12. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.
12. Vade et clama (hoc est, cum clamore intona) sermones hos versus Aquilonem, et dic, Revertere rebellis Israel, dicit Jehova: non, non faciam incumbere (cadere, ad verbum) iram meam (alii vertunt, faciem meam; sed metaphorice slgnificat iram) in vos, quia clemens ego, dicit Jehova, non servabo in seculum.
The Prophet, after having shewn that the tribe of Judah deserved a heavier punishment than the ten tribes, and having mentioned the cause, that they had seen their brethren severely chastised and were not moved, now turns his discourse to the Israelites themselves, or the ten tribes, and promises that God would be propitious to them. The kingdom of Israel had now been overthrown, and the people had been banished into Assyria, Persia, and Media. They had been scattered, and the name of the kingdom had been obliterated. The land had been often laid waste and the kingdom partly existed, as four tribes only were first driven to exile; but at, length the very name of a kingdom ceased to exist, and they were all, as I have said, led away into captivity. Hence the Prophet is bidden to address his words towards the north; for though the greater part of the people dwelt then in the east, yet as they had been banished by the Assyrians, God had a regard to the capital of the monarchy in bidding the Prophet to address those whom the enemies had led away to the north.
Cry, then, not so much on account of the distance of the place, but that the Jews, who were deaf, might hear him crying; for the Prophet was bidden to speak not only for the sake of the Israelites, but that through them he might set before the Jews the mercy of God, if only they returned to a sound mind. Now the import of the whole is, -- that though the Israelites had been rebellious and had turned away from God, yet pardon was ready for them, if they returned. What the Prophet means by the word return, we have already in part explained, and we shall have to speak on the subject more fully elsewhere. He then requires repentance, and promises that God would be propitious to them in case they returned to him.
He afterwards adds, I will not make my face, or rather, my wrath, to fall upon you; for this latter meaning is the most appropriate. God had already severely punished their sins; for what can happen to a people more grievous than to be banished from their own country, and then to be oppressed by cruel tyranny? They yet suffered a heavier punishment; for the worship according to the Law had been taken away from them, they had been repudiated by God, they had lost that glory by which they thought that they excelled all other nations in having been chosen as God's peculiar people. All these things had been entirely lost. In what sense then does God declare that he would not be angry with them? By this way of speaking the Prophet simply means, that God would not be irreconcilable, as though he had said, |My wrath shall not dwell, or shall not he upon you; but I will mitigate the punishment which I have inflicted.| Hence I do not disapprove of Jerome's rendering, |I will not make steady,| (firmabo;) though when he adds |face, |he does not sufficiently set forth the meaning of the Prophet. But this may be admitted, |I will not make steady my wrath upon you;| that is, |My wrath shall not lie or dwell on your heads, so as wholly to overwhelm you.| God's wrath had already fallen upon them, but in such a way that there was still some hope of deliverance. God then denies, that the calamities, by which he had chastised their sins, would be fatal, for he would withdraw his hand and not pursue them to the last extremity.
The meaning then is, -- that if the people returned to God they would obtain pardon, because God of his own free will invited them and promised that the punishment which he had inflicted on account of their sins, would be only for a time.
God further confirms this truth by mentioning what his nature is, for merciful am I, and I will not retain wrath for ever The promise was special in case the people returned; God now adds a general truth by way of confirmation, -- that he was disposed to shew mercy, and that he would readily forgive for his mercy's sake. Since God then is such, and cannot deny himself, there is no reason why a sinner should despair and thus close up the way, that he should not in his penitence implore God's mercy.
We may hence gather a profitable doctrine, -- that whenever unbelief lays hold on our minds, so that we cannot apply to our benefit the promises of God, this should ever be remembered by us -- that God is merciful. As God then is so gracious, that he reserves not wrath for ever, but that it is only for a time, we ought to entertain hope; and corresponding with this is what is said in the Psalms,
|A moment is he in his wrath; and life is in his goodness and mercy,| (Psalm 30:5;)
as though he had said, that God's wrath soon passes away, provided we repent, but that he shews his mercy through all ages; for this is what is meant by the word |life.| He then goes on --