We saw in our last lecture that the Jews were indignant, because God did not treat them with more kindness, as they thought that they rightly performed their duty towards Him. We said that such an expostulation can never be justly made by men; for though they may find God rigid, there are yet always many reasons why he should by various troubles exercise them; but hypocrites seem to themselves to be of all men the most perfect, though they have only the guise or mask of religion. They indeed say that they have kept the Law, but when we come to the test, their emptiness is found out; for the main thing in the Law is wanting, that is, integrity of heart; nay, in the outward life they are found to be transgressors.
However this may be, they boasted that they kept the law, as we find in this passage, We have kept his charge. The doctrine of the law is here by a metaphor called a charge or keeping (custodia,) because it rules us, it confines us also within limits that we may not wander in uncertainty, it restrains our corrupt desires; in short, it keeps us under the fear of God and in the best order. Had the Jews considered this, they could never have dared to ascribe so much to themselves. Now this word, then commonly used, is adopted by the Prophet, and thus he shows how little attention they gave to the consideration of God's law; for they thought that their whole life was conformable to all the commandments, and. yet they conformed hardly to the thousandth part of them. They add, We have walked with a dark face or dress There is here also a metaphor, for they meant that they had been humble and lowly before God. It is indeed no ordinary thing in God's service to lay aside all pride and vain confidence, and to walk humbly with him: but hypocrites, like apes, imitate what God requires and approves; and at the same time they say nothing of changing the heart. Fear and sorrow are required, according to what we have seen in the Prophet Micah; but hypocrites think that a dejected countenance is enough; and hence they often pretend sorrow, while they inwardly please and flatter themselves: and on this account we find in Isaiah, the fifty-eighth chapter, as well as in this place, that they bring a charge against God, that he did not regard them, when they walked with a sad countenance, when they macerated themselves with fastings: in short, when by various other performances they showed great holiness, they brought an accusation against God, because he disregarded all these things, or made not that account of them which they expected.
Let us then remember, that the Jews were guilty of two errors; first, they presented to God an empty appearance for true humility, for they were no doubt swollen with false confidence though they pretended to be abject and low before God; secondly, they claimed for themselves more than what was just, for though there may have been some apparent modesty and submissiveness in them, yet they exceeded due limits; for we always swell with presumption, at least we are never thoroughly freed from it. They then falsely pretended, that they walked lowly and dejectedly before God. It follows --