14. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.
14. Et non clamaverunt ad me in corde suo: quia ulularunt super cubilibus suis; ad triticum et vinum congregabunt se, defecerunt (deficient, ad verbum) a me. 1
The Prophet here again reproves the Israelites for having not repented, after having been so often admonished; for, as it was said yesterday, all the chastisements which God by his own hand inflicts on us, have this as the object -- to heal us of our vices. Now the Prophet says here that the Israelites had not cried to God, which is yet the chief thing in repentance. But this expression is to be noticed. They have not cried to me with their heart; that is sincerely. We indeed know that some worship of God had ever remained among them; though the Israelites devised for themselves many gods, yet the name of the true God had never been wholly obliterated among them; but they blended the worship of God with their own inventions; God, at the same time, could not endure these fictitious invocations. Hence he says, that they cried not from the heart. He accuses them, not that they performed no outward act, but that they did not bring a real desire of heart; nay, they only cried to God dissemblingly. We now perceive what the Prophet meant by saying, They have not cried to me with their heart. As calling on God is the chief exercise of religion, and especially manifests our repentance, the Prophet expressly notices this defect in the Israelites -- that they cried not to the Lord. But as they might object and say, that they had formally prayed, he adds, that they did not do so from the heart; for the outward act (ceremonia) without the exercise of the heart, is nothing else but a profanation of God's name. In short, the Prophet shows here to the Israelites their hardness; for when they were smitten by God's hand, they did not flee to him and supplicate pardon, at least they did not do this from the heart or sincerely.
He then adds, Because they howled on their beds. Some explain the particle yk, ki, adversatively; as though the Prophet had said, "Though they howl on their beds, they do not yet direct their petitions to me." But we may take it in its proper sense, and the sentence would thus run better: They howl then on their beds, that is, "They bring not their concerns to me; for like brute animals they utter their howlings:" and this we see to be the case with the unbelieving; for they fear the presence of God, and the very mention of him is dreaded by them; hence they howl, that is, they pour forth their impetuous feelings, but at the same time they shun every access to God as much as they can. The sense then is, "They cry not to me from the heart, for they only howl; but it is only by an animal effort without any reason." If, however, any one prefers to take the particle yk, ki, adversatively, the sense would not be unsuitable, "Though they howl on their beds, they do not yet cry to me;" that is, "Though grief urges them to make great noises, they are yet mute as to any cry of prayer." If any one more approves of this meaning, I say nothing against it: but as the particle yk, ki, is commonly taken as a causative, I prefer thus to explain it, "As they cry on their beds, they raise not up their voice to God."
Then it follows, They assemble, or, will assemble themselves for corn and wine. This place is explained in two ways. Some think that the Israelites are here in an indirect way reproved, inasmuch as when they found wine and corn in the market, having obtained their wishes, they went on heedlessly in their sins, and despised God, as if they had no more need of his help. They then ran together for wine and corn; that is, as soon as they heard of wine or corn, they provided themselves with provisions, and afterwards neglected God. But this sense seems too frigid and strained. The Prophet then, I doubt not, opposes the running together of which he speaks, to true and sincere attention to prayer; as though he said, "They are not touched with grief for having offended me, though they see by evident proofs that I am displeased with them; they regard not my favor or my displeasure, provided they enjoy plenty of wine and corn: this satisfies them, and it is all the same with them whether I am adverse or propitious to them." This seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet.
But that this reproof may be more evident, we must observe what Christ teaches, that we ought first to seek the kingdom of God. For men act strangely when they anxiously labour only for this life, and strive only to procure for themselves food, and what is needful for the wants of the flesh: we ever make a beginning here; and yet it is a most thoughtless anxiety, when we are so attentive to a frail life, and in the meantime neglect the kingdom of God. Inasmuch then as men by this perverted feeling derange the whole order of religion, the Prophet here shows that the Israelites did not truly and from the heart cry unto God, because they were only solicitous about wine and corn; for except when they were hungry, they despised God, and allowed him to rest quietly in heaven: hence penury and want constrained them. As brute beasts, when they are hungry, go to the stall, and seek not to be fed by the Lord; so also did the Israelites, when they were touched by some feeling of need; but at the same time they were contented with their wine and corn; nor had they any other God. Hence they so cried, that their voice did not come to God, as they did not indeed go really and directly to him. The Prophet then does here, by a particular instance, convict the Israelites of impious dissimulation, inasmuch as they did not seek God, but were only intent on food; and provided the stomach was well supplied, they neglected God, and desired not his favor, and only wished to have full barns and full cellars; for plenty of provisions, without the paternal favor of God, was their only desire. It is hence sufficiently evident that they did not cry to the Lord.
This place is worthy of being observed; for we here see that our prayers are faulty before God, if we begin with wine and bread, and seek not first the kingdom of God, that is, his glory; and if we apply not our minds to this -- to live, so to have God propitious to us. When we go to Him, the fountain of divine blessing, God only desire to glut ourselves with the abundance of the good things which he has to bestow, then all our prayers are deservedly rejected by him. We see this to be the case with the Papists; when they present their supplications, they are wholly like animals. They indeed implore God for rain and for dry weather; but have they any desire of reconciling themselves to God? By no means; for they wish, as much as possible, to be at the farthest distance from him: but when want and famine constrain them, they then ask for rain, -- for what purpose? only that they may abound in bread and wine. We ought then to preserve a legitimate order in our prayers. If the Lord shows to us proofs of his wrath, we must strive first to return into favor with him, and then his glory must be regarded by us, and he is to be sought with the real feeling of piety, that he may be a Father to us: and then may be added in their place the things which belong to the condition and preservation of the present life.
We must also notice what he adds, They have revolted from me. The verb rwo, sur, means, "to recede," and also "to revolt;" and this second sense is the most suitable; for the Prophet said before that they had receded or departed from God; but now he seems to signify something more grievous, and that is, that they had revolted from God. Thus hypocrites, when they pretend to seek God in a circuitous course, betray their own revolt; for they are unwilling to be reconciled to him on the condition that they are to change for the better their life, to cast away the affections of the flesh, to renounce themselves and their depraved desires. These things they by no means seek. Hence then it becomes evident that they are witnesses to their own revolt, and also to dissimulation in their prayers, even when there is some appearance of piety. It follows --
"And they cry not to me with their heart,
Though they howl on their beds;
For corn and wine they bestir themselves,
They turn aside from me."
The word I render "bestir," whether we take the text as it is, or a similar word, wddwgty, countenances by several MSS, and by the Septuagint, means nearly the same, signifying great agitation and anxiety. --Ed.