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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel - The prophet begins here, in a series of pictures as it were, to exhibit the people of Israel to themselves, that they might know that God did not do without cause all this which He denounced against them. Here, at the outset, He summons, the whole people, their prophets and priests, before the judgment seat of God, where God would condescend, Himself to implead them, and hear, if they had ought in their defense. The title "children of Israel" is, in itself, an appeal to their gratitude and their conscience, as the title "Christian" among us is an appeal to us, by Him whose name we bear. Our Lord says, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the work's of Abraham" John 8:39; and Paul, "let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity" 2 Timothy 2:19.
For the Lord hath a controversy - God wills, in all His dealings with us His creatures, to prove even to our own consciences, the righteousness of His judgments, so as to leave us without excuse. Now, through His servants, He shows people their unrighteousness and His justice; hereafter our Lord, the righteous Judge, will show it through the book of people's own consciences.
With the inhabitants of the land - God had given the land to the children of Israel, on account of the wickedness of these whom He drave out before them. He gave it to them "that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws" (Psalm 105 ult.). He had promised that His "Eyes should always be upon it from the beginning of the year unto the end of the year" Deuteronomy 11:12. This land, the scene of those former judgments, given to them on those conditions (see Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:21-25, etc.), the land which God had given to them as their God, they had filled with iniquity.
Because there is no truth, nor mercy - "Truth and mercy" are often spoken of, as to Almighty God. Truth takes in all which is right, and to which God has bound Himself; mercy, all beyond, which God does out of His boundless love. When God says of Israel, "there is no truth nor mercy," He says that there is absolutely none of those two great qualities, under which He comprises all His own Goodness. "There is no truth," none whatever, "no regard for known truth; no conscience, no sincerity, no uprightness; no truth of words; no truth of promises; no truth in witnessing; no making good in deeds what they said in words."
Nor mercy - The word has a wide meaning; it includes all love of one to another, a love issuing in acts. It includes loving-kindness, piety to parents, natural affection, forgiveness, tenderness, beneficence, mercy, goodness. The prophet, in declaring the absence of this grace, declares the absence of all included under it. Whatever could be comprised under love, whatever feelings are influenced by love, of that there was nothing.
Nor knowledge of God - The union of right knowledge and wrong practice is hideous in itself; and it must be especially offensive to Almighty God, that His creatures should know whom they offend, how they offend Him, and yet, amid and against their knowledge, choose that which displeases Him. And, on that ground, perhaps, He has so created us, that when our acts are wrong, our knowledge becomes darkened Romans 1:21. The "knowledge of God" is not merely to know some things of God, as that He is the Creator and Preserver of the world and of ourselves. To know things of God is not to know God Himself. We cannot know God in any respect, unless we are so far made like unto Him. "Hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. Every one that loveth is born of' God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love" 1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 4:7-8.
Knowledge of God being the gift of the Holy Spirit, he who hath not grace, cannot have that knowledge. A certain degree of speculative knowledge of God, a bad man may have, as Balaam had by inspiration, and the Pagan who, "when they knew God, glorified Him not as God." But even this knowledge is not retained without love. Those who "held the truth in unrighteousness" ended (Paul says Romans 1:21, Romans 1:18, Romans 1:28) by corrupting it. "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and so God gave them over to a reprobate," or undistinguishing mind, that they could not. Certainly, the speculative and practical knowledge are bound up together, through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of Him, or its acts toward Him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, as misbelief corrupts practice. The prophet then probably denies that there was any true knowledge of God, of any sort, whether of life or faith or understanding or love. Ignorance of God, then, is a great evil, a source of all other evils.
2By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
By swearing, and lying ... - Literally, "swearing or cursing" , "and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery!" The words in Hebrew are nouns of action. The Hebrew form is very vivid and solemn. It is far more forcible than if he had said, "They swear, lie, kill, and steal." It expresses that these sins were continual, that nothing else (so to speak) was going on; that it was all one scene of such sins, one course of them, and of nothing besides; as we say more familiarly, "It was all, swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery." It is as if the prophet, seeing with a sight above nature, a vision from God, saw, as in a picture, what was going on, all around, within and without, and summed up in this brief picture, all which he saw. This it was and nothing but this, which met his eyes, wherever he looked, whatever he heard, "swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery." The prophet had before said, that the ten tribes were utterly lacking in all truth, all love, all knowledge of God. But where there are none of these, "there," in all activity, will be the contrary vices. When the land or the soul is empty of the good, it will be full of the evil. "They break out," i. e., burst through all bounds, set to restrain them, as a river bursts its banks and overspreads all things or sweeps all before it. "And blood toucheth blood," literally, "bloods touch bloods" . The blood was poured so continuously and in such torrents, that it flowed on, until stream met stream and formed one wide inundation of blood.
3Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
Therefore shall the land mourn - Dumb inanimate nature seems to rejoice and to be in unison with our sense of joy, when bedewed and fresh through rain and radiant with light; and, again, to mourn, when smitten with drought or blight or disease, or devoured by the creatures which God employs to lay it waste for man's sins. Dumb nature is, as it were, in sympathy with man, cursed in Adam, smitten amid man's offences, its outward show responding to man's inward heart, wasted, parched, desolate, when man himself was marred and wasted by his sins.
With the beasts of the field - Literally, "in the beasts," etc. God included "the fowl and the cattle and every beast of the field" in His covenant with man. So here, in this sentence of woe, He includes them in the inhabitants of the land, and orders that, since man would not serve God, the creatures made to serve him, should be withdrawn from him. "General iniquity is punished by general desolation."
Yea, the fishes of the sea also - Inland seas or lakes are called by this same name, as the Sea of Tiberias and the Dead Sea. Yet here the prophet probably alludes to the history of man's creation, when God gave him dominion "over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over every living thing (chaiah)" Genesis 1:28, in just the inverse order, in which he here declares that they shall be taken away. There God gives dominion over all, from lowest to highest; here God denounces that He will take away all, down to those which are least affected by any changes. Yet from time to time God has, in chastisement, directed that the shoals of fishes should not come to their usual haunts. This is well known in the history of seacoasts; and conscience has acknowledged the hand of God and seen the ground of His visitation. Of the fulfillment Jerome writes: "Whose believeth not that this befell the people of Israel, let him survey Illyricum, let him survey the Thraces, Macedonia, the Pannonias, and the whole land which stretches from the Propontis and Bosphorus to the Julian Alps, and he will experience that, together with man, all the creatures also fail, which afore were nourished by the Creator for the service of man."
4Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another - Literally, "Only man let him, not strive, and let not man reprove." God had taken the controversy with His people into His own hands; the Lord, He said , "hath a controversy (rib) with the inhabitants of the land" Hosea 4:1. Here He forbids man to intermeddle; man let him not strive. He again uses the same word . The people were obstinate and would not hear; warning and reproof, being neglected, only aggravated their guilt: so God bids man to cease to speak in His Name. He Himself alone will implead them, whose pleading none could evade or contradict. Subordinately, God, teaches us, amid His judgments, not to strive or throw the blame on each other, but each to look to his own sins, not to the sins of others.
For thy people are as they that strive with the priest - God had made it a part of the office of the priest, to "keep knowledge" Malachi 2:7. He had bidden, that all hard causes should be taken "to Deuteronomy 17:8-12 the priest who stood to minister there before the Lord their God;" and whose refused the priest's sentence was to be put to death. The priest was then to judge in God's Name. As speaking in His Name, in His stead, with His authority, taught by Himself, they were called by that Name, in Which they spoke, אלהים 'elohı̂ym Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9, "God," not in regard to themselves but as representing Him. To "strive" then "with the priest" was the highest contumacy; and such was their whole life and conduct. It was the character of the whole kingdom of "Israel." For they had thrown off the authority of the family of Aaron, which God had appointed. Their political existence was based upon the rejection of that authority. The national character influences the individual. When the whole polity is formed on disobedience and revolt, individuals will not tolerate interference. As they had rejected the priest, so would and did they reject the prophets. He says not, they were "priest-strivers," (for they had no lawful priests, against whom to strive,) but they were like priest-strivers, persons whose habit it was to strive with those who spoke in God's Name. He says in fact, let not man strive with those who strive with God. The uselessness of such reproof is often repeated. He "that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame, and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot" Proverbs 9:7-8. "Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee" Proverbs 23:9. Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." Stephen gives it as a characteristic of the Jews, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do ye" Acts 7:51.
5Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
Therefore shalt thou fall - The two parts of the verse fill up each other. "By day and by night shall they fall, people and prophets together." Their calamities should come upon them successively, day and night. They should stumble by day, when there is least fear of stumbling John 11:9-10; and night should not by its darkness protect them. Evil should come "at noon-day" Jeremiah 15:8 upon them, seeing it, but unable to repel it; as Isaiah speaks of it as an aggravation of trouble, "thy land strangers devour it in thy presence" Isaiah 1:7; and the false prophets, who saw their visions in the night, should themselves be overwhelmed in the darkness, blinded by moral, perishing in actual, darkness.
And I will destroy thy mother - Individuals are spoken of as the children; the whole nation, as the mother. He denounces then the destruction of all, collectively and individually. They were to be cut off, root and branch. They were to lose their collective existence as a nation; and, lest private persons should flatter themselves with hope of escape, it is said to them, as if one by one, "thou shalt fall."
6My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge - "My people are," not, "is." This accurately represents the Hebrew . The word "people" speaks of them as a whole; are, relates to the individuals of whom that whole is composed. Together, the words express the utter destruction of the whole, one and all. They are destroyed "for lack of knowledge," literally, "of the knowledge," i. e., the only knowledge, which in the creature is real knowledge, that knowledge, of the want of which he had before complained, the knowledge of the Creator. So Isaiah mourns in the same words , "therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge" Isaiah 5:13. They are destroyed for lack of it, for the true knowledge of God is the life of the soul, true life, eternal life, as our Saviour saith, "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent." The source of this lack of knowledge, so fatal to the people, was the willful rejection of that knowledge by the priest;
Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me - God marks the relation between the sin and the punishment, by retorting on them, as it were, their own acts; and that with great emphasis, "I will utterly reject thee . Those, thus addressed, must have been true priests, scattered up and down in Israel, who, in an irregular way, offered sacrifices for them, and connived at their sins. For God's sentence on them is, "thou shalt be no priest to me." But the priests whom Jeroboam consecrated out of other tribes than Levi, were priests not to God, but to the calves. Those then, originally true priests to God, had probably a precarious livelihood, when the true worship of God was deformed by the mixture of the calf-worship, and the people "halted between two opinions;" and so were tempted by poverty also, to withhold from the people unpalatable truth. They shared, then, in the rejection of God's truth which they dissembled, and made themselves partakers in its suppression. And now, they "despised, were disgusted" with the knowledge of God, as all do in fact despise and dislike it, who prefer ought besides to it. So God repaid their contempt to them, and took away the office, which, by their sinful connivances, they had hoped to retain.
Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God - This seems to have been the sin of the people. For the same persons could not, at least in the same stage of sin, despise and forget. They who despise or "reject," must have before their mind that which they "reject." To reject is willful, conscious, deliberate sin, with a high hand; to "forget," an act of negligence. The rejection of God's law was the act of the understanding and will, forgetfulness of it comes from the neglect to look into it; and this, from the distaste of the natural mind for spiritual things, from being absorbed in things of this world, from inattention to the duties prescribed by it, or shrinking from seeing "that" condemned, which is agreeable to the flesh. The priests knew God's law and "despised" it; the people "forgat" it. In an advanced stage of sin, however, man may come to forget what he once despised; and this is the condition of the hardened sinner.
I will also forget thy children - Literally, "I will forget thy children, I too." God would mark the more, that His act followed on their's; they, first; then, He saith, "I too." He would requite them, and do what it belonged not to His Goodness to do first. Parents who are careless as to themselves, as to their own lives, even as to their own shame, still long that their children should not be as themselves. God tries to touch their hearts, where they are least steeled against Him. He says not, "I will forget thee," but I will forget those nearest thy heart, "thy children." God is said to forget, when He acts, as if His creatures were no longer in His mind, no more. the objects of His providence and love.
7As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.
As they were increased, so they sinned against Me - The "increase" may be, either in actual number or in wealth, power or dignity. The text includes both. In both kinds of increase, the bad abuse God's gifts against Himself, and take occasion of them to offend Him. The more they were increased in number, the more there were to sin, the more they were who sinned. God promised to make Abraham's seed, "as the stars of heaven." They were to shine in the world through the light of the law, and the glory which God gave them while obeying Him. "Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the Lord thy God hath made thee like the stars of heaven for multitude. Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and keep His charge, and His statutes, and his judgments and His commandments alway" Deuteronomy 10:22; Deuteronomy 10:1. God multiplied them, that there might be the more to adore Him. But instead of multiplying subjects, He multiplied apostates. "As many men as Israel had, so many altars did it build to daemons, in the sacrifices to whom it sinned against Me." "The more sons God gave to Israel, the more enemies He made to Himself, for Israel brought them up in hatred to God, and in the love and worship of idols." "As too among the devout, one provokes another, by word and deed, to good works, so, in the congregation of evil doers, one incites another to sins." Again, worldlings make all God's gifts minister to pride, and so to all the sins, which are the daughters of pride. "Jeshurun, God says, waxed fat and kicked; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" Deuteronomy 32:15. In this way too, the increase of wealth which God gives to those who forget Him, increases the occasions of ingratitude and sins.
I will turn their glory into shame - Such is the course of sin and chastisement. God bestows on man, gifts, which may be to him matter of praise and glory, if only ordered aright to their highest and only true end, the glory of God; man perverts them to vain-glory and thereby to sin; God turns the gifts, so abused, to shame. He not only gives them shame instead of their glory; He makes the glory itself the means and occasion of their shame. Beauty becomes the occasion of degradation; pride is proverbially near a fall; "vaulting ambition overleaps itself, and falls on th'other side;" riches and abundance of population tempt nations to wars, which become their destruction, or they invite other and stronger nations to prey upon them. "Thou hast indeed smitten Edom," was the message of Jehoash to Amaziah, "and thine heart hath lifted thee up; glory of this, and tarry at home, for why shouldest thou to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou and Judah with thee? But Amaziah would not hear" 2 Kings 14:10-11. He lost his own wealth, wasted the treasures in God's house; and the walls of Jerusalem were broken down.
8They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.
They eat up the sin of My people - The priests made a gain of the sins of the people, lived upon them and by them, conniving at or upholding the idolatries of the people, partaking in their idol-sacrifices and idolatrous rites, which, as involving the desertion of God, were "the sin of the people," and the root of all their other sins. This the priests did knowingly. True or false, apostate or irregularly appointed, they knew that there was no truth in the golden calves; but they withheld the truth, they held it down in unrighteousness, and preached Jeroboam's false-hood, "these be thy gods, O Israel." The reputation, station, maintenance of the false priests depended upon it. Not being of the line of Aaron, they could be no priests except to the calves, and so they upheld the sin whereby they lived, and, that they might themselves be accounted priests of God, taught them to worship the calves, as representatives of God.
The word, "sin," may include indirectly the sin-offerings of the people, as if they loved the sin or encouraged it, in order that they might partake of the outward expiations for it.
And they set their heart on their iniquity - , as the source of temporal profit to themselves. "Benefited by the people, they reproved them not in their sinful doings, but charged themselves with their souls, saying, on us be the judgment, as those who said to Pilate, His blood be upon us." That which was, above all, "their iniquity," the source of all the rest, was their departure from God and from His ordained worship. On this they "set their hearts;" in this they kept them secure by their lies; they feared any misgivings, which might rend the people from them, and restore them to the true worship of God. But what else is it, to extenuate or flatter sin now, to dissemble it, not to see it, not openly to denounce it, lest we lose our popularity, or alienate those who commit it? What else is it to speak smooth words to the great and wealthy, not to warn them, even in general terms, of the danger of making Mammon their god; of the peril of riches, of parade, of luxury, of immoral dressing, and, amid boundless extravagance, neglect of the poor; encouraging the rich, not only in the neglect of Lazarus, but in pampering the dogs, while they neglect him? hat is the praise of some petty dole to the poor, but connivance at the withholding from God His due in them? "We see now," says an old writer , "how many prelates live on the oblations and revenues of the laity, and yet, whereas they are bound, by words, by prayers, by exemplary life, to turn them away from sin, and to lead them to amendment, they, in various ways, scandalize, corrupt, infect them, by ungodly conversation, flattery, connivance, cooperation, and neglect of due pastoral care. Whence Jeremiah says, "My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray." O how horrible and exceeding great will be their damnation, who shall be tormented for each of those under their care, who perish through their negligence" Jeremiah 50:6.
9And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
And there shall be like people, like priest - Priest and people were alike in sin. Yea they are wont, if bad, to foment each other's sin. The bad priest copies the sins which he should reprove, and excuses himself by the frailty of our common nature. The people, acutely enough, detect the worldliness or self-indulgence of the priest, and shelter themselves under his example. Their defense stands good before people; but what before God? Alike in sin, priest and people should be alike in punishment. "Neither secular greatness should exempt the laity, nor the dignity of his order, the priest." Both shall be swept away in one common heap, in one disgrace, into one damnation. "They shall bind them in bundles to burn them."
And I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings - Literally, "I will visit upon him his ways, and his doings I will make to return to him." People and priests are spoken of as one man. None should escape. The judgment comes down "upon" them, overwhelming them. Man's deeds are called his "ways," because the soul holds on the tenor of its life along them, and those ways lead him on to his last end, heaven or hell. The word rendered "doings " signifies "great doings," when used of God; "bold doings," on the part of man. Those bold presumptuous doings against the law and will of God, God will bring back to the sinner's bosom.
10For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.
For they shall eat, and not have enough - This is almost a proverbial saying of Holy Scripture, and, as such, has manifold applications. In the way of nature, it comes true in those, who, under God's affictive Hand in famine or siege, "eat" what they have, but have "not enough," and perish with hunger. It comes true in those, who, through bodily disease, are not nourished by their food. Yet not less true is it of those who, through their own insatiate desires, are never satisfied, but crave the more greedily, the more they have. Their sin of covetousness becomes their torment.
They shall commit whoredom and not increase - Literally, "they have committed whoredom." The time spoken of is perhaps changed, because God would not speak of their future sin, as certain. There is naturally too a long interval between this sin and its possible fruit, which may be marked by this change of time. The sin was past, the effect was to be seen hereafter. They used all means, lawful and unlawful, to increase their offspring, but they failed, even because they used forbidden means. God's curse rested upon those means. Single marriage, according to God's law, "they twain shall be one flesh," yields in a nation larger increase than polygamy. God turns illicit sexual intercourse to decay. His curse is upon it.
Because they have left off to take heed to the Lord - Literally, "to watch, observe, the Lord." The eye of the soul should be upon God, watching and waiting to know all indications of His will, all guidings of His Eye. So the Psalmist says, "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hands of her mistress, even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us" Psalm 123:2. The Angels of God, great and glorious as they are, "do alway behold the Face of the Father" Matthew 18:10, at once filled with His love, and wrapped in contemplation, and reading therein His will, to do it. The lawless and hopeless ways of Israel sprang from their neglecting to watch and observe God. For as soon as man ceases to watch God, he falls, of himself, into sin. The eye which is not fixed on God, is soon astray amid the vanities and pomps and lusts of the world. So it follows;
11Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart - (Literally, "takes away"). Wine and fleshly sin are pictured as blended in one, to deprive man of his affections and reason and understanding, and to leave him brutish and irrational. In all the relations of life toward God and man, reason and will are guided by the affections. And so, in God's language, the "heart" stands for the "understanding" as well as the "affections," because it directs the understanding, and the understanding, bereft of true affections, and under the rule of passion, becomes senseless. Besides the perversion of the understanding, each of these sins blunts and dulls the fineness of the intellect; much more, both combined. The stupid sottishness of the confirmed voluptuary is a whole, of which each act of sensual sin worked its part. The Pagan saw this clearly, although, without the grace of God, they did not act on what they saw to be true and right. This, the sottishness of Israel, destroying their understanding, was the ground of their next folly, that they ascribed to "their stock" the office of God. "Corruption of manners and superstition" (it has often been observed) "go hand in hand."
12My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
My people ask counsel at - (literally, "on") their stocks They ask habitually ; and that, in dependence "on their stocks." The word "wood" is used of the idol made of it, to bring before them the senselessness of their doings, in that they asked counsel of the senseless wood. Thus Jeremiah reproaches them for "saying to a stock, my father" Jeremiah 2:27; and Habakkuk, "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, awake" Habakkuk 2:19.
And their staff declareth unto them - Many sorts of this superstition existed among the Arabs and Chaldees. They were different ways of drawing lots, without any dependence upon the true God to direct it. This was a part of their senselessness, of which the prophet had just said, that their sins took away their hearts. The tenderness of the word, "My people," aggravates both the stupidity and the ingratitude of Israel. They whom the Living God owned as His own people, they who might have asked of Him, asked of a stock or a staff.
For the spirit of whoredoms - It has been thought of old, that the evil spirits assault mankind in a sort of order and method, different spirits bending all their energies to tempt him to different sins . And this has been founded on the words of Holy Scripture, "a lying spirit," "an unclean spirit," "a spirit of jealousy," and our Lord said of the evil spirit whom the disciples could not cast out; "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" Matthew 17:21. Hence, it has been thought that "some spirits take delight in uncleanness and defilement of sins; others urge on to blasphemies; others, to anger and fury; others take delight in gloom; others are soothed with vainglory and pride; and that each instills into man's heart that vice in which he takes pleasure himself; yet that all do not urge their own perversenesses at once, but in turn, as opportunity of time or place, or man's own susceptibility, invites them" . Or the word, "spirit of whoredoms," may mean the vehemence with which people were whirled along by their evil passions, whether by their passionate love of idolatry, or by the fleshly sin which was so often bound up with their idolatry.
They have gone a whoring from under their God - The words "from under" continue the image of the adulteress wife, by which God had pictured the faithlessness of His people. The wife was spoken of as "under her husband Numbers 5:19, Numbers 5:29; Ezekiel 23:5, i. e., under his authority; she withdrew herself "from under" him, when she withdrew herself from his authority, and gave herself to another. So Israel, being wedded to God, estranged herself from Him, withdrew herself from His obedience, cast off all reverence to Him, and prostituted herself to her idols.
13They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains - The tops of hills or mountains seemed nearer heaven, the air was purer, the place more removed from the world. To worship the Unseen God upon them, was then the suggestion of natural feeling and of simple devotion. God Himself directed the typical sacrifice of Isaac to take place on a mountain; on that same mountain He commanded that the temple should be built; on a mountain, God gave the law; on a mountain was our Saviour transfigured; on a mountain was He crucified; from a mountain He ascended into heaven. Mountains and hills have accordingly often been chosen for Christian churches and monasteries. But the same natural feeling, misdirected, made them the places of pagan idolatry and pagan sins. The Pagan probably also chose for their star and planet-worship, mountains or large plains, as being the places from where the heavenly bodies might be seen most widely.
Being thus connected with idolatry and sin, God strictly forbade the worship on the high places, and (as is the case with so many of God's commandments) man practiced it as diligently as if He had commanded it. God had said, "Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations, which ye shall possess, served their gods upon the high mountains, and upon the hills and under every green tree" Deuteronomy 12:2. But "they set them up images and groves (rather images of Ashtaroth) in every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high place, as did the pagan whom the Lord carried away before them" 2 Kings 17:10-11. The words express, that this which God forbade they did diligently; "they sacrificed much and diligently; they burned incense much and diligently" ; and that, not here and there, but generally, "on the tops of the mountains," and, as it were, in the open face of heaven. So also Ezekiel complains, "They saw every high hill and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering; there also they made their sweet savor, and poured out there their drink-offerings" Ezekiel 20:28.
Under oaks - (white) poplars and elms (probably the terebinth or turpentine tree) because the shadow thereof is good The darkness of the shadow suited alike the cruel and the profligate deeds which were done in honor of their false gods. In the open face of day, and in secret they carried on their sin.
Therefore their daughters shall commit whoredoms, and their spouses - (or more probably, daughters-in-law) shall commit adultery Or (in the present) commit adultery. The fathers and husbands gave themselves to the abominable rites of Baal-peor and Ashtaroth, and so the daughters and daughters-in-law followed their example. This was by the permission of God, who, since they "glorified not" God as they ought, "gave them up," abandoned them, "to vile affections." So, through their own disgrace and bitter griefs, in the persons of those whose honor they most cherished, they should learn how ill they themselves had done, in departing from Him who is the Father and Husband of every soul. The sins of the fathers descend very often to the children, both in the way of nature, that the children inherit strong temptations to their parents' sin, and by way of example, that they greedily imitate, often exaggerate, them. Wouldest thou not have children, which thou wouldest wish unborn, reform thyself. The saying may include too sufferings at the hands of the enemy. "What thou dost willingly, that shall your daughters and your daughters-in-law suffer against thine and their will."
14I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.
I will not punish your daughters - God threatens, as the severest woe, that He will not punish their sins with the correction of a Father in this present life, but will leave the sinners, unheeded, to follow all iniquity. It is the last punishment of persevering stoners, that God leaves them to prosper in their sins and in those things which help them to sin. Hence, we are taught to pray, "O Lord, correct me, but in judgment, not in Thine anger" Jeremiah 10:24. For since God chastiseth those whom He loveth, it follows, "if we be without chasetisement, whereof all are partakers, then are we bastards, and not sons" Hebrews 12:8. To be chastened severely for lesser sins, is a token of great love of God toward us; to sin on without punishment is a token of God's extremest displeasure, and a sign of reprobation. : "Great is the offence, if, when thou hast sinned, thou art undeserving of the wrath of God."
For themselves are separated with whores - God turns from them as unworthy to be spoken to anymore, and speaks of them, They "separate themselves," from whom? and with whom? They separate themselves "from" God, and with the degraded ones and "with" devils. Yet so do all those who choose willful sin.
And they sacrifice - (continually, as before) with (the) harlots The unhappy women here spoken of were such as were "consecrated" (as their name imports) to their vile gods and goddesses, and to prostitution. This dreadful consecration, yea desecration, whereby they were taught to seek honor in their disgrace, was spread in different forms over Phoenicia, Syria, Phrygia, Assyria, Babylonia. Ashtaroth, (the Greek Astarte) was its chief object. This horrible worship prevailed in Midian, when Israel was entering the promised land, and it suggested the devilish device of Balaam Numbers 25; Numbers 31:8, Numbers 31:16 to entangle Israel in sin whereby they might forfeit the favor of God. The like is said to subsist to this day in pagan India. The sin was both the cause and effect of the superstition. Man's corrupt heart gave rise to the worship: and the worship in turn fostered the corruption. He first sanctioned the sin by aid of a degrading worship of nature, and then committed it under plea of that worship. He made his sin a law to him. Women, who never relapsed into the sin, sinned in obedience to the dreadful law . Blinded as they were, individual pagan had the excuse of their hereditary blindness; the Jews had imperfect grace. The sins of Christians are self sought, against light and grace.
Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall - The word comprises both, "that doth not understand," and, "that will not understand." They might have understood, if they would. God had revealed Himself to them, and had given to them His law, and was still sending to them His prophets, so that they could not have known and understood God's will, had they willed. Ignorance, which we might avoid or cure, if we would, is itself a sin. It cannot excuse sin. They shall, he says, fall, "or be cast headlong." Those who blind their eyes, so as not to see or understand God's will, bring themselves to sudden ruin, which hide from themselves, until they fall headlong in it.
15Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.
Let not Judah offend - The sentence of Israel had been pronounced; she had been declared incorrigible. The prophet turns from her now to Judah. Israel had abandoned God's worship, rejected or corrupted His priests, given herself to the worship of the calves; no marvel what further excess of riot she run into! But Judah, who had the law and the temple and the service of God, let not her, (he would say,) involve herself in Israel's sin. If Israel, in willful blindness, had plunged herself in ruin, let not Judah involve herself in her sin and her ruin. He turns (as elsewhere) incidentally to Judah.
Come ye not unto Gilgal - Gilgal lay between Jericho and the Jordan. There, ten furlongs from the Jordan, first in all the promised land, the people encamped; there Joshua placed the monument of the miraculous passage of the Jordan; there he renewed the circumcision of the people which had been intermitted in the wilderness, and the feast of the passover; there the people returned, after all the victories by which God gave them possession of the land of promise Joshua 4:19-20; Joshua 5:9-10; Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6-9, Joshua 10:43; Joshua 14:6. There Samuel habitually sacrificed, and there, "before the Lord," i. e., in His special covenanted presence, he publicly made Saul king 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:14-15; 1 Samuel 13:4-9; 1 Samuel 15:21, 1 Samuel 15:33. It was part of the policy of Jeroboam to take hold of all these associations, as a sort of set-off against Jerusalem and the temple, from which he had separated his people. In opposition to this idolatry, Elisha for a time, established there one of the schools of the prophets 2 Kings 4:38.
Neither go ye up to Bethaven - "Bethaven," literally, "house of vanity," was a city East of "Bethel" Joshua 7:2, "the house of God." But since Jeroboam had set up the worship of the calves at Bethel, Bethel had ceased to be "the house of God," and had become "a house or temple of vanity;" and so the prophet gave it no more its own name which was associated with the history of the faith of the patriarchs, but called it what it had become. In Bethel God had twice appeared to Jacob, when he left the land of promise Genesis 28:10, Genesis 28:19 a to go to Laban, and when he returned Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:9. There also the ark of God was for a time in the days of the judges removed from Shiloh Judges 20:26-27, near to which on the south Judges 21:19 Bethel lay. It too Jeroboam profaned by setting up the calf there. To these places then, as being now places of the idolatry of Israel, Judah is forbidden to go, and then to "swear, the Lord liveth." For to swear by the Lord in a place of idolatry would be to associate the living God with idols Zephaniah 1:5, which God expressly forbade.
16For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
For Israel slideth back, as a backsliding heifer - The calves which Israel worshiped were pictures of itself. They represented natural, untamed, strength, which, when put to service, started back and shrank from the yoke. "Untractable, petulant, unruly, wanton, it withdrew from the yoke, when it could; if it could not, it drew aside or backward, instead of forward." So is it rare, exceeding rare, for man to walk straight on in God's ways; he jerks, writhes, twists, darts aside here and there, hating nothing so much as one straight, even, narrow tenor of his ways.
Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place - The punishment of Israel was close at hand, "now." It would not have the straitness of God's commandments; it should have the wideness of a desert. God would withdraw His protecting providence from them: He would rule them, although unfelt in His mercy. At "large," they wished to be; at large they should be; but it should be the largeness of a "wilderness where is no way." There, like a lamb, they should go astray, wandering up and down, unprotected, a prey to wild beasts. Woe is it to that man, whom, when he withdraws from Christ's easy yoke, God permits to take unhindered the broad road which leadeth to destruction. To Israel, this "wide place" was the wide realms of the Medes, where they were withdrawn from God's worship and deprived of His protection.
17Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.
Ephraim is joined to idols - that is, banded, bound up with them, "associated," as the word means, with them so as to cleave to them, willing neither to part with nor to be parted from, them. The idols are called by a name, denoting toils; with toil they were fashioned, and, when fashioned, they were a toil and grief.
Let him alone - Literally, give him rest, i. e., from all further expostulations, which he will not hear. It is an abandonment of Israel for the time, as in the prophet Ezekiel, "As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord God, go ye, serve ye every one his idols" Ezekiel 20:39. Sinners often long not to be tormented by conscience or by God's warnings. To be left so, is to be abandoned by God, as one whose case is desperate. God will not, while there is hope, leave a man to sleep in sin; for so the numbness of the soul increases, until, like those who fall asleep amid extreme cold of the body, it never awakes.
18Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye.
Their drink is sour - Literally, "turned," as we say of milk. So Isaiah says, "Thy silver is become dross; thy wine is mingled," i. e., adulterated, "with water" Isaiah 1:22; and our lord speaks of "salt which had lost its savor." The wine or the salt, when once turned or become insipid, is spoiled, irrecoverably, as we speak of "dead wine." They had lost all their life, and taste of goodness.
Her rulers with shame do love, give ye - Avarice and luxury are continually banded together according to the saying, "covetous of another's, prodigal of his own." Yet it were perhaps more correct to render, "her rulers do love, do love, shame." They love that which brings shame, which is bound up with shame, and ends in it; and so the prophet says that they "love the shame" itself. They act, as if they were in love with the shame, which, all their lives long, they are unceasingly and, as it were, by system, drawing upon themselves. They chase diligently after all the occasions of sins and sinful pleasures which end in shame; they omit nothing which brings it, do nothing which can avoid it. What else or what more could they do, if they "loved the shame" for its own sake?
19The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
The wind hath bound her up in her wings - When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He "bare them on eagle's wings, and brought them unto Himself" Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11. Now they had abandoned God, and God abandoned them as chaff to the wind. The certainty of Israel's doom is denoted by its being spoken of in the past. It was certain in the divine judgment. Sudden, resistless, irreversible are God's judgments, when they come. As if "imprisoned in the viewless winds," and "borne with resistless violence," as it were on the wings of the whirlwind, Israel should be hurried by the mighty wrath of God into captivity in a distant land, bound up so that none should escape, but, when arrived there, dispersed here and there, as the chaff before the wind.
And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices - They had sacrificed to the calves, to Baal, or to the sun, moon, stars, hoping aid from them rather than from God. When then they should see, in deed, that from those their sacrifices no good came to them, but evil only, they should be healthfully ashamed. So, in fact, in her captivity, did Israel learn to be ashamed of her idols; and so does GOd by healthful disappointment, make us ashamed of seeking out of Him, the good things, which He alone hath, and hath in store for them who love Him.