return, he will pity us,
He will subdue our iniquities: —
Yea, thou wilt cast into the depths of the sea all their sins;
Thou wilt show faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham,
Which thou swarest to our fathers in the days of old.
The faithful confirm here the former truth, that God had deposited his covenant with them, which could not be made void: and hence also shines forth more clearly what I have said before, that the faithful do not learn by their own understanding what sort of Being God is, but embrace the mercy which he offers in his own word. Except God then speaks, we cannot form in our own minds any idea of his grace but what is uncertain and vanishing; but when he declares that he will be merciful to us, then every doubt is removed. This is now the course which the Prophet pursues.
He says, Thou wilt give truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn to our fathers; as though he said, “We do not presumptuously invent any thing out of our own minds, but receive what thou hast once testified to us; for thy will has been made known to us in thy word: relying then on thy favor, we are persuaded as to thy gratuitous pardon, though we are in many respects guilty before thee.” We now then understand the design of the Prophet.
As to the words, it is not necessary to dwell on them, for we have elsewhere explained this form of speaking. There are here two expressions by which the Prophet characterizes the covenant of God. Truth is mentioned, and mercy is mentioned. With respect to order, the mercy of God precedes; for he is not induced otherwise to adopt us than through his goodness alone: but as God of his own will has with so great kindness received us, so he is true and faithful in his covenant. If then we desire to know the character of God’s covenant, by which he formerly chose the Jews, and at this day adopts us as his people, these two things must be understood, that God freely offers himself to us, and that he is constant and true, he repents not, as Paul says, as to his covenant: The gifts and calling of God, he says, are without repentance, (Romans 11:29;) and he refers to the covenant, by which God adopted the children of Abraham.
He says now, Thou wilt give, that is, show in reality; for this, to give, is, as it were, to exhibit in effect or really. Thou will then give, that is, openly show, that thou hast not been in vain so kind to us and ours, in receiving them into favor. How so? Because the effect of thy goodness and truth appears to us.
Thou hast then sworn to our fathers from the days of old. The faithful take for granted that God had promised to the fathers that his covenant would be perpetual; for he did not only say to Abraham, I will be thy God, but he also added, and of thy seed for ever. Since, then, the faithful knew that the covenant of God was to be perpetual and inviolable, and also knew that it was to be continued from the fathers to their children, and that it was once promulgated for this end, that the fathers might deliver it as by the hand to their children; they therefore doubted not but that it would be perpetual. How so? for thou hast sworn to our fathers; that is, they knew that God not only promised, but that having interposed an oath, by which God designed to confirm that covenant, he greatly honored it, that it might be unhesitatingly received by the chosen people. As then the faithful knew that God in a manner bound himself to them, they confidently solicited him, really to show himself to be such as he had declared he would be to his own elect.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Micah 7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany