40. And the wrath of Jehovah waxed hot against his people, and he abhorred his own inheritance: 41. And he delivered them into the hands of the heathen; and their enemies ruled over them. 42. And their adversaries subdued them, and they were afflicted under their hand. 43. Many times he delivered them; and they provoked him with their counsel, and were oppressed by their iniquity. 44. And he saw when they were in straits, in that he heard their cry: 45. And he remembered his covenant towards them, and it repented him according to the greatness of his mercies. 46. And he made them to find pity from those who had carried them away captive.
40. And the wrath of Jehovah waxed hot. The severity of the punishment inflicted upon the people confirms the truth of what we formerly said, that they had been guilty of no trivial offense, in presuming to corrupt the worship of God. And they themselves showed how hopeless their reformation was, in that all this as yet failed to bring them truly to repent of their sin. That the people, who were God's sacred and chosen heritage, were delivered up to the abominations of the heathen, who themselves were the slaves of the devil, was an awful manifestation of his vindictive wrath. Then, at least, ought they to have held in abhorrence their own wickedness, by which they had been precipitated into such direful calamities. In saying, that they were subdued and afflicted by their enemies, the prophet points out, in a still more astonishing manner, the baseness of their conduct. Reduced to a state of bondage and oppression, their folly appears the more disgraceful, in that they were not truly and heartily humbled under God's almighty hand. For prior to this, they had been warned by Moses, that they had not casually fallen into that bondage so galling to them, neither had it happened by the valor of their enemies, but because they were given over, and, as it were, sold to it by God himself. That those who had refused to bear his yoke, should be delivered up to tyrants to harass and oppress them, and that those who would not endure to be ruled by God's paternal sway, should be subdued by their enemies, to be trodden under their feet, is a striking example of God's retributive justice.
43. Many times. As the wicked perversity of the people was manifested in that God's severe chastisements failed to produce their reformation, so now, on the other hand, the prophet deduces the detestable hardness of their hearts from the fact, that all the benefits which they had received from God could not bend them into obedience. They did, indeed, in the time of their afflictions, groan under the burden of them; but when God not only mitigated their punishment, but also granted them wonderful deliverances, can their subsequent backsliding be excused? It becomes us to bear in mind, that here, as in a glass, we have a picture of the nature of all mankind; for let God but adopt those very means which he employed in relation to the Israelites, in order to reclaim the majority of the sons of men, how comparatively few are there who will not be found continuing in the very same state as they were? And if he either humble us by the severity of his rod, or melt us by his kindness, the effect is only temporary; because, though he visit us with correction upon correction, and heap kindness upon kindness, yet we very soon relapse into our wonted vicious practices. As for the Jews, their insensate stupidity was insufferable, in that, notwithstanding the many and magnificent deliverances which God wrought out for them, they did not cease from their backslidings. For the Psalmist says, that they, nevertheless, provoked God with their wicked inventions. Then he declares that they received a just recompense of reward in being oppressed by their iniquity. Moreover, he informs us, that though they were most deserving of all their afflictions, yet their groanings were heard; whence we learn, that God, in his unwearied kindness, did not cease to strive with them on account of their perverseness of spirit.
For what pity was this, to hear the cry of those who turned a deaf ear to his wise instructions, and were regardless of all his warnings and threatenings? And yet after all this forbearance and long-suffering, their exceedingly depraved hearts remained unchanged.
45. And he remembered. God's being mindful of his covenant is here assigned as the cause of his great mercy and long-suffering. In that covenant, he not only declares that there is a gracious pardon for transgressions, but he also adverts to the perverse blindness of those who were not brought back by such remedies to the covenant, in which they were well aware that their safety was placed. But above all, he charges them with ingratitude; because, when deserving to perish, they did not acknowledge that they were indebted to the mercy of God alone for their preservation. This observation is strengthened by the next clause of the verse, in which he says that God had spared them according to the greatness of his mercies. For the greatness of the punishment which their sins deserved, may be inferred from the great treasures of his loving-kindness, which God had to open in order to procure their redemption. The word to repent expresses no change in God, but only in the mode of administering his corrections. It may seem as if God altered his purpose, when he mitigates punishment, or withdraws his hand from executing his judgments. The Scripture, however, accommodating itself to our weak and limited capacity, speaks only after the manner of men.
46. And he made them to find pity. As he had above said, that the Jews had been delivered into the hands of their enemies, because God's anger was, as it were, arms to their adversaries to subdue them; so now he says, that the same God had softened the hearts of these very enemies, who, by terrible means, and with great cruelty, had executed his vengeance upon them. As, then, the hearts of all men are entirely under God's control, to harden or to soften them according to his sovereign pleasure, so, while his anger was kindled against his people, their enemies were at the same time also inflamed with implacable resentment towards them. But the moment his anger was appeased, the fire which issued from the furnace of his judgment was extinguished, and the cruelty of their enemies was changed into mercy. And that enemies, cruel and barbarous, should begin to love and pity those whom they formerly hated, was a change so astonishing as to be incredible, had they not, in the kind providence of God, from wolves been transformed into lambs.