4. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread? they call not upon the Lord.
This question is added to give a more amplified illustration of the preceding doctrine. The prophet had said that God observed from heaven the doings of men, and had found all of them gone out of the way; and now he introduces him exclaiming with astonishment, What madness is this, that they who ought to cherish my people, and assiduously perform to them every kind office, are oppressing and falling upon them like wild beasts, without any feeling of humanity? He attributes this manner of speaking to God, not because any thing can happen which is strange or unexpected to him, but in order the more forcibly to express his indignation. The Prophet Isaiah, in like manner, (Isaiah 59:16,) when treating of almost the same subject, says,
|And God saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.| (Isaiah 59:16)
God, it is true, does not actually experience in himself such affections, but he represents himself as invested with them, that we may entertain the greatest horror and dread on account of our sins, when he declares them to be of so monstrous a character, that he is as it were thrown into agitation and disorder by them. And were we not harder than the stones, our horror at the wickedness which prevails in the world would make the hair of our head to stand on end, seeing God exhibits to us in his own person such a testimony of the detestation with which he regards it. Moreover, this verse confirms what I have said in the commencement, that David does not speak in this psalm of foreign tyrants, or the avowed enemies of the church, but of the rulers and princes of his people, who were furnished with power and honor. This description would not apply to men who were altogether strangers to the revealed will of God; for it would be nothing wonderful to see those who do not possess the moral law, the rule of life, devoting themselves to the work of violence and oppression. But the heinousness of the proceedings condemned is not a little aggravated from this circumstance, that it is the shepherds themselves, whose office it is to feed and to take care of the flock, who cruelly devour it, and who spare not even the people and heritage of God. There is a similar complaint in Micah 3:1-3,
|And I said, Hear I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them; and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them,|
etc. If those who profess to know and to serve God were to exercise such cruelty towards the Babylonians or Egyptians, it would be a piece of injustice which could admit of no excuse; but when they glut themselves with the blood and flesh of the saints, as they devour bread, this is such monstrous iniquity, that it may well strike both angels and men with astonishment. Had such persons a particle of sound understanding remaining in them, it would restrain them from conduct so fearfully infatuated. They must, therefore, be completely blinded by the devil, and utterly bereft of reason and understanding, seeing they knowingly and willingly flay and devour the people of God with such inhumanity. This passage teaches us how displeasing to God, and how abominable is the cruelty which is exercised against the godly, by those who pretend to be their shepherds. In the end of the verse, where he says that they call not upon the Lord, he again points out the source and cause of this unbridled wickedness, namely, that such persons have no reverence for God. Religion is the best mistress for teaching us mutually to maintain equity and uprightness towards each other; and where a concern for religion is extinguished, then all regard for justice perishes along with it. With respect to the phrase, calling upon God, as it constitutes the principal exercise of godliness, it includes by synecdoche, (a figure of rhetoric, by which a part is put for the whole,) not only here, but in many other passages of Scripture, the whole of the service of God.