18. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.
18. Audiendo audivi Ephraim transmigrantem, (vel, cum transmigravit, vel, lamentantem, ut alii vertunt; dicemus postea de voce) Castigasti me, et castigatus sum tanquam vitulus non edotus; converte me et convertar, quia tu Jehova Deus meus.
The Prophet here speaks more distinctly of a blessed issue, and shews that the punishment by which God had already chastised the people, and by which he was prepared to chastise the tribe of Judah, was wholly necessary, which he would give them as a medicine. For as long as we have set before us the wrath of God, we necessarily, as it has been already said, try to avoid it, because we wish well to ourselves, and endeavor to remove to a distance, as much as we can, whatever is adverse to us: hence the punishment which God inflicts is never pleasant to us, our sorrow in evils and adversities is never mitigated, nor do we quietly submit to God, unless we direct our minds to the fruit which distresses and chastisements bring forth. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet: the Jews always murmured and said, "Why does not God spare and forgive us? why does he not deal more gently with us?" The Prophet therefore shews, that God had a regard to the wellbeing of his people in chastising them; for had he indulged them in their sins, their pride and perverseness would have increased.
The intention then of these words is this, and it is for this end the Prophet speaks, -- that the Jews might know that all their punishment, which would have been otherwise bitter and grievous, was a sort of medicine, by which their spiritual diseases were to be healed.
He therefore says,
After Ephraim then had thus transmigrated, or had been driven into exile, he then began to say,
Then he says, "I have heard Ephraim," -- at what time? This circumstance ought to be especially noticed, it was after he had transmigrated. When they were quiet in the land, they were, as it follows, like untameable steers. The Prophets also use this mode of speaking, when they describe the Israelites before their dispersion; they call them fat and well fed oxen: affluence produced luxury, and luxury pride. Thus, then, they kicked, as it were, against God, according to what is said by Moses,
"My people having grown fat kicked."
As they were such, it was necessary that they should be tamed. And to this refers the time that is mentioned: when Ephraim was forcibly driven from his own country, then he began to acknowledge his evils and to be touched with a penitent feeling; "Thou hast chastised me," he says, "and I was instructed." The verb
When our diseases are healable, we turn to God; but the perversely wicked bite and champ the bridle, and contend with God's judgment: But the Prophet here refers to the faithful alone; for punishment has not the same effect on all indiscriminately. God, indeed, calls all men by punishment to repentance, so that even the reprobate are without excuse when they harden their hearts, and profit not under the rod. But punishment is peculiarly useful to the faithful; for God not only scourges them, but also, by his Spirit, bends their minds to docility, so that they willingly suffer themselves to be corrected by him. Hence I said that this clause properly refers to the faithful, when the Prophet says that Ephraim was instructed, after having been warned by punishment, to turn himself to God.
He compares himself to an untameable steer; for steers are wanton before they are habituated to the yoke. Such also is the wantonness of men before God subdues them by various kinds of punishment, and not only subdues them, but renders them also tractable and submissive. Next week I shall lecture instead of Beza.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are always carried away by our own vanities, and as the licentiousness and insolence of our flesh are such that we never follow thee and submit to thy will, -- O grant, that we may profit more and more under thy scourges, and never perversely harden ourselves, but learn to know that even when thou appearest rigid, thou hast a regard for our salvation, so that we, turning to thee, may strive during the rest of our life to glorify thy name through thine only-begotten Son. -- Amen.
Lecture One hundred and Twenty-First
In the last lecture, the Prophet told us that Ephraim, until he had been chastised by God's hand, was like an untamed bullock, and that, therefore, exile was useful to him. He now adds,
This second clause seems not to be in accordance with the former; for the Israelites had before confessed that they had turned, and now they pray God to turn them. Why is this said? For it seems useless to ask for what we have already obtained. But the solution is obvious. It may first be answered, that men never so repent but that they have need of the continual aid of God; for we must be renewed from day to day, and by degrees renounce the lusts of our flesh; nor is it in one day that we put off the old man. And when the Prophet in the Psalms speaks of the deliverance of the people, he says that it was a miracle, that the people had been restored beyond all hope;
"We were," he says, "like those who dream;"
he afterwards adds,
"Turn our captivity, O Lord," (Psalm 116:1, 4)
and this he said because God had restored but a small number. The same also happens as to spiritual turning, both with regard to the whole body and to individual members. We turn, as I have already said, by little and little to God, and by various steps; for repentance has its progress. There is, therefore, nothing improper when we say that the Prophet, in the name of the ten tribes, asks God to go on with his work. But as this explanation is rather strained, I prefer a simpler view of the words, "Turn me, and I shall be turned." They mean the same thing as though the Prophet had said, "O Lord, this is thy work." He does not then simply refer to a future time, but speaks of God's favor, as though he had said, that men do not turn by their own impulse, but that God, by the hidden power of his Spirit, turns them.
The Israelites had before confessed that they had been profitably chastised by God's hand, because punishment had instructed them; but now he adds that this was the singular kindness of God. But, as we before observed, punishment is what the elect and the reprobate have in common; but the end and fruit of punishment is far different; for the reprobate become more and more hardened, the very reverse of being submissive to God; but the elect are subdued, for God not only smites them with his rods, but also tames them within, subdues their pride, and, in a word, bends their hearts to obedience by his Spirit.
We now then understand the purpose of the Prophet: for in the name of the people, he first confesses that punishment, inflicted by God, had been useful, and secondly, he adds, that it was not through the power of men that they willingly returned to a right mind, but that God had bent their hearts by his Spirit, so that they did not become hardened by punishment, nor obstinately resisted, as the case most commonly is. We hence, then, conclude that repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. God, indeed, invites us, and even urges us by external means to repent; for what is the design of punishment, but to lead us to repentance? But we must still remember that were God only to chastise us, it would have no other effect than to render us inexcusable, for our perverseness could never in this way be corrected. It is, then, necessary to add the second favor, that is, that God should subdue us within, and restore us to obedience. This the Prophet testifieswhen he says, "Turn me, and I shall be turned," as though he had said, that men indeed turn when God reminds them of their sins, but that they do this not by their own power, for it is the peculiar work of God.
He therefore adds,
1 The idea of "transmigrating" is alone given by the Vulg., the other versions and the Targ. have "lamenting:" and the latter is more consonant with the context, and has been adopted by almost all modern commentators. It is used in Jeremiah 15:5, in the sense of being moved or affected for another, of sympathizing or condoling. It is there in its simple form, that is, in Kal. As it is here in Hithpael, its meaning is, self-condoling, or condoling himself, -- an idea which is very expressive, and is more fully explained in the next verse. -- Ed.
2 This is no doubt the right rendering, and not, "Thou art Jehovah my God." So in the first commandment, the version ought to be, "I Jehovah," or, I the Lord, "am thy God." The meaning is not, that he is Jehovah, but that he who is Jehovah is our God. -- Ed.
3 The Vulg. and the Targ. favor this view of a different sense of the same verb in the second clause. The Sept. retain the same meaning. There is no need of altering the sense; indeed, another sense does not so well comport with the passage. He says that God had chastised him, and that he was chastised as an untamed, or rather untrained steer or bullock, implying that he was compelled to bear the yoke, and also that he had been brought to submit to it: hence the prayer that follows, "turn," or rather, restore, etc. The verb
Thou hast corrected me; Yea, I was corrected like a steer, not trained: Restore thou me, and I shall be restored; For thou, Jehovah, art my God.
After a confession with regard to correction, a confession that intimates that it had its proper effect, a prayer for restoration seems suitable, and that prayer is founded on the fact that Jehovah was their God. -- Ed.
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