16. For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
16. Quia sicut juvenca indomita, indomitus Israel: nunc pascet Jehova quasi agnum tenerum (nam sbk proprie significat, Agnum tenerum; hoc est, qui adhuc est anniculus: lya autem vocant arietem qui annum unum excessit) in loco spatioso.
The Prophet compares Israel here to an untamable heifer. Some render it, "A straying heifer", and we may render it, "A wanton heifer." But to others a defection seems to have been more especially intended, because they had receded or departed from God: but this comparison is not so apposite. They render it, "As a backsliding," or "receding heifer:" but I prefer to view the word as meaning, one that is petulant or lascivious: and the punishment which is subjoined, The Lord will now feed them as a tender lamb in a spacious place, best agrees with this view, as we shall immediately see.
It must, in the first place, be understood, that Israel is compared to a heifer, and indeed to one that is wanton, which cannot remain quiet in the stall nor be accustomed to the yoke: it is hence subjoined, The Lord will now feed them as a lamb in a spacious place. The meaning of this clause may be twofold; the first is, that the Lord would leave them in their luxuries to gorge themselves according to their lust, and to indulge themselves in their gormandizing; and it is a dreadful punishment, when the Lord allays not the intemperateness of men, but suffers them to wanton without any limits or moderation. Hence some give this meaning to the passage, God will now feed them as a lamb, that is, like a sheep void of understanding, and in a large place, even in a most fruitful field, capable of supplying food to satiety. But it seems to me that the Prophet meant another thing, even this, that the Lord would so scatter Israel, that they might be as a lamb in a spacious place. It is what is peculiar to sheep, we know, that they continue under the shepherd's care: and a sheep, when driven into solitude, shows itself, by its bleating, to be timid, and to be as it were seeking its shepherd and its flock. In short, a sheep is not a solitary animal; and it is almost a part of their food to sheep and lambs to feed together, and also under the eye of him under whose care they are. Now there seems to be here a most striking change of figure: They are, says the Prophet, like unnamable heifers, for they are so wanton that no field can satisfy their wantonness, as when a heifer would occupy the whole land. "Such then," he says, "and so outrageous is the disobedience of this people, that they can no longer endure, except a spacious place be given to each of them. I will therefore give them a spacious place: but for this end, that each of them may be like a lamb, who looks around and sees no flock to which it may join itself."
This happened when the land was stripped of its inhabitants; for then a small number only dwelt in it. Four tribes, as stated before, were first drawn away; and then they began to be like lambs in a spacious place; for God terrified them with the dread of enemies. The remaining part of the people was afterwards either dispersed or led into exile. They were, when in exile, like lambs, and those in a wide place. For though they lived in cottages, and their condition was in every way confined, yet they were in a place like the desert; for one hardly dared look on another, and waste and solitude met their eyes wherever they turned them. We see then what the Prophet meant by saying, They are like an untamable or a wanton heifer: "I will tame them, and make them like lambs; and when scattered, they will fear as in a wilderness, for there will be no flock to which they can come." Let us proceed --