16. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
16. Tunc loqunti sunt timentes Iehovam quisque ad socium suum; et attendit Iehova, et audivit; et scriptus est liber memoriae (vel, memorialis) coram facie ejus pro timentibus Iehovam, et cogitantibus de nomine ejus, (vel, in pretio habentibus nomen ejus.)
In this verse the Prophet tells us that his doctrine had not been without fruit, for the faithful had been stimulated, so that they animated one another, and thus restored each other to a right course. They who explain the words -- that the faithful spoke, indefinitely, pervert the meaning of the Prophet, and they also suppress the particle 'z, az, then. The very subject proves that a certain time is denoted, as though the Prophet had said, that before he addressed the people and vehemently reproved their vices, there was much indifference among them, but that at length the faithful were awakened.
We are hence taught that we are by nature slothful and tardy, until God as it were plucks our ears; there is therefore need of warnings and stimulants. But let us also learn to attend to what is taught, lest it should become frigid to us. We ought at the same time to observe, that all were not moved by the Prophet's exhortations to repent, but those who feared God: the greater part no doubt securely went on in their vices, and even openly derided the Prophet's teaching. As then the truth profited only those who feared God, let us not wonder that it is despised at this day by the people in general; for it is given but to a few to obey God's word; and the conversion of the heart is the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit. There is therefore no reason for pious teachers to despond, when they do not see their doctrine received everywhere and by all, of when they see that but a few make any progress in it; but let them be content, when the Lord blesses their labor and renders it profitable and fruitful to some, however small their number may be.
But the Prophet not only says that individuals were Touched with repentance, but also that they spoke among themselves; by which he intimates, that our efforts ought to be extended to our brethren: and it is an evidence of true repentance, when each one endeavors as much as he can to unite to himself as many friends as possible, so that they may with one consent return to the way from which they had departed, yea, that they may return to God whom they had forsaken. This then is what we are to understand by the words spoken mutually by God's servants, which the Prophet does not express.
He says that Jehovah attended and heard, and that a book of remembrance was written before him. He proves here that the faithful had not in vain repented, for God became a witness and a spectator: and this part is especially worthy of being noticed; for we lose not our labor when we turn to God, because he will receive us as it were with open arms.
Our Prophet wished especially to show, that God attended; and hence he uses three forms of speaking. One word would have been enough, but he adds two more; and this is particularly emphatical, that there was a book of remembrance written. His purpose then was by this multiplicity of words to give greater encouragement to the faithful, that they might be convinced that their reward would be certain as soon as they devoted themselves to God, for God would not be blind to their piety.
The Prophet at the same time seems to point it out as something miraculous, that there were found then among the people any who were yet capable of being healed, since so much wickedness had prevailed among the people, nay, had become hardened, as we have seen, to an extreme obstinacy; for there was nothing sound or upright either among the priests or the common people. As then they had long indulged with loose reins in all kinds of wickedness, it was incredible, that any could be converted, or that any piety and fear of God could be found remaining among them. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, that God attended and heard, and that a book was written; he speaks as though of a thing unusual, which could not but appear as a miracle in a state of things so confused and almost past hope. The design of the whole is to show, that the faithful ought not to doubt, but that their repentance is ever regarded by God, and especially when the utmost despair lays hold on their minds; for it often distresses the godly, when they see no remedy to be hoped for; then they think that their repentance will be useless: hence it is that the Prophet dwells so much on this point, in order that they might feel assured, that though no hope appeared, yet repentance availed for their salvation before God; and for this reason he adds, that this book was written for those who feared God
With regard to the participle chsvym, cheshebim, the verb chsv, chesheb, means to reckon or to count, and also to think; and so some render it here, |Who think of his name.| And doubtless this is a rare virtue; for we see that forgetfulness easily creeps over us, which extinguishes the fear of God, so that we take such a liberty, as though they who forget God can sin with impunity: and hence it is said often in the Psalms, that the fear of God is before the eyes of the godly. This seems frigid at the first view; but he who remembers God has made much progress in his religious course; and we also find by experience that the mere remembrance of God, when real, is a bridle to us sufficiently strong to restrain all our depraved lusts. But as the price of a thing is attained by reckoning, the other version is appropriate, -- that the faithful value or esteem the name of God. It follows --