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Lecture Sixty-First.

In the last lecture I began to explain the eighth verse, where God complains that he was exasperated by the children of Israel when he had begun to extend his hand to free them. He says, then, that they had rejected his grace. But at the same time we see that all pretense of ignorance was removed, because unless Moses had exhorted them to good hope, they would have pretended. to be so deserted through two centuries, that they had hoped for help from God in vain. But since Moses was a witness of their redemption, hence their ingratitude was the more without excuse, since they were unwilling to embrace the message which they had so greatly desired. Nor is the language of Moses vain, that they often cried out in their calamities. Although their clamor was turbulent, yet they doubtless remembered what they had heard from their fathers, that the end of those evils was at hand to which God had fixed an appointed time. But more is expressed in this passage than Moses relates, who simply says, because they saw themselves treated too roughly, that they were worn down and disgusted: hence those expostulations — You have made our name to stink before Pharaoh: God shall judge between you and us: Judea you gone from us. (Exodus 5:21.) We do not then clearly collect from Moses that they were rebels against God, since they had not cast away their idols and superstitions, but the probable conjecture is that they were, so rooted in their filth, that they repelled God’s hand from succoring them. And truly if they had promptly embraced what Moses had promised them in God’s name, the accomplishment would have been readier and swifter: but we may understand that their sloth was the hindrance to the exertion of God’s hand in their favor and to the real fulfillment of his promises. God ought indeed to contend, with Pharaoh, that his power might be more conspicuous: but the people would not have been so tyrannously afflicted, unless they had closed the door against God’s mercy. They were, as we have said, immersed in their defilement’s from which God wished to withdraw them. He now accuses them of ingratitude, because they did not cast away their idols, but obstinately persisted in their usual and customary superstitions. He speaks of the time of their captivity in Egypt, and this passage assures us that while there they were infected and polluted by Egyptian defilement’s. For the contagion of idolatry is wonderful: for since we are all naturally inclined to it as soon as any example is offered to us, we are snatched in that direction by a violent impulse. It is not surprising then that the children of Israel contracted pollution from the superstitions of Egypt, especially as they lived there as slaves, and were desirous of gratifying the Egyptians: for if they had been treated liberally, they might have lived freely after their custom, but since they were not free and were oppressed as slaves, it happened that they pretended to worship the gods of Egypt according to the will of those by whom they saw themselves oppressed: and not only did they sin by pretending, but it is probable that they were impelled by their own lusts as well as by fear: for it will soon be evident that they were too inclined to impiety of their own accord.

On the whole, Ezekiel here testifies that they were rebels against God, because they did not listen to God by casting away the idols of their eyes, that is, to the worship of which they were too attentive, nor did they desert the idols of Egypt. When he speaks of the idols of their eyes, we gather what I have touched upon, that they were not impelled to idolatry by fear and necessity, but by their own depraved appetites: For unless they had been eagerly devoted to Egyptian superstitions, Ezekiel would not have called them idols of the eyes. Hence by this word he means that they were not only superstitious through obedience to the Egyptians, but were spontaneously inclined towards them. Besides, when he adds the idols of Egypt, he points out as the occasion of their corruption their spending time under that tyranny, and their being compelled to bear many evils, since slavery commonly draws with it dissimulation. It now follows, And I said I would pour forth, that is, I determined to pour forth. God here signifies that he was inflamed by anger, and unless they had respect to his name he would not withdraw his hand from the vengeance to which it was armed and prepared. We know that this does not properly belong to God, but this is, the language of accommodation, since first of all, God is not subject to vengeance, and, secondly, does not decree what he may afterwards retract. But since these things are not in character with God, simile and accommodation are used. As often as the Holy Spirit uses these forms of speech, let us learn that they refer rather to the matter in hand than to the character of God. God determined to pour forth his anger, that is, the Israelites had so deserved it through their crimes, that it was necessary to execute punishment upon them. The Prophet simply means that the people’s disposition was sinful, and hence God’s wrath would have been poured out, unless he had been held back from some other cause. I have already touched upon the obstacle, because he consulted his honor lest it should be profaned.

I have decreed, therefore, to pour forth my burning fury upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt. Some translate, to consume them, but improperly, for the word, כלה, keleh, signifies to fill up or accomplish, as well as to consume. But although God sometimes says that he consumes all his weapons or scourges in the punishment of men’s sins, yet it is not suitable to transfer this to his wrath itself. Hence another sense will suit better, namely, that God decreed to pour out his wrath until he satisfied himself. For here, as we have said, he puts on the character of an angry man, who cannot appease his mind otherwise than by satiating it by the exaction of punishment: for anger is usually inexhaustible. But God on the whole here expresses that such was the atrocity of their wickedness, that the Israelites deserved destruction through the pouring forth of God’s wrath and the filling up of the measure of his indignation; and that in the midst of the land of Egypt; because they had shown themselves unworthy of his redemption, and hence it was enough for them to perish in the midst of the land of Egypt. But he afterwards added —

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