14. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God?
14. Quis novit an revertatur et poeniteat eum, et relinquat post se (alii vertunt, post eum; ego tamen malo sic transferre, Relinquat post se) benedictionem, oblationem et libamen Jehovae Deo vestro?
The Prophet seems at first sight to leave men here perplexed and doubtful; and yet in the last verse, as we have seen, he had Offered a hope of favor, provided they sincerely repented. Hence the Prophet seems not to pursue the same subject, but rather to vary it: and we have already said, that all exhortations would be frigid, nay, useless, by which God stirs us up to repentance, except he were to testify that he is ready to be reconciled. Seeing then that the Prophet here leaves the minds of men in suspense, he seems to rescind what he has before alleged respecting God's mercy. But we must understand that this is a mode of speaking which often occurs in Scripture. For wherever God is set forth to us as one hardly willing to pardon, it is done to rouse our slothfulness, and also to shake off our negligence. We are at first torpid when God invites us, except he applies his many goads; and then we act formally in coming to him: it is hence needful that both these vices should be corrected in us, -- our torpor must be roused, -- and those self-complacences, in which we too much indulge ourselves, must be shaken off. And this is the object of the Prophet; for he addresses, as we have seen, men almost past recovery. If he had only said, God is ready to pardon, if he had used this way of speaking, they would have come negligently, and would not have been sufficiently touched by the fear of God: hence the Prophet here, as it were, debates the matter with them, |Even though we ought justly to despair of pardon, (for we are unworthy of being received by God,) yet there is no reason why we should despair; for who knows| which means |God is placable and we must not despair.|
The Prophet then sets forth here the difficulty of obtaining pardon, not to leave men in suspense, for this would be contrary to his former doctrine; but to create in them a desire for the grace of God, that they might by degrees gather courage, and yet not immediately rise to confidence, but that they might come anxiously to God, and with much deliberation, duly considering their offenses. We now understand the purpose of the Prophet.
But this will be easier understood by supposing two gradations in repentance. Then the first step is, when men feel how grievously they have offended. Here sorrow is not to be immediately removed after the manner of impostors, who cajole the consciences of men, so that they indulge themselves, and deceive themselves, with empty self-flatteries. For the physician does not immediately ease pain, but considers what is more necessary: it may be he will increase it, for a thorough clearing may be needful. So also do the Prophets of God, when they observe trembling consciences, they do not immediately apply soothing consolations, but on the contrary show that they ought not, as we have already said, to trifle with God, and exhort them while willingly running to God, to set before them his terrible judgment, that they may be more and more humbled. The second step is, when the Prophets cheer the minds of men, and show that God now willingly meets them, and desires nothing more than to see men willing to be reconciled to him.
The Prophet is now urging them to take the first step, when he says, Who knows whether the Lord will turn? But some may object and say, |Then the Prophet has spoken inconsistently; for first he has described God as merciful, and has spoken of his goodness without any reserve; and then he throws in a doubt: he seems here to observe no consistency.| I answer, that the Prophets of God do not always very anxiously hold to what seems consistent in their discourses; and farther, that the Prophet has not spoken here in vain or inconsiderately; for he, in the first place, generally sets forth God as merciful, and afterwards addresses particularly a people who were almost past recovery, and says, |Though ye think that it is all over with you as to your salvation, and ye deserve to be rejected by God, yet ye ought not to continue in this state; rather entertain a hope of pardon | This is what the Prophet had in view; he throws in no doubt, so as to make the sinner uncertain, whether or not he could obtain pardons; but as I have said, he wished only to rouse torpidity, and also to shake off vain self-flatteries.
He then adds, And leave after him a blessing. We here see more clearly what I have already said, that the Prophet, considering the state of those whom he addressed, states a difficulty; for the Jews were not to escape temporary punishment, and the Prophet did not intend to dismiss them in a secure state, as though God would inflict on them no punishment; nay, he wished to bend their necks that they might receive the strokes of God, and calmly submit to his correction. But all hope might have been lost, when the Jews saw, that though the Prophet had declared that God would be propitious, they were yet not spared, but suffered severe punishment for their sins, -- |What does this mean? Has God then disappointed us? We hoped that he would be propitious, and yet he ceases not to be angry with us.| Hence the Prophet now subjoins, Who knows whether he will leave behind him a blessing?
What is this -- behind him? What does it mean? Even this, that as God was to be a severe judge to punish the people's wickedness, the Prophet now says, |Though God beats you with his rods, he can yet relieve you by administering comfort. Ye indeed think that you are beaten almost to death; but the Lord will temperate his wrath, so that a blessing will follow these most grievous punishments | We now, then, understand the purpose of the Prophet: for he does not simply promise pardon to the Jews, but mitigates the dread of punishment, that is, that though God would chastise them, he would yet give place to mercy. Then God will leave behind him a blessing; that is |These strokes shall not be incurable | And this admonition is very necessary, whenever God deals severely with us; for when we feel his wrath, we then think that there is no grace remaining. It is then not without reason that the Prophet says, that God leaves behind him a blessing; which means, that when he shall pass by us with his rod, he will yet restrain his severity, so that some blessing will remain.
He afterwards adds, mnchh vnsk lyhvh 'lhykm meneche unesac laIeuve Aleicam, an offering and a libation, he says, to Jehovah your God. This has been designedly added, that the Jews might entertain more hope. For with regard to them, they had deserved to be wholly exterminated a hundred times; yea, they deserved to pine away utterly through famine: but the Prophet intimates here, that God would have a regard for his own glory and his worship. |Though,| he says, |we have deserved to perish by famine, yet God will be moved by another consideration, even this, -- that there may be some offering, that there may be some libation in the temple: since then God has chosen us a people to himself, and has required the first-fruits to be offered to him, and has consecrated for himself all our provision and all our produce in the first-fruits, and also in the daily offerings, though he has now resolved to consume us with famine and want, yet that his worship may continue, he will make the land fruitful to us, corn and wine will yet be produced for us,| But the Prophet does not mean that there would only be so much corn as would be enough for offerings, or only so much wine as would be sufficient for libations; but he means, as I have already said, that though God would not provide for the safety of the people, he would yet have a regard for his own glory. God required the corn and the wine to be offered to him, not that he needed them, but because he consecrated to himself our provision. As then he would have the food and provisions, on which we live, to be sacred to him, he will not allow them wholly to fail. |God will yet surely pity us, and he will pity us, because he has deigned to choose us a people to himself, and so to join us with himself, that he wishes to eat, as it were, with us.| For God seemed then to partake, as it were, of the same table with his people; for the law required bread or the ears of corn, and also wine, to be offered to God: not that he, as I have said, needed such supports; but that he might show that he had all things in common with his people. This communion then, or fellow-participation of God with his chosen people, gave them more hope; and this is what the Prophet had in view.