5. The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.
5. Propter vitulas 1 (juvencas) Bethaven pavebunt (ad verbum) incola Samaria (sed mutatio est numeri, pavebunt igitur: alii vertunt, exulabunt incolae Samariae, sed male:) quia lugebit super eum populus suus et sacerdotes ejus, qui super eum exultant (vel, propter eum exultabunt) super gloria ejus, quia transivit ab eo (vel, aversa est ab eo.)
I shall first briefly touch on what I have mentioned in reading over the text; that is, that some interpreters expound this verse of the exile of the people. The word rwg, gur, signifies to be banished: and it means also to fear; but the context, as we shall see, will not allow it to be taken here in the sense of being banished. Some render the other word Nks, shecan, to dwell, but they are mistaken. The Prophet simply means that the inhabitants of Samaria were now glorying in their calves, (for the calves we know, were in Dan and Bethel,) but that in a short time the Lord would strike them with terror, and the cause we shall see hereafter.
I now come to show the real meaning of the prophet. The inhabitants of Samaria, he says shall fear, because of the calves of Bethaven. The Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel in worshipping calves, and in thinking that the whole hope of safety was included in them. How so? "They are constrained" he says, "to weep for the exile of their calf; so far is it from being able to bring them any aid, that the citizens of Samaria in vain deplore its captivity." By way of contempt, he calls the calves, heifers. He might have used the masculine gender; but the whole of the verse glances at the madness of the people of Israel, because they were so grossly delirious in their superstitions, and yet were wholly insensible. Then the inhabitants of Samaria shall fear for the calves of Bethaven, because idolaters, when they see some danger to their idols, tremble, and would gladly bring aid; and this very fear betrays their stupidity and madness. For why do not the gods help themselves, instead of expecting help from mortals? We now understand the design of the Prophet.
But he says, They will mourn over it. The number is here changed. He had said, "because of the heifers;" and now he expresses the kind by putting down a relative of the masculine gender w, vau 2. He therefore returns to "calves," and afterwards uses the singular number; for there was one only at Bethaven, the other was at Dan. But we have already shown why the Prophet called them heifers.
Its people, he says, shall mourn for it, yea, even the priests also. Some think that Myrmk, camerim, priests were called by this terms because they put on black vestments in celebrating their rites; for the word "kemer" means black; but this is a vain conjecture: and the Rabbis, as it often appears, are very bold in their figments; for they regard not what is true, but only make conjectures, and wish that whatever comes to their minds to be counted as oracular; nor do they regard history, but advance without reason what pleases them. Another explanation of the word may be adduced, and one in my judgement more probable; for the word signifies also to ring again or to resound; and the priests, we know, made, in performing their services, great noises and howling; as Elijah says
'Cry aloud, for your Baal is perhaps asleep,'
(1 Kings 18:27.)
If their conjecture is allowable, I would rather say that they were called by this word on account of the noise they made. But I leave the thing undecided. It was, however, a name commonly in use, as it appears from other places. For by this name Myrmk, camerim were those new priests called, whom Josiah took away, as it is related in 2 Kings 23. But whether they had this name from their noises, or the black colour of their vestments, it is still certain that they were the priests of false gods.
The Prophet now says, that the priests also shall mourn, for the verb lba, abel, is to be repeated. He afterwards adds, wdwbkale wlygy, igilu ol-cabudu; the relative, who, is wanting -- who exult, but it is to be understood after Myrmk, who exult for it. But why should they mourn? They shall mourn for its glory, because it had departed: they shall now begin to mourn, because the glory of the calf had passed away from it. Here the Prophet teaches that the glorying, by which hypocrites deceive themselves, will not be permanent; for the Lord will surely lead them, as we shall see, to sudden and unexpected shame. He then says that there would be mourning for the calves among the citizens of Samaria. They indeed thought that the kingdom was well fortified, for they had erected temples in their borders, to be, as it were, their fortresses. They hence imagined themselves to be safe from every incursion of enemies. The Prophet says, "Nay, they shall mourn for their calf." How so? Truly its own people shall mourn for it. He goes farther, and calls all its worshipers, the people of the calf: and we know that the whole kingdom of Israel was implicated in that superstition. Yea, he says, even the priests, who exult for it, shall mourn. Why? Because its glory shall depart from it. It now follows --