24. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
24. Et decurret quasi aquae judicium, et justitia quasi torrens violentus.
Interpreters variously expound this verse. To some it seems an exhortation, as though the Prophet said, |Ye thrust on me victims of beasts and various ceremonies; but I regard not these things; for the interior purity of heart alone pleases me: take away then all these things, which are of no moment with me, and bring what I especially require and demands even a pure and sincere heart.|
Some also think that newness of life is here described by its fruits or its evidences: for the Prophet mentions not purity, speaks not of faith and repentance, but by the fruits sets forth that renovation, which God always chiefly regards, and for the sake of which he had required sacrifices under the law. The meaning then is, that hypocrites are here recalled to true worship, because they vainly and absurdly tormented themselves with their own fictions: and by requiring from them righteousness and judgment, he required a holy and pure life, or, in a word, uprightness.
Others think that the Prophet turns aside here to celebrate the grace of Christ, which was to be made known in the gospel: and the verb ygl, igel, is rendered by many |shall be revealed;| but others more correctly derive it from the root gl, igel, to roll. Let justice then as it were, roll. But I will return to the second exposition. Most think that there is here a prediction of that righteousness which God was to make known by the coming of Christ; and some retain also the proper meaning of the verb gl, gal, to roll. They then say that the gospel is here compared to an impetuous river and a violent stream, because the Lord would rush on and penetrate through all hindrances, how many soever Satan might attempt to throw in his way. But this meaning seems not to harmonize with the Prophet's words and is in my judgment, too refined.
Some again regard the verse as a threatening, and think that God here reproves the Israelites, as though he had said, that since they were trifling with and mocking him, he would at length show what was true righteousness and what was true judgment: for hypocrites think that they come not short of a perfect state, when they are veiled by their ceremonies, inasmuch as they flee to these lurking holes, when they would cover all their flagitous deeds. Hence they think not that they are guilty, for they hide their sins under their ceremonies as under Ajax's shield. Seeing then that they thus trifle with God, some interpreters think that God here sharply reproves them and says, that they were greatly deceived, for he would himself at length make known what was true righteousness. Righteousness then shall run down or be rolled; and by this verb he expresses impetuosity; but he sets it forth afterwards more clearly by 'ytn, aitan, |Judgment shall be a violent stream.| But hypocrites amuse themselves as children do with their puppets. Inasmuch then as they do nothing seriously, and yet desire to pacify God as with baubles, the Prophet here shakes off such delusions, as though he said, |Do you think that God is like a child? Why do you set up these trifles? Do you think that righteousness is a fictitious thing, or that judgment is a vain figment? The Lord will certainly show to you how precious righteousness is. It shall therefore run down as violent waters, as an impetuous stream. |Judgment,| he says |shall rush upon you and overwhelm you.| This is the third meaning.
But the verse may be again explained in a different way, as though God obviated an objection; for hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamor, and make no end of contending; |What! Have we then lost all our labor, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? And further, we have not only offered sacrifices, but sought also to testify that the glory of God is to us an object of concern. Since then we have had a care for religion, why should God now reject us?| The Prophet here shortly answers, -- that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free; as though he said, |God will not put a check to your righteousness and rectitude:| and this must be referred to the fruit or remuneration; as though the Prophet said, |Only worship God in sincerity, and he will not disappoint you; for a reward will be laid up for you; your righteousness shall run down as a river.| As it is said in another place, Your righteousness shall shine as the dawn,' so it is also in this, Your righteousness shall run down as violent waters.' There was therefore no reason for hypocrites to expostulate and say that wrong was done them by God, or that their performances were lightly esteemed, since God openly testified, that he would provide for righteousness, that it might have a free course, like an impetuous river: and this seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet. While I do not wholly reject the other expositions, I do not yet follow them; but show what I mostly approve.
Then the Prophet, after having bidden them to throw aside all their fictitious and spurious forms of worship, does not now simply exhort the Israelites, as some think, to exhibit righteousness and rectitude, but expresses this in the form of a promise, |Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name. Whenever God shall see in you sincere rectitude, there will certainly be prepared an ample reward for you.| It follows --