3. They shall not dwell in the Lord's land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria.
3. Non habitabunt in terra Jehovae, et revertetur Ephraim in Aegyptum, et in Assyria immundum comedent.
The Prophet proclaims here a heavier punishment -- that the Lord would drive them into exile. It was indeed a dreadful repudiation, when they were deprived of the land of Canaan, which was the Lord's rest, as it is called in the Psalms, (Psalm 132:14.) While they dwelt in the land of Canaan, they lived as it were in the habitations of God, and could have a sure hope that he would be a father to them: but when they were thence expelled, the Lord testified that he regarded them as aliens; it was the same as when a father disinherits his son. The Prophet now threatens them not only with the want of food, but also with repudiation, which was far more grievous -- They shall not dwell, he says, in the Lord's land
There is an elegant play on words in the verbs here used; ysvv, ishebu, and vsv, usheb; the one is from ysv, isheb, and the other from svv, shub. They shall not dwell in the Lord's land; but Ephraim shall return into Egypt:' and the other circumstance is still more dreadful. In Assyria they shall eat what is unclean; for it was the same as if the Lord intended to blend that holy people with the profane Gentiles, so that there should be afterwards no difference; for the uncleanness of which the Prophet speaks would have the effect of destroying the distinction which the adoption of God made between that people and the profane nations. It was indeed by badges that the Lord retained the people of Israel, when he ordered them to abstain from unclean meats: but when they differed nothing, as to common food, from the Gentiles, it was evident that they were rejected by God, and that the holiness which belonged to them through the free covenant of God was obliterated. They shall eat, then, what is unclean in Assyria; that is, |They shall not now be under my care and protection; they shall live according to their own will, as the other nations. I have hitherto preserved them under some restraint; but now, as they will not bear to live under my law, they shall have their own liberty, and shall be profane like the rest of the world, so that they shall become involved in all the defilements and pollutions of the Gentiles.| This is the meaning.
And now we ought to consider, whether it be right, when we are among idolaters, to conform to the rites approved by them. This place, no doubt, as other places, most clearly shows, that nothing more grievous can happen to us than the doing away of all difference between us and the profane despisers of God, even in the outward manner of living. Had the Prophet said, |The Israelites shall now be hungry in a far country; -- the Lord has hitherto fed them with plenty, for he has performed what he had formerly promised by Moses; this land has in every way been blessed, and has supplied us with great abundance of wine, wheat, and oil; yea, honey has flowed like water; but they shall now be constrained to pine away with want among their enemies:| -- Had the Prophet said this, it would have been a grievous and severe denunciation; but now he fills them, as it has been already said, with much greater horror, for he says, They shall eat what is unclean.' There seemed to be some great importance belonging to the external rite: but the outward profession was the badge of divine adoption. When therefore the people loosened the reins and ate indiscriminately any meat, and made no choice according to the directions of the law, then the distinction was removed, so that they ceased to be the people of God. It is the same also, at this day, with those who turn aside from a sincere profession of their faith and associate with the Papists; they renounce, as far as they can, the favour of God, and abandon themselves to the will of Satan.
Let us then know that it is a dreadful judgement of God, when we are not allowed to profess our faith by outward worship; and when the ungodly so rule, as to put us under the necessity of which the Prophet here speaks, even of eating unclean things, that is, of being implicated in their profane superstitions. It is then a favour, to be highly valued, when we are permitted to abstain from all defilements and to worship God purely, so that no one may contaminate himself by dissimulation: but when we are compelled, under the tyranny of the ungodly, to conform to impure superstitions, it is a sign of the dreadful judgement of God; and there is nothing by which any one can excuse himself in this respect or extenuate his fault, as many do, whom yet conscience bites within, though they deem it sufficient to spread forth their own excuses before the eyes of men. But there is nothing by which such men can either flatter themselves, or dazzle the eyes of the simple; for it is an extreme reproach, when people, who ought to be sacred to God and to profess outwardly his pure worship, suffer themselves to be polluted with unclean food. It follows --