9. And if the prophet be deceived when he has spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet; and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.
9. Et Propheta cum deceptus fuerit, et locutus fuerit sermonem: ego Iehovah decepi prophetam eum: et extendam manum meam super ipsum, et delebo illum e medio populi mei Israel.
Here God meets that foolish thought in which many minds are rapt up. When they had their own impostors at hand, they thought that all God's threats could be repelled as it were by a shield. Jeremiah and Ezekiel threaten us, say they, but we have others to cheer us with good hope: they promise that all things shall be joyful and prosperous to us: since, therefore, only two or three deprive us of the hope of safety, and others, and those, too, far more numerous, promise us security, we have no need to despair. Since they thus oppose their impostors to the true prophets, and imagine a kind of conflict, in which imposture prevails and God's truth is vanquished, he says there is no reason why the flatteries of the false prophets should deceive you. For if you say that they bear also the prophetic name and office, I reply, that they err through your fault; for I deceive them because your impiety deserves it. This may as yet be obscure, but I will endeavor to explain it by a familiar example. At this time we see that many through sloth withdraw themselves from all fear, and promise themselves freedom from punishment, while they reject all care for God. O, say they, what have I to do with religion? for this only occasions me trouble; whoever wishes to give himself up seriously to God amidst, these dissension's and divisions will enter a labyrinth. Since, therefore, many think themselves free from fault, even if they reject God, this doctrine may be turned against them. There are, indeed, at this day dissension's in religion which disturb many; but do you think that this happens rashly: Oh! we know not which party to follow: inquire; for God has not so given the rein to Satan and his ministers, that the Church is disturbed, and men are mutually opposed by chance. But when this happens by the just judgment of God, it is certain that no one can be deceived unless of his own accord. For the Prophet takes that principle from Moses, whenever false prophets come forth, that this is a proof of faithfulness and of sincere piety. Thy God tries thee, says Moses, whether you love him. (Deuteronomy 8:3.) Since, therefore, no false prophet arises without the just judgment of God, and since God wishes to distinguish between sincere worshipers and hypocrites, it follows that no one can be excused on this pretext, of differing opinions which arise by wise ordination. For since God wishes to make an experiment, as I have said, concerning his servants and sons, and since false prophets so mingle all things, and involve the clear daylight in darkness, no one who truly and heartily seeks God shall be entangled among their snares.
But Ezekiel will proceed still further, as I have previously hinted, namely, that all impostures and errors do not spring up rashly, but proceed from the ingratitude of the people itself. For if they had not so willingly given themselves up to the false prophets, God would doubtless have spared them. But, since false prophets abounded on every side, and were so plentiful everywhere, hence it may be understood that, the people were worthy of such impostures. Now then we perceive the meaning of the Holy Spirit when God pronounces that he is the author of all the error which the false prophets were thus scattering abroad. For it is not sufficient to observe merely the sound of the words, and then to illicit the substance of the prophetic teaching; but we must attend to the Spirit's purpose. I have already explained why the Prophet says this, namely, that. the Israelites should cease to turn their backs according to their custom, saying, that if they remained in doubt amidst various opinions, this ought not to be imputed to them as a crime. For he answers, that the false prophets only took this license, because the people deserved to be blinded: and in fine, he says that Satan's lies multiplied not at random or at the will of men, but because God repays a graceless and perfidious people with a just recompense. So Paul says that error has a divine efficacy, when men prefer embracing a lie to the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12), and do not submit themselves to God, but rather shake off his yoke. Now, therefore, whoever wishes to excuse himself under the pretext of simplicity for not acquiescing in God's word, this answer is at hand -- that all things are thus mingled by God's just decree. Since, therefore, Satan eclipses the light whenever clouds are scattered to disturb the weak, we here find God to be the author of it, since man's impiety deserves it. For the Prophet does not here discourse profanely about God's absolute power, as they say; but when he brings forward God's name, he takes it for granted that God is not delighted with such disturbance, when false prophets seize upon his name. It is certain, then, that God does not delight in such deception; but the cause must be thought, as we shall soon see: the cause is not always manifest; but without controversy this is fixed, that God punishes men justly, when true religion is so rent asunder by divisions, and truth is obscured by falsehood.
We must hold, then, that God does not rage like a tyrant, but exercises just judgment. Besides, this passage teaches us that neither impostures nor deceptions arise without God's permission. This seems at first sight absurd, for God seems to contend with himself when he gives license to Satan to pervert sound doctrine: and if this happens by God's authority, it seems perfectly contradictory to itself. But let us always remember this, that God's judgments are not without reason called a profound abyss (Psalm 36:6), that when we see rebellious men acting as they do in these times, we should not wish to comprehend what far surpasses even the sense of angels. Soberly, therefore, and reverently must we judge of God's works, and especially of his secret counsels. But with the aid of reverence and modesty, it will be easy to reconcile these two things -- that God begets, and cherishes, and defends his Church, and confirms the teaching of his prophets, all the while that he permits it to be torn and distracted by intestine broils. Why so? He acts thus that he may punish the wickedness of men as often as he pleases when he sees them abuse his goodness and indulgence. When God lights up the flame of his doctrine, this is the sign of his inestimable pity; when he suffers the Church to be disturbed, and men to be in some degree dissipated, this is to be imputed to the wickedness of men. Whatever be the explanation, he pronounces that he deceived the false prophets, because Satan could not utter a single word unless he were permitted, and not only so, but even ordered; while God exercises his wrath against the wicked.
In another sense Jeremiah says that he was deceived (Jeremiah 20:7). I am deceived, but you Jehovah have deceived me: for there he speaks ironically. For when ungodly men boasted that so many of his prophecies were delusive, and derided him as a foolish and misguided man, he says, If I am deceived, you, O Lord, have deceived me. We see, then, that by false irony he reproves the petulance of those who despised his prophecies; and finally, he shows that God was the author of his teaching. But in this place God pronounces without a figure that he deceived the false prophets. If any one now objects, that nothing is more remote from God's nature than to deceive, the answer is at hand. Although the metaphor is rather rough, yet we know that God transfers to himself by a figure of speech what properly does not belong to him. He is said to laugh at the impious; but we know that it is not agreeable to his nature to ridicule, to laugh, to see, and to sleep. (Psalm 2:4; Psalm 37:13.) And so in this place, I confess, there is an improper form of speaking; but the sense is not doubtful -- that all impostures are scattered abroad by God -- since Satan, as I have said, can never utter the slightest word unless commanded by God. But the kind of deceit which will solve this difficulty for us is described in the sacred history. For when Ahab had a great crowd of false prophets, Micah alone stood firm, and faithfully discharged his duty to God: when brought before king Ahab, he immediately blows away their boastings -- Behold! all my prophets predict victory: he answers -- I saw God sitting on his throne; and when all the armies of heaven were collected before him, God inquired, Who shall deceive Ahab? And a spirit offered himself, namely, a devil, and said, I will deceive him, because I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. God answers, Depart, and thus it shall be. (1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 18.) Afterwards it follows, Therefore the Lord put a lie in the mouth of all those prophets. Here he distinctly shows us the manner in which God maddens the false prophets, and deceives them, namely, since he sends forth Satan to fill them with his lies. Since, then, they are impelled by Satan, the father of lies, what can they do but lie and deceive? The whole of this, then, depends on the just judgments of God, as this place teaches. God, therefore, does not deceive, so to speak, without an agency, but uses Satan and impostors as organs of his vengeance. If any one flies to that subtle distinction between ordering and permitting, he is easily refuted by the context. For that cannot be called mere permission when God willingly seeks for some one to deceive Ahab, and then he himself orders Satan to go forth and do so. But the last clause which I have quoted takes away all doubt, since God put a lie in the mouth of the prophets, that is, suggested a lie to all the false prophets. If God suggests, we shall see that Satan flies forth not only by his permission to scatter his impostures; but since God wished to use his aid, so he afforded it on this condition and to this end. But we shall leave the rest for the next lecture.
Grant, Almighty God, since we are so prone to error, that thy truth may always shine upon us amidst the darkness of this world: Grant, also, that we may gaze upon it with open eyes, and subject ourselves to thee with true docility, so that being governed by both thy Word and thy Spirit, we may fulfill our course, and at length arrive at that happy rest, which your only begotten Son has prepared for us. Amen.
Lecture Thirty Ninth.
WE saw in the last lecture with what intention God permits so much license to the false prophets to deceive the people. For men would desire to throw the fault of their errors on God, if he did not meet their rashness. But God has pronounced in this place, that his judgment is just, since the exiles as well as the Jews remaining in the city were equally blind. Hence we must understand that there was no cause for excuse when God's hand was against an impious and wicked people. He now adds, that he would be an avenger in destroying the false prophets from the midst of the people. This seems at first sight not to be in accordance with justice, that God should impel and precipitate men into error, and then exact punishment of them: and as I have said, men think themselves free from blame, if God blinds them, casts them into a reprobate state of mind, and even hurries them into impious desires. But I have already remarked that those act erroneously who estimate God's judgment by their own notions. For how small is the measure of our intelligence: for God's judgments are a profound abyss. (Psalm 36:6.) Nothing therefore remains, except waiting for that day in which we shall see face to face the things which we now behold darkly and obscurely, as Paul says. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) Whatever may be the sense, God does rightly in deceiving the false prophets by way of punishing an impious people; and when he summons the false prophets to judgment, that also is free from blame. But if men are restive through their own rashness and audacity, God will free himself from all their calumnies. Wherefore let us diligently mark this passage where God pronounces that he is the deceiver; because however Satan may plot by his lies to abolish the truth, yet he can accomplish nothing unless God permit him, as we have already explained at full length. But when false prophets are dragged to punishment, they have no cause of expostulation with God. and they profit nothing by their complaints, since their own consciences condemn them. They cannot object that they were compelled or drawn violently aside by God, since of their own accord and by their own efforts they endeavored to deliver wretched men to destruction by their lies. Since this is the case, God justly extends his hands to punish them, as he now says. But let us proceed to the next verse.
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