4. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
4. Sanabo defectiones eorum, diligam eos sponte (vel, liberaliter;) quia aversus est furor meus ab eo.
God here confirms what we have observed respecting his gratuitous reconciliation, nor is the repetition useless; for as men are disposed to entertain vain and false hopes, so nothing is more difficult than to preserve them in dependence on the one God, and to pacify their minds, so that they disturb not nor fret themselves, as experience teaches us all. For when we embrace the promises of free pardon, our flesh ever leads us to distrust, and we become harassed by various fancies. |What! can you or dare you promise with certainty to yourself that God will be propitious to you, when you know that for many reasons he is justly angry with you?| Since, then, we are so inclined to harbour distrust, the Prophet again confirms the truth which we have before noticed, which is, that God is ready to be reconciled, and that he desires nothing more than to receive and embrace his people.
Hence he says, I will heal their defections The way of healing is by a gratuitous pardon. For though God, by regenerating us by his Spirit, heals our rebellion, that is, subdues us unto obedience, and removes from us our corruptions, which stimulate us to sin; yet in this place the Prophet no doubt declares in the person of God, that the Israelites would be saved from their defections, so that they might not come against them in judgement, nor be imputed to them. Let us know then that God is in two respects a physician while he is healing our sins: he cleanses us by his Spirit, and he abolishes and buries all our offences. But it is of the second kind of healing that the Prophet now speaks, when he says, I will heal their turnings away: and he employs a strong term, for he might have said, |your faults or errors| but he says, |your defections from God;| as though he said, |Though they have so grievously sinned, that by their crimes they have deserved hundred deaths, yet I will heal them from these their atrocious sins, and I will love them freely.|
The word ndvh, nudebe, may be explained either freely or bountifully. I will then love them bountifully, that is, with an abounding and not a common love; or I will love them freely, that is gratuitously. But they who render the words |I will love them of mine own accord,| that is, not by constraint, pervert the sense of the Prophet; for how frigid is the expression, that God is not forced to love us; and what meaning can hence be elicited? But the Lord is said to love us freely, because he finds in us no cause of love, for we are unworthy of being regarded or viewed with any favour; but he shows himself liberal and beneficent in this very act of manifesting his love to the unworthy.
We then perceive that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, that though the Israelites had in various ways provoked the wrath of God, and as it were designedly wished to perish, and to have him to be angry with them; yet the Lord promises to be propitious to them. In what way? Even in this, for he will give proof of his bounty, when he will thus gratuitously embrace them. We now see how God becomes a Father to us, and regards us as his children, even when he abolishes our sins, and also when he freely admits us to the enjoyment of his love. And this truth ought to be carefully observed; for the world ever imagines that they come to God, and bring something by which they can turn or incline him to love them. Nothing can be more inimical to our salvation than this vain fancy.
Let us then learn from this passage, that God cannot be otherwise a Father to us than by becoming our physician and by healing our transgressions. But the order also is remarkable, for God puts love after healing. Why? Because, as he is just, it must be that he regards us with hatred as long as he imputes sins. It is then the beginning of love, when he cleanses us from our vices, and wipes away our spots. When therefore it is asked, how God loves men, the answer is, that he begins to love them by a gratuitous pardon; for while God imputes sins, it must be that men are hated by him. He then commences to love us, when he heals our diseases.
It is not without reason that he adds, that the fury of God is turned away from Israel. For the Prophet intended to add this as a seal to confirm what he taught; for men ever dispute with themselves when they hear that God is propitious to them. |How is this, that he heals thine infirmities? for hitherto thou hast found him to be angry with thee, and how art thou now persuaded that his wrath is pacified?| Hence the Prophet seals his testimony respecting God's love, when he says, that his wrath has now ceased. Turned away then is my fury |Though hitherto I have by many proofs, manifested to thee my wrath, yet I now come to thee as one changed. Judge me not then by past time, for I am now pacified to thee, and my fury is from thee turned away It follows --