11. That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, says the Lord GOD.
11. Ut non errent amplius domus Israel a me, et non polluantur amplius in cunctis sceleribus suis: ut sint mihi in populum, et ego sim illis in Deum, dicit Dominator Iehovah.
Here God shows that there was no other remedy, if he would recall to safety those who had almost perished, and at the same time he teaches that it is useful to the Church to chastise those who had so impiously declined from himself. Meanwhile it happens that God thunders, and exercises his judgments even to the extreme of rigor: meanwhile men do not repent but remain obstinate: nay, the punishment which God inflicts upon the reprobate sinks them into deeper destruction. How so? Those who harden themselves against the hand of God heap upon themselves severer punishments, since the reprobate do not submit to the yoke when God wishes to correct their hardness and obstinacy. But here God announces that he will not be so severe as not to consult for their safety. But this contradiction might disturb many, since God destined the people as well as the false prophets to destruction, for this seems to render his covenant vain. But he prevents this question, and says, since he should exact such severe penalties from the despisers of his word and from apostates, that rigor would be useful to the Church. Now we understand the meaning of the saying, the house of Israel shall not err any more: since otherwise their obstinacy was incurable: and unless God had seriously roused them up, they had never been brought back into the way of their own accord. Here therefore God obliquely rebukes the hardness of his people, because they could not be instructed except by punishment. For incorrigible indeed are those sons who, while their father cherishes and indulges them, despise him, and become worse by the indulgence. Of this then God now complains, that the children of Israel were so untractable that they could not bear destruction, unless he descended to the utmost rigor. For it was a very sad spectacle, that God's truth should be corrupted and adulterated by lies, and that the people, with those who imposed upon them, should utterly perish. But we now hear that there was but one remedy since the children of Israel were untameable, unless they were completely broken down. He now adds, from me: a phrase worthy of notice, for we here gather, that as soon as we bend ever so little from following God, we wander after errors: for we shall never hold on in the right way unless we follow God, that is, unless we are intent upon the end which he sets before us: and then unless our eyes are turned in the direction that he points out, lest we bend to either the right hand or the left. Thus we shall be beyond any danger of wandering if we, follow God: on the other hand, if our minds turn to either this side or that, and we are not retained in obedience to God alone, the Prophet teaches that we wander in error, and that this will at length turn out unhappily for us. When he speaks of the house of Israel, he does not embrace without exception those who spring from Jacob; for both the false prophets and those who consulted them were of Jacob's line, and had a name in that family. But we have already seen what was decreed concerning them, namely, that God would destroy them and blot them out from the midst of his people. We see then that they are not; comprehended under the offspring of Abraham or the house of Israel; but this is restricted to the remnant of the people whom God wished to spare. For we know that there was always some seed left, that the covenant which had been made with Abraham might be firm and sacred. This sentence then properly refers to the elect, who are called by Paul the remnant of grace. (Romans 11:5.) But God says that the example would be useful to the survivors, since the punishment of others would instruct them: and when they should see the false prophets perish, and should acknowledge God's remarkable judgment in their destruction, then they would profit by it. Now we understand what the Prophet means by the destruction of the false prophets and of those hypocrites who despised the true prophets, and prostituted themselves to be deceived by impostors: when God makes them an example of his wrath, the Prophet says that the house of Israel should receive advantage from their perishing, and profit by their utter ruin.
Now he adds, And that they should not be polluted any more in all their wickedness. Here he purposely enlarges on their crime, that he may the more magnify the mercy of God; for if they had been only moderately guilty, his pardoning them had not been so remarkable. But the Prophet here pronounces them abandoned in sin, and does not condemn them for one sin but for many: he says they were polluted and contaminated in their crimes: and when God's mercy is extended to such as these, we discover with certainty how inestimable it is. Finally, let us learn from this passage, that God not only pardons men who transgress but lightly through want of thought and error, but that he is also merciful to the abandoned who are convicted of many iniquities. He says, that they may be my people and I may be their God. God had already adopted the whole seed of Abraham, and all were circumcised to a man: and thus they bore personally the testimony and covenant of God's paternal favor. Since, therefore, they were already God's people, and were considered as members of the Church, what can it mean that they shall be my people? For God seems here to promise them something new. But by this form of speech the Prophet marks their declension and manifests their deserts. For although God had thought them worthy of such honor as to reckon them among his elect people, yet they had cast themselves out by their own depravity. For since all religion among them was corrupt, God's worship was profaned, his whole law almost buried, and they were separated as far as possible from God, as we shall afterwards see. On the part of God the adoption remained firm: but here Ezekiel regards their condition if they would really look at it themselves, namely, as one of estrangement, since their own wickedness had cut them off: hence he speaks as of a new benefit when he says, they should be for a people when they repented.
The second chapter of Hosea will help us to understand this more clearly, when it is said,
|I will call them my people who are not my people,
and her beloved who is not beloved.| (Hosea 2:23.)
For the Prophet was commanded to go into an improper house and to take an impure female and to beget sons: he says that a son was born to whom God gave the name l'my, lagnemi, it shall not be my people: and then when a daughter was born, she was unworthy of love. There Hosea signifies that the Jews were cut off from the sacred root, and he speaks not of one or two, but of the whole race; for they were neither God's people nor a beloved daughter. Afterwards when reconciled, they begin again to be God's people and a beloved daughter. Paul does not accommodate that sentence to the calling of the Gentiles rashly: (Romans 9:25,) namely, that there was no difference between Jews and Gentiles, since the former were rejected. Whatever it is, we see that those who had a place and a name among God's people, and whom he had chosen for himself, were cast off and had become strangers through their own fault. Thus they begin to be God's people afresh when they repent and God receives them to favor. The conclusion is, I will restore them afresh, that my covenant may be renewed in some way, that they may be my people as they formerly were; and I may be to them a God, since by their own backsliding they deserved to be treated as entire strangers. Besides, it is well to remember what we said elsewhere, that under these words is contained whatever belongs to solid happiness. For if God acknowledges us as his people, we are certain of our salvation, as when he pronounces that he will be our God while we call upon him as a father. But whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13.) Then we must remember that celebrated sentence of the Prophet Habakkuk, You art our God: we shall not die. (Habakkuk 1:12.) Lastly, we have nothing else to wish for towards the fullness of all good things and confidence in eternal life, than that God should reckon us among his people, so that there may be open to us a free access to him in prayer. It follows --