19. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.
19. Et desponsabo te mihi in perpetuum, et desponsabo te mihi in justicia, et in judicio, et in clementia, (vel, bonitate,) et in misericordiis.
20. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.
20. Et desponsabo te mihi in fide, (vel, veritate:) et cognosces Jehovam.
The Prophet here again makes known the manner in which God would receive into favor his people. As though the people had not violated the marriage vow, God promises to be to them like a bridegroom, who marries a virgin, young and pure. We have before spoken of the people's defection; but as God had repudiated them, it was no common favor for the people to be received again by God, and received with pardon. When a woman returns to her husband, it is a great thing in the husband to forgive her, and not to upbraid her with her former base conduct: but God goes farther than this; for he espouses to himself a people infamous through many disgraceful acts; and having abolished their sins, he contracts, as it were, a new marriage, and joins them again to himself. Hence he says, I will espouse thee to me. We now perceive the import of the word, espouse: for God thereby means, that he would not remember the unfaithfulness for which he had before cast away his people, but would blot out all their infamy. It was indeed an honorable reception into favor, when God offered a new marriage, as though the people had not been like an adulterous woman.
And he says, I will espouse thee to me for ever. There is here an implied contrast between the marriage of which the Prophet had hitherto spoken, and this which God now contracts. For God, having redeemed the people, had before entered, as we have said, into marriage with them: but the people had departed from their vow; hence followed alienation and divorce. That marriage was then not only temporary, but also weak and soon broken; for the people did not continue long in obedience: but of this new marriage the Prophet declares, that it will continue fast and for ever; and thus he sets its durable state in contrast with the falling away which had soon alienated the people from God. Hence he says, I will espouse thee to me for ever.
He then declares by what means he would do this, even in righteousness and judgment, and then in kindness and mercies, and thirdly, in faithfulness. God had indeed from the beginning covenanted with the Israelites in righteousness and judgment; there was nothing disguised or false in his covenant: as then God had in sincerity adopted the people, to what vices does he oppose righteousness and judgment? I answer, These words must be applied to both the contracting parties: then, by righteousness God means not only his own, but that also which is, as they say, mutual and reciprocal; and by righteousness and judgment is meant rectitude, in which nothing is wanting. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view.
But he adds, secondly, In kindness and mercies: by which words he intimates, that though the people were unworthy, yet, this would be no impediment in their way, to prevent them to return into favor with God; for in this reconciliation God would regard his own goodness, rather than the merits of his people.
In the third place, he adds, In faithfulness: and this confirms what we have before briefly referred to, -- the fixed and unchangeable duration of this marriage.
The words, righteousness and judgment, are, I know, more refinedly explained by some. They say that righteousness is what is conferred on us by God through gratuitous imputation; and they take judgment for that defense which he affords against the violence and the assaults of our enemies. But here the Prophet, I doubt not, intimates in a general way, that this covenant would stand firm, because there would be truth and rectitude on both sides. That this may be more clearly understood, let us take a passage from the 31^st chapter of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 31:31-34] where God complains, that the covenant he had made with the ancient people had not been firm; for they had forsaken it. My covenant,' he says, with your fathers has not continued.' -- Why? Because they departed from my commandments.' God indeed in perfect sincerity adopted the people, and no righteousness was wanting in him; but as there was no constancy and faithfulness in the people, the covenant came to nothing: hence God afterwards adds, I will hereafter make a new covenant with you; for I will engrave my laws on your hearts,' etc. We now then see what the Prophet means by righteousness and judgment, even this, that God would cause the marriage vow to be kept on both sides; for the people, restored from exile, would no more violate their pledged faith nor act unfaithfully.
But we must notice what is added, In goodness and mercies. And this part Jeremiah does not omit, for he adds, Their iniquities I will not remember.' As then the Israelites, conscious of evils might tremble through fear, the Prophet seasonably anticipates their diffidence, by promising that the marriage which God was prepared anew to contract, would be in kindness and mercies. There is then no reason why their own unworthiness should frighten away the people; for God here unfolds his own immense goodness and unparalleled mercies. The Prophet might indeed have expressed this in one word, but he adds mercies to goodness. The people had indeed sunk into a deep abyss, that restoration could have been hardly hoped: hence the word, kindness, or goodness, would have been hardly sufficient to raise up their minds, had not the word, mercies, been added for the sake of confirmation.
Now he adds, in faithfulness; and by faithfulness is to be understood, I doubt not, that stability of which I have spoken; for what some philosophize on this expression is too refined, who give this explanation, I will espouse thee in faith,' that is by the gospel; for we embrace God's free promises, and thus the covenant the Lord makes with us is ratified. I simply interpret the word as denoting stability.
And the Prophet shows afterwards that this covenant would be confirmed, because faithfulness would be reciprocal, they shall know, he says, Jehovah. Jeremiah, I doubt not, borrowed from this place what is written in the 31^st chapter; for there he also adds, No one shall hereafter teach his neighbor, for all, from the least to the greatest shall know me, saith Jehovah.' Our Prophet says here in one sentence, they shall know Jehovah Hence then is the stability of the covenant, because God by his light shall guide the hearts of those who had before strayed in darkness and wandered after their own superstitions. Since then a horrible darkness prevailed among the Israelitic people, Hosea promises the light of true knowledge; and this knowledge of God is such, that the people fall not away from the Lord, nor are they seduced by the fallacies of Satan. Hence God's covenant stands firm. We now understand the import of the words.
Jerome thinks that the Prophet promises espousals thrice, because the Lord once espoused the people to himself in Abraham, then when he led them out of Egypt, and, thirdly, when once he reconciled the whole world in Christ: but this is too refined, and even frivolous. I take a simpler meaning, -- that the Prophet proclaims an espousal thrice, because it was difficult to restore the people from fear and despair, for they well understood how grievously and in how many ways they had alienated themselves from God: it was hence necessary to apply many consolations, which might serve to confirm their faith. This is the reason why the Lord does not say once, I will espouse thee to myself, but repeats it thrice. The Prophet indeed seemed then to speak of a thing incredible: for what sort of an example is this, that the Lord should take for his wife an abominable harlot? Nay, that he should contract a new marriage with an unclean adulteress, immersed in debauchery? This was like something monstrous. Hence the Prophet, that nothing might hinder souls from recumbing on the promise, says, |Doubt not, for the Lord very often assures you, that this is certain.|
Now, since we have this promise in common with them, we see by the words of the Prophet what is the beginning of our salvation: God espoused the Israelites to himself, when restored from exile through his goodness and mercies. What fellowship have we with God, when we are born and come out of the womb, except he graciously adopts us? for we bring nothing, we know, with us but a curse; this is the heritage of all mankind. Since it is so, all our salvation must necessarily have its foundation in the goodness and mercies of God. But there is also another reason in our case, when God receives us into favor; for we were covenant-breakers under the Papacy; there was not one of us who had not departed from the pledge of his baptism; and so we could not have returned into favor with God, except he had freely united us to himself: and God not only forgave us, but contracted also a new marriage with us, so that we can now, as on the day of our youth, as it has been previously said, openly give thanks to him.
But we must notice this short clause, They shall know Jehovah. We indeed see that we are in confusion as soon as we turn aside from the right and pure knowledge of God, nay, that we are wholly lost. Since then our salvation consists in the light of faith, our minds ought ever to be directed to God, that our union with him, which he has formed by the gospel, may abide firm and permanent. But as this is not in the power or will of man, we draw this evident conclusion, that God not only offers his grace in the outward preaching, but at the same time in the renewing of our hearts. Except God then recreates us a new people to himself, there is no more stability in the covenant he makes now with us than in the old which he made formerly with the fathers under the Law; for when we compare ourselves with the Israelites, we find that we are nothing better. It is, therefore, necessary that God should work inwardly and efficaciously on our hearts, that his covenant may stand firm: nay, since the knowledge of him is the special gift of the Spirit, we may with certainty conclude, that what is said here refers not only to outward preaching, but that the grace of the Spirit is also joined, by which God renews us after his own image, as we have already proved from a passage in Jeremiah: but that we may not seem to borrow from another place, we may say that it appears evident from the words of the Prophet, that there is no other bond of stability, by which the covenant of God can be strengthened and preserved, but the knowledge he conveys to us of himself; and this he conveys not only by outward teaching, but also by the illumination of our minds by his Spirit, yea, by the renewing of our hearts. It follows --