15. Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The Lord liveth.
15. Si scortaris tu Israel, ne offendat Jehudah; ne veniatis in Gilgal, et me ascendatis Beth-aven, et ne juretis, Vivit Jehova.
The Prophet here complains that Judah also was infected with superstitions, though the Lord had hitherto wonderfully kept them from pollutions of this kind. He compares Israel with Judah, as though he said, |It is no wonder that Israel plays the wanton; they had for a long time shaken off the yoke; their defection is well known: but it is not to be endured, that Judah also should begin to fall away into the same abominations.| We now then perceive the object of the comparison. From the time that Jeroboam led after him the ten tribes, the worship of God, we know, was corrupted; for the Israelites were forbidden to ascend to Jerusalem, and to offer sacrifices there to God according to the law. Altars were at the same time built, which were nothing but perversions of divine worship. This state of things had now continued for many years. The Prophet therefore says, that Israel was like a filthy strumpet, void of all shame; nor was this to be wondered at, for they had cast away the fear of God: but that Judah also should forsake God's pure worship as well as Israel, -- this the Prophet deplores, If then thou Israel playest the wanton, let not Judah at least offend
We here see first, how difficult it is for those to continue untouched without any stain, who come in contact with pollutions and defilements. This is the case with any one that is living among Papists; he can hardly keep himself entire for the Lord; for vicinity, as we find, brings contagion. The Israelites were separated from the Jews, and yet we see that the Jews were corrupted by their diseases and vices. There is, indeed, nothing we are so disposed to do as to forsake true religion; inasmuch as there is naturally in us a perverse lust for mixing with it some false and ungodly forms of worship; and every one in this respect is a teacher to himself: what then is likely to take place, when Satan on the other hand stimulates us? Let all then who are neighbors to idolaters beware, lest they contract any of their pollutions.
We further see, that the guilt of those who have been rightly taught is not to be extenuated when they associate with the blind and the unbelieving. Though the Israelites boasted of the name of God, they were yet then alienated from pure doctrine, and had been long sunk in the darkness of errors. There was no religion among them; nay, they had hardly a single pure spark of divine light. The Prophet now brings this charge against the Jews, that they differed not from the Israelites, and yet God had to that time carried before them the torch of light; for he suffered not sound doctrine to be extinguished at Jerusalem, nor throughout the whole of Judea. The Jews, by not profiting through this singular kindness of God, were doubly guilty. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, Though Israel is become wanton, yet let not Judah offend
Come ye not to Gilgal, he says, and ascend not into Beth- aven. Here again he points out the superstitions by which the Israelites had vitiated the pure worship of God; they had built altars for themselves in Bethel and Gilgal, where they pretended to worship God.
Gilgal, we know, was a celebrated place; for after passing through Jordan, they built there a pillar as a memorial of that miracle; and the people no doubt ever remembered so remarkable an instance of divine favor: and the place itself retained among the people its fame and honorable distinction. This in itself deserved no blame: but as men commonly pervert by abuse every good thing, so Jeroboam, or one of his successors, built a temple in Gilgal; for the minds almost of all were already possessed with some reverence for the place. Had there been no distinction belonging to the place, he could not have so easily inveigled the minds of the people; but as a notion already prevailed among them that the place was holy on account of the miraculous passing over of the people, Jeroboam found it easier to introduce there his perverted worship: for when one imagines that the place itself pleases God, he is already captivated by his own deceptions. The same also must be said of Bethel: its name was given it, we know, by the holy father Jacob, because God appeared there to him.
Terrible,' he said, is this place; it is the gate of heaven,' (Genesis 28:17.)
He hence called it Bethel, which means the house of God. Since Jacob sacrificed there to God, posterity thought this still allowable: for hypocrites weigh not what God enjoins, but catch only at the Fathers' examples, and follow as their rule whatever they hear to have been done by the Fathers.
As then foolish men are content with bare examples, and attend not to what God requires, so the Prophet distinctly inveighs here against both places, even Bethel and Gilgal. |Come not|, he says, to Gilgal, and ascend not into Beth-aven But we must observe the change of name made by the Prophet; for he calls not the place by its honorable name, Bethel, but calls it the house of iniquity. It is indeed true that God revealed himself there to his servant Jacob; but he intended not the place to be permanently fixed for himself, he intended not that there should be a perpetual altar there: the vision was only for a time. Had the people been confirmed in their faith, whenever the name of the place was heard, it would have been a commendable thing; but they departed from the true faith, for they despised the sure command of God, and preferred what had been done by an individual, and were indeed influenced by a foolish zeal. It is no wonder then that the Prophet turns praise into blame, and allows not the place to be, as formerly, the House of God, but the house of iniquity. We now see the Prophet's real meaning.
I return to the reproof he gives to the Jews: he condemns them for leaving the legitimate altar and running to profane places, and coveting those strange modes of worship which had been invented by the will or fancy of men. |What have you to do,| he says, |with Gilgal or Bethel? Has not God appointed a sanctuary for you at Jerusalem? Why do ye not worship there, where he himself invites you?| We hence see that a comparison is to be understood here between Gilgal and Bethel on the one hand, and the temple, built by God's command on mount Zion, in Jerusalem, on the other. Moreover, this reproof applies to many in our day. So to those who sagaciously consider the state of things in our age, the Papists appear to be like the Israelites; for their apostasy is notorious enough: there is nothing sound among them; the whole of their religion is rotten; every thing is depraved. But as the Lord has chosen us peculiarly to himself, we must beware, lest they should draw us to themselves, and entangle us: for, as we have said, we must ever fear contagion; inasmuch as nothing is more easy than to become infected with their vices, since our nature is to vices ever inclined.
We are further reminded how foolish and frivolous is the excuse of those who, being satisfied with the examples of the Fathers, pass by the word of God, and think themselves released from every command, when they follow the holy Fathers. Jacob was indeed, among others, worthy of imitation; and yet we learn from this place, that the pretence that his posterity made for worshipping God in Bethel was of no avail. Let us then know that we cannot be certain of being right, except when we obey the Lord's command, and attempt nothing according to men's fancy, but follow only what he bids. It must also be observed, that a fault is not extenuated when things, now perverted, have proceeded-from a good and approved origin. As for instance the Papists, when their superstitions are condemned, ever set up this shield, |O! this has arisen from a good source.| But what sort of thing is it? If indeed we judge of it by what it is now, we clearly see it to be an impious abomination, which they excuse by the plea that it had a good and holy beginning.
Thus in baptism we see how various and how many deprivations they have mixed together. Baptism has indeed its origin in the institution of Christ: but no permission has been given to men to deface it by so many additions. The origin then of baptism affords the Papists no excuse, but on the contrary renders double their sin; for they have, by a profane audacity, contaminated what the Son of God has appointed. But there is in their mass a much greater abomination: for the mass, as we know, is in no respect the same with the holy supper of our Lord. There are at least some things remaining in baptism; but the mass is in nothing like Christ's holy supper: and yet the Papists boast that the mass is the supper. Be it so, that it had crept in, and that through the craft of Satan, and also through the wickedness or depravity of men: but whatever may have been its beginning, it does not wipe away the extreme infamy that belongs to the mass: for, as it is well known, they abolish by it the only true sacrifice of Christ; they ascribe to their own devices the expiation which was made by the death of the Son of God. And here we have not only to contend with the Papists, but also with those wicked triflers, who proudly call themselves Nicodemians. For these indeed deny that they come to the mass, because they have any regard for the Papistic figment; but because they say that there is set forth a commemoration of Christ's supper and of his death. Since Bethel was formerly turned into Beth-aven, what else at this day is the mass? Let us then ever take heed, that whatever the Lord has instituted may remain in its own purity, and not degenerate; otherwise we shall be guilty, as it has been said, of the impious audacity of those who have changed the truth into a lie. We now understand the design of what the Prophet teaches, and to what purposes it may be applied.
He at last subjoins, And swear not, Jehovah liveth The Prophet seems here to condemn what in itself was right: for to swear is to profess religion, and to testify our profession of it; particularly when men swear honestly. But as this formula, which the Prophet mentions, was faultless, why did God forbid to swear by his name, and even in a holy manner? Because he would reign alone, and could not bear to be connected with idols; for
|what concord,' says Paul, has Christ with Belial? How can light agree with darkness?' (2 Corinthians 6:15:)
so God would allow of no concord with idols. This is expressed more fully by another Prophet, Zephaniah, when he says,
I will destroy those who swear by the living God, and swear by their king,' (Zephaniah 1:5.)
God indeed expressly commands the faithful to swear by his name alone in Deuteronomy 6 and in other places: and further, when the true profession of religion is referred to, this formula is laid down,
They shall swear, The Lord liveth,' (Jeremiah 4:2.)
But when men associated the name of God with their own perverted devices, it was by no means to be endured. The Prophet then now condemns this perfidy, Swear not, Jehovah liveth; as though he said, |How dare these men take God's name, when they abandon themselves to idols? for God allows his name only to his own people.| The faithful indeed take God's name in oaths as it were by his leave. Except the Lord had granted this right, it would have certainly been a sacrilege. But we borrow God's name by his permission: and it is right to do so, when we keep faith with him, when we continue in his service; but when we worship false gods, then we have nothing to do with him, and he takes away the privilege which he has given us. Then he says, Ye shall not henceforth blend the name of the only true God with idols.' For this he cannot endure, as he declares also in Ezekial,
Go ye, serve your idols; I reject all your worship.' [Eze 20:39]
The Lord was thus grievously offended, even when sacrifices were offered to him. Why so? Because it was a kind of pollution, when the Jews professed to worship him, and then went after their ungodly superstitions. We now then perceive the meaning of this verse. It follows --