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This chapter contains serious exhortations, mixed with threatening; but the Prophet threatens for the purpose of correcting the indifference of the people, whom we have seen to have been very tardy to consider God’s judgments. Now the reason why I wished to join together these eleven verses was, because the design of the Prophet in them is no other than to stir up by fear the minds of the people. The object of the narrative then is, to make the people sensible, that it was now no time for taking rest; for the Lord, having long tolerated their wickedness, was now resolved to pour upon them in full torrent his whole fiery. This is the sum of the whole. Let us now come to the words.
Sound the trumpet, he says, in Zion; cry out in my holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the earth tremble. The Prophet begins with an exhortation. We know, indeed that he alludes to the usual custom sanctioned by the law; for as on festivals trumpets were sounded to call the people, so also it was done when anything extraordinary happened. Hence the Prophet addresses not each individually; but as all had done wickedly, from the least to the greatest, he bids the whole assembly to be called, that they might in common own themselves to be guilty before God, and deprecate his vengeance. It is the same as though the Prophet had said that there was no one among the people who could exempt himself from blame, for iniquity had prevailed through the whole body. But this passage shows that when any judgment of God is impending, and tokens of it appear, this remedy ought to be used, namely, that all must publicly assemble and confess themselves worthy of punishments and at the same time flee to the mercy of God. This, we know, was, as I have already said, formerly enjoined on the people; and this practice has not been abolished by the gospel. And it hence appears how much we have departed from the right and lawful order of things; for at this day it would be new and unusual to proclaim a fast. How so? Because the greater part are become hardened; and as they know not commonly what repentance is, so they understand not what the profession of repentance means; for they understand not what sin is, what the wrath of God is, what grace is. It is then no wonder that they are so secure, and that when praying for pardon is mentioned, it is a thing wholly unknown at this day. But though people in general are thus stupid, it is yet our duty to learn from the Prophets what has always been the actual mode of proceeding among the people of God, and to labor as much as we can, that this may be known, so that when there shall come an occasion for a public repentance, even the most ignorant may understand that this practice has ever prevailed in the Church of God, and that it did not prevail through inconsiderate zeal of men, but through the will of God himself.
But he bids the inhabitants of the land to tremble. By these words he intimates, that we are not to trifle with God by vain ceremonies but to deal with him in earnest. When therefore, the trumpets sound, our hearts ought to tremble; and thus the reality is to be connected with the outward signs. And this ought to be carefully noticed; for the world is ever disposed to have an eye to some outward service, and thinks that a satisfaction is given to God, when some external rite is observed. But we do nothing but mock God, when we present him with ceremonies, while there is no corresponding sincere feeling in the heart; and this is what we shall find handled in another place.
The Prophet now adds threatening, that he might stir up the minds of the people: For coming, he says, is the day of Jehovah for nigh it is. By these words he first intimates that we are not to wait until God strikes us, but that as soon as he shows signs of his wrath, we ought to anticipate his judgment. When God then warns us of his displeasure, we ought instantly to solicit pardon: nigh, he says, is the day of Jehovah. What follows has a regard to the end which we have mentioned; for the Prophet paints the terrible judgment of God with the view of rousing minds wholly stupid and indifferent.
And then he says, A day of darkness and of thick darkness, a day of clouds and of obscurity, as the dawn which expands over the mountains. By calling it a dark and gloomy day, he wished to show that there would be no hope of deliverance; for, according to the common usage of Scripture, we know that by light is designated a cheerful and happy state, or the hope of deliverance from any affliction: but the Prophet now extinguishes, as it were, every hope in this world, when he declares that the day of Jehovah would be dark, that is, without hope of restoration. This is his meaning. When he says afterwards, As the dawn which expands, etc. , he mentions this to signify the celerity with which it would come; for we know how sudden is the rising of the dawn on the mountains: the dawn spreads in a moment on the mountains, where darkness was before. For the light penetrates not immediately either into valleys or even into plains; but if any one looks at the summits of mountains, he will see that the dawn rises quickly. It is then the settle as though the Prophet said, “The day of the Lord is nigh, for the Lord can suddenly stretch forth his hand, as the dawn spreads over the mountains.”
He then mentions its character, A people great and strong to whom there has not been the like from the beginning, or from ages and after whom there will be no more the like, to the years of a generation and a generation. Here the Prophet specifies the kind of judgment that would be, of which he had generally spoken before; and he shows that what he had hitherto recorded of God’s vengeance ought not to be so understood as that God would descend openly and visibly from heaven, but that the Assyrians would be the ministers and executioners of his vengeance. In short, the Prophet shows here that the coming of that people ought to have been as much dreaded as if God had put forth his hand and executed on his people the vengeance deserved by their sins. And by these words he teaches us, that men gain nothing by being blind to the judgments of God; for God will notwithstanding execute his works and use the instrumentality of men; for men are the scourges by which he chastises his own people. The Chaldeans and the Assyrians were unbelievers; yet God used them for the purpose of correcting the Jews. This the Prophet now shows, that is, that God was the avenger in these very Assyrians, for he employed them as the ministers and executioners of his judgment. We see at the same time that the Prophet describes here the terrible wrath of God to shake off from the Jews their tardiness; for he saw that they were not moved by all his threatening, and ever laid hold on some new flattering pretenses. This is the reason why he gives such a long description.
Before them, he says, the fire will devour, and after them the flame will burn. He means that the vengeance of God would be such as would consume the whole people: for God has in various ways begun to chastise the people, but, as we have seen, without any advantage. The Prophet then says here that the last stroke remained, and that the Lord would wholly destroy men so refractory, and whom he could not hitherto restore to a sound mind by moderate punishments. For he had in a measure spared them, though he had treated them sharply and severely, and given them time to repent. Hence, when the Prophet saw that they were wholly irreclaimable, he says, that it now only remained that the Lord should at once utterly consume them.
He adds, As the garden of Eden the land is before them, and after them it is the land of solitude; and so ( and also) there will be no escape from them. Here the Prophet warns the Jews, that though they inhabited a most pleasant country and one especially fruitful, there was no reason for them to flatter themselves, for God could convert the fairest lands into a waste. He therefore compares Judea to the garden of Eden or to Paradise. But such also was the state of Sodom, as Moses shows. What did it avail the Sodomites that they dwelt as in Paradise, that they inhabited a rich and fertile land, and thought themselves to be nourished as in the bosom of God? So also now the Prophet says, “Though the land is like Paradise, yet when the enemy shall march through it, a universal waste shall follow, a scattering shall everywhere follow, there shall be no cultivation, no pleasantness, no appearance of inhabited land, for the enemy will destroy every thing ” His purpose was to prevent the Jews, by confiding in God’s blessing, which they had hitherto experienced, from heedlessly disregarding in future his vengeance; for his wrath would in a moment consume and devour whatever fruitfulness the land had hitherto possessed. This is the meaning. He therefore concludes that there would be no escape from these enemies, the Assyrians, because they would come armed with a command to reduce to nothing the whole land.
He afterwards adds many similitudes, which any one of himself can sufficiently understand: I shall not therefore be long in explaining them, and many words would be superfluous. As the appearance of horses their appearance, and as horsemen, so will they run. This verse sets forth again the suddenness of vengeance, as though the Prophet had said, that long distance would be no obstacle, for the Assyrians would quickly move and occupy Judea; for distance deceived the Jews, and they thought that there would be a long respite to them. Hence the Prophet here removes this vain confidence, when he says that they would be like horses and horsemen. He then adds, —
Like the sound of chariots. They expound מרכבות merecabut, chariots, though the Hebrews rather think them to be harnesses or saddles as we call them; but yet I prefer to view them as chariots; for what the Prophet says, that they shall leap on the tops of mountains like the sound of chariots, would not be suitably applied to the trappings of horses. They then shall leap on tops of mountains — but how? as chariots, that is, they shall come with great force, or make a great and terrible noise. And he speaks of the tops of mountains for there we know the noise is greater when there is any commotion. The Prophet, therefore, does in every way amplify God’s vengeance, that he might awaken the Jews, who by their indifference had too long provoked the Lord’s wrath.
Like the sound, he says, of the flame of fire, or of a fiery flame, devouring the stubble. He compares the Assyrians to a flame, which consumes all things; and he compares the Jews to stubble, though they thought themselves fortified by many forces and strongholds.
At length he adds, As a strong people, prepared for battle; their face the people will dread, and all faces shall gather blackness. By these words the Prophet intimates that the Assyrians at their coming would be supplied with such power as would, by report only, lay prostrate all people. But if the Assyrians should be so formidable to all people, what could the Jews do? In short, the Prophet here shows that the Jews would by no means be able to resist enemies so powerful; for they would by their fame alone so lay prostrate all people, that none would dare to rise up against them. He then compares them to giants. As giants, he says, they will run here and there; as men of war they will climb the wall, and man (that is, every one) in his ways shall walk. The Prophet heaps together these various expressions, that the Jews might know that they had to do with the irresistible hand of God, and that they would in vain implore assistance here and there; for they could find no relief in the whole world, when God executed his vengeance in so formidable a manner. He says further, they shall not stop their goings, though some render the words, “They shall not inquire respecting their ways;” for he had said before, “They shall proceed in their ways:” then the meaning is, They shall not come like strangers, who, when they journey through unknown regions, make anxious inquiries, whether any be lying in wait, whether there be any turnings in the road, whether the ways be difficult and perplexed: They shall not inquire, he says; they shall securely proceed, as though the road was open to them, as though the whole country was known to them. This part also serves to show celerity, that the Jews might dread the vengeance of God the same as if it was quite nigh them.
He then adds, A man shall not push his brother. By this mode of speaking the Prophet means that they would come in perfect order, so that the multitude would create no confusion, as it is mostly the case: for it is very difficult for an army to march in regular order without tumult, like two or three men walking together. For when a hundred horsemen march together some commonly hinder others. When therefore so large a number assemble together, it can hardly be possible for them not to retard and impede one another. But the Prophet declares that this would not be the case with the Assyrians, for the Lord would direct their goings. Though then the Lord would bring so large a multitude, it would yet be so well arranged and in such order, that no one would push his companion, or be any hindrance to him. A man, he says, shall in his way proceed, even without any impediment.
And on swords they shall fall, and shall not be wounded: that is, they shall not only be strong men of war, so that they shall intrepidly face every kind of danger; but they shall also escape unhurt from all weapons; though they may rush on swords like madmen and show no care for themselves, they shall not yet be wounded. But this may be taken in a still simpler way, “They shall not be wounded” that is, as if they could not be wounded. And it seems to me to be the genuine sense of the Prophet, that they would not entertain any fear of death, so as cautiously to attack their enemies, but would with impunity provoke death itself by casting themselves on the very swords: they would not then fear any wound, but dare to face swords as if they were wholly harmless to them. Some render the word, “they shall not covet;” and then the word means as if the Prophet had said, that they would not be covetous of money. But this meaning can hardly suit this place; and we see that the best sense seems to be, that they would heedlessly rush on swords, as though they could not be wounded.
It afterwards follows, Through the city shall they march; over the wall shall they run here and there; into houses shall they climb; through the windows shall they enter like a thief. The Prophet here shows that the Jews in vain trusted in their fortified cities, for the enemies would easily penetrate into them. They shall march, he says, through the city, that is, as though there were no gates to it. The meaning then is, that though Judea abounded in cities, which seemed impregnable and appeared sufficient to arrest the course of enemies, as it had happened almost always, so that great armies were forced to desist when any strong fortified city stood in their way; yet the Prophet says that cities would be no impediment to the Assyrians at their coming to Judea, for they would march through the city, as along a plain road, where no gates are closed against them. They shall then march through the midst of cities as through a plain or open fields. To the same purpose is what follows, They shall run here and there over the wall, he says. These are indeed hyperbolical words; yet, when we consider how slow men are to fear punishment, we must allow that the Prophet in these expressions does not exceed moderation. They shall then run up and down through the city; that is, “In vain you expect that there will be to you any rest or quietness, for ye think that you sill be able for a time to sustain the onsets of your enemies: This,” he says, “will by no means be the case, for they shall run here and there over the wall, as though it were a plain. Besides, they shall climb into the houses, and enter in through the windows, and do this as a thief; that is, though there should be no hostile attack, yet they shall stealthily and secretly penetrate into your houses: when there will be a great tumult, when the whole regions shall meet in arms, and when ye will think yourselves able to resist, they will then as thieves quietly enter into your houses and come in through the windows, and ye shall not be able to close up the passage against them.”
Then he adds, Before their face shall the earth tremble, and in anguish shall be the heavens; the sun and the moon shall become dark, and the stars shall withdraw their brightness. The Prophet speaks here more hyperbolically; but we must ever remember that he addressed men extremely stupid: it then behaved him to speak in an unusual manner, that he might touch their feelings; for it avails nothing to speak in all ordinary way to perverse men, especially to those who have divested themselves of all shame, and whom Satan has fascinated, so that they fear nothing and grieve at nothing. When therefore each stupidity lays hold on the minds of men, God must thunder that his word may be heard. As then the listlessness of the people was monstrous, so it was necessary, so to speak, for the Prophet to utter monstrous words. This is the reason why he now says, Before their face (namely, that of the enemies) shall the land tremble; and then he adds, The heavens also shall be in anguish; not that the heavens would fear the Assyrians; but the Prophet intimates that such would be the vengeance, that it would terrify the whole world; and this he intimates, that the Jews might cease to expect any subterfuges, for they flattered themselves, as though they could fly on the clouds, or could find for themselves some hiding-places or some corners at a distance. The Prophet gives them to understand that the whole world would be full of horror, when the Lord would come furnished with his army. He speaks also of the sun and the moon; as though he said, “There will be no more any hope of aid from created things; for the vital light itself shall fail, when the Lord shall pour forth the flood of his fury: The sun and the moon, he says, shall become dark; and the stars shall withhold their brightness. Though then ye lift up your eyes, not even a spark of light will there be to comfort you, for darkness on every side will cover you; and ye shall know by heaven as well as by earth that God is angry with you. Here, in short, he shuts up against the Jews every avenue to hope; for not only the Assyrian will rage on earth, but God will also give signs of vengeance from heaven, so that the sun will be constrained to show such a sign, as well as the moon and all the stars.
He at last adds, And Jehovah will utter his voice before his army. The Prophet seems in this verse to anticipate whatever objection men might adduce. “O! thou denounces on us great terrors, and as if the Assyrians were not to be counted as men, as if no other people were in the world, as if there was no other army, as if there were no other forces, as if none else had courage; but if the Assyrians are at this day formidable, they have yet neighbors who can gather a force sufficient easily to oppose them ” And Egypt was then a populous country, and well fortified; and who would not have said that the Egyptians were equal to the Assyrians? and the Jews also thought themselves safe through a treaty with them. And then there was Syria; and there were many kingdoms, with which the Jews might have boasted that they were surrounded, so that no access to them was open to the Assyrians; for however insufficient were the people of Moab or the people of Amman, yet they were all joined together, even Edom, and Ammon, and Moab: and then Tyrus and Sidon, and the many neighboring kingdoms, might certainly have been sufficient to resist the Assyrians. Now, that no one might object all this, the Prophet shortly anticipates it by saying, that God would be the leader of his army; as though he had said, “I have already declared this to be the hand of God: for the Assyrians will not come here of their own accord; that is, without being stirred up by God: but as this truth has not as yet sufficiently moved your feelings, know that God will be the leader of this army: God will send forth his voice before his army. ” Here he distinctly calls the Assyrians the attendants of God; they shall not then come as soldiers hired by their own king, they shall not come as carrying on war for an earthly king, but the Lord himself shall guide them, and by his voice encourage them. By this expression the Prophet shows that the Jews would not have a contest with one nation only, but also with God himself and with all his celestial power.
He therefore says, God will utter his voice before his army; for very great will be his camp. He again repeats that the multitude which was to execute the biddings of God would be so great, that the Jews would seek forces in vain to resist it. Strong, he says, is he who executes his word. He expresses more clearly what I have stated already, that though cupidity impelled the Assyrians, that though they were intent on rapine and plunder, yet they would not come merely through an impulse of their own, but that the Lord would prepare them and use them as his instruments: “ Powerful, then, is he who does the word of God; that is, who executes his command; not that the Assyrians designed to show regard to God or to offer to him their service, as the faithful do, who willingly devote themselves to Him; but that the Lord by his secret providence guided them and employed them to punish his own people.
He afterwards adds in the last place, For great will be the day of Jehovah and terrible, and who will endure it? In this clause he shows that the vengeance would be such as would reduce the Jews to nothing, and that it was now time to repent, and that if they still turned a deaf ear to what the Prophet denounces, God would punish their perverseness.
Now with regard to what he says, that strong is he who does the word of God, we have elsewhere reminded you that men serve God in two ways, — they either execute his commands willingly, or are led to do so by a blind impulse. The angels and the faithful perform God’s commands, because they are guided by the spirit of obedience; but the wicked also, and the devil who is their head, fulfill God’s biddings; this, however, is not to be imputed to them as obedience, for they are only led by their own wicked purposes, and seek to destroy, as far as they can, the whole government of God; but they are constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey God, not of their own accord or willingly, as I have said, but the Lord turns all their efforts to answer the end which he has decreed. Whatever, then, Satan and the wicked attempt to do, they at the same time serve God and obey his commands; and though they rage against God, he yet holds them in by his bridle, and also so guides their attempts and their purposes as to answer his own ends. In this sense, then, it is, that Joel says, that the Assyrians would do the word of God; not that it was their purpose to obey God, not that God had commanded them anything, but he puts the word of the Lord here for his secret purpose. As, then, the wicked perform no voluntary obedience to God, but constrained, when they execute God’s commands; so there is a twofold command or word of God: there is the command by which he teaches his own children and leads them to obey him; and there is another, a hidden command, when he deigns not to address men, and shows not what pleases him or what he means to do, but suffers them to be led by their own sinful desires; in the meantime, he has his own secret purpose, which by them he executes though without their intention.
The Prophet, having proclaimed the dreadful judgment which we have noticed, now shows that he did not intend to terrify the people without reason, but, on the contrary, to encourage them to repentance; which he could not do without offering to them the hope of pardon; for as we have said before, and as it may be collected from the whole of Scripture, men cannot be restored to the right ways except they entertain a hope of God’s mercy inasmuch as he who has been ungodly, when he despairs, wholly disregards himself, observing no restraint. Hence the Prophet now represents God as propitious and merciful, that he might thus kindly allure the people to repentance.
He says first, And even now the Lord says, Turn ye to me. The Prophet exhorts the people, not in his own name, but speaks in the person of God himself. He might indeed have borne witness to the favor which he proclaimed; but the discourse becomes more striking by introducing God as the speaker. And there is a great importance in the words, even now; for when one considers what we have noticed in the beginning of the chapter, a prospect of relief could hardly have been deemed possible. God had, indeed, in various ways, tried to restore the people to the right way; but, as we have seen, the greater part had become so void of feeling, that the scourges of God were wholly ineffectual; there remained, then, nothing but the utter destruction which the Prophet threatened them with at the beginning of the second chapter. Yet, in this state of despair, he still sets forth some hope of mercy, provided they turned to him; even now, he says. The particles וגם ugam are full of emphasis, “even now” that is, “Though ye have too long abused God’s forbearance, and with regard to you, the opportunity is past, for ye have closed the door against yourselves; yet even now, — which no one could have expected, and indeed what ought to be thought incredible by yourselves, — even now God waits for you, and invites you to entertain hope of salvation.” But it was necessary that these two particles, even now, should be added; for it is not in the power of men to fix for themselves, as they please, the season for mercy. God here shows the acceptable time, as Isaiah says (Isaiah 49:8) to be, when he has not yet rejected men, but when he offers to be propitious. We must then remember that the Prophet gives not here liberty to men to delay the time, as the profane and scorners are wont to do, who trifle with God from day to day; but the Prophet here shows that we must obey the voice of God, when he invites us, as also Isaiah says, ‘Behold now the time accepted, behold the day of salvation: seek God now, for he is near; call on him while he may be found.’ So then, as I have reminded you, these two particles, even now, are added, that men may be made attentive to the voice of God when he invites them, that they may not delay till tomorrow, for the Lord may then close the door, and repentance may be too late. We at the same time see how indulgently God bears with men, since he left a hope of pardon to a people so obstinate and almost past recovery.
Even now, he says, turn ye to me with your whole heart. The Prophet here reminds us that we must not act feignedly with God; for men are ever disposed to trifle with him. We indeed see what almost the whole world is wont to do. God graciously meets us and is ready to receive us unto favor, though we have a hundred times alienated ourselves from him; but we bring nothing but hypocrisy and disguise: hence the Prophet declares here distinctly, that this dissimulation does not please God, and that they can hide nothing, who only pretend some sort of repentance by external signs, and that what is required is the serious and sincere feeling of the heart. This is what he means by the whole heart; not that perfect repentance can be formed in men, but the whole or complete heart is opposed to a divided heart: for men well understand that God is not ignorant; yet they divide their heart, and when they bestow some portion on God, they think that he is satisfied; and in the meantime there remains an interior and some hidden perverseness, which separates them far from God. This vice the Prophet now condemns, when he says, Turn with the whole heart. He then shows that it is an hypocrisy abominable to God, when men keep the greater part of their heart, as it were, closed up, and think it enough, if only they bring, so to speak, some volatile feeling.
He afterwards adds, fasting, and weeping, and mourning; and by these words he shows how grievously they had sinned; as though he said, that they deserved not only one kind of destruction, but were worthy of hundred deaths; that God therefore would not now be content with any common repentance, and except they came suppliantly and deeply felt their own guilt. It is indeed true, that we ought daily and even constantly to sigh, because we continue almost every hour to provoke God’s wrath against us; but the Prophet here speaks of solemn fasting, because the people had so grievously offended God that there was required some extraordinary confession, such as he here describes. Come then to me with fasting, and weeping, and wailing ” that is “Show at length that you are guilty and submissively deprecate the vengeance which ye have through your wickedness deserved.” He speaks like a judge, when he tells the criminal, not to act dissemblingly, but simply to confess his fault. The guilty are indeed wont to weave many excuses to avoid punishment; but when the judge deems a man guilty, and he is abundantly proved to be so, he says, “What good can you do? for these your shuffling and subterfuges make your case worse: for now I hold you bound, and you cannot escape by these shifts, and will only the more provoke my displeasure. If then you wish me to show you favor, own how grievously you have offended, and without any coloring; confess now that you are worthy of death, and that nothing else remains for you, except I mercifully pardon you: for if you try to extenuate your crime, if you attempt by some excuse to seek reprief, you will gain nothing.” So now does the Lord deal with this people: Turn to me, he says; first, sincerely; then with fasting, with weeping, and with wailing; that is, “Let it appear that you suppliantly deprecate the destruction which ye have deserved, for moderate repentance will not do, inasmuch as ye are guilty before me of so many crimes.” We now apprehend the Prophet’s meaning.
He then subjoins, Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn to Jehovah your God. The Prophet again repeats that we ought to deal sincerely with God; for all those ceremonies, by which men imagine that they discharge their duties, are mere mockeries, when they are not preceded by a pure and sincere heart. But as they were wont under mournful circumstances to rend their garments, he therefore says, “God has become now insensible to these customs; for with regard to men, ye are ceremonious enough, and more than enough: ye indeed rend your garments, and thus draw pity from men, and yet your heart remains whole, there is no rending, no opening; Rend then your heart, ” that is, “Leave off thus to mock God, as ye have been wont to do, and begin with your heart.” It is indeed certain that the orientals were given to many ceremonies; but the vice the Prophet here condemns in the Jews is natural as it were to all men; so that every one of us is inclined to hypocrisy, and has need of having his attention drawn to the sincerity of the heart. We must then remember that this truth is to be set forth at all times and to all nations. Let any one search himself and he will find that he labors under this evil, — that he would rather reed his garment than his heart. And since the Jews usually observed this custom, the Prophet does not without reason deride it, and say, that it was of no account with God except they rent their hearts. But when he bids them to rend their hearts and not their garments, though he seems to repudiate that external practice, he does not yet distinctly condemn it, but intimates that it was a lawful thing, provided the heart was rent. Now this expression, Rend the heart, ought not to be deemed harsh, for it is to be referred to the external practice: when they rent the garments, they made themselves naked before God and put off all ornaments; but he wished them to be displeased with themselves, and rather to make bare the heart itself. The heart of hypocrites, we know, is wrapped up, and they ever have recourse to hiding places, that they may avoid the presence of God. Then the similitude is most suitable, when the Prophet bids them to rend the heart. Besides, the passage is clear enough, and needs not many remarks; it means, that God regards the real feeling of the heart, as it is said in Jeremiah [Jeremiah 4:14 ]; he is not content with ocular obedience, such as men exhibit, but he would have us to deal with him in sincerity and truth.
Hence he repeats again, Turn to Jehovah your God. Here the Prophet shows, from what God is, that men foolishly and grossly deceive themselves when they would please God with their ceremonies: “What!” he says, “have you to do with a child?” For the import of the words is this, — “When an offense against man is to be removed, ye anxiously come to him: now when ye perceive that God is angry with you, ye think that he will be propitious to you, if ye only trifle with him; can God bear such a reproach?” We hence see what the Prophet means when he says, Turn to Jehovah your God; that is, “Remember that you have not to do with a block of wood or with a stone, but with your God, who searches hearts, and whom mortals can by no crafts deceive ” The same is said by Jeremiah, ‘Israel, if thou turnest, turn to me,’ (Jeremiah 4:1;) that is, “Pretend not to turn by circuitous courses and windings, but come in a direct way, and with a real feeling of heart, for I am he who calls thee ” So also now the Prophet says, Turn to Jehovah your God
Then follows the promise of pardon, For he is propitious and merciful. We have already said that repentance is preached in vain, except men entertain a hope of salvation; for they can never be brought to fear God truly, unless they trust in him as their Father, as it is stated in Psalms 130:4 ‘With thee is propitiation that thou mayest be feared.’ Hence, whenever the Prophets were anxious to effect anything by their doctrine, while exhorting the people to repentance, they joined to the invitation “Come,” the second part, “Ye shall not come in vain.” This “Come,” comprehends all exhortations to repentance; “Ye shall not come in vain,” includes this testimony respecting God’s grace, that He will never reject miserable sinners, provided they return to him with the heart. The Prophet then now engaged on this second head; God, he says, is propitious and merciful. And this connection is to be observed by us; for as Satan fills us with insensibility when God invites us, so also he draws us away into despair when God denounces judgment, when he shows that it is not time for sleep. “What good will you gain?” Thus Satan by his craft disheartens us, that we may labor in vain, when we seek to be reconciled to God. Hence, whenever Scripture exhorts us to repentance, let us learn to join this second part, “God invites us not in vain.” If then we return to him, he will be instantly inclined to grant forgiveness; for he wills not that miserable men should labor in vain or be tormented. This is the benefit of which the Prophet speaks when he says that God is propitious and merciful.
He afterwards adds, that he is slow to wraths and abundant in goodness. These testimonies respecting God occur often in other places; and all the Prophets, as well as David, have borrowed these declarations from Ephesians 2:6; where the nature of God is described; and He is said there to be propitious and merciful, slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness. Though there is no need of dwelling longer on these words, as we perceive the Prophet’s design; yet more extended remarks will not be superfluous since the Prophet so much at large recommends the mercy of God. Though men too much indulge themselves in security, yet when God calls them to himself, they are not able to receive his favor; though he may testify twice or thrice that he will be propitious to them, yet he cannot persuade them but with great difficulty. This is the reason why the Prophet, after having said that God is propitious and merciful, adds, that he is slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness; it was, that the Jews might overcome their distrust, and that however much despair might keep them back, they might not yet hesitate to come to God, seeing that he declares himself to be so merciful.
He at last adds, He will repent of the evil. The Prophet here not only describes the nature of God, but goes further and says, that God, who is by nature placable, will not remain fixed in his purpose, when he sees people returning to him in sincerity; but that he suffers himself to be turned to show favor, so as to remit the punishment which he had previously denounced. And it is a mode of speaking which often occurs in Scripture, that God repents of evil; not that he really changes his purpose, but this is said according to the apprehensions of men: for God is in himself immutable, and is said to turn from his, purpose, when he remits to man the punishment he has previously threatened. Whatever proceeds from God’s mouth ought to be regarded as an inviolable decree; and yet God often threatens us conditionally, and though the condition be not expressed it is nevertheless to be understood: but when he is pacified to us and relaxes the punishment, which was in a manner already decreed according to the external word, he is then said to repent. And we know, that as we do not apprehend God such as he is, he is therefore described to us in such a way as we can comprehend, according to the measure of our infirmity. Hence God often puts on the character of men, as though he were like them; and as this mode of speaking is common, and we have spoken of it elsewhere, I now pass it by more briefly. It follows —
The Prophet seems at first sight to leave men here perplexed and doubtful; and yet in the last verse, as we have seen, he had Offered a hope of favor, provided they sincerely repented. Hence the Prophet seems not to pursue the same subject, but rather to vary it: and we have already said, that all exhortations would be frigid, nay, useless, by which God stirs us up to repentance, except he were to testify that he is ready to be reconciled. Seeing then that the Prophet here leaves the minds of men in suspense, he seems to rescind what he has before alleged respecting God’s mercy. But we must understand that this is a mode of speaking which often occurs in Scripture. For wherever God is set forth to us as one hardly willing to pardon, it is done to rouse our slothfulness, and also to shake off our negligence. We are at first torpid when God invites us, except he applies his many goads; and then we act formally in coming to him: it is hence needful that both these vices should be corrected in us, — our torpor must be roused, — and those self-complacences, in which we too much indulge ourselves, must be shaken off. And this is the object of the Prophet; for he addresses, as we have seen, men almost past recovery. If he had only said, God is ready to pardon, if he had used this way of speaking, they would have come negligently, and would not have been sufficiently touched by the fear of God: hence the Prophet here, as it were, debates the matter with them, “Even though we ought justly to despair of pardon, (for we are unworthy of being received by God,) yet there is no reason why we should despair; for who knows ” which means “God is placable and we must not despair.”
The Prophet then sets forth here the difficulty of obtaining pardon, not to leave men in suspense, for this would be contrary to his former doctrine; but to create in them a desire for the grace of God, that they might by degrees gather courage, and yet not immediately rise to confidence, but that they might come anxiously to God, and with much deliberation, duly considering their offenses. We now understand the purpose of the Prophet.
But this will be easier understood by supposing two gradations in repentance. Then the first step is, when men feel how grievously they have offended. Here sorrow is not to be immediately removed after the manner of impostors, who cajole the consciences of men, so that they indulge themselves, and deceive themselves, with empty self-flatteries. For the physician does not immediately ease pain, but considers what is more necessary: it may be he will increase it, for a thorough clearing may be needful. So also do the Prophets of God, when they observe trembling consciences, they do not immediately apply soothing consolations, but on the contrary show that they ought not, as we have already said, to trifle with God, and exhort them while willingly running to God, to set before them his terrible judgment, that they may be more and more humbled. The second step is, when the Prophets cheer the minds of men, and show that God now willingly meets them, and desires nothing more than to see men willing to be reconciled to him.
The Prophet is now urging them to take the first step, when he says, Who knows whether the Lord will turn? But some may object and say, “Then the Prophet has spoken inconsistently; for first he has described God as merciful, and has spoken of his goodness without any reserve; and then he throws in a doubt: he seems here to observe no consistency.” I answer, that the Prophets of God do not always very anxiously hold to what seems consistent in their discourses; and farther, that the Prophet has not spoken here in vain or inconsiderately; for he, in the first place, generally sets forth God as merciful, and afterwards addresses particularly a people who were almost past recovery, and says, “Though ye think that it is all over with you as to your salvation, and ye deserve to be rejected by God, yet ye ought not to continue in this state; rather entertain a hope of pardon ” This is what the Prophet had in view; he throws in no doubt, so as to make the sinner uncertain, whether or not he could obtain pardons; but as I have said, he wished only to rouse torpidity, and also to shake off vain self-flatteries.
He then adds, And leave after him a blessing. We here see more clearly what I have already said, that the Prophet, considering the state of those whom he addressed, states a difficulty; for the Jews were not to escape temporary punishment, and the Prophet did not intend to dismiss them in a secure state, as though God would inflict on them no punishment; nay, he wished to bend their necks that they might receive the strokes of God, and calmly submit to his correction. But all hope might have been lost, when the Jews saw, that though the Prophet had declared that God would be propitious, they were yet not spared, but suffered severe punishment for their sins, — “What does this mean? Has God then disappointed us? We hoped that he would be propitious, and yet he ceases not to be angry with us.” Hence the Prophet now subjoins, Who knows whether he will leave behind him a blessing?
What is this — behind him? What does it mean? Even this, that as God was to be a severe judge to punish the people’s wickedness, the Prophet now says, “Though God beats you with his rods, he can yet relieve you by administering comfort. Ye indeed think that you are beaten almost to death; but the Lord will temperate his wrath, so that a blessing will follow these most grievous punishments ” We now, then, understand the purpose of the Prophet: for he does not simply promise pardon to the Jews, but mitigates the dread of punishment, that is, that though God would chastise them, he would yet give place to mercy. Then God will leave behind him a blessing; that is “These strokes shall not be incurable ” And this admonition is very necessary, whenever God deals severely with us; for when we feel his wrath, we then think that there is no grace remaining. It is then not without reason that the Prophet says, that God leaves behind him a blessing; which means, that when he shall pass by us with his rod, he will yet restrain his severity, so that some blessing will remain.
He afterwards adds, מנחה ונסך ליהוה אלהיכם meneche unesac laIeuve Aleicam, an offering and a libation, he says, to Jehovah your God. This has been designedly added, that the Jews might entertain more hope. For with regard to them, they had deserved to be wholly exterminated a hundred times; yea, they deserved to pine away utterly through famine: but the Prophet intimates here, that God would have a regard for his own glory and his worship. “Though,” he says, “we have deserved to perish by famine, yet God will be moved by another consideration, even this, — that there may be some offering, that there may be some libation in the temple: since then God has chosen us a people to himself, and has required the first-fruits to be offered to him, and has consecrated for himself all our provision and all our produce in the first-fruits, and also in the daily offerings, though he has now resolved to consume us with famine and want, yet that his worship may continue, he will make the land fruitful to us, corn and wine will yet be produced for us,” But the Prophet does not mean that there would only be so much corn as would be enough for offerings, or only so much wine as would be sufficient for libations; but he means, as I have already said, that though God would not provide for the safety of the people, he would yet have a regard for his own glory. God required the corn and the wine to be offered to him, not that he needed them, but because he consecrated to himself our provision. As then he would have the food and provisions, on which we live, to be sacred to him, he will not allow them wholly to fail. “God will yet surely pity us, and he will pity us, because he has deigned to choose us a people to himself, and so to join us with himself, that he wishes to eat, as it were, with us.” For God seemed then to partake, as it were, of the same table with his people; for the law required bread or the ears of corn, and also wine, to be offered to God: not that he, as I have said, needed such supports; but that he might show that he had all things in common with his people. This communion then, or fellow-participation of God with his chosen people, gave them more hope; and this is what the Prophet had in view.
Here again the Prophet reminds them that there was need of deep repentance; for not only individuals had transgressed, but the whole people had become guilty before God; and we also know how many and grievous their sins had been. There is no wonder then that the Prophet requires a public profession of repentance.
He bids them first to sound the trumpet in Zion. This custom, as we have seen at the beginning of the chapter, was in common use under the Law; they summoned their meetings by the sound of trumpets. There is then no doubt but that the Prophet here refers to an extraordinary meeting. They sounded the trumpets whenever they called the people to the festivals. But it must have been unusual for the Jews to proclaim a fast on account of God’s heavy judgment, which was to come on them unless it was prevented. He then shows the purpose of this, bidding them to sanctify a fast By this word קדש kodesh, he means a proclamation for a holy purpose. Sanctify, then a fast, that is, Proclaim a fast in the name of God.
We slightly touched on the subject of fasting in the first chapter, but deferred a fuller discussion to this place. Fasting, we know, is not of itself a meritorious work, as the Papists imagine it to be: there is, indeed, strictly speaking, no work meritorious. But the Papists dream that fasting, in addition to its merit and worth, is also by itself of much avail in the worship of God; and yet fasting, when regarded in itself is an indifferent work. (5) It is not then approved by God, except for its end; it must be connected with something else, otherwise it is a vain thing. Men, by private fastings prepare themselves for the exercise of prayer, or they mortify their own flesh, or seek a remedy for some hidden vices. Now I do not call fasting temperance; for the children of God, we know, ought through their whole life to be sober and temperate in their habits; but fasting, I regard that to be, when something is abstracted from our moderate allowance: and such a fast, when practiced privately, is, as I have said, either a preparation for the exercise of prayer, or a means to mortify the flesh, or a remedy for some vices.
But as to a public fast, it is a solemn confession of guilt, when men suppliantly approach the throne of God, acknowledge themselves worthy of death, and yet ask pardon for their sins. Fasting then, with regard to God, is similar to black and mean garments and a long beard before earthly judges. The criminal goes not before the judge in a splendid dress, with all his fine things, but casts away every thing that was before elegant in his appearance, and by his uncombed hair and long beard he tries to excite the compassion of his judge. There is, at the same time, another reason for fasting; for when we have to do with men, we wish to please their eyes and conciliate their favor; and he who fasts, not only testifies openly that he is guilty, but he also reminds himself of his guilt; for as we are not sufficiently touched by the sense of God’s wrath, those aids are useful which help to excite and affect us. He then who fasts, excites himself the more to penitence.
We now perceive the right use of fasting. But it is of public fasting that the Prophet speaks here. For what purpose? That the Jews, whom he had before summoned, might present themselves before God’s tribunal, and that they might come there, not with vain excuses, but with humble prayer. This is the design of fasting. We now see how foolishly the Papists have abused fasting; for they think it to be a meritorious work; they imagine that God is honored by abstinence from meat; they also mention those benefits of fasting to which I have referred; but they join fasts with festivals, as if there was some religion in abstaining from flesh or certain meats. We now then perceive by what gross puerilities the Papists trifle with God. We must then carefully notice the end in view, whenever the Scripture speaks of fasting; for all things will be confounded, except we lay hold on the principle which I have stated — that fasting ought ever to be connected with its end. We shall now proceed.
(5) Medium opus, “a middle work, neutral, neither good nor bad”. — Ed.
Proclaim, he says, a meeting עצרה otsare is not properly an assembly, but the deed itself: (6) hence also the word is transferred to festivals. Proclaim, then, a meeting, call the people, sanctify the assembly. The word, sanctify, seems to be taken here in a sense different from what it had been before. The people, in order to engage in holy services, performed those rites, as it is well known, by which they cleansed themselves from their pollutions. No one entered the temple without washing; and no one offered a sacrifice without abstaining from an intercourse with his wife. The Prophet then alludes to these legal purgations when he says Sanctify the assembly.
He afterwards adds, Bring together the old, gather the young sucking the breasts. With regard to the old, we have said before that they are separately named, because they ought to have taken the lead by their example; and further a greater guilt belonged to them, for we know that it is a duty incumbent on the old to govern others, and, as it were, to hold the reins. But when the old themselves become dissolute, and restrain not the lusts of the young, they are doubly culpable before God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet bids here the old to be called; for it became them to be the leaders of others in confessing their repentance. But what follows seems strange. He would have the young, sucking the breasts, to be assembled. Why are these brought in as involved in guilt? Besides, the people were to own their repentance; and yet infants are without understanding and knowledge; so that they could not humble themselves before God. It must, then, have been a mockery and a vain show; nay, the Prophet seems to encourage the people in hypocrisy by bidding young infants to assemble together with men and women. To this I answer, that children ought to have been brought together, that those grown up and advanced in years might through them perceive what they deserved; for the wrath of God, we know, reached to the very infants, yea, and to brute animals: when God puts forth his hand to punish any people, neither asses nor oxen are exempt from the common scourge. Since, then, God’s wrath comes upon brute animals and upon young infants, it is no wonder that the Lord bids all to come forth publicly and to make a confession of repentance; and we see the same to have been the case with brute animals; and when, if the Lord grants, we shall come to the Prophet Jonah, we shall then speak on this subject. The Ninevites, when they proclaimed a fast, not only abstained themselves from meat and drink, but constrained also their oxen and horses to do the same. Why? Because the very elements were involved, as it were, with them in the same guilt: “Lord, we have polluted the earth; whatever we possess we have also polluted by our sins; the oxen the horses, and the asses, are in themselves innocent, but they have contracted contagion from our vices: that we may therefore obtain mercy, we not only offer ourselves suppliantly before thy face, but we bring also our oxen and horses; for if thou exercises the fullest severity against us, thou wilt destroy whatever is in our possession.” So also now, when the Prophet bids infants to be brought before God, it is done on account of their parents. Infants were in themselves innocent with regard to the crimes of which he speaks; but yet the Lord could have justly destroyed the infants together with those of advanced age. It is then no wonder that in order to pacify God’s wrath the very infants are summoned with the rest: but as I have already said, the reason is on account of their parents, that the parents themselves might perceive what they deserved before God, and that they might the more abhor their sins by observing that God would take vengeance on their children, except he was pacified. For they ought to have reasoned from the less to the greater: “See, if God exercises his own right towards us, there is destruction not only hanging over us, but also over our children; if they are guilty through our crimes, what can we say of ourselves, who are the authors of these evils? The whole blame belongs to us; then severe and dreadful will be God’s vengeance on us, except we be reconciled to him.”
We now then perceive why infants were called, together with their parents; not that they might confess their penitence, as that was not compatible with their age, but that their parents might be more moved, and that such a sight might touch their feelings, and that dread might also seize them on seeing that their children were doomed to die with them for no other reason, but that by their contagion and wickedness they had infected the whole land and everything that the Lord had bestowed on them.
He afterwards subjoins, Let the bridegroom go from his closet, or recess, and the bride from her chamber. It is the same as though the Prophet had bidden every joy to cease among the people; for it was of itself no evil to celebrate nuptials; but it behooved the people to abstain from every rejoicing on seeing the wrath of God now suspended over them. Hence, things in themselves lawful ought for a time to be laid aside when God appears angry with us; for it is no season for nuptials or for joyful feasts, when God’s wrath is kindled, when the darkness of death spreads all around. No wonder, then, that the Prophet bids the bridegroom and the bride to come forth from their chamber, that is, to cast aside every joy, and to defer their nuptials to a more suitable time, and now to undergo their delights, for the Lord appeared armed against all. It would have been then to provoke, as it were, His wrath, to indulge heedlessly in pleasures, when he wished not only to terrify, but almost to frighten to death those who had sinned; for when the Lord threatens vengeance, what else is indifference but a mockery of his power? “I have called you to weeping and wailing; but ye have said, ‘We will feast:’ as I live, saith the Lord, this iniquity shall never be blotted out.” We see how extremely displeased the Lord appears there to be with those who, having been called to weeping and fasting, did yet indulge themselves in their pleasures; for such, as I have said, altogether laugh to scorn the power of God. The Prophet’s exhortation ought then to be noticed, when he bids the bridegroom and the bride to leave their nuptials, and to put on the same mournful appearance as the rest of the people. He thus shook off heedlessness from all, since God had appeared with tokens of his wrath. This is the sum of the whole.
(6) That is, restraint. Literally it is, Proclaim a restraint. And as it means a restraint generally from labor as well as from food, it is applied to designate a feast-day, when men are detained or restrained from labor. — Ed.
Then it follows, Between the court and the altar let the priests, the ministers of Jehovah, weep. It was the priests’ office, we know, to pray in the name of the whole people; and now the Prophet follows this order. It was not, indeed, peculiar to the priests to pray and to ask pardon of God; but they prayed in the name of all the people. The reason must be well known to us; for God intended by these legal types to remind the Jews, that they could not offer prayers to him, except through some mediator; the people were unworthy to offer prayers by themselves. Hence the priest was, as it were, the middle person. The whole of this is to be referred to Christ; for by him we now pray; he is the Mediator who intercedes for us. The people stood then afar off, we now dare to come nigh to God; for the vail is rent, and through Christ we are all made priests. Hence, we are allowed in familiar way and in confidence to call God our Father: and yet without Christ’s intercession, no access to God would be open to us. This then was the reason for the legal appointment. Hence the Prophet now says, Let the priests weep; not that he wished the people in the meantime to neglect their duty; but he expresses what had been prescribed by the law of God; that is, that the priests should offer supplications in the name of the people.
And he says, Between the court and the altar; for the people remained in the court, the priests themselves had a court by its side which they called the sacerdotal court; but the people’s court was over against the sanctuary. Then the priest stood, as it were, in the middle between God, that is, the ark of the covenant, and the people: the people also were standing there. We now perceive that what the Prophet meant was, that the people had the priests as their mediators to offer prayers; and yet the confession of them all was public. He calls the priests the ministers of Jehovah, as we have before found. He thus designates their office; as though he had said, that they were not more worthy than the rest of the people, as though they excelled by their own virtue or merits; but that the Lord had conferred this honor on the tribe of Levi by choosing them to be his ministers. It was then on account of their office that they came nearer to God, and not for any merit in their own works.
He further adds, Spare, Lord, or be propitious to, thy people; and give not thy heritage to reproach, that the Gentiles may rule over them. Here the Prophet leaves nothing to the priests, but to flee to God’s mercy; as though he had said that now no plea remained for the people, and that they were greatly deceived if they pretended any excuse, and that their whole hope was in God’s mercy. He afterwards shows the ground on which they were to seek and to hope for mercy; and he calls their attention to God’s gratuitous covenant, Give not thy heritage for a reproach to the Gentiles. By these words he shows, that if the Jews depended on themselves, they were past recovery; for they had so often and in such various ways provoked God’s wrath, that they could not hope for any pardon: they had also been so obstinate that the door as it were had been closed against them on account of their hardness. But the Prophet here reminds them, that as they had been freely chosen by God as his peculiar people, there remained for them a hope of deliverance, but that it ought not to have been sought in any other way. We now then understand the design of the Prophet, when he speaks of God’s heritage; as though he had said, that the people could now undertake nothing to pacify God, had they not been God’s heritage: Give not then thy heritage to reproach. He had in view the threatening, which he had before mentioned; for it was an extreme kind of vengeance, when the Lord determined to visit his people with utter destruction; after having worn them out and consumed them by famine and want, God resolved wholly to consume them by the sword of enemies. It is then to this vengeance that he now alludes when he says, That the Gentiles may not rule over them. It is therefore absurd, as many do, to connect with this the discourse concerning the locusts: such a thing is wholly inconsistent with the design of the Prophet. (7)
It is then added, Why should they say among the people, Where is their God? The Prophet now adduces another reason, by which the Jews might propitiate God, and that is, because his own glory is concerned: this reason has indeed an affinity to the former, for God could not expose his heritage to the reproaches of the Gentiles without subjecting also his holy name to their blasphemies. But the Prophet shows here more distinctly that God’s glory would be subject to reproach among the nations, if he dealt with the people according to the full demands of justice; for the Gentiles would contemptuously deride him, as though he could not save his people. Hence in this second clause he reminds us, that when engaged in seeking pardon, we ought to place before our eyes The glory of God, that we ought not to seek our own salvation without remembering the holy name of God, which ought of right to be preferred to all other things. And at the same time he strengthens also the hope of the people, when he teaches that the glory of God is connected with the salvation of those who had sinned; as though he had said, “God, that he may provide for his own glory, will have mercy on you.” They must then have come more willingly to God’s presences when they saw that their salvation was connected with the glory of God, and that they would be saved that the name of God might be preserved safe and free from blasphemies.
We now then perceive what the Prophet meant in this verse: he first strips the Jews of all confidence in works, showing that nothing remained for them except they fled to God’s free mercy. He then shows that this mercy is folded on God’s gratuitous covenant, because they were his heritage. In the third place, he shows that God would be merciful to them from a regard to his own glory, lest he should expose it to the reproaches of the Gentiles, if he exercised extreme severity towards his people. Let us now proceed —
(7) Dr. Henderson, in his learned work on the Minor Prophets, lately published, agrees with Calvin in rejecting the interpretation alluded to here, though adopted by many learned men. He considers that the Assyrians, and not locusts, are described in the beginning of this chapter and that the Prophet “employs language borrowed from the appearance and movements of these insects, in order to make a deeper impression upon his hearers, whose minds were full of ideas derived from them as instruments of the calamity under which they were suffering.” The locusts in the first chapter are spoken of as having already appeared; but the judgment detailed in this chapter is represented as future. — Ed.
The Prophet here again repeats, that prayers would not be in vain, provided the Jews truly humbled themselves before God. Then God, he says, will be jealous for his land and spare his people. He confirms what I have already said that God would deal mercifully with his people, because they were his heritage, that is because he had chosen them for himself. For the title of heritage, whence does it proceed except from the gratuitous covenant of God? for the Jews were not more excellent than others, but election was the only fountain from which the Jews had to draw any hope. We now then see why these words, God will be jealous for his land, are added; as though he said “Though this land has been polluted by the wickedness of men, yet God has consecrated it to himself: He will, therefore, regard his own covenant, and thus turn away his face from looking on their sins.” He will spare, he says, his people, that is, his chosen people: for, as I have said, the Prophet no doubt ascribes here the safety of the people, and the hope of their safety, to the gratuitous election of God; for the jealousy of God is nothing else but the vehemence and ardor of his paternal love. God could not, indeed, express how ardently he loves those whom he has chosen without borrowing, as it were, what belongs to men. For we know that passions appertain not to him; but he is set forth as a father, who burns with jealousy when he sees his son ill-treated; he acknowledges his own blood, his bowels are excited, — or, as a husband, who, on seeing dishonor done to his wife, is moved; and though he had been a hundred times offended, he yet forgets every offense; for he regards that sacred union between himself and his wife. Such a character, then, does God assume, that he might the better express how much and how intensely he loves his own elect. Hence he says, God will be jealous for his land. As he has hitherto been inflamed with just wrath, so now a contrary feeling will overcome the former; not that God is agitated by various passions, as I have already said, but this mode of speaking transferred from men, is adopted on account of our ignorance.
He afterwards says, God has answered (8) and said to his people, Behold, I will send to you corn, wine, and oil. The Prophet does not here recite what had been done, but, on the contrary, declares, that God in future would be reconciled to them; as though he said, “I have hitherto been a herald of war, and bidden all to prepare themselves for the coming evil: but now I am a messenger to proclaim peace to you; if only you are resolved to turn to God, and to turn unfeignedly, I do now testify to you that God will be propitious to you; and as to your prayers know that they are already heard; that is, know that as soon as they were conceived, they were heard by the Lord.” Hence he says, He has answered; that is “If, moved by my exhortation, ye return with sincerity to God, he will meet you, nay, he has already met you; he waits not until ye have done all that ye ought to do; but when he bids you to come to his temple and to weep, he at the same time wipes off your tears, he removes every cause of sorrow and anxiety.” God, then, has answered; that is, “I am to you a certain and sufficient witness, that your prayers have been already accepted before God, though, as I have before reminded you, ye have not offered them.”
And, at the same time, he speaks of the effect, Behold, I will send to you corn, wine, and oil; and ye shall be satisfied. Here, by the effects, he proves that God would be propitious; for want of food was the first evidence of God’s displeasure, to be followed by the destruction which the Prophet had threatened. What does he say now? God will restore to you abundance of corn, wine, and oil; and he says further, I will not give you to the Gentiles for a reproach that they may rule over you
We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet; for he not only promises that God would be placable but also declares that he was already placable; and this he confirms by external tokens; for God would immediately remove the sins of his wrath, and turn them into blessings. Hence he says, ‘He will give you abundance of corn, wine, and oil, so as fully to satisfy you.’ As they had perceived that God was angry with them by the sterility of the land, and also by its produce being consumed by chafers, by locusts, and other animals or insects; so now the Lord would testify his love to them by the abounding fruitfulness of every thing. And then he joins another sentence, I will not give you any more for a reproach to the Gentiles. When he says, “any more,” he intimates that they had been before exposed to reproach; and we indeed know that they were then suffering many evils; but there remained that destruction of which we have heard. God does then here promise, that they should no more be subject to the reproaches of the Gentiles provided they repented; for the Prophet ever speaks conditionally. It now follows —
(8) There is no reason for rendering this in the past tense: it is in the same predicament with the verb, “will be jealous,” in the former verse, and ought to be rendered like it in the future time, “will answer.” The comment founded on this rendering, though true in itself, is yet too refined, and suits not this place. — Ed.
In this verse he more fully confirms the Jews, that they might not be afraid of reproach from the Gentiles. It may have been that the Assyrians were now in readiness, prepared for war; it was then difficult to free the Jews from every fear. The Prophet had said generally that they would be no more subject to the mockeries of the Gentiles; but yet fear could not but be felt by them. “We see the Assyrians already armed; and what can we expect but to be devoured by them? for we are not able to resist them.” Anxiety then must have constantly tormented the Jews, had he not distinctly and in express words declared, “It is in God’s power to drive away the Assyrians, and to confound all their attempts.” The Prophet, therefore, is now on this subject. The Northlander, (9) he says, will I remove far from you. The Chaldeans and the Assyrians, we know, were northward of Judea. He then means here by the North those enemies, whose preparations terrified the Jews. Hence he says, I will drive them from you, and drive them far into a land of desert and of drought (10). By these words he intimates, that though furnished with the greatest forces, and gaping for the land of Judea, and ready in their cupidity to devour it, the Syrians would yet return home without effecting anything; I will cast them into a desert land. In vain, he says, they covet your abundance, and desire to satisfy themselves with the fertility of your land; for I will drive them and their dread away.
He then adds, His face to the east sea, and his rear to the hindmost sea; that is, I will scatter them here and there, so that his front shall be to one sea, (supposed to be the Salt Sea,) and his extremity to the hindermost sea, which was doubtless the Mediterranean: for the Salt Sea was east to the Jews, that is, it lies, as it is well known, towards the east. We now perceive in part what the Prophet means. But it must, at the same time, be added, that the Prophet removes fear from the Jews, which occupied their minds by observing the power of the Assyrians so great and extensive. “What is to be done? though God is present with us, and protects us by his help, yet how will he resist the Assyrians, for that army will fill the land”. “God will yet find means,” says the Prophet; “though the Assyrians should occupy the whole land, from the Salt or the East Sea to the Meridian or Mediterranean Sea, yet will God drive away this vast multitude: there is no reason then that ye should fear.” Hence the Prophet has designedly set forth how terrible the Assyrian forces would be, that he might show that they could not be resisted, unless the Lord should disperse them and disappoint all their efforts. At last he adds, And his ill savor shall ascend: but I am not able to finish to-day.
(9) Dr. Henderson agrees with Calvin in rendering this word, Northern or Highlander, and quotes Coverdale as rendering it, Him of the North. He considers this word as of “prime importance in the interpretation of this prophecy.” Locusts visited Palestine not from the north, but from the south. “That, however,” he adds, “which determines the question, is the addition of the patronymic י to צפון, indicating that the North was not merely the quarter whence the subject of the discourse came, but that its native country lay to the North of Palestine; just as התימני, the Temanite, means the Southern, etc. — Ed.
(10) Literally, “Into a land dry and desolate.” — Ed.
Here he shows that God would have his turn to exalt himself, which the Assyrian presumptuously attempted to do. For God seems for a time to lie still, when he withholds himself, when he puts not forth his power, but waits to see the tendency of the insane conspiracies and the Satanic madness of those who rise up against him and his Church. But having for a time thus restrained himself, he at length comes forth; and this is what the Prophet means when he says, God has highly exalted himself to do his purpose. The Assyrian first attempted this; but now the Lord in his turn will raise up himself. God indeed could have done this before, but he would not; and we see this to be his usual mode of proceeding, to connive at the presumption of men, till the ripened time comes which he has predetermined; and then he dissipates in a moment their enterprises.
God, then, has now nobly exalted himself; therefore rejoice and exult, O Land. But he says first, Fear not, O Land; and then, Exult and rejoice For it was necessary, in the first place, to remove the fear with which the minds of all were now seized. The Prophet, then, begins with consolation; for the Jews could have hardly entertained any joy, except the fear that oppressed them was first shaken off. Hence the Prophet maintains due order by saying, “Fear not, O Land, but rather exult and rejoice.” He afterwards subjoins —
Here the Prophet turns his address to the beasts; not that his instruction suited them; but it was a more efficacious mode of speaking, when he invited the very beasts to a participation of the people’s joy; for except the Jews had been made to know that God’s wrath was now nigh at hand, no consolation which the Prophet has hitherto applied would have been of any weight with them. But now since they perceived that God’s wrath did not only suspend over them, but extended much farther, even to the beasts, and since the Lord would have mercy on them, so that his blessing would be partaken in common by the beasts and brute animals, the address was far more impressive. We hence see that the Prophet, for the best reason, directed his discourse to the very beasts, though destitute of mind and discernment. For in addressing brute animals he addressed men with double force; that is, he impressed their minds more effectually, so that they might seriously confess how great was God’s wrath, and also how great would be his blessing.
Beasts, he says, fear not. Then the beasts of the field ought to have dreaded the judgment of God which he had before denounced; for except God had been pacified to his people, the fire of his wrath would have consumed the whole land, trees and pastures; so all the beasts must have been famished. But now when God is reconciled to his people, his blessing will smile on the brute animals. What then is to be said of men? For God is properly propitious to them, and not to brute animals. We hence see that the fruit of reconciliation is made more evident, when it is in part extended to the brute creation.
He therefore says, Fear not, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the desert will grow, the trees will bring forth their fruit. By these words the Prophet intimates, that had God’s wrath toward his people been implacable, the sterility of the land would not have been improved. Now then whence came so sudden a change that the pastures grew, that the trees produced their fruits, both the fig-tree and the vine, except that God was pleased to bless the land, after having received men into favor? We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet, even this, — that the land would be made by an angry God to execute his judgment, and that there would be no remedy for the barrenness of the land until men propitiated God. This is the sum of the whole. It now follows —
He now exhorts the Jews also to rejoice, but in a way different from that of the land and of the beasts. Rejoice, he says, in your God. For the beasts and the sheep, while rejoicing, cannot raise their thoughts higher than to their food: hence, the joy of brute animals, as they say, terminates in its object. But the Prophet sets forth God before the Jews as the ground of their joy. We then see how he distinguishes them from brute animals from the land and other elements; for he not only bids them to rejoice in meat and drink, in the abundance of provisions, but he also bids them to rejoice in the Lord their God; and he says no more, “The land will yield its strength, or the vines and fig-trees, or the trees, will produce their fruit, and the pastures will grow;” no, he speaks not now in this manner, but he says “God himself will give you rain:” for he had to do with men, endued with understanding, yea, with those very Jews who had been from their childhood taught in the law of God: he speaks, not only of the land, not only of bread and wine, but of the Giver himself.
He then reminds them of God’s blessing, and declares that God would be so propitious to them as to pour down his grace upon them, and act the part of a father and a guardian towards them. God then, he says, will bring forth or give to you rain according to what is necessary. Some translate המורה emure a teacher; and the meaning of the word, we know, is doubtful. At the same time מורה mure is very often taken for rain, and sometimes generally, and sometimes for a particular kind of rain, as we shall presently see. Though then מורה mure signifies a teacher, yet the context here seems not to allow that sense. They who have thus taken it seem to have been led by this one reason, — that it is absurd to set in the first place, and as it were on a higher grade, those fading blessings which belong only to the support and nourishment of the body. But this reason is very foolish; for the Prophets, we know, lead children as it were by initial principles to a higher doctrine. No wonder then that the Prophet here affords them a taste of God’s favor in blessings belonging to the body; he afterwards ascends higher, as we shall see: and this view is certainly what the context demands; for the Prophet says at last, “I will hereafter pour my Spirit on all flesh,” etc. In these words the Prophet commends the favor of God, which ought to be held as the most valuable: but he begins now with temporal benefits, that he might lead by degrees, and by various steps, a people, rude and weak, to something higher.
Then the word, teacher, by no means suits this place; and we must mark also what immediately follows. He introduces a word derived from מורה mure; he afterwards adds מורה mure the second time, which no doubt, means rain; all confess this, and confess it to be taken for rain in the same verse. When all agree then on this point, it seems somewhat strained to render it in the same verse a teacher and also rain; especially since we find that the Prophet’s object is this, — to make the people to recognize God’s blessing in outward things. There is also another thing which has lead astray these interpreters. There follows immediately the word לצדקה latsadke, according to what is just. When they join together these word, המורה לצדקה emure latsadke, they ask, What is the rain of righteousness? They have hence thought that a teacher is here meant. But we know that משפט and צדקה meshapheth and tsadke are often taken in Scripture for a just measure, for equity. “God then will not deal with you unequally as hitherto; but having been reconciled to you, he will reassume the part of a father, and will also observe towards you a legitimate order; for things have been on both sides in confusion, inasmuch as ye have been carrying on war against God, and your wickedness has subverted the whole order of nature. But now, God being pacified towards you, there will be on both sides an equable state of things, everything will be in a fitting condition; he will not deal with you any more in an irregular manner.” We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophets and see how frivolous are the reasons which influenced these interpreters, who have rendered the words, “Teacher of righteousness.” I do not love strained expositions.
Let us now return to the words of the Prophet: He will give to you, he says, rain according is what is fit; then he adds, He will make to descend on you showering rain, (using another word;) and he adds again the word מורה mure, which, no doubt, means rain, and no one denies this. But yet it seems that the word גשם geshem has here a specific meaning, and some think it to be a violent shower, occasioned by a storm or tempest; and yet we may gather from many parts of Scripture that the word means rain in general. Now מורה mure seems here to be taken for the rain of September, which the Greeks call τξωιμον, προιμον; and so they call מלקוש melkush οψιμον, opsimon, or the latter rain, as a common interpreter has rendered it. And the cultivated land, we know, needs these two rains, that is, after sowing, and when the fruit is ripening, — after sowing, that the ground by receiving moisture may make the seed to grow; for it then wants moisture to nourish the roots. Hence, the rain of September or October, which is after sowing, is rightly called seasonable rain; and the Greeks, as I have already said, call it πρωιμον proimon; and James, following them, so calls it in James 5:7, ‘He will give you rain,’ he says, ‘both of the first time and the late rain,’ that is, of the month of March. For in those warm climates the harvests we know, is earlier than with us. We here gather the corn in July but they gather it there in May. The fruit then ripens with them in March, when they need the late rain. And in Jeremiah 5:24 it appears quite evident, that מורה mure, as in this place, is called the rain, which comes down after sowing; for God says there, ‘I will give you,’ etc., and first he uses the general word גשם geshem, and then he adds the two kinds of rain, which are also mentioned here; and afterwards he adds, ‘In their time,’ that is, each rain in its time and season. — Then מורה mure has its time, and מלקוש melkush also has its time; otherwise the words of the prophet would not be consistent.
We now see what the Prophet means. Of the word מלקום melkush we have said something in Hosea. Then the Prophet says now, that God would be so propitious to the Jews, as to neglect no means of testifying his favor towards them; for he would give them rain in the month of October and in the month of March, to fertilize the ground after sowing, and before the harvest or before the fruit came to maturity. Here then is promised to the Jews that the land would be made fertile by natural means. It now follows —
He goes on with the same subject in this verse, and shows the effects of rain; for when the earth is irrigated and satiated with sufficient moisture, it brings forth fruit, rich and plentiful. God then will cause that the rains shall not be useless, for the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine as well as oil. He afterwards adds —
The Prophet confirms what he had previously said, and states what is of an opposite character, — that God can as easily restore a rich fruitfulness to the land as he had before rendered it barren by sending devouring insects. I will give you years, (for the other years,) he says; and that the Jews might more fully understand that all this was in God’s hand, he expressly declares that the cankerworms, the chafers, and the locusts (11), were his army and as it were his hired army, whom he had employed as it seemed good to him. The spoilers, then, which had destroyed the whole produce of the land, were, as the Prophet declares, the messengers of God: it was not, he says, by chance that the locusts, or the cankerworms, or the chafers came; but God hired these soldiers, they were his forces and his army to distress the whole people; then famine and want consumed them. It is not then to no purpose that the Prophet mentions here that these destructive insects were God’s army; it is to show more fully what is here promised; for God, who had by this army devoured the whole increase of the land, can now easily restore plenty for the barrenness of past years. Now, when any one lays down his arms, the land is afterwards cultivated, and brings forth its usual fruit: so the Lord also now shows, that the land had been barren, because he had sent forth his army, which laid waste its whole produce. But now, he says, when I shall restore you to favor, there will be no army to devour your fruit: the land then will nourish you, for there will be nothing to prevent you to receive its wonted produce.
Had not the Jews been made assured that the land had been sterile, because the locusts, and the chafers, and the cankerworms, were the army which the Lord had prepared they might have ever dreaded these spoilers: “Surely the locusts will spring up, the chafers and the cankerworms will come, to devour all the fruit.” The Prophet shows that this happened not by chance: “Now then, when God shall be reconciled to you, the land will yield its increase, and nothing shall hinder you from enjoying its abundance.”
By calling this army great, he shows that God has no need of strong forces to subdue men; for when he prepares locusts and insects, which are but little things, they snatch food from the mouths of men and leave them in want; though no one puts forth a sword against them, they yet pine away with hunger. The Prophet then derides here the arrogance of men, and shows that God needs not do much, when he intends to reduce them to nothing. Let us now proceed —
(11) There are four sorts mentioned in Hebrew as in the first chapter : one of them is omitted here and in the Latin text. — Ed.
He now concludes what he has hitherto said of God’s blessing. As the Jews were starving while God was offended, so he promises that when reconciled to him they should have abundance of produce from the land: Ye shall eat plentifully, he says, and satisfy yourselves. But he mentions also their gratitude; for it was an evidence of true repentance when they praised the name of God, whom they understood to be the giver of their abundance; for he had before proved that the land was under his power, when he consumed its whole substance, so that none of it came to supply the wants of man. Hence the Prophet exhorts them to give thanks, that they might thus declare that they from the heart repented. Ye shall then praise the name of Jehovah your God”. Why? “ Because he will deal with you wonderfully. He takes away here every plea for ignorance. We know how difficult it is to lead men to do this act of religion, for which we yet confess that we were born; for what is more natural than to acknowledge God’s bounty towards us, when we enjoy many blessings? But yet, though God in various ways stimulates us, he cannot draw from us genuine gratitude. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, “God will deal with you wonderfully: though ye are stupid, God will yet by his power awaken you; for he will not deal with you in a common way.” He then mentions something miraculous, that he might leave to the Jews no excuse, in case they considered not God’s bounty and perceived not in this change, first, what they had deserved and then how merciful God had been to them: for this change could not have been ascribed to chance; nor was it a common thing, that when the Jews had been for four successive years nearly consumed with wants and when the enemy was at hand, they should see the land now fruitful, that they should see it freed from destructive insects, that they should be also at peace, and not disturbed by the dread of any foreign enemy. Since the Lord, then, would beyond hope give them a serene instead of a turbulent sky, should not such a wonderful change deeply affect them? This is what the Prophet now means, — “As the Lord will deal with you wonderfully, there will be no excuse for your torpidity, if ye will not be diligent in praising his name.”
Not ashamed, he says, shall my people be for ever. The Jews are here reminded by implication of their former disgrace; for they had been greatly confounded; though enemies touched them not, no, not even with their finger, they yet died through famine; an enemy was also prepared, as we have seen, to destroy them. They were therefore frightened with dread, and also perplexed with their own evils, by which God had almost worn them out. The Prophet says now, My people shall not be ashamed for ever, intimating that God would at length relieve his people from their evils, that they might not, as hitherto, be ashamed. He at last subjoins —
He repeats the same sentence; and in the beginning of the verse he unfolds what I have already said — that the miracle would be such as to constrain the people to praise God. Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: and this was the case, because God showed not in an ordinary way his kindness to them, and especially because it had been foretold, and also because this reason had been adduced — that God was mindful of his covenant. The manner, then, in which he dealt with them, and farther, the prediction itself, left to the people no pretext for ignorance. Hence the Prophet now says, ‘Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,’ and still more, ‘that I am Jehovah your God.’ By these words the Prophet reminds us, that the deliverance of the people from their evils was to be wholly ascribed to the gratuitous mercy of God; for we have already seen, that things would have been past hope, had not this consolation been added — ‘Turn ye even now to me.’ The Prophet therefore repeats, that there would be no other reason why God would deal so kindly with his people, and so mercifully spare them, but this — that he dwelt in the midst of Israel: but whence was this dwelling, except that God had gratuitously chosen this people? This indeed availed much to raise up the people; for how could they have hoped that God would be propitious to them, had they not been reminded of this truth that God was dwelling in the midst of them? Not because they were worthy, but because he deigned to come down to them.
He afterwards adds, And none else. By this sentence the Prophet more sharply stimulates them to return immediately to God; for if they deferred longer disappointment would be in delay. That the Jews, then, might not, after their usual manner, procrastinate, he says that there is no other God; and thus he shows that there was no remedy for their evils, except they sought to be reconciled to God. “There is then no God besides me, and I dwell in the midst of thee.” The Lord claims to himself every power, and then kindly invites the people to himself, and for this reason, — because he dwells in the midst of them. That the people, then, might not form other expectations, God shows that all their hope was in him alone. He farther shows, that salvation was not to be sought afar off, provided the people had not forgotten the covenant, that God was dwelling in the midst of them. But a higher doctrine follows —
We have explained why the Prophet began with earthly blessings. One may indeed think that this order is not regular; for Christ does not in vain remind us, that the kingdom of God ought to be first sought, and that other things shall be added in their place, (Matthew 6:33;) for food, and every thing that belongs to this frail life, are, as it were, additions to the spiritual life. But the Prophet designedly mentioned first the evidence of God’s favor in outward benefits; for we see how slow the perceptions of men are, and how slothful they are in seeking spiritual life. As, then, men rise to things above with so much difficulty, the Prophet makes use of the best helps; and we must indeed be dealt with as we usually deal with children. For as there is not so much discernment in them as to be influenced by reasons, we set before them what is suitable to their weak and simple comprehension; so the Prophet did; for he showed first that God would be kind to the Jews in food for the body, and having used this as a help, he then added, Afterwards I will pour my Spirit upon all flesh.
By these words the Prophet reminds us, that people act absurdly when they are satisfied with vanishing things, when they ask of God nothing more excellent than to be pampered like brute animals; for in what do the children of God differ from asses and dogs, except they aspire after spiritual life? The Prophet, then, after having set before them lower things, as though they were children, now brings before them a more solid doctrine, (for thus they were to be led,) and affords them a taste of the favor of God in its external signs. “Ascend, then, now,” he says, “to spiritual life: for the fountain is one and the same; though when earthly benefits occupy and engross your attention, ye no doubt pollute them. But God feeds you, not to fill and pamper you; for he would not have you to be like brute animals. Then know that your bodies are fed, and that God gives support to you, that ye may aspire after spiritual life; for he leads you to this as by the hand; be this then your object.” We now, then, understand why the Prophet did not at first speak of the spiritual grace of God; but he comes to it now. He began with temporal benefits, for it was needful that an untutored people should be thus led by degrees, that on account of their infirmity, sluggishness, and dullness, they might thus make better progress, until they understood that God would for this end be a Father to them.
As the particle גם gam amplifies in Hebrew, it seems singular that the Prophet now limits to a few a gift common to all; for he had previously said, “Upon all flesh will I pour out my Spirit;” and now, “Upon servants and handmaids;” and he puts down “Also”. If he had simply said “Upon servants and handmaids will I pour out my Spirit,” there would have been no inconsistency, for it would have been the explanation of his former statement; for we know that what the Prophet says of all men must be taken with exception, inasmuch as many who were unbelievers were without this gift, and even those who before excelled in some sort of divine knowledge; we indeed know that the Jews were blinded, and we also know that not all among the common people were partakers of this excellent gift. There is no doubt, therefore, but that this which is said of “all flesh,” must be limited to the Church. It would not, then, have appeared strange, had the Prophet now added, “Upon servants and handmaids; ” but the particles וגם ugam, “And also,” create difficulty: it is a way of speaking to enlarge on what has been said, but here it seems not to enlarge; for to pour out the Spirit upon all the people, is more than to pour it out on servants and handmaids. The solution is twofold: the particles וגם ugam are sometimes to be taken confirmatively. ‘I have blessed him,’ said Isaac of his son Jacob, ‘and also blessed shall he be.’ So in this place we may take the words of the Prophet to be, yea surely, being a repetition serving to confirm what had been said: but I prefer another sense; for the Prophet, I doubt not, meant here to add something more incredible than what he had previously said, “ Upon servants and maid-servants will I pour out my Spirit,” that is, even upon those who were before Prophets; for they shall be enriched with a new gift, and shall gain increasing knowledge after the restoration of the Church, which is now approaching. We apprehend this to be the meaning of the Prophet. He had promised the grace of the Spirit to the whole body of the faithful, which appears, as I have said, from comparing the ancient state with our own: but now, after having spoken of the mass or the common people, he comes to the Prophets, who were superior to others who before performed the office of teaching, who attained rank and degree in the Church; these also shall gain accessions; that is, “My Spirit shall not only be conspicuous in the ignorant and the common people, but also in the Prophets themselves.”
Surely it is a greater thing when they are taught who were before superior to others, and whom the Lord had set over the Church, and when they appear as new men, after having received a gift which the Lord had not previously conferred on them. When, therefore, new light appears in such men, it is certainly a greater thing than when the Spirit is poured out on the common people. We now then see the Prophet’s meaning as to the servants and the handmaids. (12)
He then repeats, In those days, intimating that so sudden and incredible the change will be, that Prophets will seem to have been before untaught men; for a much more excellent doctrine shall be given them. Then God shall so pour out his Spirits that all the ancient prophecies will appear obscure and of no value, compared with the great and extraordinary light which Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, will bring at his rising. And he mentions “handmaids”, for there were, we know, Prophetesses under the Law. Let us now go on —
(12) However true in itself is what is here advanced, yet the exposition seems rather too refined, and what the passage does not require. The difficulty stated will vanish, when we consider that “all flesh” is a general expression, afterwards particularized and limited: and “and all flesh,” according to what is subsequently specified, evidently means all conditions of men, men in all states and of every age, and not the whole of mankind. “And also,” in verse 29, is very emphatical, as the persons afterwards mentioned were of the lowest grade, “servants and handmaids,” that is, slaves: and such were many of the first converts to Christianity. See Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11. Though the word for ‘servants’ does not necessarily mean those in a servile condition, yet it has that meaning. The same is true of the word for handmaids. Hagar, expressly called a bondwoman by Paul, is called by this name, Genesis 16:1. And to view the words as signifying slaves, would make the prophecy more striking, as being literally fulfilled at the first promulgation of the Gospel.
The Prophet seems here to contradict himself; for he had hitherto promised that God would deal kindly and bountifully with his people; and every thing he has said tended to elevate the spirits of the people and fill them with joy: but now he seems again to threaten them with God’s wrath and to strike miserable men with fear; who had not as yet a breathing time; for at the time the Prophet spoke, the Jews, we know, were in the greatest sorrow. What then is his purpose in adding a new cause of grief, as though they had not sorrow and lamentation enough? But it is rather an admonition than a threatening. The Prophet warns them of what would be, lest the faithful should promise themselves some happy condition in this world, and an exemption from all cares and troubles; for we know how prone men are to self-indulgence. When God promises any thing, they flatter themselves and harbor vain thoughts, as though they were beyond the reach of harm, and free from every grief and every evil. Such indulgence the flesh contrives for itself. Hence the Prophet reminds us, that though God would bountifully feed his Church, supply his people with food, and testify by external tokens his paternal love, and though also he would pour out his Spirit, (a token far more remarkable,) yet the faithful would continue to be distressed with many troubles; for God designs not to deal too delicately with his Church on earth; but when he gives tokens of his kindness he at the same time mingles some exercises for patience, lest the faithful should become self-indulgent or sleep on earthly blessings, but that they may ever seek higher things.
We now then understand the Prophet’s design: he intends not to threaten the faithful, but rather to warn them, lest they should deceive themselves with empty dreams, or expect what is never to be, that is, to enjoy a happy rest in this world. Besides, the Prophet regards also another thing: we know indeed that men are hardly led to seek the grace of God, except when they are, as it were, forcibly drawn; hence spiritual life is neglected, and whatever belongs to the celestial kingdom, when we have all kinds of supplies on earth. The Prophet then commends here the spiritual grace of which he speaks, for this reason, — that the condition of men would be miserable, were not the Lord to exhilarate their minds and refresh them with the comfort which we have already noticed. — How so? There will be prodigies in heaven and on earth, the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and all things shall be in disorder and in horrible darkness. What then would become of men, were not God to shine on them by the grace of his Spirit, to support them under such a confusion in heaven and on earth, and to show himself to be their Father?
We then see that this was added for the fuller commendation of God’s grace, that men might know, that they would be much more miserable if God called them not to himself by the shining light of his Spirit. And that this was the Prophet’s design, we may learn from the discourse of Christ, which he made to his disciples a short time before his death. They asked what would be the sign of his coming, when he reminded them of the destruction of the temple, (Matthew 24:3). They thought that he would immediately accomplish that triumph of which they had heard, that they would be made participators of that eternal beatitude of which Christ had so often spoken to them. Christ then warned them not to be deluded with so gross a notion. He spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, and then declared that all these things would be only the presages of evils — “These,” he says, “shall be only the preludes; for tumults will arise, wars shall be, and all places will be full of calamities; in a word, there will be an immense mass of all evils.” As Christ then corrected the mistake, with which the minds of the disciples were imbued, so the Prophet here checks vain imaginations, lest the faithful should think that Christ’s kingdom would be earthly, and fix their minds on corn and wine, on pleasures and quietness, on the conveniences of the present life: I will give you, he says, prodigies in heaven and on earth blood, fire, and dark clouds; the sun all be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before it shall come — the day of Jehovah, great and terrible
We now see why the Prophet adds here this sad catalogue, and how well these things harmonize together, — that God would testify his paternal love by the manifestation of Christ, — and that he would exhibit tokens of his wrath, which would fill the whole world with anxiety and fear.
What he says of blood and darkness is, no doubt, to be taken metaphorically for a disordered state of things; for we know that calamities are often compared to obscurity and darkness. It is the same as though he said, “So great will be the succession of evils, that the whole order of nature will seem to be subverted that the very elements will put on a new form; the sun, which illuminates the earth, will be turned into darkness, the moon into blood; the calamities which shall come will take away every token of God’s kindness. Then nothing will remain, but that men, sunk, as it were, in the deepest abyss of all evils, will seek some spark of grace from God and never find it; for heaven will be dark, the earth will be covered with thick darkness.” We then see that the Prophet does not express what would be, word for word, nor is he to be understood as speaking, as they say, literally, but he uses a figurative mode of speaking, by which he sets forth such a dreadful state of things, that the very elements would put on a new appearance; for the sun would not any more perform its office, and the moon would refuse its light to the earth. As God, then, would take away all tokens of his favor, so the Prophet, by blood, by darkness and by dark clouds, sets forth metaphorically that sorrows by which the minds of men would necessarily be possessed.
Now if any one asks, why by the coming of Christ was God’s wrath more stirred up against men? for this may seem to be without reason. To this I answer, that it was, as it were accidental: for if Christ had been received as he ought to have been, if all embraced him with due reverence, he would have certainly been the giver, not only of spiritual grace, but also of earthly happiness. The felicity of all, then, would have in every respect been made complete by the coming of Christ, had not their wickedness and ingratitude kindled up anew the wrath of God; and we see what a flood of evils burst forth immediately after the preaching of the gospel. Now when we consider how severely God afflicted his people formerly, we cannot but say that much heavier have been the calamities inflicted on the world since the manifestation of Christ, — whence this? Even because the world’s ingratitude had arrived to its highest point, as indeed it is at this day: for the light of the gospel has gone forth again, and God has exhibited himself to the world as a Father, and we see how great is the wickedness and perversity of men in rejecting the gifts of God; we see some contemptuously rejecting the Gospel, and others impelled by satanic fury to resist the doctrine of Christ; we see them making a boast of their blasphemies, and we see them kindled with cruel rage and breathing slaughters against the children of God; we see the world full of ungodly men and of the despisers of God; we see an awful contempt of God’s grace prevailing everywhere: we see such an unbridled licentiousness in wickedness, that it ought to make us ashamed of ourselves and weary of our life. Since, then, the world is so ungrateful for such a favor, is it a wonder that God should show more dreadful tokens of his vengeance? For certainly at this day, when we closely examine the condition of the world, we find that all are miserable, and even those who applaud themselves, and whom the world admire as semigods. How can it be otherwise? The common people, doubtless, groan under their miseries, and that because God thus punishes the contempt of his grace, which he has again offered to us, and which is so unworthily rejected. Inasmuch, then, as so base an ingratitude on the part of men has provoked God’s wrath, it is no wonder that the sound of his scourges is everywhere heard: for the servant who knows his lord’s will and does it not, is worthy, as Christ declares, of heavier stripes, (Luke 12:47) And what happens through the whole world is, that after God has shone by his gospel, after Christ has everywhere proclaimed reconciliation, they now openly fall away, and show that they prefer having God angry than propitious to them: for when the gospel is rejected, what else is it but to declare war against God, and to scorn and not to receive the reconciliation which God is ready to give, and of which he treats of his own accord with men?
It is then no wonder that the Prophet says here, that the world would be full of darkness after the appearance of Christ, who is the Sun of Righteousness, and who has shone upon us with his salvation: but it was, as it were, accidental, that God exhibited himself with so much severity to the world, when yet it was the acceptable time, when it was the day of salvation and of good-will; for the world suffered not that to be fulfilled which God had promised to us by the Prophet Joel, nor received the Spirit of adoption, when they might have safely fled to God; nay, when God was ready to cherish them in his own bosom. But since they were refractory and untractable, it was necessary for God to visit such perverseness in an unusual manner. It is no wonder then that the Prophet says, that in those days there shall be prodigies in heaven and on earth, for the sun shall be turned into darkness, etc., before it shall come — the day of Jehovah, great and terrible
It may be asked what day the Prophet refers to: for he has hitherto spoken of the first coming of Christ; and there seems to be some inconsistency in this place. I answer, that the Prophet includes the whole kingdom of Christ, from the beginning to the end; and this is well understood, and in other places we have stated that the Prophets common speak in this manner: for when the discourse is concerning Christ’s kingdom, they sometimes refer to its commencement only, and sometimes they speak of its termination; but they often mark out by one delineation the whole course of the kingdom of Christ, from its beginning to its end; and such is the case here. The Prophet, by saying, ‘After those days I will pour out my Spirit,’ no doubt meant that this, as we have explained, would be fulfilled when Christ should commence his kingdom, and make it known through the teaching of the gospel: Christ poured out then his Spirit. But as the kingdom of Christ is not for a few days, or for a short time, but continues its course to the end of the word, the Prophet turns his attention to that day or that time, and says, “There shall, in the meanwhile, be the greatest calamities: and whosoever shall not flee to the grace of God shall be very miserable; they shall never find rest nor comfort, nor the light of life, for the world shall be sunk in darkness; and God shall take away from the sun, the moon, the elements, and all other aids, the tokens of his favor; and he will show himself everywhere to be angry and offended with men.” The Prophet further shows, that these evils of which he speaks would not be for a few days or a few years, but perpetual; ‘Before,’ he says, ‘the day of Jehovah, great and terrible, shall come.’ In short, he means that all the scourges of God, which he had hitherto mentioned, would be, as it were, preparations to subdue the hearts of men, that they might with reverence and submission receive Christ. As, therefore, men carry by nature a high spirit, and cannot bend their neck to recede the yoke of Christ, hence the Prophet says here that they were to be subdued by severe scourges, when God would remove all evidences of his love, and fill heaven and earth with dread. Thus, then, he would in a manner change the hardness and contumacy which is innate in men, that they might know that they had to do with God. And, at the same time, the Prophet reminds them, that unless they were amended by these scourges, something more dreadful remained for them, — the Judge would at last come from heaven, not only to clothe the sun and moon in darkness, but to turn life into death. It would, indeed, be far better for the reprobate to die a hundred times than always to live and thus to sustain eternal death in life itself.
The Prophet then means, that men persisting in their obstinacy shall meet with something more grievous and more ruinous than the evils of this life, for they must all at last stand before the tribunal of the celestial Judge: for the day of Jehovah, great and terrible, will come. He refers, in this sentence, to unbelievers and rebels against God; for when Christ shall come, he will be a Redeemer to the godly; no day in their whole life will shine on them so pleasantly; so far will this day be from bringing terror and fear to them, that they are bidden, while expecting it, to lift up their heads, which is a token of cheerfulness and joy. But as the Prophet Joel’s object was to humble the confident pride of the flesh, and as he addressed the refractory and the rebellious, it is no wonder that he sets before them what is terrific and dreadful.
We said yesterday that the Prophet denounced future calamities, that he might thus stimulate men, distressed by many evils, to seek God: we indeed know how tardy we are by nature, except the Lord goads us continually. The subject, then, on which we discoursed yesterday tended to show, that as so many and so grievous calamities would press on the Jews, all would be miserable who fled not to God, and that this consolation only would remain to them in their extreme evils: but now the Prophet seasonably adds, Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered. Having then stimulated men to seek God, he now gives them firm assurance of being saved, provided they in sincerity and from the heart fled to God.
This is indeed a remarkable passage, for God declares that the invocation of his name in a despairing condition is a sure port of safety. What the Prophet had said was certainly dreadful, — that the whole order of nature would be so changed, that no spark of light would appear, and that all places would be filled with darkness. What, therefore, he says now is the same as though he declared, that if men called on the name of God, life would be found in the grave. They who seem to be even in despair, and from whom God seems to have taken away every hope of grace, provided they call on the name of God, will be saved, as the Prophet declares, though they be in so great a despair, and in so deep an abyss. This circumstance ought to be carefully noticed; for if any one takes this sentence of the Prophet by itself, though then it would not be frigid, it would not yet be so striking; but when these two things are joined together, — that God will be the judge of the world, who will not spare the wickedness of men, but will execute dreadful vengeance, — and that yet salvation will be given to all who will call on the name of the Lord, we see how efficacious the promise is; for God offers life to us in death, and light in the darkest grave.
There is, therefore, great importance in the expression, והיה ueie, ‘Then it shall be;’ for the copulative is to be regarded as an adverb of time, ‘Then whosoever shall invoke the name of the Lord,’ etc. And he uses the word “deliver;” for it was needful to show that the saved differ nothing from the lost. Had the Prophet used the word “preserve,” he would have spoken less distinctly; but now when he promises deliverance, he bids us to set up this shield against trials even the heaviest; for God possesses power sufficiently great to deliver us, provided only we call on him.
We now then understand what the Prophet had in view: He shows that God would have us to call on him not only in prosperity, but also in the extreme state of despair. It is the same as though God had called to himself the dead, and declared that it was in his power to restore life to them and bring them out of the grave. Since then God invites here the lost and the dead, there is no reason why even the heaviest distresses should preclude an access for us or for our prayers; for we ought to break through all these obstacles. The more grievous, then, our troubles are, the more confidence we ought to entertain; for God offers his grace, not only to the miserable, but also to those in utter despair. The Prophet did not threaten a common evil to the Jews, but declared that by the coming of Christ all things would be full of horror: after this denunciation he now subjoins, ‘Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.’
But as Paul cites this place in Romans 10:11, and extends it to the Gentiles, we must inquire in what sense he takes the testimony of the Prophet. Paul means to prove that adoption was common to the Gentiles, that it was lawful for them to flee to God, and familiarly to invoke him as a Father: ‘Whosoever,’ he says, ‘shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ He hence proves that the Gospel ought to have been preached even to the Gentiles, as invocation arises from faith: for except God shines on us by his word, we cannot come to him; faith, then, is ever the mother of prayer. Paul seems to lay stress on the universal particle, Whosoever; as though he said, that Joel did not speak of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, that he testified that God would indiscriminately, and without exception, receive all who would seek him. But Paul appears to misapply the Prophet’s words; for Joel no doubt addresses here the people, to whom he was appointed as a teacher and prophet. What Paul then applies generally to all mankind seems not to have been so intended by the Prophet. But to this there is an easy answer; for the Prophets after having spoken of the kingdom of Christ, had no doubt this truth in view, that the blessing in the seed of Abraham had been promised to all nations; and when he afterwards described the miserable state in which the whole world would be, he certainly meant to rouse even the Gentiles, who had been aliens from the Church, to seek God in common with his elect people: the promise, then, which immediately follows, is also addressed to the Gentiles, otherwise there would be no consistency in the discourse of the Prophet. We therefore see that Paul most fitly accommodates this place to his subject: for the main thing to be held is this, that the blessing in Christ was promised not only to the children of Abraham but also to all the Gentiles. When, therefore, the Prophet describes the kingdom of Christ, it is no wonder that he addresses the Jews and Gentiles in common: and then, what he said of the state of the world, that it would be full of horrible darkness, undoubtedly refers, not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles. Why was this done, except to show that nothing else remains for them but to flee to God? We then see that an access is here opened to the Gentiles that they may with one consent call on God together with the Jews.
If there is promised salvation and deliverance to all who shall call on the name of the Lord, it follows as Paul reasons that the doctrine of the Gospel belongs to the Gentiles also; for their mouths must have otherwise been closed, yea, and the mouths of us all: had not God himself anticipated us by his word, and exhorted us to pray, we must have been dumb. It would have been a great presumption in us to present ourselves before God, except he had given us confidence and promised to hear us. If then the liberty of praying is common to all, it follows that the doctrine of salvation is common to all. We must now also add, that as deliverance is promised to all who shall call on the name of God, his own power is taken from God, when salvation is sought in any other but in him alone: and we know that this is an offering which he claims exclusively for himself. If, then, we desire to be delivered, the only remedy is, to call on the name of Jehovah.
He afterwards adds, For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as Jehovah has promised. The Prophet here intimates, that though the people might seem apparently to have been destroyed, yet God would be mindful of his covenant so as to gather the remnant. Such, indeed, was the slaughter of the people, that no hope whatever, according to the flesh, remained; for they were scattered through various parts of the world; there was no social body, no distinct nation, no civil government, no worship of God. Who, then, could have thought that the Church of God would survive? Nay, the probability was, that after thirty or fifty years, the name of Abraham and of his seed would have become wholly extinct; for they had joined in one body with the Chaldees and the Assyrians. That scattering then was, as it were, the death of the whole nation. But God, by Joel, declares here, that there would yet be deliverance in mount Zion and in Jerusalem; that is, “Though I shall for a time exterminate this people, that the land may remain desolate, there shall yet be a restoration, and I will again gather a certain body, a Church, on mount Zion and in Jerusalem.” This is the substance.
We learn from this place, that however much God may afflict his Church, it will yet be perpetuated in the world; for it can no more be destroyed than the very truth of God, which is eternal and immutable. God indeed promises, not only that the state of the Church shall be perpetual, but that there will be, as long as the sun and moon shall shine in heaven, some people on earth to call on his name. Since it is so, it follows, that the Church cannot be utterly subverted or wholly perish, however severely and heavily the Lord may chastise it. However great then the scattering of the Church may be, the Lord will yet gather members, that there may be a people on earth to show, that he who is in heaven is true and faithful to his promises. And this truth deserves a careful attention; for when we see the Church scattered, immediately this doubt creeps into our minds, “Does God intend wholly to destroy all his people, — does he mean to exterminate all the seed of the faithful?” Then let this passage be remembered, “In mount Zion there will be deliverance,” after the Lord shall have punished the profane despisers of his name, who abused his patience, and falsely professed his name.
But he adds, As Jehovah has promised, which serves for confirmation; for the Prophet bids us here to regard God rather than our own state. When indeed we believe our eyes, we cannot but think sometimes that it is all over with the Church; for when God inflicts heavy punishment on his servants, there seems to us no remedy; and when we believe the diseases of the Church to be incurable, our hearts immediately fail us, except God’s promise comes to our minds. Hence the Prophet recalls our thoughts to God, as though he had said, “Judge not of the safety of the Church by sight, but stand and rely on the word of God: he has spoken, he has said, that the Church shall be perpetual.” Let us plant our foot on this promise, and never doubt but that the Lord will perform what he has declared.
But it is subjoined by the Prophet as a sort of correction, And in the remnant whom Jehovah shall call: and it was necessary to state this distinctly, lest hypocrites, as they usually do, abuse what had been said. They who occupy high stations in the Church, and pass in name for the children of God, swell, we know, with great confidences and boldly trifle with God; for they think that he is bound to them, when they make a show either of external badges or of profession, in which they glory before men: they think this display sufficient. We may indeed gather from many parts of Scripture, that the Jews were inflated with this false presumption of the flesh, that they imagined God to be bound to them. Hence the Prophet shows, that he did not address all the Jews indiscriminately, because many of them were spurious children of Abraham, and had become degenerated. If then under this pretense alone they wished to lay hold on the promise of salvation, the Prophet shows that they were excluded from the Church of God, since they were not legitimate children, after having departed from the faith and piety of their father Abraham. He therefore mentions remnant: and by this word be means, in short, that the whole multitude could not be saved, but only a small number.
When therefore we speak of the salvation of the Church, we ought not to gather into one bundle all who profess themselves to be the children of God; for we see that hardly one in a hundred worship God in truth and without hypocrisy, for the greater part abuse his name. We see, at this day, how dishonest is the boasting of the Papists; for they think that the Church of God dwells among them, and they scorn us because we are few. When we say that the Church of God is to be known by the word and the pure administration of the sacraments, “Indeed,” they say, “could God have forsaken so many people among whom the gospel has been preached?” They think that after Christ has been once made known, his grace remains fixed, and cannot by any means be taken away whatever may be the impiety of men. Since then the Papists so shamefully lay claim to the name of Church, because they are many in number, it is no wonder that the Prophet, who had the same contest with the Jews and Israelites, had here expressly mentioned a remnant; as though he said, “In vain do the ungodly boast of God’s name, since he regards them not as his people.” The same truth we observe in Psalms 15:0, and in Psalms 24:0; where the citizens of the Church are described; they are not those who pride themselves on external symbols, but who worship God with a sincere heart, and deal honestly with their neighbors; such dwell on the mountain of God. It was not a difficult thing for hypocrites to thrust themselves into the sanctuary, and to present there their sacrifices to God; but the Prophet shows that none are owned by God, but those who have a sincere heart and pure hands. So also in this place Joel says, that this Church indeed would be saved, but not the vast multitude, — who then? the remnant only.
But the clause which follows must be noticed, Whom Jehovah shall call. We have already seen that the Church of God consists often of a very small number; for God counts not any his children, but those who devote themselves sincerely and from the heart to his service, as Paul says ‘Whosoever calls on the name of God, let him depart from iniquity;’ and many such are not found in the world.
But it is not enough to hold, that the Church of God is only in the remnant; it must be also added that the remnant abide in God’s Church for no other reason but that the Lord has called them. Whence then is it that there is a portion in the Church, which shall remain safe, while the whole world seems to be doomed to destruction? It is from the calling of God. And there is no doubt but that the Prophet means by the word, call, gratuitous election. The Lord is indeed often said to call men, when he invites them by the voice of his gospel; but there is what surpasses that, a hidden call, when God destines for himself those whom he purposes to save. There is then an inward call, which dwells in the secret counsel of God; and then follows the call, by which he makes us really the partakers of his adoption. Now the Prophet means, that those who will be the remnant shall not stand by their own power, but because they have been called from above, that is, elected. But that the election of God is not to be separated from the outward call, I allow; and yet this order ought to be maintained, that God, before he testifies his election to men, adopts them first to himself in his own secret counsel. The meaning is, that calling is here opposed to all human merits, and also to virtue and human efforts; as though he said, “Men attain not this for themselves, that they continue a remnant and are safe, when God visits the sins of the world; but they are preserved by his grace alone, because they have been chosen.” Paul also speaks of the remnant in Romans 11:0, and wisely considers that passage, ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand.’ [Genesis 19:18.]
It is then God’s peculiar province to keep those who fail not: and hence Paul says that they are the remnant of grace; for if God’s mercy were taken away, there would be no remnant among the whole human race. All, we indeed know, are worthy of death, without any difference: it is therefore the election of God alone which makes the difference between some and others. Thus we see that the gratuitous goodness of God is extolled by the Prophet, when he says that a remnant shall be saved, who shall be called by the Lord: for it is not in the power of men to keep themselves unless they are elected; and the gratuitous goodness of God is the security as it were of their salvation. Now follows —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joel 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent