8. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.
8. Qumodo ponam te Ephraim? Tradam te Israel? Quomodo ponam te sicut Sodomam? Statuam te sicut Zxeboim? Inversum est in me cor meum, simul revolutae sunt (alii, incaluerunt; nam kmr illud significat, simul ergo revolutae sunt) poenitudines meae.
9. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.
9. Non faciam (id est, non exequar) furorem irae meae, non revertar ad perdendum Ephraim: quia Deus ego, et non homo, in medio tui sanctus; et non ingrediar urbem.
Here God consults what he would do with the people: and first, indeed, he shows that it was his purpose to execute vengeance, such as the Israelites deserved, even wholly to destroy them: but yet he assumes the character of one deliberating, that none might think that he hastily fell into anger, or that, being soon excited by excessive fury, he devoted to ruin those who had lightly sinned, or were guilty of no great crimes. That no one then might assign to God an anger too fervid, he says here, How shall I set thee aside, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I set thee as Sodom? By these expressions God shows what the Israelites deserved, and that he was now inclined to inflict the punishment of which they were worthy and yet not without repentance, or at least not without hesitation. He afterwards adds in the next clause, This I will not do; my heart is within me changed; I now alter my purpose, and my repenting are brought back again; that is it was in my mind to destroy you all, but now a repenting, which reverses that design, lays hold on me. We now apprehend what the Prophet means.
As to this mode of speaking, it appears indeed at the first glance to be strange that God should make himself like mortals in changing his purposes and in exhibiting himself as wavering. God, we know, is subject to no passions; and we know that no change takes place in him. What then do these expressions mean, by which he appears to be changeable? Doubtless he accommodates himself to our ignorances whenever he puts on a character foreign to himself. And this consideration exposes the folly as well as the impiety of those who bring forward single words to show that God is, as it were like mortals; as those unreasonable men do who at this day seek to overturn the eternal providence of God, and to blot out that election by which he makes a difference between men. |O!| they say, |God is sincere, and he has said that he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.| God must then in this case remain as it were uncertain, and depend on the free-will of every one: it is hence in the power of man either to procure destruction to himself, or to come to salvation. God must in the meantime wait quietly as to what men will do, and can determine nothing except through their free-will. While these insane men thus trifle, they think themselves to be supported by this invincible reason, that God's will is one and simple. But if the will of God be one, it does not hence follow that he does not accommodate himself to men, and put on a character foreign to himself, as much as a regard for our salvation will bear or require. So it is in this place. God does not in vain introduce himself as being uncertain; for we hence learn that he is not carried away too suddenly to inflict punishment, even when men in various ways provoke his vengeance. This then is what God shows by this mode of speaking. At the same time, we know that what he will do is certain, and that his decree depends not on the free-will of men; for he is not ignorant of what we shall do. God then does not deliberate as to himself, but with reference to men. This is one thing.
But we must also bear in mind what I have already said, that the Prophet here strikes with terror proud and profane despisers by setting before their eyes their own destruction, and by showing how little short they were of the lot of Gomorra and other cities. |For what remains,| the Lord says, |but that I should set you as Sodom and Zeboim? This condition and this recompense awaits you, if I execute the judgement which has been already as it were decreed.| Not that God would immediately do this; but he only reminds the Israelites of what they deserved, and of what would happen to them, except the Lord dealt mercifully with them. Thus much of the first part of the verse.
But when he says that his heart was changed, and that his repentings were brought back again, the same mode of speaking after the manner of men is adopted; for we know that these feelings belong not to God; he cannot be touched with repentance, and his heart cannot undergo changes. To imagine such a thing would be impiety. But the design is to show, that if he dealt with the people of Israel as they deserved, they would now be made like Sodom and Gomorra. But as God was merciful, and embraced his people with paternal affection, he could not forget that he was a Father, but would be willing to grant pardon; as is the case with a father, who, on seeing his son's wicked disposition, suddenly feels a strong displeasure, and then, being seized with relenting, is inclined to spare him. God then declares that he would thus deal with his people.
Then follows an explanation of this sentence, I will not execute the fury of my wrath: by which figurative mode of speaking he sets forth the punishment which was suitable to the sins of men. For it must ever be remembered, that God is exempt from every passion. But if no anger is to be supposed by us to be in God, what does he mean by the fury of his wrath? Even the relation between his nature and our innate or natural sins. But why does Scripture say that God is angry? Even because we imagine him to be so according to the perception of the flesh; for we do not apprehend God's indignation, except as far as our sins provoke him to anger, and kindle his vengeance against us. Then God, with regard to our perception, calls the fury of his wrath the heavy judgement, which is equal to, or meet for, our sins. I will not execute, he says, that is, |I will not repay the reward which you have deserved.|
What then? I will not return to destroy Ephraim The verb 'svv, ashub, seems to have been introduced for this reason, because God had in part laid waste the kingdom of Israel: he therefore says, that the second overthrow, which he would presently bring, would not be such as would destroy the whole of Israel, or wholly consume them. I will not then return to destroy Ephraim; that is, |Though I shall again gird myself to punish the sins of the people, I shall yet restrain myself so that my vengeance shall not proceed to the destruction of the whole people.| The reason is subjoined, For I am God, and not man.
As he intended in this place to leave to the godly some hope of salvation, he adds what may confirm this hope; for we know that when God denounces wrath, with what difficulty trembling consciences are restored to hope. Ungodly men laugh to scorn all threatening; but those in whom there is any seed of piety dread the vengeance of God, and whenever terror seizes them, they are tormented with marvellous disquietude, and cannot be easily pacified. This then is the reason why the Prophet now confirms the doctrine which he had laid down: I am God, he says, and not man; as though he had said, that he would be propitious to his people, for he was not implacable as men are; and they are very wrong who judge of him, or measure him, by men.
We must here first remember, that the Prophet directs not his discourse promiscuously to all the Israelites, but only to the faithful, who were a remnant among that corrupt people. For God, at no time, suffered all the children of Abraham to become alienated, but some few at least remained, as it is said in another place, (1 Kings 19:18.) These the Prophet now addresses; and to administer consolation, he moderates what he had said before of the dreadful vengeance of God. This saying then was not to relieve the sorrow of hypocrites; for the Prophet regarded only the miserable, who had been so smitten with the feeling of God's wrath, that despair would have almost swallowed them up, had not their grief been mitigated. This is one thing. But further, when he says that he is God, and not man, this truth ought to come to our minds, that we may taste of God's gratuitous promises, whenever we vacillate as to his promises, or whenever terror possesses our minds. What! Do you doubt when you have to do with God? But whence is it, that we with so much difficulty rely on the promises of God, except that we imagine him to be like ourselves? Inasmuch then, as it is our habit thus to transform him, let this truth be a remedy to this fault; and whenever God promises pardon to us, from which proceeds the hope of salvation, how much soever he may have previously terrified us by his judgements, let this come to our mind, that as he is God, he is not to be judged of by what we are. We ought then to recumb simply on his promises. |But then we are unworthy to be pardoned; besides, so great is the atrocity of our sins, that there can be no hope of reconciliation.| Here we must take instant hold on this shield, we must learn to fortify ourselves with this declaration of the Prophet, He is God, and not man: let this shield be ever taken to repel every kind of diffidence.
But here a question may be raised, |Was He not God, when he destroyed Sodom and the neighbouring cities?| That judgement did not take away from the Lord his glory, nor was his majesty thereby diminished. But these two sentences are to be read together; I am God, and not man, holy in the midst of thee. When any one reads these sentences apart, he does wrong to the meaning of the Prophet. God, then, does not only affirm here that he is not like men, but he also adds, that he is holy in the midst of Israel. It is one view of God's nature that is here given us, and what is set forth is the immense distance between him and men, as we find it written by Isaiah the Prophet,
My thoughts are not as yours: as much as the heaven is distant from the earth, so distant are my thoughts from your thoughts,' (Isaiah 55:8.)
So also in this place, the Prophet shows what God is, and how much his nature differs from the dispositions of men. He afterwards refers to the covenant which God made with his people: and what was the purport of that covenant? Even that God would punish his people; yet so as ever to leave some seed remaining.
I will chastise them,' he says, with the rod of men; I will not yet take away from them my mercy,'
(2 Samuel 7:14,15.)
Since God then had promised some mitigation or some alleviation in all his punishments, he now reminds us, that he will not have his Church wholly demolished in the world, for he would thus be inconsistent with himself: hence he says, I am God, and not man, holy in the midst of thee; and since I have chosen thee to myself to be my peculiar possession and inheritance, and promised also to be for ever thy God, I will now moderate my vengeance, so that some Church may ever remain.|
For this reason he also says I will not enter into the city Some say, |I will not enter another city but Jerusalem.| But this does not suit the passage; for the Prophet speaks here of the ten tribes and not of the tribe of Judah. Others imagine an opposite meaning, |I will not enter the city,| as though he said, that he would indeed act kindly towards the people in not wholly destroying them; but that they should hereafter be without civil order, regular government, and other tokens of God's favour: I will not enter the city;' that is, |I will not restore you, so that there may be a city and a kingdom, and an united body of people.| But this exposition is too forced; nay, it is a mere refinement, which of itself vanishes. There is no doubt but that the similitude is taken from a warlike practice. For when a conqueror enters a city with an armed force, slaughter is not restrained but blood is indiscriminately shed. But when a city surrenders, the conqueror indeed may enter, yet not with a sudden and violent attack, but on certain conditions; and then he waits, it may be for two days, or for some time, that the rage of his soldiers may be allayed. Then he comes, not as to enemies, but as to his own subjects. This is what the Prophet means when he says, I will not enter the city;' that is, |I will make war on you and subdue your and force you to surrenders and that with great loss; but when the gates shall be opened, and the wall demolished, I will then restrain myself, for I am unwilling wholly to destroy you.|
If one objects and says, that this statement militates against many others which we have observed, the answer is easy, and the solution has already been adduced in another place, and I shall now only touch on it briefly. When God distinctly denounces ruin on the people, the body of the people is had in view; and in this body there was then no integrity. Inasmuch, then, as all the Israelites had become corrupt, had departed from the worship and fear of God, and from all piety and righteousness, and had abandoned themselves to all kinds of wickedness, the Prophet declares that they were to perish without any exception. But when he confines the vengeance of God, or moderates it, he has respect to a very small number; for, as it has been already stated, corruption had never so prevailed among the people, but that some seed remained. Hence, when the Prophet has in view the elect of God, he applies then these consolations, by which he mitigates their terror, that they might understand that God, even in his extreme rigour, would be propitious to them. Such is the way to account for this passage. With regard to the body of the people, the Prophet has already shown, that their cities were devoted to the fire, and that the whole nation was doomed to suffer the wrath of God; that every thing was given up to the fire and the sword. But now he says, |I will not enter;| that is, with regard to those whom the Lord intended to spare. And it must also be observed, that punishment was mitigated, not only with regard to the elect, but also with regard to the reprobate, who were led into captivity. We must yet remember, that when God spared them for a time, he chiefly consulted the good of his elect; for the temporary suspension of vengeance increased his judgement on the reprobate; for whosoever repented not in exile doubled, as it is evident, the wrath of God against themselves. The Lord, however, spared his people for a time; for among them was included his Church, in the same way as the wheat is preserved in the chaff, and is carried from the field with the straw. Why so? Even that the wheat may be separated. So also the Lord preserves much chaff with the wheat; but he will afterwards, in due time, divide the wheat from the chaff. We now understand the whole meaning of the Prophet, and also the application of his doctrine. It follows --