16. They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
16. Revertentur non Deo: fuerunt tanquam arcus dolosus (vel, doli:) ceciderunt (vel, cadent) in gladio principes eorum a superbia (hoc est, propter superbiam) linguae eorum: hoc eorum ludibrium in terra Aegypti.
The Prophet again assails the perverse wickedness of Israel, and also their fraud and perfidiousness. Hence he says that they feigned some sort of repentance, but it was nothing else than false; for they returned not to God. They return, he says, but not to God. Some however think that le, ol, is a preposition, and that something is understood, as if it were an elliptical phrase: "They return, but not for anything;" that is, when they return, were any one to inquire what is in their minds, or what is their purpose, he would find it to be mere form and nothing real. But this exposition, as we see, is strained. Besides, the context requires that we should consider le, ol, to be for God, as it is also in other places; for this is nothing new. Then it is, They return not to God.
The Prophet then declares here that the Israelites were wholly perverse, so that God could force out of them no repentance; that when they pretended something it was mere deceit, for they did not come in a direct way to God. For hypocrites, as it has been said before, when God's hand presses hard on them, seem indeed to be different from what they were previously, but they always shun God. The Lord does not in vain exhort the people by Jeremiah to return to him,
'If thou wilt return, O Israel,' he says, 'return unto me,'
For he knew that by devious windings men always go astray and keep not to the straight course. This is the meaning.
Then the Prophet adds, that they there like a deceitful bow. This is an explanation of the last sentence; and hence we conclude that the word le, ol, cannot be otherwise taken than for God. The Prophet shows how the Israelites withdrew themselves from God, while they seemed to repent, for they were, he says, like a deceitful bow. Some expound it, the bow of darting or shooting; and no doubt hmr, reme, means to dart and to shoot; but this sense cannot be taken here, for we see that what the Prophet had in view was to show, that the Israelites put on a guise, and did nothing but deceive, when they made a show of repentance. To confirm this, he says, that they were like an oblique bow. For the archer, when he intends to shoot an arrow, first levels at a certain mark; then the arrow seems to be directed to that place which the archer fixes on by his eyes. Now if the bow is oblique, the arrow will fly elsewhere; or the bow may slip, so as to throw back the arrow to the archer himself. The like comparison is found in Psalm 78, where it is said, that the Jews were turned back 'like a deceitful bow;' and in that passage this very word occurs. But there is here no ambiguity; for God accuses the people that they had turned back; that is, that they had turned backward their course, even like a deceitful bow. If one reads "the bow of darting," or, "of shooting," there will be no sense; nay, it will be vapid and absurd. It is then better to render the expression here, 'a deceitful bow.'
And we must notice the import of the similitude, to which I have already referred, that is, that as archers aim the arrow to the mark, as they direct its flight by winking and leveling, and shoot; so hypocrites seem to strive with great effort, but, at the same time, they are deceitful bows; that is, their mind is driven back, and they fly away from God, and, by tortuous windings, go astray, so that they never come to God, but rather turn their backs on him.
He then adds, Their princes shall fall by the sword for the pride of their tongue. The Prophet again denounces vengeance on the Israelites, that they might feel assured that the heavenly decree respecting their destruction could not be changed. For though hypocrites always dread, and cannot hope anything from God, yet they never cease to flatter themselves, and always to contrive some new hope. Inasmuch then as they are so bountiful in vain promising, the Prophet says that there was no reason for the Israelites to hope for any remedy in their distresses. Their princes then shall fall: and in saying 'princes,' he takes a part for the whole; for God does not thus threaten princes, or denounces ruin on them, as though he intended to except the common people; but he implies, that destruction would be common to all, which not even the princes themselves would escape. And we know that in battles, when a great slaughter is made, the common soldiers lie dead in great numbers, and but few of the chiefs. But God says here, "I will take away the whole flower of the people. And if none of the princes shall remain, what will become of the ignoble vulgar, who are deemed of no account?" The princes then shall fall by the sword.
He then adds, For the pride of their tongue. Some expound this phrase actively, as though the Prophet had said, that they had provoked God's wrath by their blasphemies and profane speeches; but I rather take it for their high vaunting: For the pride of their tongue, he says, they shall fall; that is, because they haughtily boasted of their strength, and held in contempt all the prophecies, because they dared to vomit forth their blasphemies against God, and dared, also, no less obstinately than proudly, to defend their own impious and depraved forms of worship, I will revenge, he says, "this pride." We hence see that "pride," here, is to be taken for that disdain which the impious show by their high vaunting, as it is said elsewhere,
'They raise to heaven their tongues,' (Psalm 73:9.)
This will be their derision in the land of Egypt. As the Israelites, then relying on the cursed treaty which they had made with the Egyptians, continued perverse against God, he says, "I will expose them to derision among their confederates: they boast of the power of Egypt: they think themselves beyond the reach of harm, as they can instantly call the Egyptians, to their aid, were any one to oppose them, or were any enemy to invade them. Since, then, their confidence so rests on Egypt, I will make," he says, "the Egyptians to regard them with scorn; and they shall not only be counted ignominious by those who rival or envy them, but also by the friends in whom they glory. I will give them up to every kind of dishonor among their lovers." He indeed compares, as we have before seen, the Egyptians as well as the Assyrians, to lovers, and compares his people to an unfaithful wife, who, having deserted her husband, prostitutes her own chastity. "Thou," he says, "sellest thyself to thy lovers, and strives to please them, and faintest and adornest thyself to allure them: I will cover thee all over with everything disgraceful and ignominious, that thy lovers shall abhor thy very sight." So also in this place, he says that the Israelites shall be for derision in the land of Egypt; that is, not enemies, whom they fear, shall have them in derision; but they shall be a laughing-stock to those who they think will be their defenders, and through whose arms they imagine that they shall be free from every disgrace. The eighth chapter follows.