9. O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.
9. A diebus Gabaa peccasti Israel: illic steterunt; non apprehendit eos in Gibea proelium super filios iniquitatis.
He here reproaches Israel for having been long inured in their sins, and not for being lately corrupted. This is the substance. He had said in the last chapter that they were deep in their sins, as in the days of Gibeah: we then explained why the Prophet adduced the example of Gibeah, and that was, because the Gibeonites had fallen away from all fear of God, as if not a word about the law had ever been heard among them. We indeed know that they abandoned themselves to filthy and monstrous lusts, like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra. Seeing, then, that so great obscenity prevailed openly and with impunity in Gibeah, rightly did the Prophet say that the Israelites were then lost and past hope, as the case was at that time. But now he regards another thing, even this, -- that from that time they had not ceased to accumulate evils on evils, and thus to spin, as it were, a continuous rope of iniquity, as it is said in another place, -- From the days then of Gibeah hast thou, Israeli sinned
But this seems an unjust charge; for we know that the whole people united together against the tribe of Benjamin. Since, then, the Israelites revenged that wickedness which was committed in the city of Gibeah, why does the Prophet bring against them the crime of which they had been the avengers? But we know that it often happens, that they who execute the vengeance of God are in no respect better; and we had a remarkable example of this at the beginning in Jehu; for he had been God's minister in punishing superstitions; yet God calls him a robber, and compares the vengeance he executed to robbery; I will avenge,' he says, on the head of Jehu the blood of the house of Ahab, which he has shed.' And yet we know that he was armed with the sword of God. This is indeed true; but he acted not with a sincere and upright heart, for he afterwards followed the same example. So now the Prophet says, that the Israelites had sinned even from that time; as though he said, |The Lord by the hand of your fathers took vengeance on the Gibeonites and on the whole tribe of Benjamin: but they were wholly like them. This corruption has from that time overwhelmed, like a deluge, the whole land of Israel. There is then no reason for you to boast that you have been better, inasmuch as it afterwards fully appeared what you were, for you imitated the Gibeonites.| We now then understand the design of the Prophet, and how justly he brings this charge against the Israelites, that they had sinned from the days of Gibeah. They indeed thought that crime was confined to a small corner of the land; but the Prophet says that the whole land was covered with it, and that they all exposed themselves to God's judgement, and deserved the same punishment with the Gibeonites and their brethren, the whole tribe of Benjamin. Thou, Israel, hast then sinned from the days of Gibeah:' the Israelites said, that the Benjamites alone sinned; but that sin, he says was common.
There they stood This clause is variously explained. Some think that the people are reproved for wishing to retreat after having twice fought without success. We hence see that their minds were soft and cowardly, since they so soon succumbed to their trial. They therefore think that this want of confidence is pointed out by the Prophet; There they stood,' he says, that is, retreated from the battle; for as they did not succeed as they wished, they thought that they had been deceived. Hence it is concluded, that they did not ascribe his just honour to God, and were on this account reprehensible. But others say, that God had then testified by a clear proof that the Israelites were equal in guilt to the Gibeonites; for how came it, they say, that when they engaged in battle, they were compelled twice to retreat? All Israel were armed against one tribe; how then was it that they did not immediately overcome? But the Benjamites, we know, were not at last conquered without a great loss. It is then certain that God plainly showed that the Israelites were unworthy of so honourable an office; for the Israelites wished to execute God's judgement, when they were themselves equally wicked. The Lord then openly reminded them, that it was not for them to turn their zeal against others, when they were no less guilty themselves. It seems to others that their obstinacy is here pointed out: There they stood;' that is, from that time they have been perverse in their wickedness, and the battle against the children of iniquity did not lay hold on them.' This third exposition is what I mostly approve; that is, that the Israelites, when they became ungodly and wicked, though they professed great zeal and ardour against the tribe of Benjamin, did not yet cease from that time to conduct themselves perversely against God, so that they at last arrived at the highest pitch of impiety.
But what follows, The battle in Gibea against the children of iniquity did not lay hold on them, may also be variously explained. Some say, that the Israelites ought not to have defended themselves with this shield, that God had so severely punished the Gibeonites and their kindred. |The Lord spared you once, but what then? He has deferred his vengeance for a long time; but will he on that account deal more mildly with you now? Nay, a heavier vengeance awaits you; for from that time he has not forced repentance out of you.| But others read the sentence as a question, |Has the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity laid hold on you?| But the simple sense of the words seems to me to be this, that the battle had not laid hold on the Israelites, because they had not been touched by that example. The judgements of God, we know, are set forth before our eyes, that each of us may apply them for our own benefit. The Prophet now reproves the neglect of the Israelites in this matter, because they disregarded the event as a thing of no moment. Hence the battle did not lay hold on them; that is, they did not perceive that they were warned at the expense of others to repent, and to live afterwards a holier and purer life in subjection to God. And this view is confirmed by the last clause, |against the children of iniquity;| for why is this expressly added by the Prophet, except that the Lord testified that they should not be unpunished, who were like the Gibeonites, with whom he dealt so rigidly and severely. Since, then, the Israelites had not been touched, their stupidity was hence proved. And for the same reason Paul says, that the wrath of God shall come on the children of disobedience or of unbelief, (Ephesians 5:6:) for when God takes vengeance on one people or on one man, he doubtless shows himself in that particular judgement to be the judge of the world. This seems to me to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet.
We ought further to bear in mind, that when men go on in their wickedness, whatever sins their fathers have done are justly imputed to them. When we return to the right way, the Lord instantly buries all our sins, and reconciles us to himself on this condition, that he will pardon whatever fault there may be in us: though we may, through our whole life, have provoked his wrath against us, he will yet as I have said, instantly bury the whole. But if we repent not, the Lord will remember, not only our own sins, but also those of our fathers, as it is evident from what is here said by the Prophet.