8. The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.
8. Et perierunt (vel, peribunt excelsa Aven, scelus Israel: spina et carduus ascendet super altaria eorum: et dicent montibus, Operite nos; et collibus, Cadite super nos.
We see how much the Prophet dwells on one thing: but, as I have already said, there was need of a strong hammer to beat this iron; for the hearts of the people were iron, or even steel. This hardness could not then be broken except with violence. This is the reason why the Prophet goes on with his threatening and places before their eyes in so many forms the vengeance of God; of which it would have been enough for him briefly to remind them, had they not been so perverse.
And first he says, The high places of Aven have perished, or shall perish. He now calls Bethel Aven, as he called it before Bethaven. We have stated the reason for changing the name. Jeroboam might indeed have disguised the worship, which he had profanely introduced by this pretext, that God had appeared in that place to holy Jacob, and we know its name was given to it by God: but in the meantime, as the people had made a wrong use of the Patriarch's example, the place was called Bethaven. Bethaven, we know, is the house of iniquity; as though the Prophet had said, "God dwells not in this place, as superstitious men imagine; but it has been corrupted by ungodly worshipers." He therefore says, "The high places of Aven;" that is, of impiety. But it may be expedient to repeat here what we have before said, namely, that when men degenerate from the pure teaching of God, they in vain cover their profanations with empty names, as we see the Papists doing at this day; for they adorn that profanation, the Mass, with the title of Sacrament, as if it was something allied to it. They wish even their own Mass to be regarded as the Holy Supper, as if it were in their power to abolish what has been prescribed by the Son of God, and to substitute in its place their own inventions. Hence, how much soever the Papists may dignify their profanations with honourable names they effect nothing. How so? Because God loudly proclaims respecting Bethel that it is Bethaven; and the reason is well known, because Jeroboam erected temples, and appointed new sacrifices, without God's command. Whenever, then, men depart from the word of the Lord, it will avail them nothing to disguise their own dreams; for the Lord approves of nothing but what he himself commands. Hence the high places of Aven have perished, or "shall perish."
He adds The sin of Israel. This sentence, placed in apposition, belongs to the former. What is meant is, The sin of Israel shall perish. But, as it was said yesterday, the Israelites thought that they performed a service acceptable to God; and hence it was that they were so sedulously attentive to their holy rites; but God, on the contrary, pronounced them to be sin. How so? Because it is profanation and idolatry in men to leave off following God's command, and to give way to their own fancies and inventions. We must then understand, that it is not in the power of men to form any modes of worship they please; nor is it in their power to decide on this or that worship, whether it be lawful or spurious; but nothing remains for us but to attend to what the Lord says. When, therefore, the Lord pronounces that to be profane which pleases us, we ought to acquiesce in his judgement; for it does not become us to dispute with him, and it would be vain to do so.
The thorn and the thistle, he says, shall come up on their altars. It may be asked, Ought the Prophet simply, by these tokens, to have reproved the superstition of the people, seeing that the same thing happened to the temple a short time after, though not built by the counsel of men, but by that of God? Since, then, the grass grew where the temple was, was not that worship, which we know was founded by God, exposed to ridicule? It is only the same that can be said of the calves. We grant that the calves were carried into Assyria, as a price from the wretched Israelites to pacify the king, who was angry with them. Was not the ark of the covenant taken also into captivity by enemies? Did not king Nebuchadnezzar take away the vessels of the temple? And was not pious Hezekiah constrained to strip the doors of the temple of their ornaments? Then this seems not to have been fitly spoken by the Prophet. The answer to all this may be readily given: The Israelites promised to themselves what they saw, and found afterwards to be vain as is the case with hypocrites, who securely despise all judgements and all punishments. How so? Because they thought their own perverted worship to be sufficient for their safety; though they were in their whole life abominable yet as some form of religion was observed by them, they thought that God was bound to be with them: such and so supine was the security of that people. Very different was the case with the tribe of Judah. For God, by his Prophets, proclaimed aloud, "Trust not in words of falsehood; for ye boast continually, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, (Jeremiah 7:4,) but I no longer dwell in that temple:" and Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord departing elsewhere, (Ezekiel 10:4.) What is said here could not then apply to the temple, nor to the true and lawful altar, nor to the true worshipers of God; but the Prophet justly reproaches the Israelites for expecting safety from their own altars, while yet they were provoking God's wrath against themselves by such inventions. We ought, then to remember this difference between the tribe of Judah and the ten tribes.
But he adds, -- They shall say to the mountains, Cover us: end to the hills, Fall on us. By this form of speaking, the Prophet intended to express the dreadful vengeance of God; as if he had said, that the destruction, which was at hand, would be so grievous that it would be better to perish a hundred times than to remain in that state alive. For when men say to hills, Fall on us, and to mountains, Cover us, they doubtless desire a death too dreadful to be spoken of; but it is the same as if the Prophet had said, that life and light, and the sight of the sun and the common air, would become a horror to them, for they would perceive the hand of God to be against them. And further, it is a sign of extreme despair, when men willingly seek the abyss, where they may sink to avoid the presence of God and present destruction. And hence Christ has also transferred this passage to set forth the last judgement, of which he speaks, -- 'They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us;' that is, what was once said by the Prophet shall then be again fulfilled; that the wicked will prefer a hundred deaths to one life; for both light and the vital air will be hated and detested by them; because they will perceive themselves to be oppressed by the dreadful hand of God. It follows --