7. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.
7. Et persequentur amatores suos -- et non apprehendet eos; et quaeret eos -- et non inveniet: tunc dicet -- Ibo et revertar as maritum meum priorem -- quia melius mihi tunc fuit quam nunc.
God now shows what takes place when he chastises hardened and rebellious people with heavy punishment. In the first clause he shows that perverseness will cleave so completely to their hearts, that they will not immediately return to a sound mind. She will follow her lovers, he says, and seek them. Here the Prophet tells us, that though the Israelites should be chastised by frequent punishments, they would yet continue in their obstinacy. It hence appears how hard a neck they had, and how uncircumcised in heart they were; and such did the Prophets, as well as Moses, represent them to be. And we hence learn, that had they been only moderately corrected, it would not have been sufficient for their amendment. Amazing, indeed, was their obstinacy; for God had divorced them, and then led them into great straits; and yet they went on in their course, as though they were utterly stupid and destitute of every feeling. Is it not a prodigious madness, when men run on so obstinately, even when God sets his hand so strongly against them? Such, however, is represented to have been the obstinacy of the Israelites.
The meaning then is, that when they were subdued, God would not immediately soften their hearts. Then God, though he bruised, did not yet reform them; for their hardness was so great, that they could not be turned immediately to a docile state of mind; but, on the contrary, they followed their lovers. By the word, follow, is expressed that mad zeal which possesses idolaters; for as we see, they are like men who are frantic. As then the superstitious know no bounds, nor any moderation, but a mad zeal at times lays hold on them, the Prophet says She will follow her lovers and shall not overtake them. What does the latter clause mean? That God will frustrate the hope of the ungodly, that they may know that they in vain worship false gods and follow with avidity absurd superstitions. They will seek them, he says, and shall not find them. He ever speaks of the people under the character of a shameless and unfaithful wife.
We then see what the Prophet intended to do, -- to vindicate God from every blame, that men might not raise a clamour, as though he dealt unkindly with them. He shows that God, even when so rigid, produces hardly any effect; for the ungodly in their perverseness struggle against his scourges, and suffer not themselves to be brought immediately into due order.
But in the second clause the Prophet adds, that some benefit would at length arise, that though idolaters abused God's goodness, and even hardened themselves against his rods, yet this would not be perpetually the case; for the Lord would grant better success. Hence it follows, She will then say, I will go and return to my former husband. Here the Prophet shows more clearly a hope of pardon, inasmuch as he speaks of the people's repentance; for men, we know, repent not without benefit, as God is ever ready to receive them when they return to him in genuine sorrow. Then the Prophet here avowedly speaks of the repentance of the people, that the Israelites might hence know, that corrections, which men naturally ever dislike, would be profitable to them. It is our wish that God should always favour us, and that we should be nourished kindly and tenderly in his bosom; but in the meantime, he cannot allure us to himself, by whatever means he may try to do so: and hence it is, that chastisements are bitter to us, and our flesh immediately murmurs. When the Lord raises his finger, before he strikes us, we instantly groan and become angry, and even roar against him: in short, men can never be brought willingly to offer themselves to be chastised by God. Hence the Prophet now shows, that the severity of God is profitable to us; for it drives us at length to repentance: in a word, he commends the favour of God in his very severity, that we may know that he furthers our salvation, even when he seems to treat us most unkindly. She will then say, I will go and return to my former husband.
But we must observe, that when men really repent, they do so through the special influence of the Spirit; for they would otherwise perpetually remain in that perverseness of which we have spoken. Were God for a hundred years continually to chastise perverse men, they would not yet change their disposition; and true is that common saying, |The wicked are sooner broken than reformed.| But when men, after many admonitions, begin to be wise, this change comes through the Spirit of God. We may also learn from this passage what true repentance is; that is, when he who has sinned not only confesses himself to be guilty, and owns himself worthy of punishment, but is also displeased with himself, and then with sincere desire turns to God. Many, we see, are ready enough, and disposed, to confess their sins, and yet go on in the same course. But the Prophet shows here that true repentance is something very different, |I will go and return|, he says. Repentance then consists (as they say) in the act itself; that is, repentance produces a reforming change in man, so that he reconciles himself to God, whom he had forsaken.
I will then go and return to my former husband. Why? Because better was it with me then than now. The Prophet again confirms what I lately said, -- that the faithful are not made wise, except they are well chastised; for the Prophet speaks not here of the reprobate, but of the remnant seed. The people of Israel were to be exterminated; but the Prophet now declares that there would be some remaining who would at last receive benefit from God's chastisements. Since then we must understand the Prophet as speaking of the elect, we may hence readily conclude, that chastisements are necessary for us; for we grow torpid in our vices, as long as God spares us. Unless, then it appears that God is really displeased with us, it will never come to our minds, that we ought to repent. Let us now proceed --