We began yesterday to explain the declaration of the Prophet, in which he exhorted the Israelites to constancy, though scattered among the Chaldeans. Their condition was then miserable, because we know that it was that of bondage, and conquerors ruled in a very petulant manner, when a people were subdued by war; but they had been led into exile for the very purpose of degrading them. The Prophet therefore animates them here, that they might not be dejected, but continue in the pure worship of God, and faithfully profess his name.
What he said to them was, May those gods, who created not the heaven and the earth, perish from the earth and from under heaven He assumed this principle -- that no one ought to be counted God but he who is the creator and maker of heaven and earth; and who could say that gods of wood and stone had created the world? for wood, as well as stone, is a corruptible material. All the statues, which were created gods, had received their form and shape from mortal men. It is hence manifest, that to ascribe divinity to thenl was not only false, but foolish and monstrous. This, then, is the reason why he says, |May the gods who made not the heaven and earth perish.| The verb is indeed in the future tense; but we know that the future is often to be taken as an optative in Hebrew. If, however, any one prefers to retain this tense, |Perish shall the gods who made not the heaven and the earth,| I shall not contend with him; yet the other view is what I approve, that the Israelites were to imprecate destruction on all idols.
Now that he uses the Chaldee language, is what deserves, as we said yesterday, to be observed; they had then to do with the Chaldeans, who insultingly triumphed over the true God, thinking that they were his conquerors; and they triumphed over him, as though he had been overcome by their swords. Then the Prophet bids the Israelites, boldly and courageously, to proclaim the name and the glory of the true God. Doubtless this could not have been done without immediate danger of death; but it was their duty, as God's true servants, to prefer his glory to their own lives, in opposing the fury of the enemies who then ruled over them, and who had led them to remote countries.
We see how much God makes of the confession of faith; and the whole Scripture shews that this sacrifice is especially approved by him. Hence also it appears how foolishly they talk who say that they cherish faith secretly in their hearts, though they may hide from the world their real sentiments. We see how frigid, nay, how foolish is this excuse, while they seek, by a perfidious silence, to save their own life and to remain in peace with the ungodly. They who at this day live under the Papacy, think that they justly exempt themselves by such an excuse as this -- that they ought not rashly to endanger their lives, as facts prove that such is the rage of the enemies of the gospel, that were any to confess the truth, they would be immediately led to punishment, But we may compare the condition of the ancient people with our own; certainly ours is better than that of the ten tribes, who lived in a foreign land and were treated as slaves. As then the Chaldeans watched them, did they not find the sword daily and constantly ready to be used against them? And yet God bids them to close their eyes to their danger and faithfully to profess what they believed, yea, to detest the idols, which was still more displeasing to the Chaldeans; for he bids them to say, |The God whom we worship made himself known to Abraham our father, and we worship him, because we have found him to be a Redeemer and a constant preserver of our safety:| and this is not the only thing that the Prophet bids them to say, but also, |May your gods perish.| This was certainly enough to kindle rage in the Chaldeans, even if they had been men of temperate millds; but as they were elated with pride on account of their victory and hated the Jews, such a declaration must have been intolerable to them. What, then, call the Nicodemites of this day say, who indulge their own delusions? for they think it enough if they deny not God in their hearts; and yet being frightened with danger, they either pretend to deny him, or openly shew that they consent to errors.
In short, we see that there is no true religion in the hearts of men, except a confession is made, for there ought to be a consent between the heart and the tongue. But some one may object and say, Is it necessary for the faithful to cry through cross -- ways and the streets of the city, |There is but one true God?| I answer, that all have not been chosen to the prophetic office, in order to preach everywhere; but it is commanded to all without exception, to detest idols, where they see the glory of God reproachfully traduced by enemies; for the Prophet meant, that they were to make this answer to the reproaches of those who then took the occasion insultingly to rise up against the true God. It now follows: --