10. I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.
10. Tanquam uvas in deserto inveni Israel, sicut primum fructum ficulneae in suo exordio vidi patres eorum: ipsi ingressi sunt ad Baalpeor, et segregati sunt in opprobrium, et fuerunt abominationes secundum amores suos.
In this verse God reproves the Israelites for having preferred to prostitute themselves to idols, rather than to continue under his protection, though he had from the beginning showed his favour to them; as though he had said that they having been previously favoured with his free love, had transferred their affections to others; for he says, that he had found them as grapes in the wilderness. The word wilderness, ought to be joined with grapes, as if he had said, that they had been as sweet and acceptable to him as a grape when found in a desert. When a traveller finds, by chance, a grape in a barren and desolate place, he not only admires it, but takes great delight in a fruit so unlooked for. And thus the Lord, by this comparison, shows his great love towards the Israelites. He adds, -- As the first fruit of the figtree; for the fig-tree, we know, produces fruit twice every year. Therefore, God says, -- As figs at the beginning (or, as they say, the first fruits) are delightful, so have I taken delight in this people. The Prophet does not however mean, that the people were worthy of being so much loved. But the Hebrews use the word, to find, in the same sense as we do, when we say in French, -- Je treuve cela a mon gout, (I find this to my taste.) I have therefore regarded Israel as grapes in the wilderness And this remark is needful, lest some one should subtilely infer, that the Israelites were loved by God, because they had something savoury in them. For the Prophet relates not here what God found in the people, but he only reproves their ingratitude, as we shall presently see.
The first part then shows that God had great delight in this people. It is the same or similar sentence to that in Hosea 11, where he says, When Ephraim was yet a child, I loved him,' except that there is not there so much fervour and warmth of love expressed; but the same argument is there handled, and the object is the same, and it is to prove, that God anticipated his people by his love. There remained, in this case, less excuse, when men rejected God calling them, and responded not to his love. A perverseness like this would be hardly endured among men. Were any one to love me freely, and I to slight him, it would be an evidence of pride and rudeness: but when God himself gratuitously treats us with kindness, and when, not content with common love, he regards us as delectable fruit, does not the rejection of this love, does not the contempt of this favour, betray, on our part, the basest depravity? We now then understand the design of the Prophet. In the first clause, he says, in the person of God, |I have loved Israel, as a traveller does grapes, when he finds them in the desert, and as the first ripe figs are wont to be loved: since then, I so much delighted in them, ought they not to have honoured me in return? Ought not my gratuitous love to have inflamed their hearts, so as to induce them to devote themselves wholly to me?|
But they went in unto Baal-peor. So I interpret the verb v'v, bau; and it is taken in this sense in many other places. For the Hebrews say, |they went in,| to express in a delicate way the intercourse between husbands and wives. And the Prophet does not, without reason, compare the sacrifices which the people offered to Baal-peor to adultery, as being like the intercourse which an adulterer has with an harlot. They then went in unto Baal-peor; and he adds, that they |separated themselves|. Some interpret the word nzr, nesar, as referring to worship, and as meaning that they consecrated themselves to Baal-peor; and others derive it from zrh, sare, which they think is here in a passive sense, and means, |to be alienated.| But I take it in the same sense as when Ezekiel says, |They have separated themselves from after me,| m'chry, macheri, Ezekiel 14; that is, that they may not follow me. God here expostulates with the people for following their fornication, and for thus repudiating that sacred marriage which God contracts with all his people. I therefore read the two sentences as forming one context, The Israelites went in unto Baal-peor, as an adulterer goes in unto a harlot; and they separated themselves; for they denied God, and violated the faith pledged to him; they discarded the spiritual marriage which God made with them.| For the Prophet, we know, whenever he refers to idolatries speaks allegorically or metaphorically, and mentions adultery.
They have separated themselves, he says, to reproach; that is, though their filthiness was shameful, they were yet wholly insensible: as when a wife disregards her character, or as when a husband cares not that he is pointed at by the finger, and that his baseness is to all a laughing-stock; so the Israelites, he says, had separated themselves to reproach, having cast away all shame, they abandoned themselves to wickedness. Some render the word vst, beshet, obscenity, and others refer it to Baal-peor, and render the sentence thus, |They have separated themselves to that filthy idol.| For some think Priapus to have been Baal-peor; and this opinion has gained the consent of almost all. But I extend wider the meaning of the word |reproach,| as signifying that the people observed no difference between what was decent and what was shameful, but that they were senseless in their impiety. They were therefore abominable, or abominations according to their lovers The Prophet, I doubt not, connects here the Israelites with idols and with Baal-peor itself, that he might strip them of all that holiness which they had obtained through God's favour. We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
Now, what is here taught is worthy of being noticed and is useful. For, as we have said, inexcusable is our wickedness, if we despise the gratuitous love of God, bestowed unasked. When God then comes to us of his own accord, when he invites us, when he offers to us the privilege of children, an inestimable benefit, and when we reject his favour, is not this more than savage ferocity? It was to reprobate such conduct as this that the Prophet says, that God had loved Israel, as when one finds grapes in the desert, or as when one eats the first ripe figs. But it must, at the same time, be noticed why the Prophet so much extols the dealings of God with the people of Israel; it was for this reason, because their adoption, as it is well known, was not an ordinary privilege, nor what they enjoyed in common with other nations. Since, then, the people had been chosen to be God's special possession, the Prophet here justly extols this love with peculiar commendation. And the like is our case at this day; for God vouchsafes not to all the favour which has been presented to us through the shining light of the gospel. Other people wander in darkness, the light of life dwells only among us: does not God thus show that he delights especially in us? But if we continue the same as we were, and if we reject him and transfer our love to others, or rather if lust leads us astray from him, is not this detestable wickedness and obstinacy?
But what the Prophet says, that they separated themselves to reproach, is also worthy of being noticed; for he exaggerates their crime by this consideration, that the Israelites were so blinded, that they perceived not their own turpitude, though it was quite manifest. The superstitions which then prevailed in the land of Moab were no doubt very gross; but Satan had so fascinated their minds that they gave themselves up to a conduct which was worse than shameful. Let us then know that our sin is worthy of a heavier punishment in such a case as this, that is, when every distinction is done away among us, and when we are hurried away by the spirit of giddiness into every impiety and when we no longer distinguish between light and darkness, between white and black; for it is a token of final reprobation. When, therefore, shame ought to have restrained them, he says, that the Israelites had yet |separated themselves to reproach, and became abominable like their lovers|; that is, As Baal-peor is the highest abomination to me, so the people became to me equally abominable. It now follows --