33. He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and springs of water into dryness; 34. A fruitful land into saltness, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.35. He turneth the desert into a pool of water, and the land of barrenness into springs of water.36. And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may build a city of habitation; 37. And sow fields, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of the increase.38. And he blesses them, and they multiplied greatly; and he maketh not their cattle to decrease.39. Afterwards they are lessened and dejected, by reason of anguish, misery, and sorrow.40. He poureth contempt upon princes, and maketh them to wander in a wilderness, where there is no way; 41. And he raiseth the afflicted out of misery, and maketh him families like a flock.
33. He turneth rivers into a wilderness Here then is an account of changes which it would be the height of folly to attribute to chance. Fruitful lands become unfruitful, and barren lands assume the new aspect of freshness and fruitfulness. And how happens it that one district becomes sterile, and another becomes fat and fertile, contrary to what they were wont to be, but because that God pours out his wrath upon the inhabitants of the one, by taking his blessing from them, and renders the other fruitful to feed the hungry? It may be ascribed to the thinness of the population, that many parts of Asia and Greece, once exceedingly fruitful, now lie uncultivated and unproductive; but we must ascribe to the providence of God, which the prophet praises, the well authenticated fact, that in some places the earth that was fruitful has now become barren and parched, while others are beginning to be fertile.
It is, however, not sufficient merely to observe, that these wonderful revolutions of the surface of the earth are the result of God's overruling purpose, unless we also observe, in the second place, what the prophet does not omit, that the earth is cursed by him on account of the iniquity of its inhabitants, who prove themselves to be undeserving of being so amply sustained by his bountiful hand. He has put pools and springs of water for fields or countries where there is an abundance of water; because moisture is required to nourish the plants by which fruit is produced. The term saltness is employed metaphorically, inasmuch as there is nothing more sterile than salt; hence that saying of Christ's,
|If the salt have lost its saltness, what further purpose will it serve?|
not even indeed for barrenness. And, consequently, when men designed to doom any place to remain unproductive, they usually sowed it with salt. And probably it is in allusion to this ancient custom, that the prophet says that the land was covered with salt.
35. He turneth the desert into a pool of water This change, in contrast with the former, places the miraculous power of God in a more luminous position. Because, were the fields ceasing to be so productive as in former times, men of the world, as was common of old, would attribute this to the frequent crops which exhausted their productive power. But whence is it that parched grounds become so fruitful, that one would almost say that the atmosphere, as well as the nature of the soil, had undergone a change, unless it be that God hath there put forth a wonderful display of his power and goodness? Wherefore, the prophet very justly says, that the deserts were turned into pools of water, so that populous cities may rise up in waste and uncultivated places, where once there was not a single cottage. For it is as improbable that the nature of the soil is changed, as that the course of the sun and stars is changed. The clause, the hungry are filled, may mean, either that they themselves, after considerable privations, have got what may supply their need, or that those poor persons, living in a country where they cannot longer find daily bread, being constrained to leave it, and to seek a new place of abode, are there bountifully supplied by God. I am rather disposed to think, that this clause refers to what frequently occurs, namely, that the famishing, whose wants the world refuses to supply, and who are expatriated, are comfortably accommodated in these desert places, where God blesses them with abundance. The passage which I have translated, fruit of the increase, is, by not a few Hebrew expositors, considered as a repetition of two synonymous terms, and are for supplying a copulative conjunction, making it, fruit and increase But it was rather the intention of the prophet to refer to fruit yielded annually; as if he said, the fertility of these regions is not temporary, or only for a few years, it is perennial. For tvv'vt, tebuaoth, is the term which, in the Hebrew, denotes full-grown fruit annually produced by the earth. And when he says, that the new settlers sow and plant, he gives us to understand, that, prior to their arrival, cultivation was unknown in these places, and, consequently, in becoming so unusually fertile, they assumed a totally different aspect. And, in fine, he adds, that it was entirely owing to the Divine blessing that those who were once oppressed with poverty and want are now daily increasing in the good things of this life.
39. Afterwards they are lessened Ere I enter upon the consideration of the truths contained in this verse, I must make some brief verbal observations. Some make the word vtsr, otser, to signify tyranny, and certainly tsr, atsar, does signify to bear rule. But since it is used metaphorically for anguish, it appears to me that this is the meaning which is most accordant with the tenor of the passage. The last two words of the verse may be read as in the nominative case, as I have rendered them, or in the genitive, the anguish of misery and sorrow This lection appears to me preferable, through the anguish of misery, and through sorrow.
We come now to notice shortly the main things in the passage. And as we had formerly a description of the changes which these districts underwent in relation to the nature of the soil, so now we are informed that mankind do not for ever continue in the same condition; because they both decrease in number, and lose their place and property by being reduced by wars or by civil commotions, or by other casualties. Therefore, whether they are wasted by the pestilence, or are defeated in battle, or are cut off by intestine broils, it is manifest that both their rank and condition undergo alteration. And what is the occasion of this change, but that God withdraws his grace, which hitherto formed the hidden spring from which all their prosperity issued? And as there are a thousand casualties by which cities may be ruined, the prophet brings forward one species of change of all others the most palpable and remarkable. And since God's hand is not observed in that which relates to persons living in comparative obscurity, he brings into view princes themselves, whose name and fame will not permit any memorable event which befalls them to remain in obscurity. For it seems that the world is made on their account. When God, therefore, hurls them from their lofty estate, then men, aroused as it were from their slumber, are prepared to regard his judgments. Here, too, the mode of address which is employed must be attended to; in saying, that God poured contempt upon princes, it is as if it was his pleasure, so long as they retained their dignity, that honor and respect should be paid to them. The words of Daniel are well known,
|O king, God hath put the fear of thee in the very fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the earth,| (Daniel 2:8)
And assuredly, though princes may clothe themselves with power, yet that inward honor and majesty which God has conferred upon them, is a greater safeguard than any human arm. Nor even would a single village hold out for the space of three days, did not God, by his invisible and invincible agency, put a restraint upon the hearts of men. Hence, whenever God renders princes contemptible, their magnificent power must of necessity be subverted. This is a fact corroborated by history, that mighty potentates, who have been the terror and dread of the whole world, when once denuded of their dignity and power, have become the sport even of their own dependants. And inasmuch as such a striking revolution as this should be regarded as a wonderful display of God's power, yet such is the obtuseness of our minds, that we will not acknowledge his overruling providence. As a contrast to these reverses, the prophet afterwards shows, that the poor and ignoble are exalted, and their houses increased, and that those who were held in no estimation, suddenly increase in wealth and power. In these things men would assuredly recognize the providence of God, were it not that the perversity of their minds rendered them insensate.