5. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.
5. Sion interrogabunt viam (hoc est, interrogabunt de via) versus Sionem, illuc facies eorum: Venite, et copulate vos Jehovae foedere perpetuo, quod oblivione non delebitur (subaudiendum est relativum pronomen, quod omissum est.)
He explains himself more at large, that they would ask those they met the way, that their faces would be towards Sion, that they would also exhort one another to seek God and join themselves to him by a perpetual covenant. The Prophet includes here all the tribes, and says that the Jews and the Israelites would not only return into their own country, to partake of the produce of that rich and fruitful land, but that they would also render to God the worship due to him, and then that nothing would be so vexatious to them but that they would be able to overcome all difficulties and all obstacles.
He says first, that they would ask the way -- a proof of perseverance; that they would ask the way to Sion, that is, ask how they were to proceed that they might come to Sion. By these words, the Prophet, as I have just said, denotes their constancy and indefatigable resolution, as though he had said, that though they journeyed through unknown lands, yea, through many devious places, they would yet be in no way disheartened so as not to inquire of those they met with until they came to Sion. This is one thing. Then he adds to the same purpose, Thither their faces. We indeed know, that plans are often changed when adverse events impede us; for he who undertakes an expedition, when he sees his course very difficult, turns back again. But the Prophet declares here that there would be no change of mind that would cause the Jews to relinquish their purpose of returning, because their faces would be towards Sion, that is, they would turn their eyes thither, so that nothing would be able to turn them elsewhere. There is added, in the third place, an exhortation, Come ye; and they shall join themselves to Jehovah their God, by a perpetual covenant. Here the Prophet first shews, that the Jews would be so encouraged as to add stimulants to one another; and hence it is said, Come ye; and, secondly, he adds, they shall cleave (there is here a change of person) to Jehovah by a perpetual covenant which shall not by oblivion be obliterated.1
He again repeats what he had said, that the exiles would not return to their own country, that they might there only indulge themselves, but he mentions another end, even that they might join themselves to God. He means, in short, that God would do for them something better and more excellent than to allure them by earthly pleasures.
But we must notice the words, they shall cleave (so it is literally) to Jehovah by a perpetual covenant; for there is an implied contrast between the covenant they had made void and the new covenant which God would make with them, of which Jeremiah spoke in Jeremiah 31. God's covenant was, indeed, ever inviolable; for God did not promise to be the God of Abraham for a certain term of years; but the adoption, as Paul testifies, remains fixed, and can never be changed. (Romans 11:29.) Then on God's part it is eternal. But as the Jews had become covenant-breakers, that covenant is called, on this account, weak and evanescent: and for this reason the Prophet said,
"In the last days I will make a covenant with you, not such as I made with your fathers, for they have broken, he said, that covenant." (Jeremiah 31:31, 32)
Jeremiah now repeats the same thing, though more briefly, that the Jews would return to favor with God, not only for a moment, but that his covenant might continue and remain valid; and the way by which this would be done is expressed in Jeremiah 21, even because God would inscribe his law on their inward parts, and engrave it on their hearts. For it is not in man's power to continue so constant as that God's covenant should never fail; but what the Prophet omits here must be supplied from the former passage, that when the Jews returned, God's covenant would again become so valid and fixed, that it would never fail, even because their hearts would be renewed, so that they would be faithful to God, and never become apostates any more like their fathers.
He then adds, This covenant shall not be forgotten. We hence conclude, that the perpetuity of which he speaks, was founded rather on the mere benevolence of God than on the virtue of the people. He calls then the covenant which God would never forget, perpetual, because he would remember his mercy towards the chosen people; and though they were unworthy to receive such a favor, yet he would continue perpetually his mercy towards them to the coming of Christ; for the passage clearly shows that this prophecy cannot be otherwise explained than of Christ's spiritual kingdom. The Jews indeed returned to their own country, but it was only a small number; and besides, they were harassed by many troubles; God also visited their land with sterility, and they were lessened by various slaughters in wars: how then came the prophets thus to extol in such high terms the favor of God, which yet did not appear among the people? even because they included the kingdom of Christ; for whenever they spoke of the return of the people, they ascended, as we have said, to the chief deliverance. I do not yet follow our interpreters, who explain these prophecies concerning the spiritual kingdom of Christ allegorically; for simply, or as they say, literally, ought these words to be taken, -- that God would never forget his covenant, so as to retain the Jews in the possession of the land. But this would have been a very small thing, had not Christ come forth, in whom is founded the real perpetuity of the covenant, because God's covenant cannot be separated from a state of happiness; for blessed are the people, as the Psalmist says, to whom God shows himself to be their God. (Psalm 144:15.) Now, then, as the Jews were so miserable, it follows that God's covenant did not openly appear or was not conspicuous; we must therefore come necessarily to Christ, as we have elsewhere seen, that this was commonly done by the Prophets. The Prophet now enters on a new argument, --
To Zion will they ask the way, Hither their faces; They shall come and be joined to Jehovah, By an everlasting covenant, which shall not be forgotten.
"Hither" and not "thither," for the Prophet was at Jerusalem; and so the particle means, and it is so given in the Sept. and Vulg. The last clause requires "which" in our translation, though not in Welsh, for, like the Hebrew, it can do without it -- nad anghofir. literally the Hebrew. What is here predicted was literally accomplished, as recorded by Nehemiah, (Nehemiah 9:38; Nehemiah 10:29.) -- Ed.