Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-First
8. In that ye provoke me unto wrath with the works of your hands, burning incense unto other gods in the land of Egypt, whither ye be gone to dwell, that ye might cut yourselves off, and that ye might be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth?
8. Ad provocandum me in operibus manuum vestrarum, ad offerendum suffitum diis alienis in terra Aegypti, ad quam vos profecti estis, ut habitetis illic, ut excidium paretis vobis (vel, ut excidatis vos,) et ut sitis in maledictum et probrum inter cunctas gentes terrae.
I was in the last Lecture obliged to cut short the subject of the Prophet; for this verse depends on the foregoing, and is to be read together with it. The Prophet asked why the Jew's willingly cut off from themselves every hope of safety, and were seeking their own ruin. He now expresses the matter more fully, even that they were provoking God's wrath by their superstitions. He then points out the cause of all evils, -- the pollution of God's true worship by idolatries.
We here see that there is no end of sinning, when men despise God and allow themselves every license in doing evil: God was unwilling that the Jews should go to Egypt; for he had promised to cherish them as it were under his own wings; and thus he intended to shew them mercy, so that they might remain in safety, though in a country then miserable and desolate. But against his command they went into Egypt. When they came there, in order to gain favor with the Egyptians, they polluted themselves with vain superstitions. They might in the land of Judah have worshipped God in purity without any danger. Distrusting the favor of God they fled into Egypt; and the fear of men led them to deny their religion. We hence see how one evil proceeds from another; when the Jews coveted the favor of that heathen nation, they polluted themselves with many ungodly superstitions.
This is the sin which the Prophet now refers to, -- To provoke me, he says, by the works of your hands. There is here to be understood a contrast between the works which God had commanded, and those which men had devised for themselves. The altar and the whole Temple were indeed works done by the hand and art of men; but as God had commanded the altar to be made and the Temple to be built, the Temple was not, properly speaking, a human but a divine work, it having been commanded. But whatever men devise of themselves for the purpose of worshipping God, is what is called the work of their hands; for they invent things themselves, and follow only their own fancies; they attend not to what pleases God, but give license to their own imaginations, so that according to their own will they mingle together any sort of worship they please. This, then, is the reason, and according to this sense it is, that the Prophet says, that the Jews provoked God by the works of their hands: they corrupted his lawful worship and departed from true religion, when they attached themselves to heathen Actions and corruptions.
He then adds, To offer incense to alien gods. Under one particular thing, as it has been already said, the Prophet includes what is general, for the Jews did not only sin by offering incense, but also through various other superstitions. But by stating a part for the whole, he clearly intimates that they denied the true God when they worshipped idols. And then he adds, in the land of Egypt, into which ye have entered, that ye might dwell there. he takes away the excuse which they might have made, that they were constrained by fear, because they were unhappy exiles, and saw that their own religion would not be tolerated by that proud nation. The Prophet says that they had come into Egypt when God commanded them to remain in the land of Judah. That plea, then, could not have been admitted, that being terrified by danger they sought to please the Egyptians, for they brought themselves into that bondage, when they might have been at liberty in the land of Judah to worship God in purity. This is the reason why he says that they came into Egypt to sojourn there.
He at length adds, to cut you off. The construction is indeed different, but the meaning is clear. He intimates, in short, as he said in the last verse, that they willingly, and as it were designedly, rushed headlong into their own ruin. He then adds, and ye shall be a curse and a reproach among all nations. By which words he means that their destruction would be memorable; and this was harder than if their memory was buried with their life. But the Prophet says that their death would be such an example as that they would be deemed execrable by all. In short, he declares that they would be exposed to all kinds of reproaches even after their death. It follows, --