13. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they were yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof, which shall not return; neither shall any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his live.
This verse is interpreted variously, but the Prophet's meaning is by no means obscure: at the beginning he says, that those who sold had no cause of sorrow on account of their not returning to their lands. But this does not seem suitable. But, under one member, the Prophet comprehends what I have lately said -- that the disturbance of all things would be so great, that the lands would be deprived of their masters, and those who formerly possessed them would be outcasts and exiles; they would be in want of all things, and be unable to plant their foot on their own soil. Nor is this opinion contrary to Jeremiah's prophecy. (Jeremiah 32:7, 8, 9.) When Jeremiah was in prison, he was commanded to buy land from a relation: but that was done that the faithful might hope for their promised restitution with quiet minds. But the discourse is now directed to the reprobate, who were excluded from all hope of freedom. Our Prophet, therefore, only fulminates here in God's name, and breathes nothing but terrors; there is no mention of favor in the meantime, because they had cast themselves into despair. And this is the reason why he speaks of perpetual slaughter. He says, therefore, they shall not return to the things sold, although their life is among the living. This clause is variously explained, but I do not willingly consume time in repeating the errors of others: I shall follow what appears to me to be right. First, this clause must be read adversatively: he says, indeed, and as yet their life is among the living: but the copula ought thus to be resolved -- although their life is among the living. The Prophet seems to allude to a custom then common. For there was not a sale of lands in perpetuity among the sons of Abraham; for that was forbidden by the law, because they were only strangers in the land. (Leviticus 25:13, 14, 15.) God, therefore, in claiming the dominion of the land, did not permit them to sell their land except for a time -- for every fiftieth year they returned to their own possessions. If they sold in the twentieth year, they were restored after thirty years; if in the fortieth, the sale was only for ten years, through the occurrence of the Jubilee. Now therefore the Prophet says, although they remain survivors, yet they shall not return. Why? for the captivity will hinder them. Now, therefore, we understand the Prophet's meaning: those who sold, says he, shall suffer no loss. For if they had remained at home, they would have been deprived of their possessions; but this shall not happen, for they shall be dragged to a distant region, and there they shall live and die exiles. But if they should protract their life even to the hundredth year, yet their possession will remain deserted, because the conquerors will not allow them to return to their country. Hence the miserable condition of the exiles is denoted, since, if God were to prolong their life, they would still be compelled to consume it in poverty and want, since they had been driven away from their lands and were unable to return to them.
He adds, because the vision shall not return upon all the multitude of them. Here also interpreters differ. For some distinguish this part into two clauses, because the vision was for the whole people, nor had any one been converted or repented. This opinion is plausible, because it contains a useful and fruitful doctrine, which is everywhere met with among the Prophets. For we know that nothing is less tolerable to God, than when men, admonished by Prophets, do not return to a sound mind, but go on in their wickedness. Since, therefore, such obstinacy exceedingly provokes God's anger, this sense seems to suit well enough -- that the vision was for the whole multitude, and yet none repented; that is, that God exhorted all, from the least to the greatest, to repentance; for all were deaf, and, as it were, desperate in their vices. Although, therefore, this exposition seems probable, I do not adopt it: for I doubt not the Prophet's meaning to be that the vision concerning the whole multitude should not return; that is, be in vain. And thus also Isaiah speaks when he says, thy word shall not return to me void, (Isaiah 55:11,) for he means that prophecies are always joined with their effects. Some turn this to the fruit of the doctrine, because God will always have some disciples who will embrace the prophetic word. But this is foreign to the purpose. The Prophet rather means that hypocrites will be greatly deceived, while they think God's word to be an empty sound, by which the air only is struck. Hence he says that God's word will not want its effect., because God will fulfill whatever he pronounces -- whether he promise safety to the faithful, or denounce destruction on the reprobate. As therefore Isaiah says God's word shall not return to him fruitless, since he will prosper it, so our Prophet denies that God's word should return after it had been promulgated against the whole multitude. The vision, therefore, is taken here for the prophetic doctrine; but there is no doubt that he restricts the vision to God's judgment. The vision, therefore, was towards the whole multitude, nor shall it return; that is, it shall be certainly executed. Afterwards he adds, and a man shall not strengthen his soul in his iniquity. Others term it -- in the iniquity of his soul: but since the relative is double, this opinion cannot stand; but others take it otherwise. But I am unwilling to hold you in suspense here, and it seems to me that nothing is more useful than to investigate the genuine sense of the Prophet. I have no doubt the Prophet here confirms what we have now explained -- that it is vain for the despisers of God to hope to escape, because when God executes his vengeance, he will hold them in his grasp. For as to what others say, that they have not fortified their soul on account of iniquity; that is, that they were so bound down to their sinfulness, that they did not lift up their minds and desires to the hope of safety, that sense is too forced. Therefore the Prophet confirms what we now see, namely, that his threats should not return empty, because God would take away all material for confidence from the hypocrites and despisers of his teaching. For the impious wrestle against God, and oppose their own obstinacy and hardness, as if by violence they could break and destroy his word. Since, therefore, the wicked precipitate themselves so boldly, says the Prophet, they shall not fortify themselves by iniquity unto life; that is, they shall strive in vain to obtain life by their iniquity, which is not sufficient for resistance. I do not understand -- on account of their iniquity; because he simply denounces that obstinacy should be in vain, which profane men use as a shield against God, and its force be reduced to nothing. They shall not fortify themselves, therefore, in life, or by iniquity, unto life; that is, by that obstinate wickedness by which they think themselves superior. Let us, therefore, from this place learn to tremble at God's threats, and always to have their effect before our eyes, as the Apostle says -- Noah saw by faith the deluge which was hidden, (Hebrews 11:7,) because, whilst others indulged themselves, he was always reflecting during one hundred and twenty years how horrible that vengeance would be. So, therefore, when God has spoken, may we immediately apprehend his judgment, as if it were clear before our eyes; and let us especially beware of that obstinacy which will assuredly be in vain, because we hear what the Prophet here denounces. It follows --
1 Or, "to the thing sold." -- Calvin.
2 That is, "although they are yet alive." -- Calvin.
3 Or, "shall not strengthen his life." -- Calvin.
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