3. Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.
3. Ne expoliem eam nudam -- (hoc est -- ne expoliando denudem -- ) et statuam eam secundam diem nativitatis suae -- et ponam eam quasi desertum -- ponam eam quasi terram siccitatis (hoc est -- terram aridam) et occidam eam siti -- (hoc est -- perire faciam: Je la feray mourir -- ad verbum.)
Though the Prophet in this verse severely threatens the Israelites, yet it appears from a full view of the whole passage, that he mitigates the sentence we have explained: for by declaring what sort of vengeance was suspended over them, except they timely repented, he shows that there was some hope of pardon remaining, which, as we shall see, he expresses afterwards more clearly.
He now begins by saying, Lest I strip her naked, and set her as on the day of her nativity This alone would have been dreadful; but we shall see in the passage, that God so denounces punishment, that he cuts not off altogether the hope of mercy: and at the same time he reminds them that the divorce, for which they were disposed to contend with God, was such, that God yet shows indulgence to the repudiated wife. For when a husband dismisses an adulteress, he strips her entirely, and rightly so: but God shows here, that though the Israelites had become wanton, and were like a shameless woman, he had yet so divorced them hitherto, that he had left them their dowry, their ornaments and marriage gifts. We then see that God had not used, as he might have done, his right; and hence he says, Lest I strip her naked; which means this, |I seem to you too rigid, because I have declared, that I am no longer a husband to your mother: and yet see how kindly I have spared her; for she remains as yet almost untouched: though she has lost the name of wife, I have not yet stripped her; she as yet lives in sufficient plenty. Whence is this but from my indulgence? for I did not wish to follow up my right, as husbands do. But except she learns to humble herself, I now gird up myself for the purpose of executing heavier punishments.| We now comprehend the whole import of the passage.
What the Prophet means by the day of nativity, we may readily learn from Ezekiel 16; for Ezekiel there treats the same subject with our Prophet, but much more at large. He says that the Israelites were then born, when God delivered them from the tyranny of Egypt. This then was the nativity of the people. And yet it was a miserable sight, when they fled away with fear and trembling, when they were exposed to their enemies: and after they entered the wilderness, being without bread and water, their condition was very wretched. The Prophet says now, Lest I set her as on the day of her nativity, and set her as the desert. Some regard the letter kcaph to be understood, as if it were written, kvmdvr as in the desert; that is, I will set her as she was formerly in the desert; and this exposition is not unsuitable; for the day of nativity, the Prophet doubtless calls that time, when the people were brought out of Egypt: they immediately entered the desert, where there was the want of every thing. They might then have soon perished there, being consumed by famine and thirst, had not the Lord miraculously supported them. The sense then seems consistent by this rendering, Lest I set her as in the deserts and as in a dry land. But another exposition is more approved, Lest I set her like the desert and dry land
With regard to what the Prophet had in view, it was necessary to remind the Israelites here of what they were at their beginning. For whence was their contempt of God, whence was their obstinate pride, but that they were inebriated with their pleasures? For when there flowed an abundance of all good things, they thought of themselves, that they had come as it were from the clouds; for men commonly forget what they formerly were, when the Lord has made them rich. As then the benefits of God for the most part blind us, and make us to think ourselves to be as it were half-gods, the Prophet here sets before the children of Abraham what their condition was when the Lord redeemed them. |I have redeemed you,| he says, |from the greatest miseries and extreme degradation.| Sons of kings are born kings, and are brought up in the midst of pomps and pleasures; nay, before they are born, great pomps, we know, are prepared for them, which they enjoy from their mother's womb. But when one is born of an ignoble and obscure mother, and begotten by a mean and poor father, and afterwards arises to a different condition, if he is proud of his splendour, and remembers not that he was once a plebeian and of no repute, this may be justly thrown in his face, |Who were you formerly? Why! do you not know that you were a cow-herd, or a mechanic, or one covered with filth? Fortune has smiled on you, or God has raised you to riches and honours; but you are so self-complacent as though your condition had ever been the same.|
This is the drift of what the Prophet says: I will set thy mother, he says, as she was at her first nativity. For who are you? A holy race, a chosen nation, a people sacred to me? Be it so: but free adoption has brought all this to you. Ye were exiles in Egypt, strangers in the land of Canaan, and were nothing better than other people. Besides, Pharaoh reduced you to a base servitude, ye were then the most abject of slaves. How magnificent, with regard to you, was your going forth! Did you not flee away tremblingly and in the night? And did you not afterwards live in a miraculous way for forty years in the desert, when I rained manna on you from the clouds? Since then your poverty and want has been so great, since there is nothing to make you to raise your crests, how is it that you show no more modesty? But if your present condition creates in you forgetfulness, I will set you as on the day of your nativity.| It now follows --