2. Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:
2. Si foderint ad sepulchrum (vel, ad infernum,) inde manus mea educet vos; et si ascenderint in coelos, inde detraham eos;
3. And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:
3. Et si occultaverint se in fastigio (vel, culmine) Carmeli, inde scrutabor et extraham eos; et si absconditi fuerint ab oculis meis (ad verbum, e regione oculorum meorum) in profundo (vel, pavimento, in fundo ipso) maris, inde mandabo serpenti ut mordeat eos:
4. And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.
4. Et si profecti fuerint in captivitatem coram inimicis suis, inde mandabo gladio ut occidat eos; et ponam oculum meum super eos in malum et non in bonum.
Here the Prophet denounces horrible punishments; but not without reason, for there was astonishing torpidity in that people, as there is usually in all hypocrites when they have any shadow of excuse. They were then the only elect people in the whole world. When, therefore, they thought that they excelled others and that they were endued with singular privileges beyond all other nations, this glory inebriated them, and they imagined that God was in a manner bound to them, as we have seen in other places. This, then, was the reason why the Prophet in so many ways enlarged on the judgment of God on hypocrites; it was, that they might be terrified by the vehemence and severity of his words.
Hence he says, If they dig for themselves passages to hell, that is, to the center of the earth, for s'vl, shaul, is here put for the center; thence shall my hand draw them forth; and then, If they ascend to heaven, thence I will draw them down, saith the Lord; If they hide themselves in deserts, if they flee to the top of Carmel, I will trace them out: in short, they shall find no corner either in heaven, or on the earth, or in the sea, where they can be hid from my sight. There is no need here to understand by heavens high citadels, as the Chaldean paraphraser explains it: it is a frigid paraphrase. But the Prophet speaks in an hyperbolical language of the center of the earth, of the heavens, and of the deep of the sea; as though he had said, |Should all the elements open themselves for hiding-places, yet the Israelites shall in vain try to escape, for I will follow them when sunk in the depth of the sea, I will draw them down from heaven itself; there shall, in a word, be no hiding-place for them either above or below.|
We now understand the Prophet's meaning; and an useful warning may be hence gathered, -- that when God threatens us, we in vain seek subterfuges, as his hand extends itself to the lowest deep as well as to heaven; as it is said in Psalm 139:7-9,
Where shall I flee from thy presence, O Lord?
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there;
if I descend to the grave, thou art present;
if I take the wings of the dawn, (or, of the morning star,) and dwell in the extremities of the sea,
there also shall thy hand lead me.'
The Prophet speaks not in that psalm, as some have very absurdly philosophized, of the unlimited essence of God; but he rather shows, that we are always in his sight. So then we ought to feel assured that we cannot escape, whenever God designs to make a scrutiny as to our sins, and to summon us to his tribunal.
But we must at the same time remember, that the Prophet has not employed a superfluous heap of words; there is not here one syllable which is not important though at the first view it seems to be otherwise. But the Holy Spirit, as I have already reminded you, knowing our heedlessness, does here shake off all our self-flatteries. There is in us, we know, an innate torpor by nature, so that we despise all threatenings, or at least we are not duly moved by them. As the Lord sees us to be so careless, he rouses us by his goads. Whenever then Scripture denounces punishment on us, let us at the same time learn to join with it what the Prophet here relates; |Thou hast to do with God, what can't thou effect now by evasions? though thou climbest to heaven, the Lord can draw thee down; though thou descendent to the abyss, God's hand will thence draw thee forth; if thou seekest a hiding-place in the lowest depths, he will thence also bring thee forth to the light; and if thou hidest thyself in the deep sea, he will there find thee out; in a word, wherever thou betakest thyself, thou canst not withdraw thyself from the presence and from the hand of God.| We hence see the design of all these expressions, and that is, that we may not think of God as of ourselves, but that we may know that his power extends to all hiding-places. But these words ought to be subjects at meditations though it be sufficient for our purpose to include in few words what the Prophet had in view. But as we are so entangled in our vain confidences, the Prophet, as I have said, has not in vain used so many words.
Now as to what he says, I will command the serpent to bite them, some understand by nchs, nuchesh, not a serpent on hand, but the whale, or some other marine animal, as the leviathan, which is mentioned in Scripture; and we may learn from other parts of Scripture that |nachash| means not only a serpent, but also a whale or some animal living in the sea. In a word, God intimates, that he would be armed everywhere, whenever he should resolve to punish his adversaries, and that in all elements are means in readiness, by which he can destroy the wicked, who seek to escape from his hand.
Now when he says, If they go into captivity among their enemies, I will there command the sword to slay them, some interpreters confine this part to that foolish flight, when a certain number of the people sought to provide for their safety by going down into Egypt. Johanan followed them, and a few escaped, (Jeremiah 43:2) but according to what Jeremiah had foretold, when he said, Bend your necks to the king of Babylon, and the Lord will bless you; whosoever will flee to Egypt shall perish;' so it happened: they found this to be really true, though they had ever refused to believe the prediction. Jeremiah was drawn there contrary to the wish of his own mind: he had, however, pronounced a curse on all who thought that it would be an asylum to them. But the Lord permitted him to be drawn there, that he might to his last breath pronounce the Woe, which they had before heard from his mouth. But I hardly dare thus to restrict these expressions of the Prophet: I therefore explain them generally, as meaning, that exile, which is commonly said to be a civil death, would not be the end of evils to the Israelites and to the Jews; for even when they surrendered themselves to their enemies, and suffered themselves to be led and drawn away wherever their enemies pleased, they could not yet even in this way preserve their life, because the Lord would command the sword to pursue them even when exiles. This, in my view, is the real meaning of the Prophet.
He at last subjoins, I will set my eyes on them for evil, and not for good. There is a contrast to be understood in this clause: for the Lord had promised to be a guardian to his people, according to what is said in Psalm 121:4,
Behold, he who guards Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.'
As hypocrites ever lay hold on the promises of God without repentance and faith, without any religious feeling, and afterwards turn them to support their vain boasting, the Prophet therefore says here, that the eye of God would be upon them, not indeed in his wonted manner to protect them, as he had done from the beginning, but, on the contrary, to accumulate punishment on punishment: it was the same thing as though he said, |As I have hitherto watched over the safety of this people, whom I have chosen for myself, so I will hereafter most sedulously watch, that I may omit no kind of punishment, until they be utterly destroyed.|
And this sentence deserves to be specially noticed; for we are reminded, that though the Lord does not indeed spare unbelievers, he yet more closely observes us, and that he will punish us more severely, if he sees us to be obstinate and incurable to the last. Why so? Because we have come nearer to him, and he looks on us as his family, placed under his eyes; not that anything is hid or concealed from him, but the Scripture speaks after the manner of men. While God then favors his people with a gracious look, he yet cannot endure hypocrites; for he minutely observes their vices, that he may the more severely punish them. This then is the substance of the whole. It follows --