2. Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts;
2. Litigate cum matre vestra -- litigate; quia ipsa non uxor mea -- et ego non maritus ejus: et tollat (hoc est -- tollat igitur) scortationes suas e facie sua -- et adulteria sua e medio uberum suorum.
The Prophet seems in this verse to contradict himself; for he promised reconciliation, and now he speaks of a new repudiation. These things do not seem to agree well together that God should embrace, or be willing to embrace, again in his love those whom he had before rejected, -- and that he should at the same time send a bill of divorce, and renounce the bond of marriage. But if we weigh the design of the Prophet, we shall see that the passage is very consistent, and that there is in the words no contrariety. He has indeed promised that at a future time God would be propitious to the Israelites: but as they had not yet repented, it was needful to deal again more severely with them, that they might return to their God really and thoroughly subdued. So we see that in Scripture, promises and threatening are mingled together, and rightly too. For were the Lord to spend a whole month in reproving sinners they may in that time fall away a hundred times. Hence God, after showing to men their sins adds some consolation and moderates severity, lest they should despond: he afterwards returns again to threatening, and does so from necessity; for though men may be terrified with the fear of punishment, they do not yet really repent. It is then necessary for them to be reproved not only once and again, but very often.
We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view: he had spoken of the people's defection; afterwards he proved that the people had been justly rejected by the Lord; and then he promised the hope of pardon. But now seeing that they still continued obstinate in their vices, he reproves again those who had need of such chastisement. He, in a word, has in view their present state.
Almost all so expound this verse as if the Prophet addressed the faithful: and with greater refinement still do they expound, who say, that the Prophet addresses the faithful who had fallen away from the synagogue. They have and I have no doubt, been much deceived; for the Prophets on the contrary, shows here that God was justly punishing the Israelites, who were wont to excuse themselves in the same way as hypocrites are wont to do. When the Lord treated them otherwise than according to their wishes, they expostulated, and raised up contention -- |What does this mean?| So do we find them introduced as thus speaking, by Isaiah. [Isaiah 58:1-3.] There, indeed, they fiercely contend with God, as if the Lord dealt with them unjustly, for they seemed not conscious of having done any evil. Hence the Prophet, seeing the Israelites so senseless in their sins, says, Contend, contend with your mother. He speaks here in the person of God: and God, as it has been stated, uses the similitude of a marriage. Let us now see what is the import of the words.
When a husband repudiates his wife, he fixes a mark of disgrace on the children born by that marriage: their mother has been divorced; then the children, on account of that divorce, are held in less esteem. When a husband repudiates his wife through waywardness, the children justly regard him with hatred. Why? |Because he loved not our mother as he ought to have done; he has not honoured the bond of marriage.| It is therefore usually the case, that the children's affections are alienated from their father, when he treats their mother with too little humanity or with entire contempt. So the Israelites, when they saw themselves rejected, wished to throw the blame on God. For by the name, |mother|, are the people here called; it is transferred to the whole body of the people, or the race of Abraham. God had espoused that people to himself, and wished them to be like a wife to him. Since then God was a husband to the people, the Israelites were as sons born by that marriage. But when they were repudiated, the Israelites said, that God dealt cruelly with them, for he has cast them away for no fault. The Prophet now undertakes the defence of God's cause, and speaks also in his person, Contend, contend, he says with your mother In a word, this passage agrees with what is said in the beginning of Isaiah 50:1,
Where is the bill of repudiation? Have I sold you to my creditors? But ye have been sold for your sins, and your mother has been repudiated for her iniquity.'
Husbands were wont to give a bill of divorce to their wives, that they themselves might see it: for it freed them from every reproach, inasmuch as the husband bore a testimony to his wife: |I dismiss her, not that she has been unfaithful, not that she has violated the bond of marriage; but because her beauty does not please me, or because her manners are not agreeable to me.| The law compelled the husband to give such a testimony as this. God now says by his Prophet, |Show me now the bill of repudiation: have I of my own accord cast away your mother? No, I have not done so. Ye cannot accuse me of cruelty, as though her beauty did not please me, and as though I had followed the common practice approved by you. I have not willingly rejected her, nor at my own pleasure, and I have not sold her to my creditors, as your fathers were sometimes wont to do, as to their children, when they were in debt.| In short, the Lord shows there that the Jews were to be blamed, that they were rejected together with their mother. So he says also in this place, Contend, contend with your mother; which means, |Your dispute is not with me:| and by the repetition he shows how inveterate was their perverseness, for they never ceased to glamour against God. We now see the real meaning of the Prophet.
In vain then do they philosophise, who say that the mother was to be condemned by her own children; because, when they shall be converted to their former faith, they ought then to condemn the synagogue. The Prophet meant no such thing; but, on the contrary, he brings this charge against the Israelites, that they had been repudiated for the flagitious conduct of their mother, and had ceased to be counted the children of God. For the comparison between husband and wife is here to be understood; and then the children are placed as it were in the middle. When the mother is dismissed, the children indignantly say that the father has been too inhuman if indeed he wilfully divorces his wife: but when a wife becomes unfaithful to her husband, or prostitutes herself to any shameful crime, the husband is then free from every blame; and there is no cause for the children to expostulate with him; for he ought thus to punish a shameless wife. God then shows that the Israelites were justly rejected, and that the blame of their rejection belonged to the whole race of Abraham; but that no blame could be imputed to him.
And for a reason it is added, Let her then take away her fornication from her face, and her adulteries from the midst of her breasts The Prophet, by saying, |Let her then take away her fornications|, (for the copulative v, vau, ought to be regarded as an illative,) confirms what we have just now said; that is that God had stood to his pledged faith, but that the people had become perfidious; and that the cause of the divorce or separation was, that the Israelites persevered not, as they ought to have done, in the obedience of faith. Then God says, Let her take away her fornications. But the phrase, Let her take away from her face and from her breasts, seems singular; and what does it mean? because women commit fornication neither by the face nor by the breasts. It is evident the Prophet alludes to meretricious finery; for harlots, that they may entice men, sumptuously adorn themselves, and carefully paint their face and decorate their breasts. Wantonness then appears in the face as well as in the breasts. But interpreters do not touch on what the Prophet had in view. The Prophet, no doubt, sets forth here the shamelessness of the people; for they had now so hardened themselves in their contempt of God, in their ungodly superstitions, in all kinds of wickedness, that they were like harlots, who conceal not their baseness, but openly prostitute themselves, yea, and exhibit tokens of their shamelessness in their eyes as well as in every part of their bodies. We see then that the people are here accused of disgraceful impudence as they had grown so callous as to wish to be known to be such as they were. In the same way does Ezekiel set forth their reproachful conduct,
Spread has the harlot her feet,
she called on all who passed by the way,'
We now then understand why the Prophet expressly said, Let her take away from her face her fornication, and from her breasts her adulteries: for he teaches that the vices of the people were not hidden, and that they did not now sin and cover their baseness as hypocrites do, but that they were so unrestrained in their contempt of God, that they were become like common harlots.
Here is a remarkable passage; for we first see that men in vain complain when the Lord seems to deal with them in severity; for they will ever find the fault to be in themselves and in their parents: yea, when they look on all impartially, they will confess that all throughout the whole community are included in one and the same guilt. Let us hence learn, whenever the lord may chastise us, to come home to ourselves, and to confess that he is justly severe towards us; yea, were we apparently cast away, we ought yet to confess, that it is through our own fault, and not through God's immoderate severity. We also learn how frivolous is their pretext, who set up against God the authority of their fathers, as the Papists do: for they would, if they could, call or compel God to an account, because he forsakes them, and owns them not now as his Church. |What! has not God bound his faith to us? Is not the Church his spouse? Can he be unfaithful?| So say the Papists: but at the same time they consider not, that their mother has become utterly filthy through her many abominations; they consider not, that she has been repudiated, because the Lord could no longer bear her great wickedness. Let us then know, that it is in vain to bring against God the examples of men; for what is here said by the Prophet will ever stand true, that God has not given a bill of divorce to his Church; that is, that he has not of his own accord divorced her, as peevish and cruel husbands are wont to do, but that he has been constrained to do so, because he could no longer connive at so many abominations. It now follows --