11. Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.
11. Et fuit Ephraim tanquam columba credula (vel, quae fallitur, vel, declinans, ut alii vertunt) sine corde (id est, sine intelligentia; cor enim saepe est Hebraeis voluntas, sed interdum mentem et intelligentiam significat;) clamant Aegyptum, proficiscuntur in Assyriam.
12. When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven; I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard.
12. Ubi autem profecti fuerunt (vel, quocunque profecti fuerunt) extendam super eos rete meum: tanquam avem coeli dejiciam eos; corrigam eos (vel, ligabo,) secundum auditionem coetus ipsorum. 1
The Prophet here first blames Israel for foolish credulity, and compares them to a dove; for they had invited the Egyptians and sent to Assyria for help. Simplicity is indeed a commendable virtue, when joined to prudence. But as everything reasonable and judicious in men is turned into wickedness when there is no integrity; so when men are too credulous and void of all judgment and reason, it is then mere folly. But when he says that Israel is like a dove, he does not mean that the Israelites had sinned through mere ignorance, but that they were destitute of all judgment; and this folly is opposed to the knowledge which God had offered to them in his law: for God had never ceased to guide Israel by sound doctrine; he had ever exhibited before them the torch of his word; but when God thus gave them light, Israel was so credulous as to give heed to the delusions of Satan and of the world. We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
Some render htwp, pute, by "turning aside:" and its root htp, pite, no doubt, means "to turn aside;" and it means also sometimes "to persuade:" hence some give this rendering, "a persuasible," or, "a credulous dove." But the Prophet, I doubt not, means, that they were enticed by flatteries, or deceived by allurements, which is the same thing. Israel then was like a dove, deceived by various lures.
How so? Because they ran to the Assyrians, they invited the Egyptians. If Israel had attended to the law of God, they might have felt assured that they were not in danger of going astray; for the Lord keeps us not in suspense or doubt, that we may fluctuate, but makes our minds fixed and tranquil by his word, as it is also said in another place, 'This is rest.' It was then determined by the Israelites not to fix their feet as it were on solid ground; and they preferred to fly here and there like doves; and their credulity led them to many errors. How? Because they chose rather to give themselves up to be deceived by the Egyptians as well as by the Assyrians, when yet God was willing to guide them by sound knowledge. We now understand the design of this accusation of the Prophet to be, that Israel wilfully refused the way of safety offered to them, which they might have followed with confidence, and with a tranquil and composed mind; but in the meantime they flew up and down, and became wilfully erratic; for they suffered themselves to be deceived by various lures.
Now this place teaches us that men are not to be excused by the pretext of simplicity; for the Prophet here condemns this very weakness in the Israelites. We ought then to attend to the rule of Christ, 'To be innocent as doves, and yet to be prudent as serpents.' But if we inconsiderately abandon ourselves, the excuse of ignorance will be frivolous; for the Lord shines upon us by his word and shows us the right way; and he has also in his power the spirit of prudence and judgment, which he never denies to those who ask. But when we despise the word, and neglect the Spirit of God, and follow our own vagrant imaginations, our sin is twofold; for we thus despise and quench the light of the word, and we also wilfully perish, when the Lord would save us.
But a denunciation of punishment afterwards follows, Wheresoever, he says, they shall go, I will expand over them my net, and will draw them down as the birds of heaven. God shows that though the Israelites might turn about here and there, yet their end would be unhappy; for he would have his expanded net: and he follows up the simile he used in the last verse. He had said that they were like doves, which are carried by a sudden instinct to the bait, and consider not the expanded net. If then the dove sees only the lure, and at the same time shuns not the danger, it is a proof of foolish simplicity. Hence God says, I will expand my net; that is, I will cause all your endeavors and purposes to be disappointed, and all your hopes to be vain; for wheresoever they shall fly, my net shall be expanded.
This is a remarkable passage; for we hence learn, that the issue will always be unfortunate, if we attempt any thing contrary to the word of the Lord, and it we hold consultations over which his Spirit does not preside; as it is said by Isaiah 30, 31,
'Woe to them who weave a web, and draw not from my mouth! Woe to them who take counsel, and invoke not my Spirit!'
This passage wholly agrees with the words of Isaiah, though the form of speaking is different. It belongs then to God to bless our counsels, that they may have a prosperous and the desired success. But when God is not favorable, but even opposed to our designs, what end shall at last await us, but that whatever we may have attained shall at length be turned to our ruin? Let us then know, that whatever men do in this world is ruled by the hidden providence of God; and as God leads by his extended hand his own people, and gives his angels charge to guide them; so also he has his expanded net to catch all those who wander after their own erratic imaginations. Hence he says, Wheresoever they shall go, I will expand over them my net; and farther, I will draw them down as the birds of heaven.
The Prophet seems to allude to the vain confidence, which he mentioned, when he said that Israel had bound wind in his wings. For when men presumptuously undertake any thing, they at the same time promise to themselves, that there will be nothing to prevent them from gaining their object. Inasmuch then as men, elated with this foolish confidence, gather more boldness, yea, at length furiously assail God, and seem as though they would break through the very clouds, the Prophet says, I will draw them down as the birds of heaven; that is, "I will allow them to be carried up for a time; but when they shall penetrate to the clouds, I will draw them down, I will make them to know that their flying will avail them nothing." And we must notice from whence the Israelites had been drawn down. For who would not have thought that so much protection must have been found in the Assyrians or in the Egyptians, that they could not in vain expect deliverance? But the Lord laughs to scorn this vain power of the world; for whatever hope men may conceive when they alienate themselves from God, it will entirely vanish like smoke.
And he afterwards adds, I will chastise them, or, 'I will bind them:' for the verb roy, isar, means both "to chastise" as well as "to bind;" so that either sense may be taken. If the word, "to bind," be approved, it will well agree with the metaphor, as though he said, "I will hold you fast in my nets." For as long as birds are allowed to fly, they think the whole heaven to be theirs; but when they fall into nets, they remain confined; they are then unable to fly, and cannot move their wings. So then this sense, "I will bind them", is very suitable; which means, "They will not be able to break my net, but I will hold them there bound to the end." But if one prefers the other sense, I will chastise them, I do not object; and as far as the meaning is concerned, we see that there is not much difference which sense we take, except that the word, "to bind," as I have said, harmonizes better with the metaphor.
He says, According to the hearing of their assembly. Nearly all so render this, as if God had said that he would punish them as he had threatened by Moses, and as if it was also an indirect accusation of their carelessness, because they did not become wise after having been long admonished, but even despised those denunciations, which constantly resounded in their ears. For God had not only prescribed in his law the rule of a religious life, but also added heavy and severe threatening, by which he gave a sanction to the doctrine at the law. We know how dreadful are those curses of the law. Since then God had even from the beginning thus threatened the Israelites, ought they not to have walked more carefully before him? But they were not terrified by these denunciations. Hence God here indirectly reproves this great madness, that the Israelites did not sufficiently attend to his threatening, by which they might have been recalled to the right way; for Moses did by these put a restraint even on the furious passions of men, if only there remained in them a particle of sound understanding. Still further, the same admonitions had been often pressed on them by the Prophets; nor had God ever ceased to arouse them, until the ears of them all had become deaf to his voice. He therefore says, 'I will hold them fast bound,' or, 'I will chastise them, according to the hearing of their assembly;' that is, "The punishment which I shall inflict must have been long ago known to them, for I have openly commanded my law to be promulgated, that I might thus testify my people by severe threatening; I will now then execute the judgment, which they have not believed, because I have hitherto spared them."
As I have already said, interpreters nearly all agree in this view, except that they do not consider the design of the Prophet; they do not perceive that the Israelites were upbraided for their hardness; but they only speak of punishment, without any intimation of the end or object for which God had promulgated maledictions in his law, and renewed the recollection of them by his Prophets. Jerome brings forward another meaning, even this, that God would punish the people according to the report of their assembly; that is, that as they had with one consent violated the worship of God, and transgressed his laws, so he would punish them all. I will at the same time add this view, that God would chastise them according to the clamour of their assembly, so that the Prophet points out, not only a conspiracy among the people of Israel, but also their violence in eliciting one another to sin. As, then, they had thus tumultuously risen up against God, so the Prophet in his turn declares, that God would punish them; as though he said, "Your tumult will not prevent me from quelling your fury. Ye do indeed with great noise oppose me, and think that you will be safe, though addicted to your sins; but this your violence will be no hindrance, for I have in my power the means of chastising you."
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou sees us to be so prone to all the allurements of Satan and the world, and at the same time so void of judgment, and carried away by mere levity, -- O grant, that by thy Spirit leading us, we may proceed in the right course, on which we have already entered under thy guidance and directing hand, so that we may never go astray from thy word, nor by any means turn aside from pursuing towards the mark which thou hast set before us; and though Satan may attempt to draw us aside, may we yet continue steadfast in thy service, and thus proceed, until we arrive at that blessed rest which, after the warfare of the present life, thou hast promised to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.