16. They provoked him to jealousy. It is only figuratively that jealousy is attributed to God, who is free from all passions; but, since men never sufficiently reflecthow great pollution they contract by their idolatries, it is necessary that the grossness of the sin should be expressed in such terms as this, implying that men do no less injury to God, when they transfer to others the honor due to Him, and that the offenseis no lighter than as if a licentious woman should provoke her husband’s mind to jealousy, and inflict a wound upon him by running after adulterers. This jealousy has referenceto the sacred and spiritual marriage, whereby God had bound His people to Himself. The suae is, that the Israelites were as insulting to God by their superstitions as if they had designedly provoked Him.
In the next verse an amplification follows, viz., that they had transferred to devils the worship due to God alone. By the general consent of all nations God ought to be worshipped by sacrifices; for, although the Gentiles invented for themselves divers gods, still the persuasion continued to prevail, that this service was the peculiar prerogative of Deity. Nothing, then, could be more disgraceful or detestable than to rob God of His honor, and to offer it to demons. This, indeed, would never have been admitted by the Israelites, inasmuch as they pretended that their minor gods were their advocates with the supreme and only Creator of the world, and did not hesitate to account as rendered to Him whatever they shared among their idols. Here, however, He first of all repudiates all such mixtures whereby His holy name is unworthily profaned, and suffers Himself not to be associated with idols; and, secondly, by whatever titles they may dignify their idols, He declares all false gods to be demons. Hence it follows that the sacrifices made to them are infected with sacrilege. Both of these points are worthy of careful remark, viz., that God abominates all corruptions of His service; and also, that whatever names the world may invent for its gods, they are so many masks, under which the devil hides himself for the deception of the simple.
Furthermore, Moses reproves the folly of the Israelites in having promiscuously devoted themselves to unknown gods; just as an adulterous woman might prostitute herself indiscriminately to all comers. When he says that they came from near, f266 it has reference to time, and is equivalent to saying that they had lately sprung up. Thirdly, it is said, that these gods were not honored by their fathers; for thus their perverse love of novelty is proved against them, inasmuch as they had not been even led by imitation of their fathers, but in their restless innovation had procured for themselves new and unwonted gods. Not that the law of piety is founded on antiquity alone, as if it were sufficient to follow the customs handed down by our ancestors; for thus any of the religions of the Gentiles might be proved true, but because the genuine and faithful tradition of theirfathers would be the sure and approved rule for the worship of God. For Moses assumes a higher principle, viz., that their fathers were truly and most unmistakably instructed who was the one and only God, in whom alone they ought to trust. Yet a distinction is here to be drawn between these holy fathers and the reprobate; for the imitation of their fathers, which here seems to be deemed praiseworthy, is elsewhere severely condemned, because the Jews were carried away, without discrimination, after the bad examples of their fathers. Moses, therefore, here refers to no other fathers than those who were in a position to hand down what they had learned from God Himself. The word fear often comprises, by synecdoche, the whole service of God, and sometimes is applied to outward ceremonies: the word r[ç, sagnar however, is here used, which means properly to stand in awe of,or to dread; f267but still in the same sense.
18.Of the Rockf268 that begat thee. He again aggravates the criminality of the people by referring to their ingratitude, inasmuch as they did not fall through ignorance, but willfully stifled that knowledge of God, which ought to have shone brightly in all their hearts: for this is the effect of the reproach, that they were unmindful of their Rock:as much as to say, that they would never have given themselves up to their impious superstitions, unless they had cast into voluntary oblivion that God whom, by the most conspicuous proofs, they had experimentally found to be the foundation and support of their salvation.
19.And when the Lord saw it. The seeing of God, which is mentioned here, has reference to His forbearance in judgment: as if it were said, that He does not act hastily, and is not alienated from His children, without having duly weighed their case; in the same way as it is said elsewhere: “Becausethe cry of Sodom is great, I will go down now and see whether”it is so, and “I will know.” (<011820>Genesis 18:20, 21) Assuredly God has no need to make any examination, since nothing escapes His eyes, however hidden it may be; but this going down and inquiring is contrasted with preposterous haste. Thus in this passage Moses shows that God was wroth, when he saw His sons and His daughters drawn away so faithlessly after their idols. Again, when he calls them God’s children, he does not judge them to be so on account of their merits, but in reference to God’s adoption, which, although it was canceled as regarded themselves, still had the effect of aggravating the guilt of their ingratitude. And for the same reason that he had just. said that God saw them, Moses introduces Him deliberating, as it were, that the time for punishing them might be perceived to be fully come. But we must notice the degrees; for God does not at once break forth into extreme severity, but is said to hide His face, that He might secretly consider what they would do: since this is a middle course between the manifest exhibition of His grace and favor, and the tokens of His wrath. God is, indeed, elsewhere said, in many passages, to hide His face, when He rejects men’s prayers, and withdraws His aid; but here He assumes the character of a man who, when he sees that he produces no effect by acting, f269 goes aside to some place, from whence he may quietly contemplate the result, And thus God’s weariness of them is expressed; for when He at length saw that His efforts to control them were thrown away, He abandoned the care of them. It is a false inference, which some draw from hence, that men, when forsaken by God, recover themselves by the exercise of their own free-will; as if God sat calmly and inactively in a watch-tower expecting what they may do; inasmuch as this hiding of Himself has reference only to the outward manifestation of His grace. In a word, it is a similitude taken from the conduct of men, whereby God signifies that He is overcome with weariness, and will no more be the leader and guardian of the people, until it shall effectually appear that they are altogether intractable. And this is gathered from the reason, which is presently added, wherein He censures their forward nature and want of faith, as much as to say, that, after long trial, nothing remained for Him but to abandon them.
21. They have moved me to jealousy. He now proceeds further, viz., that God, after having withdrawn Himself for a time, would, at length be the open enemy of the people, so as to repay them in kind. And he points out the mode of this retaliation, that as they had insultingly brought into antagonism with God empty phantoms and vanities, so on His part, He would exalt against them barbarous and worthless nations. This similitude is also taken from jealous husbands, who, when they perceive themselves to be despised by their adulterous wives, avenge themselves by their own amours. Why God should attribute to Himself the feeling of jealousy has been explained under the Second Commandment; Moses now only shows that it would be a most equitable mode of revenge, that God should insult, by means of despised and ignoble nations, those apostates, who had made to themselves idols in disparagement of Him.
The fulfillment of this sentence was manifested from time to time, when they were tyrannically oppressed by the neighboring nations. It is true, indeed, that the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans were included among those people of nought and foolish nations, although they were preeminent in power and wealth, and famous for other splendid endowments; but it is no matter of surprise that, in comparison with that dignity which God had conferred upon the Israelites, all other nations should be accounted but refuse. The suae is, that God’s vengeance was ready whereby He would punish the vanities of His people, inasmuch as He could create out of nothing the enemies by whom they should be reduced to nothing. There is much elegance in the allusion of Paul, in which he extends this sentence further, inasmuch as, when God introduced the Gentiles into His Church, He stirred up the Jews to jealousy, in order that they might be led to repentance by a sense of their ignominy. Surely the calling of the Gentiles was exactly as if He created shadows, whom he might prefer to His reprobate people. (<451019>Romans 10:19.)
22.For a fire is kindled in mine anger. He confirms what went before, but more generally; for He compares His anger to a burning fire, which should penetrate to the deepest abysses, and should utterly consume their land, so as not to spare the very roots of the mountains. This metaphor is, indeed, of frequent occurrence; but here more is expressed by it than in other passages. In the same sense also it is presently added, that God would spend all his scourges and arrows upon them; since, when His implacable anger is once aroused, there are no bounds to His severity. The verb hpsa aspheh, may, however, also be taken for to heap, or to superadd; f270but I willingly follow the more received interpretation, viz., that God will not omit anything to destroy them, as if He would apply to this purpose all weapons which were at hand.
24. They shall be burnt with hunger. He now descends to some particular modes of punishment, not, indeed, to enumerate them all, but only to adduce such specimens of them as to inspire the people with greater terror, inasmuch as mere generalities would not have sufficiently affected them. He mentions three especial scourges, pestilence, famine, and the sword, on which the prophets constantly dilate, when their object was to apply the Law to the actual use of the people, from whence it arose that they familiarly employ many of the expressions used by Moses. He introduces indeed other punishments, which the prophets also mention; but the sum of what he says is this, that the Israelites should feel that God was armed with all the punishments which were only too well known by experience, and by them would utterly destroy them.
First., he says, that they should be dried up, or rather roasted with hunger. f271 Instead of pestilence he uses the words burning (uredinem,) and bitter destruction: and before he speaks of the sword, declares that He would send forth beasts and serpents, so that on the one hand, open violence should assail them, and, on the other, secret wiles. Amos has also imitated this figure:
“The day of the Lord (he says) is darkness and not light: as if a man did flee from a lion and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.”
(<300518>Amos 5:18, 19.)
To war, and the cruelty of enemies he adds another evil, viz., terror:and this is, indeed, an aggravation worse than death itself, when we tremble within with terror, for it would be better to be slain ten times over bravely fighting in battle, than to be consumed with constant fear, as by a lingering death. f272
Let us learn, then, from this passage, that, whatever perils surround us, and whatever adversities, they are God’s weapons, and that they do not occur by chance to this or that person, but are directed by His hand. Thus it is the case that He not; only stirs up enemies against us, but fierce and noisome beasts also; that He shuts up the heaven and the earth; that He infects the atmosphere with deadly disease; that, in a word, he draws forth from all the elements manifold means of destruction.
But if it be the fact, that the godly are involved in similar punishments, since they suffer from hunger and want, and are not exempt from any evil; for even Paul acknowledges that he had himself experienced what God here denounces against those that wickedly despise Him, for he says that he was troubled without with fightings, and within with fears, (<470705>2 Corinthians 7:5;) we must bear in mind that all adversities are in themselves signs of God’s wrath, since they derive their origin from sin; but that through God’s marvelous provision it comes to pass, that to believers they are exercises of their faith and proofs of their patience. Hence we often see God’s children afflicted in common with the ungodly, but to a different end; though nevertheless all adversities are proofs of God’s wrath against the reprobate. On this point I have spoken at greater length in treating of the curses of the Law.
26.I said, I would scatter them. God again represents Himself in the character of a man, as if He were meditating opposite determinations, and restrained His vehemence in consideration of the impediments He encountered. What it amounts to, however, is this, that God suspended His final judgment upon them for no other reason but because He had regard to His own glory, which would else have been subjected to the taunts of the Gentiles. Hence the Jews were reminded that, whereas they had deserved certain destruction, they were preserved on no other grounds but because God was unwilling to give the reins to the insolence of the Gentiles. The expression wrath, is here used for arrogant boasting, because in their prosperity ungodly and profane men burst forth into cruelty; unless it be preferred to render it simply irritation,f273in which sense it is used in 2 Kings 23. Immediately afterwards it is explained, “lest the adversaries should behave themselves strangely.” rkn, nacar, signifies sometimes to be strange, sometimes to put on a different face, sometimes to acknowledge. Thus I do not doubt but that Moses meant to express the arrogance of those who in a manner transform themselves that they may dazzle the eyes of the simple by their pomp and empty exaltation. If any approve of a different sense, i.e.,lest they should separate themselves from God, and arrogate to themselves what belongs to Him alone, I make no objection: and this, indeed, seems to agree with what follows, f274 “Our high hand, and not the Lord, has done this:” for when men indulge in such unbridled license, they go so far astray as to have nothing in common with God. Thus the judgment of God, which should have been conspicuous in these punishments, would have been put out of sight, when the enemies appropriated to themselves the glory of the people’s destruction. Nevertheless the ungodly did not cease to pride themselves on their victories, (as God complains by Isaiah, and Habakkuk confirms;) f275 although their insolence was in some measure repressed, as long as there were some remnants of the elect people preserved. f276
It is only figuratively that God says, he feared this insolence, which He might have easily remedied and restrained: but I have already stated, that He speaks after the manner of men, to show the Israelites that they escaped rather on account of their enemies, than by their own merits. The question, however, arises, how such a consultation as this could have taken place after God had determined to consume them with the fire of His wrath; f277 I reply, that the consumption there indicated was not such as totally to annihilate the nation, so that no ruins should remain as witnesses of their former state; whereas He now speaks of the destruction, which should altogether blot out the name of the nation, as if it had never been chosen by God.
28.For they are a nation void of counsel. The cause is assigned why God had almost blotted out altogether the memory of the people, viz., because their faculty was incurable: for He does not merely indicate that their conduct was rash and inconsiderate, because they lacked reason mid discretion: but that they could be by no means brought to their senses, and, in fact, that not one drop of sagacity existed in them. The proof of this immediately follows, viz., that the tokens of God’s wrath were too clearly set before their eyes to escape their notice, unless they were utterly blind and stupid. The word wl, lu, which they render, “Would that” f278 (utinam,) denotes commiseration rather than desire; and therefore it may be properly translated, “Oh, if they understood,” etc.
By the expression, “latter,”their exceeding stupidity is censured: since not even by many and long experiences were they aroused to reflect on the causes of their calamities; whereas length of time extorts some sense at last from the very dullest, and almost idiotic persons. It was, therefore, a sign of desperate stupidity that they were still without understanding after so many years; as if by experience itself they had grown callous, when they ought to have shaken off their lethargy, and to have bestirred themselves to earnest inquiry. Justly, then, does Moses reproach them with not having considered even at the latter end; for not once only, nor in a single year, but by constant inflictions of punishment during a long series of years, had they been instructed without profit.
30.How should one chase a thousand. Of all the many tokens of God’s wrath, he selects one which was peculiarly striking; for as long as God was on their side, they had put to flight mighty armies, nor had they been supported by any multitude of forces. Now, when, though in great numbers, they are conquered by a few, this change plainly shows that they are deprived of God’s aid, especially when a thousand, who were wont before, with a little band, to rout the greatest armies, gave way before ten men. Moses, therefore, condemns the stupidity of the people, in that it does not occur to their minds that they are rejected by God, when they are so easily overcome by a few enemies, whom they far exceed in numbers. Moses, however, goes still further, and says, that they were sold and betrayed; f279inasmuch as God, having so often found them to be unworthy of His aid, not only deserted them, but made them subject to heathen nations, and, as it were, sold them to be their slaves. This threat is often repeated by the prophets: and Isaiah, desiring to awake in them a hope of deliverance, tells them that God would redeem the people whom He had sold. f280 But, in case any should object that it was no matter of wonder, if the uncertain chance of war should confer on others the victory which often, as a profane poet says,
“Hoversbetween the two on doubtful wings,”f281
Moses anticipates the objection by declaring that, unless the people should be deprived of God’s aid, they could not be otherwise than successful. A comparison is therefore instituted between the true God and false gods: as though Moses had said that, where the God of hosts presides, the issue of war can never be doubtful. Hence it follows, that God’s elect and peculiar people are exempted from the ordinary condition of nations, except in so far as it deserves to be rejected on the score of its ingratitude. He calls the unbelievers themselves to be the arbiters and witnesses of this, inasmuch as they had often experienced the formidable power of God, and knew assuredly that the God of Israel was unlike their idols. It is, then, just as if he had said, that this was conspicuous even to the blind, or were to cite as witnesses those who are blessed with no light from on high. In thus inviting unbelievers to be judges, it is not as if he supposed that they would pronounce what was true, and thoroughly understood by them, but because they must needs be convinced by experience: for, if any one had asked the heathen whether the supreme government and power of heaven and earth were in the hands of the One God of Israel, they never would have confessed that their idols were mere vanity. Still, however malignantly they might detract from God’s glory, Moses does not hesitate to boast, even themselves being judges, that God had magnificently exerted His unconquered might; although he refers rather to the experienceof facts themselves, than to their feelings. Other commentators extract a different meaning, viz., that although unbelievers might be victorious, still God remained unaffected by it: neither was his arm broken, because he permitted them to afflict the apostate Israelites: f282 the former exposition, however, is the more appropriate one.
32.For their vine is of the vine of Sodom. I think it was far from the intention of Moses, as some make it to be, to refer to the punishment which the Israelites deserved; but that he rather inveighs against their corrupted morals, and obstinate disposition. But metaphorically he calls them an offshoot from the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah, inasmuch as they resemble in their nature both those nations, as much as if they had sprung from them, just as grafts of the vine produce fruits similar to the stocks from which they are taken. God complains by Isaiah that, when he looked for good and sweet grapes from His vineyard, it brought forth wild grapes. (<230502>Isaiah 5:2.) And also by Jeremiah that, when He had planted a trustworthy and genuine seed, it was turned into the branches of a strange vine, (<240222>Jeremiah 2:22;) but Moses goes further here, that the people was not merely a degenerate vine, bun poisonous, and producing nothing but what was deadly; and therefore he adds, not only that their clusters were bitter, but that their wine was the poison of dragons and asps; whereby he signifies that nothing worse or more abominable than that nation could be imagined.
34. Is not this laid up in store with me? Although some explain this verse as relating to their punishments, as if God asserted that various kinds of them were laid up with Him, which He could produce whenever He pleased, it is more correct to understand it of their crimes. We are well aware that the ungodly, when God stays His severity, promise themselves impunity, as if His forbearance were a kind of connivance. Unless, therefore, He straightway lifts up His hand to chastise them, they imagine that all recollection of their crimes has vanished from before Him; and consequently the prophets often remind hypocrites of the day of visitation, in order that they may not suppose that they have gained anything by the delay. For this reason Jeremiah says that
“the sin of Judah is written with an iron pen
and with the point of a diamond,” (Jeremiah 17:l.)
Moses employs a different figure, that, although God may not appear as an immediate avenger, still their sins are stored up in his treasures, and will be brought to light by Him at the fitting season. Hence we gather the profitable lesson, that although God may make as though He saw not (dissimulet) for a time, still He does not forget the iniquities, the memory of which wretched men foolishly imagine to be blotted out, unless they are pursued by God’s immediate vengeance.