Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, February 24th, 2024
the First Week of Lent
There are 36 days til Easter!
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 20

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

Here he does not narrate a vision but an event which really happened. It is a simple historical narrative, that some of the elders of Israel were chosen to interrogate him. We know this to be customary, and when God separates His people from the profane nations, he opposes his prophets to the soothsayers and magi, augurs and astrologers. For he says that the Gentiles inquire what concerns them in various ways, and so interrogate their deities; but that he prescribes to the chosen people but one method: I will raise for them a prophet from the midst of their brethren, says Moses, (Deuteronomy 18:18;) that is, they need not wander about, like the wretched gentiles, destitute of counsel, first to their soothsayers, then to magi, and then to astrologers: there is no end to them’ but I will meet them, says he, by my prophets, who shall always exist among the people. In this sense Ezekiel says that the elders of Israel came to consult God. The verb, דרש, deresh, properly signifies “to seek” but it is here received for “to consult” or “inquire into,” as in many other places. Now it is not surprising that the elders came by public consent to the Prophet: for the Israelites were already worn out by long weariness, and thought that they had almost perished through their long exile. But there was another reason, since false prophets, as we saw, tickled the ears of the simple by offering them daily some new hope. Since therefore they were agitated between hope and fear, and the devil scattered false prophecies which distracted the minds of the vulgar, it is probable that the elders of Israel came and were sent to inquire concerning either the prosperous or disastrous event of their captivity. They come therefore to the prophets; he says it happened in the seventh year, that is, after the captivity of Jehoiakim. They reckoned the years from that change, and deservedly so: for so remarkable an act of God’s vengeance ought to be kept constantly in remembrance. There was also another reason, since God gave some hope of restoration. The reckoning of the years, then, which the Israelites dated from Jehoiakim’s exile, had a twofold use and end, first, that God’s judgment might remain fixed in their minds, and next, that they might nevertheless refresh their spirits by the hope of good. Hence as often as they dated the first year or the second, it was just as if they kept before their eyes that slaughter by which God testified himself grievously offended. But for another reason they ought to cheer their spirits by good hopes, because if the kingdom had been utterly abolished and no promise added to lighten their sorrow, that reckoning was superfluous, since in a state of desperation we do not take an account of years: but when seventy years were fixed, they nourished and cherished hope in this way, because they renewed the remembrance of their liberty, which had been promised them by the mouth of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 25:12, and Jeremiah 29:10.) Now therefore we understand why he simply says the seventh year he mentions also the day and the month.

Now the Clause which I have noticed contains some useful instruction, — the elders of Israel came to consult God and sat before the Prophet. We see, then, as far as concerns outward forms, that they followed what God had commanded in his law; lest you should say, Who shall ascend above the clouds? who shall descend into the abyss? who shall cross the sea? The word is ever there, in thy heart and in thy mouth. (Deuteronomy 30:12; Romans 10:6.) Since therefore God in some way brought himself forward whenever he instructed his servants by the spirit of prophecy, so when the elders of Israel came to the Prophet, they are said to come to God himself, because God was unwilling to utter his own oracles either from heaven or by means of angels, but he appointed his servant by whom he would speak, and suggested what he should say. Hence we gather that our faith is not rightly founded unless when we listen to God alone, who only deserves and claims us as listeners. But at the same time, we must remark that faith was joined with humility and modesty. Hence if any one desires to ascend to the clouds to inquire what God will answer, he departs far from him, although he pretends to approach him. Hence this moderation is to be observed, that our faith may acquiesce in the authority of the one God, and not be carried hither and thither by the will of men; and yet it should not object to here God speak through his servants, but calmly submit itself to the prophets. It now follows —

Verse 3

Here the Prophet is ordered to blame those elders, although they pretended to rare piety in inquiring of him: God says that they did not come with a right disposition. Many translate otherwise — if I shall be found, or be en-treated by you, or if I shall answer: thus they take the word, דרש, deresh, in a double sense: in the first clause, for to seek or interrogate; but when it is added, as I live, etc., they do not take the word by “to be sought” or “interrogated,” but by “to answer” or “be entreated.” But this seems far-fetched and in Ezekiel 14:3, a phrase not unlike this was explained; and hence we may gather, that God rather inveighs against the people’s hypocrisy than rejects them, and refuses to answer. There the Prophet said that the elders came to consult him, as if they had been his best disciples; but as Ezekiel might be deceived by that deceptive picture, God meets him, and says, Do you think that they come to inquire of me? They are fixed upon their idols; for their heart is towards them, and they raise their eyes to their own abominations: As I live, if they seek me, says he; that is, it is easy to convict them of bad faith, when they come suppliantly to inquire of thee. For if they truly and heartily sought me, they would renounce their idols, and would no longer partake of their abominations; but they do not repent, but remain obstinate in their wickedness. It is certain, therefore, that they are by no means sincere: there is no reason why you should delay them, or trouble yourself about them, since their conduct is mere dissimulation. So, therefore, in this passage God pronounced by his Prophet, are you come to seek me? that is, to consult me. I will not be inquired of by you, says he: the reason is, because, as we saw in the Ezekiel 14:0 th, they always remained the same, since therefore they were at the greatest distance from God, and remained wrapped up in their own abominations, their seeking God was only fallacious. The conclusion is, that God rejected them, because, though they pretended a holy zeal, they were still perverse in their disposition; hence God refuses to discharge the office of a master towards them since they did not come to learn: this is one point. He then says, if I shall be inquired of by you. And because their hypocrisy was stained by various colors, God swears that their disposition was perverse, and that they did not come with pious and holy affections, and were neither docile nor obedient, nor desirous of making progress, and hence were unworthy of having him for a teacher. Now let us go on.

Verse 4

The context flows very well if we embrace this sense, that God swears that the Israelites did not come to be subject to his Prophet, and to submit themselves modestly to his instructions. If this sense pleases, it is well added, shall you judge them? that is, shall you spend thy breath in arguing with them? He means that they are rather to be dismissed than instructed; as Christ says, You shall not cast pearls before swine. (Matthew 7:6.) And we know what God pronounces: My Spirit shall not always strive with man, because he is flesh. (Genesis 6:3.) He now means that there was no need of any dispute, since there was no means of carrying it on; so in this passage, since the Prophet was dealing with men utterly broken down, who never listened to wise counsels, nor obeyed any admonitions, nor were softened by any chastisement, he adds, therefore, shall you judge them? Some indeed coldly and insipidly explain this of taking away the part of a judge, since God rather wishes them to be called to repentance than to be condemned. But here judging embraces within itself all reproaches and threats. On the whole, since they acted deceitfully, and by no means proposed to submit themselves to God, hence he uses this bitterness, What! are they worthy of your judging them? that is, of your contending with them? for the Prophet’s duty is to argue with sinners, to threaten them, and to cite them to God’s tribunal. God, therefore, pronounces them unworthy of such disputing, because they are not only deaf, but, hardened by abandoned obstinacy. Now, therefore, we understand the sense of the words, wilt you judge them? will you judge them? The repetition is emphatic, that God may strongly express the obstinacy of that desperate people. He afterwards adds, If this be done, then show them the abominations of their fathers. God here mitigates the asperity which he had used, and by means of a correction descends to a reason for it, namely, that he may for once try whether or not they are curable. If then they are to be judged, that is, if he chooses to enter into any dispute, and to argue with them, he says that he ought to begin not with themselves, but with their fathers. God wishes them to be judged, not only on account of the wickedness of a few years, but because before they were born their fathers were obstinately attached to their abominations. In fine, God shows that the wound was deep, and could not be cured, unless the hidden poison was carefully examined, which otherwise would cause putrid matter, from which at length inflammation would arise. For many think that they have properly discharged their duty when they have but lightly probed their wounds: but sometimes it is necessary to penetrate to the inmost parts, as the people had not only provoked God lightly, and for a short time, but their impiety had been growing for ages, and their sins had become a kind of inheritance to them. Since, then, this hidden poison existed, which could not be cured either easily or by any slight remedy, hence God orders them to begin with their fathers. Show them, therefore, the abominations of their fathers. It follows —

Verse 5

God confirms what I said before, that the Jews were not to be reproved for beginning lately to sin: it was not sufficient to bring recent offenses before them; but God orders the Prophet to begin with their fathers, as if he had said that the nation was abandoned from the very beginning, as Stephen reproaches them: Uncircumcised in heart, you still resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers always did. (Acts 7:51.) And Christ had said the same thing before: You fill up the measure of your fathers. (Matthew 23:32.) We know also how frequently rebukes of this kind occur in the Prophets. God therefore says, that from the time when he chose the seed of Israel, he had experienced both the wickedness and obstinacy of the people; for he says that they were not drawn aside by either error or ignorance, but because they were unwilling to hear, when they were over and over again admonished as to their duty. Hence three things are to be marked, namely, that the people were bound to God, since he had gratuitously adopted them; for God here commends his gratuitous election, together with the singular benefits which he had conferred on that people: this is one point. The second is, that he not only took them once to himself, but showed them what was right, so that they could not mistake, except knowingly and willfully: this is the second point. Then the third is, that they rebelled purposely, because they would not listen: for if they had been left at the meeting of two roads, their error had been excusable if they had turned to the left instead of the right. But if God by his law so shone before them, that he was prepared to direct them straight to the mark, and they turned aside; thus their obstinacy and rebellion is plainly detected. This is the sense.

Now as far as words are concerned, he says, that he had chosen Israel. But election, as I have already briefly touched upon, is opposed to all merits: for if anything had been found in the people which should cause them to be preferred to others, it would be improperly said that God had elected them. But since all were in the same condition, as Moses says in his song (Deuteronomy 32:8,) there was scope for God’s grace, since he separated them from others of his own accord: for they were just like the rest, and God did not find any difference between them; we see, then, that they were bound to God more sacredly, since he had joined them to himself gratuitously. He now adds, that he lifted up his hand to the seed of Jacob. The lifting up the hand seems to be taken here in different senses. Since it was a customary method of swearing, God is said sometimes to lift up his hand when he swears. That is indeed harsh, since the lifting up the hand does not suit God: for we lift up the hand when we call God to witness; but God swears by himself, and cannot raise his hand above himself. But we know that he uses forms of speech according to the common customs of men: hence there is nothing absurd in this phrase, he lifted up his hand, that is, he swore. Hence, if we may so explain it, this was a confirmation of the covenant, when God by interposing a oath promised himself to be Israel’s God. But since he shortly afterwards adds, that he was known, the other sense suits pretty well, since it refers to the benefits which he had conferred upon the people. And truly experimental knowledge is intended, since God really proved himself to be worthy of credit, and thus illustrated his own power in preserving the people. Hence I said that to lift up the hand is to be received variously in this chapter, since, if we read the two clauses conjointly, I lifted up my hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and was made known to them, truly the lifting up the hand will imply a display of power. That also has been said by means of a simile; but shortly afterwards the lifting up of the hand must be taken for to swear, by the figure of rhetoric called catachresis, which is the use of a word in a different signification, and yet there is no absurdity.

I have raised my hand, therefore, to the seed of the house of Jacob, saying, I Jehovah am your God. (Ezekiel 20:5.)

We see, then, that God raised his hand to sanction the covenant which he had made; for when he pronounces himself their God, he binds them to himself, and claims them for his peculiar people, and thus confirms his covenant. But at the same time he had raised his hand or arm by so many miracles performed in freeing the people. He says, in that day I raised my hand to, or towards them, to bring them out. Again, the raising the hand refers to God’s power, since he brought them forth by an extended arm from that miserable slavery. Since, therefore, he so raised his hand, he acquired them as his own, that they should no longer be free, but belong altogether to him. He afterwards adds other benefits, since he not only snatched them from the tyranny of Pharaoh, but brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey, which he had espied for them. We see how briefly God enlarges upon that remarkable benefit which he had bestowed upon his people. Not only was he their Redeemer, but he looked out for a place of residence for them, not only commodious, but abounding with plenty; for this phrase is common enough with Moses. In that same day in which I led them out of Egypt, I brought them into a land, the desire of all lands; that is, which is desirable and superior to all other lands. It is true, indeed, that other nations were not less fruitful; but God, in thus praising the land of Canaan. considers it, clothed and adorned by his bounty. But there was no region under heaven to be compared with the land of Canaan in one point, namely, God’s choosing it as his earthly dwelling place. Since the land of Canaan excelled all others in this respect, it is deservedly called the desire of all lands, or desirable beyond all lands.

Another clause now follows, that God instructed the Jews in piety, and withdrew them from all the idolatries to which they had been devoted. Instruction then went before, which showed them the right way of salvation, and recalled them from their superstitions. The meaning is, that when God adopted the people, he gave them the rule of living piously, that they should not be tossed about hither and thither, but. have an aim, to which they might direct the whole course of their life. I said, therefore, to each of them: this seems more emphatic than if he had spoken to all promiscuously and generally: but this familiar invitation ought to penetrate more into their minds, when he speaks to each individually, just as if he said, let each of you cast away your abominations, and not pollute himself anymore with the idols of Egypt. When therefore God thus attached them to himself, he shows that he could not be rightly worshipped by them unless they bid their idolatries farewell, and formed their whole life according to the rule of his law. He calls their enticements defilements or idols of the eyes: but we know that the Prophet often speaks thus, that unbelievers should consider their idols. Hence it is just as if God recalled them from all the wiles of Satan in which they were enticed, and were so devoted to them as to have their eyes exclusively fixed on them. He speaks by name of the idols of Egypt: whence it easily appears that they were corrupted by depraved desires, so as for the most part to worship the fictitious gods of Egypt. Yet they knew themselves elected by the true God, and boasted in circumcision as a symbol of divorce from all nations. Yet though they wished to be thought illustrious on the one hand, they afterwards prostituted themselves so as to differ in nothing from the Egyptians. We see then that the desire of piety was almost extinct in their hearts, since they had so contaminated themselves with the superstitions of Egypt. That he might retain them the better, he says at the same time that he was their God: for without this principle men are tossed hither and thither, for we know that we are lighter than vanity. Hence the devil will always find us subject to his fallacies unless God restrains us in our duty, until he appears to us and shows himself the only God: we see then the necessity for this remedy, lest men should be carried away by idolatries, namely, the knowledge of the true God. The third clause will follow afterwards, but we shall explain it in its turn.

Verse 8

In the last lecture I began to explain the eighth verse, where God complains that he was exasperated by the children of Israel when he had begun to extend his hand to free them. He says, then, that they had rejected his grace. But at the same time we see that all pretense of ignorance was removed, because unless Moses had exhorted them to good hope, they would have pretended. to be so deserted through two centuries, that they had hoped for help from God in vain. But since Moses was a witness of their redemption, hence their ingratitude was the more without excuse, since they were unwilling to embrace the message which they had so greatly desired. Nor is the language of Moses vain, that they often cried out in their calamities. Although their clamor was turbulent, yet they doubtless remembered what they had heard from their fathers, that the end of those evils was at hand to which God had fixed an appointed time. But more is expressed in this passage than Moses relates, who simply says, because they saw themselves treated too roughly, that they were worn down and disgusted: hence those expostulations — You have made our name to stink before Pharaoh: God shall judge between you and us: Judea you gone from us. (Exodus 5:21.) We do not then clearly collect from Moses that they were rebels against God, since they had not cast away their idols and superstitions, but the probable conjecture is that they were, so rooted in their filth, that they repelled God’s hand from succoring them. And truly if they had promptly embraced what Moses had promised them in God’s name, the accomplishment would have been readier and swifter: but we may understand that their sloth was the hindrance to the exertion of God’s hand in their favor and to the real fulfillment of his promises. God ought indeed to contend, with Pharaoh, that his power might be more conspicuous: but the people would not have been so tyrannously afflicted, unless they had closed the door against God’s mercy. They were, as we have said, immersed in their defilement’s from which God wished to withdraw them. He now accuses them of ingratitude, because they did not cast away their idols, but obstinately persisted in their usual and customary superstitions. He speaks of the time of their captivity in Egypt, and this passage assures us that while there they were infected and polluted by Egyptian defilement’s. For the contagion of idolatry is wonderful: for since we are all naturally inclined to it as soon as any example is offered to us, we are snatched in that direction by a violent impulse. It is not surprising then that the children of Israel contracted pollution from the superstitions of Egypt, especially as they lived there as slaves, and were desirous of gratifying the Egyptians: for if they had been treated liberally, they might have lived freely after their custom, but since they were not free and were oppressed as slaves, it happened that they pretended to worship the gods of Egypt according to the will of those by whom they saw themselves oppressed: and not only did they sin by pretending, but it is probable that they were impelled by their own lusts as well as by fear: for it will soon be evident that they were too inclined to impiety of their own accord.

On the whole, Ezekiel here testifies that they were rebels against God, because they did not listen to God by casting away the idols of their eyes, that is, to the worship of which they were too attentive, nor did they desert the idols of Egypt. When he speaks of the idols of their eyes, we gather what I have touched upon, that they were not impelled to idolatry by fear and necessity, but by their own depraved appetites: For unless they had been eagerly devoted to Egyptian superstitions, Ezekiel would not have called them idols of the eyes. Hence by this word he means that they were not only superstitious through obedience to the Egyptians, but were spontaneously inclined towards them. Besides, when he adds the idols of Egypt, he points out as the occasion of their corruption their spending time under that tyranny, and their being compelled to bear many evils, since slavery commonly draws with it dissimulation. It now follows, And I said I would pour forth, that is, I determined to pour forth. God here signifies that he was inflamed by anger, and unless they had respect to his name he would not withdraw his hand from the vengeance to which it was armed and prepared. We know that this does not properly belong to God, but this is, the language of accommodation, since first of all, God is not subject to vengeance, and, secondly, does not decree what he may afterwards retract. But since these things are not in character with God, simile and accommodation are used. As often as the Holy Spirit uses these forms of speech, let us learn that they refer rather to the matter in hand than to the character of God. God determined to pour forth his anger, that is, the Israelites had so deserved it through their crimes, that it was necessary to execute punishment upon them. The Prophet simply means that the people’s disposition was sinful, and hence God’s wrath would have been poured out, unless he had been held back from some other cause. I have already touched upon the obstacle, because he consulted his honor lest it should be profaned.

I have decreed, therefore, to pour forth my burning fury upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt. Some translate, to consume them, but improperly, for the word, כלה, keleh, signifies to fill up or accomplish, as well as to consume. But although God sometimes says that he consumes all his weapons or scourges in the punishment of men’s sins, yet it is not suitable to transfer this to his wrath itself. Hence another sense will suit better, namely, that God decreed to pour out his wrath until he satisfied himself. For here, as we have said, he puts on the character of an angry man, who cannot appease his mind otherwise than by satiating it by the exaction of punishment: for anger is usually inexhaustible. But God on the whole here expresses that such was the atrocity of their wickedness, that the Israelites deserved destruction through the pouring forth of God’s wrath and the filling up of the measure of his indignation; and that in the midst of the land of Egypt; because they had shown themselves unworthy of his redemption, and hence it was enough for them to perish in the midst of the land of Egypt. But he afterwards added —

Verse 9

Here God signifies that he was restrained for one reason only from entirely blotting out so ungrateful and wicked a nation, namely, since he saw his own sacred name would be exposed to the Gentiles as a laughing-stock. He teaches, therefore, that he spared them, and suspended his rigor for the time, rather through being induced by regard to his own glory than by pity to them. Hence, by the word I did it, we ought to understand what will be more clearly explained. The sense is, that he abstained from the final act of vengeance for his name’s sake, that it should not be profaned among the Gentiles. Although God here pronounces that he had respect rather to himself than to them, yet there is no doubt that he spared them, because he saw that they could not be otherwise preserved than by his pardoning them even in such hardness and obstinacy; and certainly God’s glory and the salvation of the Church are things almost inseparably united. When I speak of the salvation of the Church, I do not comprehend all those who profess to be its members, but I mean only the elect. Since, therefore, God had adopted that nation, he must preserve the remnant in safety, otherwise his truth would have failed, and thus his name would have been much more severely profaned. Hence we may gather, whenever God pardons us, though he regards himself, and wishes in this way to exercise his clemency, yet his pity towards us is another reason for his pardoning us: but when he says that he has withdrawn his hand from vengeance through regard for His own glory, he in this way prostrates still more the pride of this nation, since, whenever he had pity on them, they thought it a concession to their own worthiness and merits. The Prophet therefore shows here that they were snatched from destruction, while they were remaining in the land of Egypt, for no other reason than this, that God was unwilling to expose his name to the contempt of the nations. He says, therefore,in the eyes of the Gentiles, among whom they were, regarding not the Egyptians only, but others.

Yet the question arises, in what sense, he adds by and by, that he was known to them? for as yet he had given no specimen of his power among the Gentiles. He had borne witness by two miracles that Moses should be the agent in their redemption, (Exodus 4:2, and following:) afterwards Moses approached Pharaoh himself: there God put forth the signs of his power, which deservedly frightened all the Egyptians; but his fame had not yet reached other nations. But this knowledge ought not to be simply restricted to past time; for God only means that he had already begun to show, by certain and remarkable proofs, that Moses was chosen, by whose hand he wished to redeem his own people. Since, therefore, God had. already come forward with those remarkable signs, he says, that he was known to those nations, not that his fame had reached them, but because he had gone there himself, so that the event could not be in obscurity, and all must know that miracles had been performed by the hand of Moses, by which it was evident that he wished to claim the Israelites as his own. Now, therefore, we understand in what sense Ezekiel says that God was known. Some explain this relatively thus: I was known to them, meaning the Israelites, in their eyes, meaning the Gentiles: but this sense seems to me forced; for in my opinion this one word “their,” in the Prophet’s language, is superfluous. He simply means that God was manifested in the eyes of all the nations in leading them forth. This clause shows the kind of knowledge intended, since God showed his power in liberating the people by remarkable miracles. It follows —

Verse 10

After Ezekiel had taught that the Israelites deserved to perish in Egypt, unless God had spared them for his name’s sake rather than for their own, he now adds the cause of their coming forth, which was the promotion of his own glory. Hence, therefore, we gather that the Israelites falsely imagined any other cause of their deliverance than that respect of which the Prophet now speaks. But this is more than if he had simply said that they were snatched from the tyranny of Egypt by God’s gratuitous pity, since God gratuitously stretched out his hand towards them, and was so induced by feelings of humanity and clemency as to snatch away from their miseries the innocent who were unjustly afflicted; but he here excludes them from God’s clemency, because they were unworthy of his notice. I said, indeed, that two things were united, the salvation of the Church and the glory of God; but at the same time I noticed that the Prophet’s intention must be considered, since he wished to withdraw all confidence from such a proud people, and to show that, as far as they could, they had always repelled God’s favor by their obstacles, unless he had overcome their wickedness by his untiring goodness. It follows —

Verse 11

Here God enlarges upon his favors, since he had given his law to the Israelites, as if he would prescribe to them a certain rule of living. If they had only been brought out of Egypt, that would have been an inestimable benefit: but God was much more generous, since he deigned to rule them familiarly with his doctrine, lest they should wander to one side or the other; and in this way he testified that he would be their God. He adds a promise: for God might precisely enjoin what he wished on the people of his choice; but he spontaneously adopts the method of indulgence by promising them life. Now, then, we understand why this promise is mentioned; for God might simply command anything, and say, this pleases me, and use but a monosyllable, after the manner of kings issuing a command. Since, then, God not only exacted of the Israelites what he might justly require, but, by annexing a promise, enticed them gently to the pursuit of obedience, this was certainly a mark of his fatherly indulgence. Hence he now exaggerates the people’s ingratitude by this circumstances, that neither by commands nor by kindness could he induce these obstinate and perverse dispositions to bend to the yoke. I gave them, therefore, my statutes and my laws; and afterwards, which if a man do, he shall live in them. He thus briefly reminds them, that it was not his fault if the Israelites were not in any sense happy; for when he stipulated with them for the observance of his law, he bound them in turn to himself, that they should want nothing which contributed to a good and happy life; for in the name of life solid happiness is comprehended.

Yet it is here asked how the Prophet testifies that men should live by the works of the law, when the law, on the testimony of Paul, can only bring us death. (Romans 4:15; Deuteronomy 30:15.) He took this testimony from Moses, and we shall see immediately that he cites it in a different sense. Moses there pronounces that the life of man rests on the observance of the law; that is, — life was surely to be expected through satisfying the law. Some think this absurd, and so restrict what is said to the present life, taking he shall live in them politically or civilly: but this is a cold and trifling comment. The reasoning which influenced them is readily answered: they object, that we owe all things to God; that we ourselves and our possessions are all his by the right of possession; so that if we keep the law a hundred times over, still we are not, worthy of such a reward. But the solution is at hand, that we deserve nothing, but God graciously binds himself to us by this promise, as I have already touched upon. And from this passage it is easy to infer that works are of no value before God, and are not estimated for their intrinsic value, so to speak, but only by agreement. Since, then, it pleased God to descend so far as to promise life to men if they kept his law, they ought to accept this offer as springing from his liberality. There is no absurdity, then, if men do live, that is, if they deserve eternal life according to agreement. But if any one keeps the law, it will follow that he has no need of the grace of Christ. For of what advantage is Christ to us unless we recover life in him? but if this is placed in ourselves, the remedy must not be thought anywhere but in ourselves. Every one, then, may be his own savior if life is placed the observance of the law. But Paul solves this difficulty for us when he determines for us a twofold righteousness of the law and of faith. (Romans 10:5.) He says that this righteousness is of the law when we keep God’s precepts. Now, since we are far distant from such obedience, nay, the very faculty of keeping the law is altogether defective in us: hence it follows that we must fly to the righteousness of faith. For he defines the righteousness of faith, if we believe Christ to be dead, and to be risen again for our justification. We see, therefore, although God promised salvation to his ancient people, if they only kept the law, yet that promise was useless, since no one could satisfy the law and perform God’s commands. Here another question arises. For if this promise does not take effect, God vainly reckons that as a benefit to the Israelites which we see was offered them in vain: hence no utility or fruit would arise from it. But some one may say that the imagination was fallacious, when God promised life, and now by his Prophet blames the Israelites for despising such a benefit. But the reply is easy: although men are not endued with the power of obeying the law, yet they ought not on that account to depart from the goodness of God; for men’s declension by no means hinders them from estimating the value of so liberal a promise: God is treating with men: he might then, as I have said, imperiously demand whatever he pleased, and exact it with the utmost rigor; but he treats according to an agreement, and so there is a mutual obligation between himself and the people. No one will surely deny that God here exhibits a specimen of his mercy when he deigns thus familiarly to make a covenant with men. “Ah! but this is all in vain: God’s promise is of no effect, because no one is able to keep the law.” I confess it: but man’s declension cannot, as I have said, abolish the glory of God’s goodness, since that always remains fixed, and God still acts liberally in being willing thus to enter into covenant with His people. We must then consider the subject simply, and by itself: man’s declension is accidental. God then put forth a remarkable proof of His goodness, in promising life to all who kept His law: and this will remain perfect and entire. It now follows —

Verse 12

Besides the law God here commends his Sabbaths, which we know to be only a part of His law: nay, whoever compares the commandments one by one, will at first sight perceive more weight in others than in the fourth. For what is the meaning of that commandment, You shall not have any strange god? You shall not make any idols? Afterwards, Do not take God’s name in vain? (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7.) I answer, that the Prophet takes one precept of the law the better to explain what I have already touched on before, namely, that the law was given to the Israelites to bind them more and more to their benefactor. For God was unwilling to cast them away after redeeming them: but he testified by his law that he would be the guide of their whole life. Still the Prophet looked further, meaning, that the law consisted not only of the commandments, but embraced the whole grace of God, on which the adoption of the nation depended. For if God had simply commanded either one thing or another, it would not have been easy to perceive and taste his goodness. Why so? because when he calls upon us to discharge a duty, every one, feels that a greater burden is imposed on him than he can bear. Even if the promise should entice us by its sweetness, — he who does these things shall live in them; yet when we try, we are deficient through being destitute of all power. But the Prophet means that something else was intended by the Sabbath, that the Israelites might acknowledge themselves separated by God, so as to experience him for their Father in all things. Hence, though the precepts of the law were somewhat distasteful; yet, as the fourth commandment has in it a gratuitous promise, it has a different savor, since the people thus recognizes itself as elected by God for a peculiar nation: and this the Prophet sufficiently expresses by the word sanctifying, for it means that the people were separated from the profane nations to be God’s peculiar inheritance. If any one wishes to render sanctify by one word it will be, “to separate.” But the meaning of separation ought to be explained. How, then, did God separate a certain people from the whole world? Why, by promising to Abraham that he would be a God to his seed. (Genesis 22:17.) Then he could not otherwise be their God than by gratuitously loving his elect, by regenerating them by his Spirit, and becoming propitious and easily entreated: and besides, a single people could not be separated from others without a mediator. For separation cannot last unless the people be united to God; and what bond of union is there without a mediator?

Now, therefor, we understand why the Prophet speaks of the Sabbath, since he had formerly commended the whole law, of which the Sabbath was a part, namely, because it displayed God’s gratuitous adoption; and at the same time the Israelites might acknowledge that the way of approach to God was open to them, and he was rendered placable; then that they were not adopted in vain, but were sought by God, that he should renew them by his Spirit, and rule the whole course of their life. It was, then, the greatest ingratitude to break the Sabbath, as will be said shortly afterwards. But this passage teaches that God was not pleased with the people’s quiet or ease when he commanded them to keep the seventh day holy, but he has another intention. Whence we gather that that precept was shadowy: for there are some things which please God of themselves, and must be performed; but others have a different object. For to worship one God, to abominate idols, to use God’s name reverently, these things are, as I have said, the simple duties of piety in themselves: so the honor which sons pay to their parents is a duty pleasing to God in itself, like chastity, abstinence, and such like. But Sabbaths do not please God simply and by themselves. We ought, therefore, to look for another purpose, if we wish to understand the reason of this precept. And hence Paul says, that Sabbaths were shadows of those things of which Christ is the substance. (Colossians 2:16.) This, therefore, is one point. Ezekiel is not the first who says so, though he took it from Moses; for though he does not clearly say in so many words that the Sabbath was the symbol of sanctification, yet he afterwards shows this to be its object, (Exodus 31:13,) and that God commanded the people to rest on the seventh day with this intent. Moses then himself shows that the command had another object, which Ezekiel interprets for us; but the matter is made much clearer in the Gospel, since in Christ the truth and substance of this precept is set forth, which Paul calls the body. I have, then, sufficiently explained this object., namely, that the Israelites might know God to be their sanctifier. But if we desire to understand the matter better, we ought first to lay it down that the Sabbath was the sign of mortification. God, therefore, sanctifies us; because when we remain in our natural state we are there mixed with others, and have nothing different from unbelievers: hence, therefore, it is necessary to begin by dying to ourselves and the world, and by exercising self-denial; and this depends on the grace of God. But I perceive that I cannot complete the subject today so I shall put it off till tomorrow.

Verse 13

Here God pronounces that the sons were like their fathers; and that the people, after their deliverance from Egypt, were so obstinate in their wickedness as not to profit in any way. He had complained already before of their rejecting his grace: for it is equivalent to rejecting all offers to be corrupted by superstitions, and not to cleanse themselves from that defilement, although they knew it to be abominable before God. But after the law was promulgated, they then might have put away their perverse affections. And surely redemption ought to have conformed them to obey God; when they beheld his hand stretched out as it were from heaven, how was it that this spectacle did not avail to humble them, and to make them submissive to God? But in addition to the teaching of the law, God’s promise was given, by which he bore witness to them, that, if they sought from him the spirit of regeneration, the Sabbath would be really given them as a pledge and sign of it; and since all these things produced no effect, that was a proof of astounding contumacy. God says, therefore, that he obtained nothing more in the desert than he had formerly experienced from the people under their Egyptian tyranny: then, also, says he, the house of Israel exasperated me in the desert. The circumstance of place must be noticed, because they were wonderfully rescued by God’s incredible power, and they depended every moment on his good pleasure; for there they wanted food and drink: God daily rained down manna from heaven, and brought them water from the rock. (Exodus 16:14; Numbers 11:9; Deuteronomy 8:15.) Since, therefore, necessity compelled them every moment to look to God, was it not more than brutal stupidity to exasperate God? When men grow wanton, it arises from becoming intoxicated by prosperity, and forgetful of their lot through not feeling how much they need God’s help. But when death is presented to our view, when terror hems us in on every side, when God is up in arms against us, what madness it is to despise him! We see, then, why the Prophet dwells so on this point.

He says too, they did not walk in God’s precepts, and they despised his judgments. He confirms what was said yesterday, that they were not deceived through ignorance, but manifested utter contempt of God, since they knew well enough what was pleasing to him. Since, then, they had a sure rule which could not deceive them, we see how they wandered away after their own superstitions by deliberate wickedness. This is the reason, then, why Ezekiel says that they despised God’s judgments. He repeats the promise which I expounded yesterday. For this reason also availed to exaggerate their crime, namely, the mildness of God in deigning to allure, them: he did not command them, exactingly and imperiously, as he might have done, but he entered into a covenant with them, and testified that a reward was prepared for them if they kept the law. Since, therefore, they neglected this promise, we see that they were not only rebels, but ungrateful to God. He adds, they had polluted his Sabbaths; which I refer not only to the outward rite, but rather to the inward spirit. It is true, indeed, that their impiety was sufficiently notorious as to outward desecration, as it appears from the seventeenth chapter of Jeremiah, when he says, that they carried their burdens on the Sabbath, and occupied themselves in common business. (Jeremiah 17:21.) There is no doubt that they broke the Sabbath when they then promiscuously transacted their own business. But when it is added, that they violated the Sabbath greatly or grievously, we may understand that profanation is denoted in the mystery itself, since they struck off the yoke, and gave the rein to their own desires: for Isaiah also shows that the Sabbath was violated in this way, especially when the will of men is consulted. (Isaiah 58:13.) For hypocrites think they have discharged every duty by abstaining from all work; but the Prophet replies that this is a mere laughing-stock, since they fast on a Sabbath for strife and contention, and then that they gratify their will, which is opposed to self-denial. Hence God not only accuses the ancient people here for not hallowing the Sabbath, but also for neglecting its legitimate object and use. He now repeats what we saw yesterday. I have determined, therefore, to pour out upon them mine anger in the desert to consume them. If it is asked when this was done, it is sufficient to reply, that God’s wrath was frequently inflamed by the people’s wickedness. For although Moses does not verbally relate every event, yet there is no doubt that God often threatened the people with destruction, as we shall soon see with reference to their dispersion. It follows, I did it for my name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the eyes of the Gentiles. God repeats again that he was appeased, not because he pardoned them, but because he was unwilling to allow his name to become a laughing-stock among the nations. We said that in this way God’s twofold pity is commended, as he had already gratuitously adopted the people: hence their redemption could only be ascribed to his sole and gratuitous liberality, since it flowed from the election or adoption which we have mentioned. But though this was one kind of mercy, yet it did not suffice to render the people worthy of the grace offered them. Hence it came to pass that the promise given to Abraham could not profit them, unless God conquered the nation’s iniquity. This is the meaning of the Prophet when he says, that the people were preserved, although unworthy of it, since God saw that otherwise his name would be profaned among the nations. Without doubt he had respect to the covenant, since the Israelites had perished a hundred times over without any help from the name of God unless he had adopted them. It was necessary, therefore, that God should spare them, since their preservation was connected with his sacred name and regard for his covenant. It now follows —

Verse 15

God here shows that his threats were ineffectual, even when he inflicted severe punishment, yet the people were not broken down and subdued: and this is a sign of a most perverse disposition. The foolish are at length corrected with rods, but when those who are chastised become worse instead of repenting, they betray their desperate character. God therefore here signifies that the Israelites were of an abandoned disposition, because there were no means of bringing them back to good conduct. At first he enticed them by his mercy, then gave them the law, and added a sacrament, as we have seen; but this proved wholly useless: what remained then, except to terrify them partly by threats and partly by punishments? He tried both, for he threatened them when they sinned, without any advantage: then he showed them in reality that theirs was no vain terror, since all those died in the desert who had refused to go forward when he called them into the land of Canaan. (Numbers 32:10.) Since, they were not bent by those signs of God’s wrath, their contumacy appears so great, that they ought to perish a hundred times over. I also, says he, raised my hand; he doubtless means that he swore, as we gather from Moses and from the Psalms, I swore in my wrath if they should enter into my rest. (Psalms 95:11.) He says then that he raised his hand; we have explained whence the simile is taken, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them. Here God emphatically shows how formidable that punishment was, as it deprived them of that sure heritage which he had bestowed on them: for before they were born they were lords of the land of Canaan — since four hundred years before it was promised to Abraham in their name. Since they cast themselves off from this inheritance, they plainly displayed their slothfulness:I had given them an inheritance, says he, for they compelled me to swear: I swore that they should not reach it. He adds, a land flowing with milk and honey, desired by all nations. By these words he enlarges upon the people’s ingratitude, since they despised no mean benefit, but a land in which they might dwell happily. For God had so enriched it with his gifts, that they might have been as it were in paradise. Since then such fertility did not attract them to obey God, hence it appears, that they were in every way refractory. It afterwards follows —

Verse 16

The reason of the oath of which mention has been made is expressed by Moses, because being frightened by a false report they wished to return to Egypt: but here a cause is assigned to their superstitions. (Numbers 13:32, and Numbers 14:1.) But it suits each case well, since if they had been sincerely obedient to God, they would never have refused to remove their camp, and fearlessly to proceed where he commanded them. But since they first detested the land, and then terror and despair seized their minds so that they rejected the inestimable blessing of God, it is clear that not a drop of piety existed in their hearts. Although therefore the special reason why they did not enter the land of Canaan was their refusing to obey the call of God, yet the Prophet adds also their superstitions. For impiety and contempt of God was the reason why they so boldly, proudly, and furiously rejected the grace of God, and wished even to stone Moses, and then when penitent they encouraged each other to return to live again under the tyranny of Egypt. We see, therefore, how the Prophet here lays down general causes from which that impious dislike of the land proceeded, as well as the rejection of the grace of God. He says, therefore, because they had despised my judgments and had not walked in my statutes. He here inverts the order: he had formerly said that they had not walked in his statutes and had despised my judgments; but now he begins with the contempt: and have polluted my Sabbaths, because their hearts went after their idols. The sense is, that they always treated God deceitfully: and although they held that he was to be worshipped formally, yet they were always addicted to various superstitions: as also Stephen reproves them, (Acts 7:40,) for he agrees entirely with our Prophet. As he puts Sabbaths in the plural number, I do not interpret it so strictly as some do, thinking that the Prophet means Sabbaths of years, and afterwards the jubilee: for there were three Sabbaths among the Jews; that is, every seventh day was consecrated to God, and every seventh year, and every fiftieth. Although it is true that years were sabbatical as well as days, yet I do not think that the Prophet is making any subtle distinctions here but I take Sabbath to mean the seventh day. It now follows —

Verse 17

This is added, because God often afflicted the people with heavy punishments, but he restrained himself, that he should not utterly destroy both their persons and their name. He says, then, that he spared them through respect for his own name, as he formerly said, that he should not execute consumption on them; that is, that he should not utterly blot out the memory of them. He did not spare them entirely to foster their depravity by his indulgence, but as we shall afterwards see, he withdrew his hand that he should not consume them, as he might most justly have done. It now follows —

Verse 18

After God has shown that the obstinate wickedness of the people was such that they profited by neither rigor nor clemency, he now says that the sons were altogether like their fathers. For when he says that he turned his discourse to their sons, he obliquely indicates that he was so broken down by their disgust, that he is unwilling to address the deaf. I said, therefore, to their sons: why not to themselves? because they had become obdurate in their impiety, and gave no hope of repentance. Since then God had experienced their utmost obstinacy, he says that he turned his discourse to their sons; Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, and do not observe their judgments. Here God does not speak of bad examples and of plain and palpable crimes, but he uses words seemingly favorable — judgments and statutes. If he had simply said that their fathers were wicked, and hence the sons must take care not to imitate them, that would have been ordinary teaching; but by adaptation he uses honorable expressions, namely, my statutes and judgments. Meanwhile he forbids their posterity to conform to the statutes and laws of their fathers, meaning to their ceremonies and rites. Lest any should object that those statutes were to be observed which tend to a right end, he adds, that you pollute not yourselves with their filth and defilements. Here the former language of accommodation is removed, and God as it were wipes away the coloring, that it may be clearly apparent that those statutes and precepts differed in nothing from thefts, robberies, and adulteries: this is the Prophet’s meaning.

Besides, this passage is worthy of notice, because we may learn from it how frivolous is the excuse of those who boast of their fathers, and arrogantly predict that they will be pardoned if they conform themselves to their example. For God not only forbids us to imitate the gross and open wickedness of our parents, but their laws, statutes, and ceremonies, and whatever is apparently plausible, and seems to the common sense of mankind worthy of praise. And thus the foolishness of the papists is detected, who think that they lie safely concealed under the shield of Ajax, when they boast to us of the examples of their fathers, and the value of antiquity: we clearly see how plainly God’s Spirit refutes them when he pronounces that they must obey his statutes and precepts, and not listen to open wickedness only, but not even to good intentions, as they say, and devotions, and the traditions of the fathers. But what is the worship of God in the papacy in these days but a confused jumble, which they have thrown together from numberless fictions? for whoever will examine all their trifling, will find them fabricated by the will of man; and they are not ashamed to oppose the traditions of their fathers to the word of God. Now, therefore, we see the whole papacy laid prostrate, and all the remarkable traditions of the fathers in which they boast, when the Prophet says, walk you not in the statutes of your fathers. But since antiquity deserves some reverence, it would be gross and barbarous promiscuously to reject all the examples of the fathers: hence we need prudence and selection here, and God’s Spirit suggests this to us when he adds pollution’s or idols. Hence the traditions of the fathers must be examined; and it is a mark of prudent discretion to observe what they contain, and whence they proceed. If we discover that they have no other tendency than to the pure worship of God, we may embrace them; but if they draw us away from the pure and simple worship of God, if they infect true and sincere religion by their own mixtures, we must utterly reject them.

Verse 19

Let us proceed then. I, says he, am Jehovah your God; walk you in my statutes, and observe my judgments. God confirms the former sentence, and at the same time provides a remedy for all corruption’s when he says, walk you in my precepts, because I am your God: for by these words he claims as peculiarly his own what men commonly arrogate to themselves. They do not dare, indeed, to despoil God of his authority, but they carry themselves as his allies, and infect his law with their commentaries, as if it was not sufficient for complete and solid wisdom. Here, therefore, God pronounces himself to be the only lawgiver. If, therefore, I am your God, walk you in. my statutes. Hence it follows, that we indirectly deny God when we turn aside even a little from his law. The passage is remarkable, if we only estimate the Prophet’s language aright. For the two clauses must be read together,because I am your God, therefore walk you in precepts, and thus show that you are my people. But if they are not content with God’s precepts only, but mingle human comments with them, God indirectly teaches that he is not acknowledged, since they deprive him of a portion of his rights; for if God is one, he also is the only lawgiver. It follows —

Verse 20

What he had said generally concerning the commandments he now applies again to the Sabbath, and not without reason. For, as we said yesterday, God not only wished by that day of rest to exact from the people what was due to him, but he rather commands it for another purpose, namely, that his Sabbaths should be sanctified. But the manner of keeping it holy was formerly explained, since mere rest was insufficient. God was not satisfied by the people’s resting from their occupations, but the inward sanctification was always the chief end in view. And for this reason he also repeats again, that they may be a sign between me and you to show you that I Jehovah am your God. In this passage God bears witness, that if the Jews rightly observed their Sabbaths they should feel the effects of that favor which he wished to be represented thereby. For we said that the Sabbath was a sacrament of regeneration: now therefore he promises the efficacy of his Spirit, if they did not shut the door by their own impiety and contempt. Hence we see that sacraments are never destitute of the virtue of the Spirit unless when men render themselves unworthy of the grace offered them. When papists speak of the sacraments they say that they are efficacious, if we only remove the obstacle of mortal sin: they make no mention of faith. If a person is neither a thief, nor an adulterer, nor a homicide, they say that the sacraments produce their own effect: for example, if any one without a single particle of faith intrudes himself at the table of Christ, they say that he receives not only his body and blood, but the fruit of his death and resurrection, and only because he has not committed mortal sin; that is, cannot be convicted of theft or homicide. We see how they are steeped in blindness, according to God’s just judgment. We must hold, therefore, that there is a mutual relation between faith and the sacraments, and hence, that the sacraments are effective through faith. Man’s unworthiness does not detract anything from them, for they always retain their nature. Baptism is the laver of regeneration, although the whole world should be incredulous (Titus 3:5:) the Supper of Christ is the communication of his body and blood, (1 Corinthians 10:16,) although there were not a spark of faith in the world: but we do not perceive the grace which is offered to us; and although spiritual things always remain the same, yet we do not obtain their effect nor perceive their value, unless we cautious that our want of faith should not profane what God has consecrated our salvation. (274)

(274) At a period when the controversy concerning the efficacy of sacraments is revived with all its former virulence, and the authority of Calvin is often called in to decide between conflicting statements, the language of this passage is worthy of special notice. It would startle some of our modern critics to find Calvin calling the Sabbath “a Sacrament of regeneration.” In treating this class of subjects, it is essential to ascertain the exact ideas of the medieval controversialists, and to perceive how very different they were from our own. For example, Protestants of the present day would pronounce any man unsound who allowed of more sacraments than two, while Romanists would require all men to admit them to be seven; yet Calvin would have no objection to the assertion that there are seventy. He used the word for what is now currently expressed by the phrase “the means of grace.” All aids and helps to the cultivation of the life of God in the soul have been termed sacramental; and by using the word in a comprehensive sense, the assertion is strictly true. Sabbaths are to us, as well as to the Jews, means of grace, conducive to regeneration. Calvin also asserts that these means of grace are never destitute of the Holy Spirit’s virtue, except we render ourselves unworthy of the grace which they contain. He differs from the papists, not with reference to what a sacrament is in itself, but as to the need of faith in the recipient for the personal advantage to be derived from it. The opinion is absolutely expressed, that they always retain their nature, on the principle that spiritual things always remain the same: man’s unbelief is said to make no difference as to the reality of the grace inherent in the sacrament; it only affects our reception of it. The spiritual blessing is there: our want of faith is the only cause why the blessing does not pass by the appointed channel to the unworthy recipient. As the sentiments of our Reformer are sometimes quoted in support of views very different from this, the reader’s attention is particularly directed to his commentary on this verse, since the greatest errors arise from interpreting controversial phrases by the modern meaning which the words have acquired.

The history of opinions which have formerly prevailed on subjects deeply interesting to ourselves is always serviceable towards the formation of accurate opinions. Hence we may here refer to Dr. Lawrence’s Bampton Lectures for the year 1804, in which the lecturer has distinctly stated the different views taken by the Papists and the Schoolmen, the Lutherans and the followers of Zwingle and Calvin. In Sermon 6, page 123, he makes the same statement with reference to the papists as Calvin does in his comment on this verse, viz., “asserting, among other extravagancies, that the Sacraments are in themselves efficacious by virtue of their own operation, exclusively of all merit in the recipient.” In notes on Sermon 3, page 276, he adds, “The Lutherans contended that the Holy Spirit was efficacious in baptism;” and quotes Calvin’s letter to Melancthon, “non inanes esse figuras sed reipsa praestari, quidquid figurant. In baptismo adesse spiritus efficaciam, ut nos abluat et regeneret.” See also his opinion on the state of the children of Christians dying unbaptized. Instit., lib. 4. cap. 15, section 22. The view of Zwingle will be found in his Declaratio de peccato originali , Op., volume 2 page 118; and Epist. Urbano Regio, volume 1, p. 383; and of Bullinger, in his treathese adversus Cala-baptistarum prava dogmata , page 57. It will not be expected that the admirers of Calvin will be satisfied with Dr. Lawrence’s reasonings and conclusions; but the notes to his discourses form a most valuable digest of the views of the Schoolmen and the various Reformers of celebrity, selected with judgment from the voluminous disputations of those stirring times. See also the Dissertation on this verse at the end of this volume.

Verse 21

I join these four verses together, because they have been already explained, and I do not wish to burden you with useless repetitions. In short, God accuses the whole posterity, because they were by no means more obedient than their fathers. Again, he charges them with rebellion, since they neither obeyed His commands, nor were persuaded by mild promises; for, on the one hand, he demanded the worship due to him, and invited them softly by the promise of reward. He complains that; neither plan succeeded. He adds, what we have already seen, that he proposed to scatter them through various quarters of the world, and utterly to dissipate them. He assigns as a reason for his moderation his unwillingness that his name should be profaned among the nations: he also announces that they had never restrained their impiety from bursting forth, and hence it was only through his own incredible patience and indulgence that they had not perished a hundred, nay, a thousand times. The rest may be gathered from the previous context. It follows —

Verse 25

Here God announces that he had taken vengeance upon people so hard and obstinate, by permitting them to endure another yoke, since they would not be ruled by the doctrine of the law; for we saw that, when God imposed the law upon the Israelites, they would have been extremely happy, had they only considered how honorable it was to be in covenant with God, who deigned to bind them to himself in mutual fidelity. This was a remarkable honor and privilege, since God not only showed them what was right, but promised them a reward which he by no means owed them. But what was the conduct of that unteachable nation? It threw off the yoke of the law; hence it deserved to experience a different government. God, therefore, gave them laws that were not good, when he suffered them to be miserably subjected to an immense heap of errors: such laws as these were not good. Some writers have violently distorted this passage, by thinking the law itself, as promulgated by Moses, “not good,” since Paul calls it deadly; but they corrupt the Prophet’s sense, since God is comparing his law with the superstitions of the Gentiles: others explain it of the tributes which the people were compelled to pay to foreigners. But, first of all, God does not speak here of only one age; nay, during the, time of the Israelites’ freedom his vengeance was nevertheless severe.

Thus, in the next verse, the Prophet confirms what I have briefly touched on, namely, that the laws called not good are all the fictions of men, by which they harass themselves, while they think that God is worshipped acceptably in this way: for we know how miserably men labor and distract themselves when Satan has fascinated them with his toils, and when they anxiously invent numerous rites, because there is no end of their superstitions; hence these statutes are not good: for when they have undergone much labor in their idolatry, no other reward awaits them than God’s appearance against them as an avenger to punish the profanation of his own lawful worship. They indeed by no means look for this, but they utterly deceive themselves; hence they must hope for no reward but what is founded on the covenant and promise of God; for all false and vicious forms of worship, all adventitious rites, which men heap together from all sides, have no promise from God, and hence they vainly trust to them for life. God began to show them this in the wilderness; but in succeeding ages he did not fail to exercise the same vengeance. We see how they fell in with the superstitions of the Moabites; and why so? unless God blinded them by his just judgments. (Numbers 25:1.) He had experienced their untamed dispositions, and so he set them free from control; and not only so, but afterwards gave them up to Satan, and so he says that he gave them laws that were not good. The Prophet might indeed have said, that they despised God’s law through their own wisdom, that they foolishly and rashly legislated for themselves: this was indeed true; but he wished to express the penalty of which Paul speaks, when he says that the impious were delivered to a reprobate mind, and to obedience to a lie, (Romans 1:24,) since they did not submit to the truth, and did not suffer themselves to be ruled by God, and thus were given up to the tyranny of Satan and to the service of mere creatures. Now, therefore, we understand the Prophet’s meaning, I have given them also, says he, laws not good, as if he had said that the people so threw themselves into various idolatries, that God desired in this way to avenge their incredible obstinacy; for if the Jews had calmly acquiesced in God’s sovereignty, he had not given them evil laws, that is, he had not suffered them to be so tormented under Satan’s tyranny; but when they were entangled in his snares, God openly shows them to be unworthy of his government and care, since they were too refractory. It follows —

Verse 26

There is no doubt that God here continues the same doctrine’ hence we gather that injurious laws were given to the people when they adopted various errors and worshipped idols of their own fabrication instead of God: hence it is added, I polluted them in their gifts. This, then, was added by the Prophet, lest the Jews should object that they had not altogether rejected the worship of God; for they mingled the ceremonies of the laws with the fictions of the Gentiles, as we saw before, and the Prophet will shortly repeat: in this way they thought they discharged their duty to God, though they added mixtures of their own. Here the Prophet meets them, and cuts off all occasion for turning aside, since they were polluted in their gifts, and nothing was pure or sincere when they thus corrupted God’s precepts by their comments. However, they daily offered their gifts, and professed to present them to the true God; yet they obtained no advantage, because God abominated mixtures of this kind, as we have previously said; for he cannot bear to be worshipped by the will of men, but wishes his children to be simply content with his commands. Now, we perceive the meaning of the Prophet — God pollutes them in their gifts; that is, renders their gifts polluting whenever they think that they discharge their duty; — but how? why, he says, when they cause whatever opens the womb to pass through. (280) Here the Prophet touches on only one kind of superstition, but, by a figure of speech, he means all kinds, by which the Jews vitiated God’s pure worship; for this superstition was very detestable, to pass their sons through the fire, and to consecrate them to idols. But in this passage God speaks only of the first-born, so as greatly to exaggerate the crime: that ceremony was indeed general; but since God claimed the first-born as his own, and wished them to be redeemed at a fixed price, (Exodus 13:2, Exodus 22:29, and Exodus 34:19,) and by this act wished the remembrance of their redemption to be kept up, since all the first-born of Israel, as well as of animals, had escaped, while those of the Egyptians perished, (Numbers 3:13, and Numbers 8:16,) was it not monstrous to pass through the fire, and to offer to idols those who were specially devoted and sacred to God? We see, then, that the Prophet does not speak in vain of the first-born.

That I should destroy thou, says he, and they should know that I am Jehovah. God here shows that he had proceeded gradually to the final vengeance; and for this reason the people were the more convicted of stupidity, since they never perceived God’s judgments manifest. If God had suddenly and impetuously issued his vengeance from heaven, men’s astonishment would not have been wonderful; but when he grants them space of time and a truce that they may weigh the matter at leisure, and admonishes them to repentance, not once only, but often; and then if they remain always the same and are not effected, they show themselves utterly desperate by this slothfulness, as the Prophet now asserts. But when he adds, that they may know that I am Jehovah, he means that as he was not acknowledged as a father by the Jews, he would be their judge, and compel them whether they would or not to feel the formidable nature of that power which they despised. Since we have treated this subject fully before, we now pass it by more lightly. Yet we must notice this, that God is recognized by the reprobate, since, when his fatherly goodness has been for a long time despised by them, he at length appears as a judge, and draws them against their will to his tribunal, and executes his vengeance, so that they cannot escape. It follows —

(280) Supply “the fire,” as in the authorized version.

Verse 27

He now descends to the wickedness of the people, by which God was provoked after they had taken possession of the land of Canaan, since they despised God after being so carefully warned. He complains, therefore, that this was very disgraceful, since, after he had put them in possession of the land of promise, they had never desisted from purposely insulting him. This disgrace was intolerable, since he had profited nothing by them in the wilderness: this witnessing was sufficiently serious to stir them up. “Walk you not in the decrees of your fathers: I am your God, observe you my law.” Since. therefore, God drew them under obedience to himself, what a mark of pride it was not to attend to that witness-bearing, but to pursue their own mad career? In truth, the crime was the more atrocious when at length they entered the land of Canaan, and had obtained so many victories, that they did not learn by experience how God declared his pourer for the very purpose of binding them closer to himself. For the numerous benefits which God had conferred upon them were but so many bonds by which they were bound more closely to him. This expostulation, then, is not in vain, when he reproaches them by saying, when they dishonored me, or rebelled against me. This was not a single crime, or simple perfidy, but a continual delight in wantonly insulting him; for גדף, gedef, signifies to reject, treat contumeliously, or disdain. God, therefore, by this word wishes to express the deliberate insolence of the people, while they rose so wickedly against him as if they would spit in his face. The full meaning is, that they were not only breakers of treaties and rebels when they contaminated the land of Canaan with their superstitions, but were so petulant that they professedly threw scorn upon God.

Verse 28

Hence, after I had brought them into the land for which, or concerning which, I had lifted up my hand to give it them, they saw, says he, every high hill, and every green or branching tree, and there they sacrificed. God wished to have one altar built for himself, and sacrifices to be offered in one place; nay, before the people had any certain and fixed station, God was unwilling that any altar should be built to him of polished stones, that no trace of it should remain; but a mound only was to be made of either turf or rough stones. (Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5.) Now he says, whenever hills and branching trees were lying before them, there they found enticements to superstition. This, therefore, is the reproach which God now complains was offered to him. But this passage, like many others, teaches, that not only is God’s worship corrupted when his honor is transferred to idols, but also when men heap up their own fictions, and contaminate God’s commands by the mixture. We must remember, then, that there are two kinds of idolatries; the one being grossest when idols are worshipped openly, and Moloch, or any Baal, is substituted for the living God: that is a palpable superstition, because God is in some sense cast down from his throne. But the other kind of idolatry, although more hidden, is abominable before God, namely, when, under the disguise of a name, men boldly mingle whatever comes into their minds, and invent various modes of worship; as at present we see in the papacy statues adored, and dead men invoiced, and God’s honor violated in various ways. Hence, however, the papists chatter, they are self-convicted, and the wonder is that they are not utterly silenced, since their superstitions are so gross that even boys perceive them. But there are other superstitions more specious and refined; for when they have invented many things in honor of God, they will not bring forward the names of either St. Barbara or St. Christopher, but the name of God covers all those abominations. But we see that this excuse is frivolous, when men assert that they have nothing else in their mind than the worship of God. Not only does God wish worship to be offered to himself alone, but that it should be without any dependence on human will: he wishes the law to be the single rule of true worship; and thus he rejects all fictitious rites. Hence the Prophet deservedly excuses the Israelites, because they turned their eyes towards every high hill and every branching tree, and there offered the provocation of their offering. He calls itthe provocation of their offering, since they not only foolishly poured forth much money on those vitiated rites, but also provoked God to anger. We see, therefore, that men not only lose their labor when they decline from God’s commands, and rashly fatigue themselves with their own superstitions, but they provoke God to a contest, because they snatch from him the right of a lawgiver: for it is in his power to determine how he ought to be worshipped; and when men claim this power to themselves, it is like ascending to the very throne of God. But if they follow the inventions of others, still it is setting them up as lawgivers, while God is degraded from his tribunal. Thus it is not surprising if God’s wrath is provoked by any sacrifices, besides those which the law prescribes. And this is expressed very clearly by Isaiah, when God announces that he will do what will frighten them all as an unexpected prodigy: I will blind the eyes of the wise, says he, and I will take away prudence from the aged. (Isaiah 29:14.) And why so? because they worship me by the precepts of men.

It follows, And they offered their sweet odor, or agreeable fragrance. These two things seem contrary to each other, that their offerings inflamed God’s wrath, and yet their savor was sweet. But the Prophet. speaks ironically when he says, their incense was sweet-smelling. By conceding this he derides them, since they falsely supposed God was appeased in this way, although he reproves them at the same time for defiling, by their corruption’s, that incense which ought to have been of delightful fragrance. For the language of Moses is repeated: The scent shall reach God’s nostrils, and he shall be appeased. (Deuteronomy 33:10.) Since, then, the incense of the law was sweet-smelling, God here bitterly reproaches the Jews for infecting that good odor with their foulness. Hence the phrase is used in a sense contrary to its direct meaning. Lastly, he says, they have poured out their drink-offerings there. Here God reviews the various kinds of oblations which he had fully prescribed in the law but he shows that the Jews were rebellious against them all; and he further detects their unbridled petulance, since they had not only violated the law in one point, but had left no part untouched by their superstitions. God had commanded sacrifices, but these they rendered polluting: he added various oblations, yet all these they defiled: he desired libations to be made, and will to be poured out, but this part of the service was not kept pure from superstitions. Thus he shows that the people purposely took all means of declaring war against God, when they falsely pretended that nothing more was prescribed than to worship him as they pleased. It follows —

Verse 29

Although there is no ambiguity in the Prophet’s words, yet the sentence seems frigid, and interpreters, in my judgment, have not understood the Prophet’s meaning. It may seem spiritless, that God should ask, what is the high place? But it means that they were not deceived through ignorance, since he had often cautioned them against profaning the true and genuine worship, for he often endeavored to draw them back again when he saw them wandering after their own superstitions. Hence they are continually rebuked by the prophets; and their obstinacy is the more apparent, since, nevertheless, they followed their own perverseness. But because all these reproaches were useless, God here enlarges upon their crime, since they were deaf. I have said, therefore; that is, by means of prophets. For we know how constantly the prophets discharged their duty, by urging them to worship at one altar only. For this reason the people’s wickedness was greater; whence God says, What is this? and why do you so greatly desire your high places when they displease me, and you know my commands? your ears are deaf, and obstructed by wickedness. On the whole, he asks how could such madness seize upon them as to approach these high places, since he had pointed out a place where he was to be sought and invoked. My temple, says he, is neglected; meanwhile you run to high places, and yet it is known by the name of a high place. There is no mystery in this word; but God means that no reproaches or threats of his prophets could prevent the people from worshipping on these high places. He says, then, that the name was still used, since the same dignity and religious regard for them still flourished, when their remembrance ought to be utterly abolished. If God had only once pronounced that those high places were not approved by him, all ought to have changed their course instantly: he, exclaimed against them long and vehemently by his prophets, and yet the name “high places” was constantly in everybody’s mouth; it was famous among them, as if God ought to be sought there. Now therefore we see that the Jews were condemned for too much pride, because they not only failed to desert their high places when repeatedly admonished, but they perniciously wished to oppose those places to God’s sanctuary, although they were so many pollution’s. Hence we gather the condemnation of the people’s obstinate malice, since fathers handed down the name to their sons, so that through a continued posterity they opposed these high places to the only sanctuary of God. It follows —

Verse 30

Now at length the Prophet openly attacks those by whom he was consulted. After showing that they sprang from impure fathers — which was sufficiently manifest from their never ceasing to provoke God in every age from the very beginning to the end — he turns their own language against them, and asks, whether they were polluted after the superstitions of their fathers? The old interpretation is “truly;” but ה, he, the mark of interrogation, does not allow of that. I am surprised at the rendering of some expositors, are you not polluted?” as if the word were הלוא, hel-va, for in my opinion they pervert the Prophet’s sense, for this would make him ask absurdly, what? are you polluted in the way of your fathers? and are you gone astray after their idols? For when they were in exile, that disinheriting ought to subdue them although they had been endued with a more than iron pride: and then they pretended to piety, when they came to the Prophet and desired to receive some consolation from him. Since, therefore, they pretended to some modesty, God here asks them how they could pollute themselves in the way of their fathers? what could it all mean? the things are quite contrary: you approach my servant as if you intended to submit your minds and your senses to my word; but when you so feign yourselves to be attentive to my answers, how does it happen that you pollute yourselves in the way of your fathers? This seems to me the Spirit’s meaning. You shall say, then, are you polluted in the way of your fathers? that is, are you so obstinate as not to reflect upon your course, and never to look back? for you see how severely God was revenged on your obstinacy: you now seek me in appearance, as if this were your only refuge; then how is it that you pollute yourselves in the way of your fathers? and why do you commit fornication after their idols? It now follows —

Verse 31

He follows up the same sentiment, that it was a monstrous sin that they so perniciously remained fixed in the perverse imitation of their fathers: for they had been drawn off from their lusts by God’s numerous chastisements, and then they pretended to be afterwards disposed to obedience: God therefore here says, why, then, by offering your gifts, do you make your sons pass through the fire, and pollute yourselves with all your idols even to this day? For this question concerns what is quite incredible and worthy of the greatest surprise, since there was no way of reconciling the sufferings of the Israelites in exile with their remaining obstinate in their wickedness. But the Prophet here again deprives them of that vain pretense with which they covered themselves in offering their gifts: he concedes to them what was true, yet, at the same time, he objects, that they passed their sons through the fire, and were polluted in all their idols. He adds, at length, shall I be inquired of by you? I have elsewhere explained that clause, which is now for the third time repeated. Many take it in a different sense, that God will not deign to answer them any more: but, in my opinion, he simply reproaches their perfidy, because, when they approached the Prophet, they wished to blind his eyes. Shall I, says he, be inquired of you? For דרש, deresh, means to seek, and to attain the end of our search, when the person asked answers, and the person sought presents himself. But here God simply shows that they do not come in a right mind, and that nothing else was imposed on them except seeking him. But because that was almost incredible, hence he swears that they were merely hypocritical in pretending to true piety in suppliantly applying to the Prophet for an answer in God’s name, and then wantonly deriding it, and impiously and wickedly using his name, and thus profaning it.

Verse 32

Now God discloses what those old men had in their minds who, as well as the rest of the captives, came to the Prophet for the purpose of inquiry, namely, a feeling of despair, since they thought nothing would be more useful to themselves than to revolt utterly from God, and to form themselves after the manner and rites of the Gentiles; for they found themselves specially hated by the profane nations, because they worshipped a peculiar God. Since, therefore, the law separated them from all the rest of the world, that they might escape that hatred and envy, they encouraged the perverse intention of deserting God’s worship and passing over to the Gentiles. For they hoped that those who had been formerly hostile would have shown themselves favor-able. Now God not only announces that he would not suffer it, but he asserts with an oath, what you are thinking of shall not come to pass, since I will draw you back with a strong hand, and with an extended arm, and poured out wrath. The meaning is, that although those miserable captives desired to throw off God’s yoke and to mingle themselves with the profane nations, yet God would have respect to his covenant and not suffer them to be snatched away from him, just as a master fetches back his fugitive slave; or like a prince who might destroy the perfidious and rebellious, yet only chastises them that they may groan under a hard slavery: this is the complete sense.

But this passage is worthy of observation, since in the present day the same thought makes many anxious; for the name of sincere piety distresses them, and so they consult their love of ease, and satisfy both themselves and others by uniting with the rest of the world, and avoiding the hatred of mankind in consequence of their religion. Others again desire to escape in any way from God, because they feel him hostile to them, for the condition of the Church seems to them much worse than that of the world at large. And truly as God takes special care of it, so he chastises its faults more severely. We see then how he spares unbelievers and foreigners, as if he connived at their crimes: meanwhile his hand is always extended to chastise all who profess to be in the number of the pious. But some would desire to bid farewell to God, if they could choose for themselves. Hence I said we must observe this passage. The Israelites thought that nothing would be better than to be joined to the Gentiles and to become in all respects like them, since they imagined that in this way they would enjoy relaxation, since God was more lenient to the Gentiles than he had been to them, and because they perceived themselves exposed to many dangers and troubles, harassed by assaults and subject to daily threats. Hence that perverse deliberation which is here reproved; — what arises in your mind, says he, shall not come to pass, because you say we shall be as the nations and the families of the earth. But we must also consider the end, because the people’s folly was so great that they thought they would be free from God’s chastisements, if they utterly rejected all religion. God therefore denies that he would suffer it. Now a clearer explanation follows: As I live, says he, if I will not rule over you with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm; in this sense — when they had removed all refuges he would yet be an avenger of his rights and empire, so as to compel them to return to him, as we have said, and thus violently to bring back the fugitives. We now see the great stupidity of the people in thinking the only remedy for their troubles to be in declining from true piety. Let us then be careful that we do not harden ourselves when God chastises us, and desire to withdraw from his power and dominion. Meanwhile God shows that he will rule, but in some other way; because we know with what humanity he treated his people, and what patience he exercised towards them, when they so often provoked his wrath. He now announces that he would be the Lord, but with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm, since he would forget his former clemency and subject them to perverse bondage. As when a master sees that he cannot obtain voluntary obedience from his slaves, he compels them to the galleys, or other laborious works, until they become half dead. God denounces that such will be the condemnation which he will use against them, since they never profited by either clemency or pardon. It follows —

Verse 34

He confirms the same sentiment, and at the same time marks out the manner of his dominion. For when the Jews were dispersed in captivity, they were like strangers to God’s jurisdiction: they were mingled with the Gentiles, and their condition seemed very like an exemption from God’s power. Now God signifies when he wishes to recover his right, that he had a place at hand, since he will bring them out from the Gentiles, and gather them from the lands through which they were dispersed. We are aware, as we have often said before, that it was a kind of abdication, when God expelled the ten tribes from the land of Canaan and a part also of that of Judea. Since then they were disinherited, they thought themselves free on their part, and they no longer regarded the authority of God, since they ceased to be his peculiar heritage when they were deprived of the promised land. Here God reminds them that although he had emancipated them for the time, yet they were in some sense under his hand, since he would collect them again, and so subdue them, that they should not escape his authority. I will draw you back, says he, and gather you with an outstretched arm and with a strong hand. But what he adds concerning the fury of his wrath does not seem consistent with this. For it was a sign of favor to collect them again, although hard and sorrowful slavery awaited them; yet they might perceive some taste of the divine goodness in gathering them from exile. For we know the bitterness of their captivity; especially under the Chaldaeans, by whom they were subdued. But the phrase wrath may relate as much to the Gentiles as to the Israelites themselves: yet I explain it more willingly of the Israelites, because although God in reality shows that he did not altogether neglect them, yet he asserts his right as a master grievously offended. Just as a person who had lost his slave may afterwards receive him into his house, and yet that house may be like a sepulcher, because he is either thrust into a deep dungeon, or three or four times as much is exacted of him as he can bear. So therefore God pronounces, although he may gather the Israelites again under his hand, yet they shall feel him to be displeased with them, since he nevertheless will require the punishment of their impiety; and this will be better understood from the context.

Verse 35

He specially marks this reason here, which is a medium between rejection and reconciliation to favor: for God’s bringing the Israelites out of Chaldaea might seem a sign of favor, as if he were again their deliverer. But he here defines why he intended to bring them forth, namely, to plead with them in the desert as with their fathers. We know that when the people came out of Egypt they did not possess the promised land, because they shut the door against themselves by their ingratitude: but if there had been no hope left, it was better for the people to spend their time under the tyranny of Egypt than to pine away in the desert. For it was a kind of life scarcely human to wander in a wilderness and to behold nothing pleasant or agreeable; a mere solitude instead of cultivated fields, and nothing but discomfort instead of beautiful flowers and trees and undulating ground: and besides this, to feed on nothing but manna, to taste no wine, to drink only water from the rock, and to endure heat and cold in the, open air. Such freedom then was by no means agreeable, unless they had hoped to become possessors of the land of Canaan. But a whole generation was deprived of that advantage through their ingratitude. God therefore appositely compares them to their fathers, who had gone forth into the wilderness, and he says, I will make you pass into the desert of the nations. Here he compares the desert of Egypt to that of the Gentiles. Although the passage from the land of Canaan to Chaldaea is partly across an unfruitful wilderness, yet I do not doubt that God here metaphorically points out the state of the people after their return from exile.

The complete meaning is, as he surrounded their fathers throughout their whole life in the wilderness, so after they were brought back from Chaldaea their life should be as solitary as if they were banished to an obscure corner of the world, and to a miserable and deserted land. Here, therefore, another region is not intended, but the state of the people when dwelling in the land of Canaan; although he speaks not only of that small band which returned to their country, but of the liberty promiscuously given to all. He calls that state a desert of the Gentiles, to which all were subjected, whether they remained in distant regions or returned home. We must hold, then, that God would be so far the deliverer of the people that the benefit would reach only a few, since, when the multitude wandered in the desert, they perished there, and did not enjoy the promised inheritance. We now see how God established his sway over the Israelites, when he did not suffer them to be perpetually captive, and yet did not show himself appeased when he brought them back, since he still remained a severe judge. I will bring you, therefore, into the desert of the nations; this is the heat of anger of which he had spoken, and I will judge you, or plead with you, face to face. He signifies by these words, that although their return to Judea was evident, yet he was not propitious, since he met them as an adversary. There, says he, I will meet with you face to face, as when contention is rife, adversaries become opposed, and contend hand to hand: thus God here points out the extremity of rigor when he says, that he will dispute with them face to face. But he says, that he was a pleader in the desert of Egypt, and the sense extends to the future; not that it ought to be understood that God descended to plead a cause, and place himself at another’s tribunal; still it was a kind of pleading when the people were compelled to feel that their impiety and obstinacy was not excusable; and also when experience at the same time taught them that God was by no means appeased, since his wrath was again stirred up. Isaiah’s language is slightly different: Come you, says he, let us reason together, I will plead with you. (Isaiah 1:0.) He is there prepared to argue his cause, as if with an equal. But the case is soon closed and the sentence passed, since it is evident that the people are deservedly punished by God on account of their sins. Thus he pleaded with their fathers in the Egyptian desert when he deprived them all of entrance into the promised land. And afterwards he often punished them for their murmurs, perverse cravings, lusts, idolatries, and other crimes. Hence, let us learn that God is pleading with us whenever any signs of his anger appear; for we cannot derive any advantage from obstinate resistance: and hence nothing remains but to accuse ourselves for our faults. It follows —

Verse 37

He follows up the same kind of instruction, that the people were not permitted to perish because they belonged to him, as if he had said that they should be always his, whether they liked it or not. And yet he seems to promise here what was very agreeable, that he would always esteem them as his flock. This is the meaning of to pass under the rod; for שבט, shebet, does not mean a scepter here, nor a staff by which a delinquent is struck, but it means a shepherd’s crook. It is, then, a simile taken from a shepherd who numbers and marks his flock; and this phrase often recurs. It means, because God has once acquired the people as his own, he cannot be rightly deprived of them. The exiles, indeed, had imagined themselves free if they could blot out of their minds and memories the name of the true God, and pollute themselves with the defilement’s of the Gentiles. But God, on the other hand, pronounces, that as a shepherd notices his sheep, and counts their number, and makes them pass under his staff, like a king reviewing his army, so he would reckon up his people, and not suffer any one to snatch them from him, since he claims authority over them all without exception. Now, therefore, we understand the sense of the words: whence we gather again, that abandoned men gain nothing by their obstinacy, but God’s really showing that the dominion which he has once assumed cannot by any means be snatched away from him. So this passage teaches us the kind of reward which awaits all apostates who think themselves emancipated when they brutally indulge in impiety, because God at length will make them pass under the rod, that is, he will call and compel them to render an account, as if their profession of faith was like a brand burnt in to their hearts.

He says, in the bonds of a covenant, but in a different sense from what Hosea denominates a bond of affection. (Hosea 11:4.) He is there treating of reconciliation; but in this passage God pronounces that he will no longer be en-treated by the Israelites. Hence, the bond of the covenant means the constancy of his covenant, as far as he is concerned: and the, simile is suitable, because God had bound his people to himself, on the condition that they should be always surrounded with these bonds. Hence, when they petulantly wandered like untamed beasts, yet God had hidden bonds of his covenant: that is, he persevered in his own covenant, so that he collected them all again to himself, not to rule over them as a father, but to punish their revolt more severely. Here is a tacit comparison between the Israelites and the Gentiles; for the Gentiles, through their never approaching nearer to God, wandered away in their licentiousness without restraint. But the state of the elect people was different, since the end of their covenant was this, that God held them bound to him, even if the whole world should escape from him. It follows —

Verse 38

He continues the discourse which he had commenced, namely, that God would not suffer the exiles to withdraw themselves from him from the time he had adopted them. Then, since they were bound by the blessing of redemption, although they thought themselves far removed from the sight of God, after they were cast into exile, he says he would be present to gather them from the land of their dwellings; that is, wherever they were dispersed to bring them out. Some suppose the phrase to include a promise of favor, because it is said, I will purge you; but the word to choose, as I prefer to render it, or to discern, means, that God will drag to light those who think they have obtained hiding-places in which they can escape his eyes. Although, therefore, they promise themselves complete exemption from God’s authority, he, on the other hand, pronounces them deceived, since he would collect them all together from the land of their habitations, although they were dispersed in different places. God’s threatenings are sufficiently evident from the second clause of the verse, they shall not come, says he, into the land of Israel, and you shall know that I am Jehovah. He confirms what we saw before, that when liberty was granted them, they did not on that account become God’s Church, since he had another reason for ruling over them, namely, to chastise them severely for their wickedness. They shall not come, therefore, into the land of Israel; that is, they shall remain, and grow corrupt in the desert, as we know that to be a most severe punishment, when God swore, that except two persons, Caleb and Joshua, no one should enter the land of Canaan. (Numbers 14:23.) So also in this passage, I will free you, that is, when your return to your country shall be evident, a new light shall seem to have shone forth, but yet reflect on what happened to your fathers; for although redeemed, they perished in the desert, and never possessed the land of Canaan. The same thing shall happen to you also:, since your return is only a prelude to my favor: but you shall never return to the land of Israel. But this is extended to those who returned and dwelt in their native land. But we said that Judea was a place of exile since the course of God’s favor was broken off, and God begun to plead with them afresh, even when he had led them from their captivity at Babylon And you shall know that I am Jehovah: as we said yesterday, God is recognized by the reprobate, while they are compelled to acknowledged a judge whose fatherly clemency they had despised. It follows —

Verse 39

Now again God expressly bears witness that he rejects the Israelites because they infected the pure worship of the law with their mixtures; for we said that they were deceived by a vain imagination when they thought God pleased with their obedience, while they worshipped him only half-heartedly. When they heaped up fictions, they thought this diligence would be pleasing to God, because they professed to acknowledge the true God as their redeemer. Here again he announces that he rejects all half-worship, since he wished to have the entire affections, and to admit no rival: Now, says he, O house of Israel, thus says Jehovah, Go each of you and serve your idols, just as if he would cast them off from his family. And yet we see that they were always under his dominion; and thus some kind of inconsistency arises when God rejects them from his sway, and yet retains them as his right. But the liberty which is now granted is to show them that it is in vain to worship God by halves.

This passage is peculiarly remarkable, since at this time many are deceived, while they rest upon their own inventions, and think that they best discharge their duty towards God when they partially obey his commandments, and then pile up a great heap of superstitions, partly received from their fathers and partly fabricated by themselves. Again, scarcely one in a hundred will be found who does not think it better partially to worship God than entirely to devote themselves to idols; and this indeed is true as far as man is concerned; for the impiety is more foul and detestable when men openly reject God, and divorce themselves from him, and devote themselves to idols, than if they partly worshipped God and partly idols. But in the meantime, we see that God pronounces that he cannot bear this profanation; and we must diligently notice the reason which is added; for when gross and palpable impiety is indulged in, God’s name is not so profaned as when clever men reconcile the pure worship of God with superstitions: and for this reason, that monstrous Indecision (292) was in God’s sight worse than the papacy; and why so? for although the papists profane God’s name, yet their madness is at present so detected, that it openly appears that they are idolaters; but that invention mingled darkness with light, and infected the pure doctrine with its leaven. But God here exclaims that he could not endure this deception when men profess to worship him, for they defile themselves with superstitions, since profaneness is added to impiety, and both are the result of hypocrisy. The rest tomorrow.

(292) Calvin’s language is here rather remarkable. He calls the clinging to the worship of God, while bowing down to idols, illud prodigiosum Interim, which is in the French translation ce beau monstre D’interim. The same idea is also expressed by the word commentum , translated ceste belle invention ainsi forgee .

Verse 40

God now directs his address to the elect, or the remnant in whom he wished his Church to survive. Thus far he has spoken of the whole body of the people: he says, although he should free them from the hand of the Gentiles, yet that redemption would be but partial, because they should perish in the desert, and never enjoy the promised land. On the whole, he shows that those to whom a free return to their own country was given were no less strangers than if they had been exiles at the time, and always remained outlaws, since their impiety prevented their restoration. God now addresses the true Israelites, who were not only naturally descended from their fathers, but were genuine and spiritual children, as Paul distinguishes between those sons of Abraham born according to the flesh and to promise. (Romans 9:7.) For this reason also it is said in Psalms 73:0. — And surely God is good to Israel — to those who are upright in heart for the Prophet here asserts that God is gracious towards the Israelites; but since many hypocrites boast themselves to be members of the Church, for the sake of correcting them, he restricts the sentence, and does not reckon any, as true Israelites except the upright in heart. So the same thing is repeated in Psalms 15:0 and Psalms 24:0. — Who shall ascend into the mount of the Lord? But the perfidious and the wicked did mingle themselves with the sincere worshipers; yet the Prophet excludes them from the list of the faithful, since he says that none should have a fixed station in God’s sanctuary unless the sound in heart and the clean in hand. In the same sense also the Prophet formerly taught, that although hypocrites proudly boasted themselves to be God’s people, yet their names were not written in the secret catalogue of the righteous. (Ezekiel 13:9.) We now see how well those things which seem inconsistent agree together, namely, that the Lord’s redeeming Israel from the tyranny of the Gentiles would not profit them, and yet, that they should come into the mountain of Israel and worship him sincerely. Israel is here placed before us in a twofold light: for many were Israelites in name; but here the Prophet is treating of the elect, whom Paul calls a remnant of grace. (Romans 11:5.)

In the mountain, says he, of my holiness, in the lofty mountain of Israel. He does not call the mountain high, because it was loftier than others, for we know that there were many lofty mountains in the land of Judea; and Zion was but a small hill; but we have elsewhere seen that it was preferred to lofty mountains, because it excelled in dignity. Here our Prophet does not regard the height of Mount Zion, but the singular glory with which it was adorned; as if he had said that God resided there, and his glory shone forth over all the loftiness of the world. Meanwhile I do not doubt that this epithet is obliquely opposed to the high places, which were consecrated everywhere, as we saw before. Since, therefore, the people had erected altars in all elevated places of all kinds, here God opposes one lofty mountain to all these, whose height had deceived those wretched men who thought themselves when there, nearer to heaven. This, therefore, is the reason why he calls it a high mountain. He says, there shall the whole house of Israel worship me, the whole, I say, in the land. It is not surprising that the whole house of Israel is placed here without exception, because, as I have said, the Prophet does not comprehend all those who boasted in that title, but he only means the pure worshipers of God, who were the spiritual children of Abraham. But here God describes the agreement in faith among all the faithful, as if he had said that the people would be fresh, and would not follow various speculations, as they formerly wandered, each after his own superstitions, but there should be one common rule for all. So we are taught by this passage that our worship does not please God except we are bent upon a simple agreement of faith, and the celebration of his name with our mouth. The impious often subscribe to different modes of belief, but they have no regard to God: but, here we must hold the principle, that God cannot be worshipped unless the doctrine of his law flourishes. The whole house of Israel, I say, in the land. He signifies by these words that the whole land of Israel, so long contaminated by much filth, should be so sacred that the pure and perfect worship of God should alone be beheld there. In the land, then, purged from all defilement’s by which it was before polluted, he adds a promise, there will I be propitious to you. We formerly saw that all the people’s sacrifices were rejected, and that for one reason, because they mixed them with their own inventions. Now, God pronounces that he would be propitious to them, because he will be purely worshipped, and his service shall no longer be vitiated by the perverse comments of men. We here see, therefore, that God’s complacency or favor is accompanied with a detestation of all superstitions, as we have often mentioned previously. As, therefore, God abominates whatever is added to the simple teaching of the law, so he asserts that he will be propitious where he is purely worshipped according to the law. He adds, and there will I require your oblations: the person is changed, but the sense flows on readily: he says, I will require your oblations: he puts one kind of oblation, but he includes them all, as will be seen at the end of the verse. Although I confess that two different kinds of offering are signified by the words, תרומה, theromeh, and, תנופה, thenopheh, yet they are often taken for any kind of offering when used separately, a part being put for the whole, as I have said. He says, then, that the offerings were grateful to him, and he implies that by the word requiring, because we have seen that the people’s gifts were refused when corrupted by foreign superstitions, and God is said to exact the gifts which he approves. And the first-fruits of your gifts, he says, that is, the flower or excellence of your gifts, in all your sanctifications, that is, in all my worship. It signifies, on the whole, when the Israelites betake themselves to the simple doctrine of the law, their obedience is so grateful to God, that their gifts please him, their offerings are taken into account, and their whole worship is accepted. It now follows —

Verse 41

He continues the same sentiment, namely, that the people’s worship would be acceptable, when those who had formerly been deceived by their superstitions had bidden them farewell, and follow the law only. He uses the word “savor,” according to the customary legal form, not because incense was pleasing to God, but because external ceremonies were no vain discipline for the people when they retained the truth. For surely incense of itself is of no consequence, but God wished in a palpable manner to testify that he did not reject the sacrifices which he had commanded. Hence, by these forms of speech, the Holy Spirit signifies that God was truly appeased when men approach him with sincere faith and repentance, and desire to be reconciled, and suppliantly pray for pardon by ingenuous confession of sin, and look up to Christ this is the savor which Moses everywhere teaches was sweet, to God. But as the incense of the law was always sweet, so all others were offensive, as we have already seen. The Prophet, therefore, adds nothing new here, but confirms his former teaching, that God delights in the pure and sincere worship of the faithful, when they try nothing but by his law. Afterwards, says he, I will lead you out frown the people, and will collect you frown the lands through which you have been dispersed. He repeats the same words which were formerly used, but with another sense and purpose; since, while he redeems alike the hypocrites and his elect, the offered liberty does not profit the hypocrites: because, wherever they might dwell, their station was in the wilderness; and even in the very bosom of the land of Canaan they were exiles, and their life was erratic, and they were without any enjoyment of the promised inheritance, but wandered in the desert, and through distant regions. For although they dwelt in the midst of a crowd, yet such was their condition that God had deservedly threatened them with remaining in the wilderness of the Gentiles even till death. But now, when he speaks of the elect and the faithful, he makes a difference between them and the hypocrites. For a question might otherwise arise, since all were apparently alike, What was the tendency of the promise, that some should be exiles and others return to their inheritance? For Daniel never returned to his country, and there is no doubt that other pious worshipers of God were at, the same time held back: but we know how sinful a multitude returned to Judea when the edict of Cyrus permitted them. For all were afterwards attentive to their own private business: the temple was neglected; God was defrauded of his first-fruits and offerings; they married strange wives; and mingled polygamy with their sacrifices. (Haggai 1:4.) We have already seen how sharply and severely the three last prophets inveigh against them. Since many returned into the land of Canaan in their unchanged state, and who had better remained in Chaldaea: for this reason the Prophet directs his discourse to the elect, and says that they should not only be brought back, but when restored, as if by stealth, their worship would be pleasing to God in the land. When, therefore, I shall have brought you forth, I shall be sanctified in you before the eyes of the Gentiles. God was in some sense sanctified in the wicked, because they became an illustrious specimen of his power when the Chaldaeans were slain, and his temple erected a second time. But here the Prophet, as I have said, separates the elect from the reprobate, since God was sanctified in them in a special manner, when a new Church emerged again, in which piety, true religion, and holiness of life flourished. When, therefore, such a spectacle was offered to the eyes of the Gentiles, then God asserted his glory among his faithful ones. Lastly, these passages are to be read conjointly, that he will be propitious to them, and will be pleased with their first-fruits and offerings, and he will be sanctified in the eyes of the Gentiles: as it is said in Psalms 114:2, When Israel went out of Egypt, Israel was God’s power, and Judea his sanctification, or sanctity. It follows —

Verse 42

For the sake of frightening them, he threatened that he would be conspicuous to the reprobate, saying, you shall know that I am Jehovah, — meaning, that he would be their judge: hence he was known to the reprobate by proofs of his anger or wrath. But now another kind of knowledge is denoted, namely, that which brings a sweet taste of paternal love:you shall know, says he, that I am, Jehovah your God, when I shall have brought you in again. He here shows his full and complete benefit towards the faithful, which we saw before was withheld from the reprobate. For they were brought back, because, without exception, all were permitted to return to their country; for then the yoke of an imperious tyranny was broken when they were freed from the dominion of the Chaldees, and the king of the Medes had permitted them to build the temple, and to dwell in the land of Canaan. All were set at liberty, as I have said; but that was the only favor conferred upon the wicked, since they all perished in the desert of the Gentiles: but God’s elect were led by the hand to the land of Israel, and there they really possessed the promised inheritance, since they dwelt there as sons and lawful heirs. The hypocrites returned, as I have said, but they never possessed the land by right of inheritance, for they wandered hither and thither in the desert, and although they resided at home, were always wandering exiles. We see, then, that a singular privilege is intended when it is said, I will be known by you, when I shall have brought you back from the nations and the lands through which you were dispersed, into the land concerning which I swore that I would give it to your fathers. Here a mark is inscribed, that the faithful may know that this promise was not common to all: for the dwelling in the land of Canaan of itself was not a matter of much consequence, but here a value is expressed, that they should arrive at that land as God’s heirs, and succeed their sacred fathers, to whom the inheritance was promised. As God swore that he would give the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this ought not to be restricted to them personally, as we very well know; and yet they were its true heirs and lords, as their sepulchers bear witness. They suffered vexation by constantly changing their settlements, and were never at rest in one residence. During life they were strangers, but their sepulcher was a proof of true and lawful dominion: and in this way they transmitted the hope of the promised inheritance to their posterity. Now, therefore, we see with what intention the Prophet here says that the land was promised to their fathers, that its value might raise the minds of the faithful to consider the magnitude of the benefit. It follows —

Verse 43

Here God shows that he would at length be propitious to his elect when they repented. Thus he signifies that there was no other means of reconciliation than by the intervention of repentance. And we must carefully remark this, as I have previously mentioned. For we know with what security all men usually indulge themselves, nor are the pious themselves affected with grief sufficiently serious, when God invites them to the hope of safety and at the same time offers pardon. They embrace indeed greedily what they hear, but meanwhile they bury their sins. But God wishes us to taste his goodness, that the remembrance of our crimes should be bitter, and also that every one should judge himself that he may obtain pardon from him. Now, therefore, we understand the Prophet’s intention. We saw a similar passage in Jeremiah: this teaching occurs throughout the Prophets, there, says he,you shall remember me. The circumstance of place is to be noticed, because the Prophet means that after the elect shall have returned to God’s favor, and he shall account them as true Members of his Church, then they thought to be mindful of their former life and to repent of their sins. As if he had said, as long as God afflicts you and you remain under the tyranny of the Gentiles in exile, the sense of your evils will compel you to groan, so the remembrance of your sins should return, since, whether you will or not, their punishment will ever be before your eyes, since they would be easily persuaded that their sentence was usual and common. But he shows them that the sons of God were not only mindful of their sins, when they feel themselves chastised by him, and experience shows his hostility, but when received into favor and in the enjoyment of their inheritance, they live under God’s wings, and he cherishes them as a tender offspring: when, therefore, the faithful are treated so humanely by God, yet the Prophet shows that in their condition they ought to be mindful of their sins, and all your works in which you have been polluted, says he. He now shows to what purpose they were to be mindful. For the wicked are compelled to call their sins to remembrance when God, by forcibly turning their attention to them, draws them to consider what they desire to bury in oblivion. But it is here said, you shall be confounded in your own sight. Since the Hebrew word קוט, kot, signifies to cut off, many interpreters take it for “ye shall be cut off;” that is, you shall judge yourselves worthy of destruction among those whom God will cut off and blot out of the earth. But this seems forced. Since the same word sometimes signifies to litigate, and to become abominable, I willingly take this meaning, that they shall be abominable, or contemptible, in their own sight: that is, they shall be so ashamed, as willingly and fully to acknowledge themselves utterly disgraced. Hence Ezekiel means that the faithful should suffer voluntary disgrace, that they may glorify God by the pure and genuine confession of their shame. If any one prefers to expound it, you shall be condemned or convinced, that sense will suit well enough; but I have already brought forward what seemed more simple. For I said that this was the fruit of penitence, when we he confounded before God and are vile and despicable in our own eyes, and when we not only suffer ourselves to be condemned by others, but inwardly reflect upon our own disgrace, and so of our own accord prostrate ourselves before God. This then is the fruit of penitence, this is true humility, flowing from genuine shame. At length it follows —

Verse 44

Here at length God pronounces that his glory would be chiefly conspicuous in the pity which he bestowed upon those who were desperate and abandoned, gratuitously and solely with respect to his own name. Hence Paul so specially celebrates; the grace of God in the first chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, as that mercy by which God deigns to call his own elect in a peculiar sense — his glory; for his glory extends farther than his pity. (Ephesians 1:6.)

As thy name, so thy praise is extended through all lands,
(Psalms 48:10)

for God deserves no less glory when he destroys the wicked than when he pities his own people. But Paul calls that gratuitous favor glory par excellence, by which God embraced his own elect when he adopted them. So also it is said in this passage, then you shall know that I am Jehovah, since I shall deal with you on behalf of my name, and not according to your sins. But when God wishes his glory to shine conspicuously in gratuitous pity, hence we gather that the enemies of his glory were too gross and open, who obscure his mercy, or extenuate it, or as far as they can, endeavor to reduce it to nothing. But we know the teaching of the papacy to be that God’s gratuitous goodness either is buried or enfolded in dark obscurity, or utterly vanish away: for they have invented a system of general merits which they oppose to God’s gratuitous favor. For they distinguish merits into preparations, good works acquiring God’s favor, and satisfactions, by which they buy off the penalties to which they were subjected. Afterwards they add what they call the suffrages of the saints; for they fabricate for themselves numberless patrons, and various reasonings are concocted for the purpose of obscuring God’s glory, or at least of allowing only a few sparks to be visible. Since therefore the whole papacy tends that way, we see that they professedly oppose God’s glory, and those who defend such abominations are sworn enemies of God’s glory.

For ourselves, then, let. us learn that we cannot otherwise worship God with acceptance unless we adopt whatever pleases him as pertaining to our salvation. For if we wish to come to a debtor and creditor account, or to consider that he is in the slightest degree indebted to us, we in this way diminish his glory, and as far as is in our power we despoil ourselves of that inestimable privilege which the Prophet now commends. Hence let us desire to acknowledge God in this way, since he treats us with amazing clemency and pity out of regard for his own name, and not according to our sins. And since that was said to his ancient people because they returned to the land of Canaan, how much more ought God’s gratuitous goodness to be extolled by us, when his heavenly kingdom is at this day open to us, and when he openly calls us to himself in heaven, and to the hope of that happy immortality which has been obtained for us through Christ?

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/ezekiel-20.html. 1840-57.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile