Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Come and let us return unto the Lord - These words depend closely on the foregoing. They are words put into their mouth by God Himself, with which or with the like, they should exhort one another to return to God. Before, when God smote them, they had gone to Assyria; now they should turn to Him, owning, not only that He who "tore" has the power and the will to "heal" them, but that He tore, "in order to" heal them; He smote them, "in order to" bind them up. This closeness of connection is expressed in the last words; literally, "smite He and He will bind us up." "He smiteth the putrefaction of the misdeed; He healeth the pain of the wound. Physicians do this; they cut; they smite; they heal; they arm themselves in order to strike; they carry steel, and come to cure."
They are not content to return singly or to be saved alone. Each encourageth another to repentance, as before to evil. The dry bones, scattered on the face of the earth, reunite. There is a general movement among those "who sat in darkness and the shadow of death," to return together to Him, who is the source of life.
After two days will He revive us (or quicken us, give us life,) in the third day He will raise us up - The Resurrection of Christ, and our resurrection in Him and in His Resurrection, could not be more plainly foretold. The prophet expressly mentions "two days," after which life should be given, and a "third day, on" which the resurrection should take place. What else can this be than the two days in which the Body of Christ lay in the tomb, and the third day, on which He rose again, as "the Resurrection and the life" Joh 11:25, "the first fruits of them that slept" Co1 15:20, the source and earnest and pledge of our resurrection and of life eternal? The Apostle, in speaking of our resurrection in Christ, uses these self-same words of the prophet; "God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us - hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" Eph 2:4-6.
The Apostle, like the prophet, speaks of that which took place in Christ our Head, as having already taken place in us, His members. : "If we unhesitatingly believe in our heart," says a father, "what we profess with our mouth, we were crucified in Christ, "we" died, "we" were buried, "we" also were raised again on that very third day. Whence the Apostle saith, "If ye rose again with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God" Col 3:1. "As Christ died for us, so He also rose for us. "Our old man was nailed to the wood, in the flesh of our Head, and the new man was formed in that same Head, rising glorious from the tomb." What Christ, our Head, did, He did, not for Himself, but for His redeemed, that the benefits of His Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, might redound to all. life did it for them; they partook of what He did.
In no other way, could our participation of Christ be foretold. It was not the prophet's object here, nor was it so direct a comfort to Israel, to speak of Christ's Resurrection in itself. He took a nearer way to their hearts. He told them, "all we who turn to the Lord, putting our whole trust in Him, and committing ourselves wholly to Him, to be healed of our wounds and to have our griefs bound up, shall receive life from Him, shall be raised up by Him." They could not understand "then," how He would do this. The "after two days" and, "in the third day," remained a mystery, to be explained by the event. But the promise itself was not the less distinct, nor the less full of hope, nor did it less fulfill all cravings for life eternal and the sight of God, because they did not understand, "how shall these things be." Faith is unconcerned about the "how." Faith believes what God says, because He says it, and leaves Him to fulfill it, "how" He wills and knows. The words of the promise which faith had to believe, were plain. The life of which the prophet spoke, could only be life from death, whether of the body or the soul or both. For God is said to "give life," only in contrast with such death. Whence the Jews too have ever looked and do look, that this should be fulfilled in the Christ, though they know not that it has been fulfilled in Him. They too explain it ; "He will quicken us in the days of consolation which shall come; in the day of the quickening of the dead; he will raise us up, and we shall live before Him."
In shadow, the prophecy was never fulfilled to Israel at all. The ten tribes were never restored; they never, as a whole, received any favor from God, after He gave them up to captivity. And unto the two tribes, (of whom, apart from the ten, no mention is made here) what a mere shadow was the restoration from Babylon, that it should be spoken of as the gift of life or of resurrection, whereby we should live before Him! The strictest explanation is the truest. The "two days" and "the third day" have nothing in history to correspond with them, except that in which they were fulfilled, when Christ, "rising on the third day from the grave, raised with Him the whole human race" .
And we shall live in His sight - Literally, "before His Face." In the face, we see the will, and mind, the love, the pleasure or displeasure of a human being whom we love. In the holy or loving face of man, there may be read fresh depths of devotion or of love. The face is turned away in sorrowful displeasure; it is turned full upon the face it loves. Hence, it is so very expressive an image of the relation of the soul to God, and the Psalmists so often pray, "Lord lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us; make Thy Face to shine upon Thy servant; God bless us, and cause His Face to shine upon us; cast me not away from Thy presence or Face; look Thou upon me and be merciful unto me; look upon the Face of thine anointed; how long wilt Thou hide Thy Face from me? hide not Thy Face from Thy servant" (Psa 4:6; Psa 31:16 (from Num 6:25); Psa 67:1; Psa 80:7; Psa 119:135; Psa 51:11; Psa 119:132; Psa 84:9; Psa 13:1; Psa 69:17, etc.); or they profess, "Thy Face, Lord, will I seek" (Psa 27:8; see Psa 24:6; Psa 105:4); or they declare that the bliss of eternity is in "the Face of God" Psa 11:7; Psa 16:11; Psa 17:15.
God had just said, that He would withdraw His presence, until they should "seek" His "Face;" now He says, they should "live before His Face." To Abraham He had said, "Walk before Me" Gen 17:1, literally, "before My Face, and be thou perfect." Bliss from the Creator, and duty from the creature, answer to one another. We "live in His sight," in the way of duty, when we refer ourselves and our whole being, our courses of action, our thoughts, our love, to Him, remembering that we are ever in His presence, and ever seeking to please Him. "We live in His sight," in the bliss of His presence, when we enjoy the sense of His favor, and know that His Eye rests on us in love, that He cares for us, guides us, guards us; and have some sweetness in contemplating Him. Much more fully shall we live in His sight, when, in Him, we shall be partakers of His Eternal Life and Bliss, and shall behold Him "face to face," and "see Him as He is," and the sight of Him shall be our bliss, "and in His light we shall see light" Psa 36:9.
Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord - Rather, "Then shall we know, shall follow on to know the Lord," i. e., we shall not only know Him, but we shall grow continually in that knowledge. Then, in Israel, God says, "there was no knowledge of Him;" His "people was destroyed for lack of it" Hos 4:1, Hos 4:6. In Christ He promises, that they should have that inward knowledge of Him, ever growing, because the grace, through which it is given, ever grows, and "the depth of the riches of His wisdom and knowledge is unsearchable, passing knowledge." We "follow on," confessing that it is He who maketh us to follow Him, and draweth us to Him. We know, in order to follow; we follow, in order to know. Light prepares the way for love. Love opens the mind for new love. The gifts of God are interwoven. They multiply and reproduce each other, until we come to the perfect state of eternity. For here "we know in part" only; then "shall we know, even as we are known. We shall follow on." Where shall we "follow on?" To the fountains of the water of life, as another prophet saith; "For He that hath mercy upon them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them" Isa 49:10. And in the Revelations we read, that "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters" Rev 7:17. The bliss of eternity is fixed; the nearness of each to the throne of God, the "mansion" in which he shall dwell, admits of no change; but, through eternity, it may be, that we shall "follow on to know" more of God, as more shall be revealed to us of that which is infinite, the Infinity of His Wisdom and His Love.
His going forth - that is, the going forth of God, "is prepared," firm, fixed, certain, established, (so the word means) "as the morning." Before, God had said, He would withdraw Himself from them; now, contrariwise, He says, that He would "go forth." He had said, "in their affliction they shall seek Me early or in the morning;" now, "He shall go forth as the morning." : "They shall seek for Him, as they that long for the morning; and He will come to them as the morning," full of joy and comfort, of light and warmth and glorious radiance which shall diffuse over the whole compass of the world, so that "nothing shall be hid from its light" and "heat." He who should so go forth, is the same as He who was to "revive them" and "raise them up," i. e., Christ. Of Him it is said most strictly, that "He went forth," when from the Bosom of the Father He came among us; as of Him holy Zacharias saith, (in the like language,) "The Dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Christ goeth forth continually from the Father, by an eternal, continual, generation. In He "came forth" from the Father in His Incarnation; He "came forth" to us from the Virgin's womb; He "came forth," from the grave in His Resurrection. His "coming forth, as the morning," images the secrecy of His Birth, the light and glow of love which He diffuseth throughout the whole new creation of His redeemed. : "As the dawn is seen by all and cannot be hid, and appeareth, that it may be seen, yea, that it may illuminate, so His going forth, whereby He proceeded from His own invisible to our visible became known to all," tempered to our eyes, dissipating our darkness, awakening our nature as from a grave, unveiling to man the works of God, making His ways plain before his face, that he should no longer "walk in darkness, but have the light of life."
He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth - So of Christ it is foretold, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth" Psa 72:6. Palestine was especially dependent upon rain, on account of the cultivation of the sides of the hills in terraces, which were parched and dry, when the rains were withheld. The "former," or autumnal "rain," fell in October, at the seed-time; the "latter" or spring "rain," in March and April, and filled the ears before harvest. Both together stand as the beginning and the end. If either were withheld, the harvest failed. Wonderful likeness of Him who is the Beginning and the End of our spiritual life; from whom we receive it, by whom it is preserved unto the end; through whom the soul, enriched by Him, hath abundance of all spiritual blessings, graces, and consolations, and yieldeth all manner of fruit, each after its kind, to the praise of Him who hath given it life and fruitfulness.
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? - It is common with the prophets, first to set forth the fullness of the riches of God's mercies in Christ, and then to turn to their own generation, and upbraid them for the sins which withheld the mercies of God from "them," and were hurrying them to their destruction. In like way Isaiah, Isa. 2, having prophesied that the Gospel should go forth from Zion, turns to upbraid the avarice, idolatry, and pride, through which the judgment of God should come upon them.
The promises of God were to those who should turn with true repentance, and seek Him early and earnestly. Whatever of good there was, either in Ephraim or Judah, was but a mere empty show, which held out hope, only to disappoint it. God, who "willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" appeals to His whole people, "What shall I do unto thee?" He had shown them adundance of mercies; He had reproved them by His prophets; He had chastened them; and all in vain. As he says in Isaiah, "What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Isa. 5. Here He asks them Himself, what He could do to convert and to save them, which He had not done. He would take them on their own terms, and whatever they would prescribe to His Almightiness and Wisdom, as means for their conversion, "that" He would use, so that they would but turn to Him. "What means shall I use to save thee, who wilt not be saved?" It has been a bold saying, to describe the "love of Christ which passeth knowledge," "Christ so loveth souls, that He would rather be crucified again, than allow anyone (as far as in Him lies) to be damned."
For your goodness is as a morning cloud - "Mercy" or "loving-kindness," (which the English margin suggests as the first meaning of the word) stands for all virtue and goodness toward God or man. For love to God or man is one indivisible virtue, issuing from one principle of grace. Whence it is said, "love is the fulfilling of the law. He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law" Rom 13:10, Rom 13:8. And, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" Jo1 4:7. Of this their goodness, he says the character was, that it never lasted. The "morning cloud" is full of brilliancy with the rays of the rising sun, yet quickly disappears through the heat of that sun, which gave it its rich hues. The "morning dew" glitters in that same sun, yet vanishes almost as soon as it appears. Generated by the cold of the night, it appears with the dawn; yet appears, only to disappear. So it was with the whole Jewish people; so it ever is with the most hopeless class of sinners; ever beginning anew, ever relapsing; ever making a show of leaves, good feelings, good aspirations, but yielding no fruit. "There was nothing of sound, sincere, real, lasting goodness in them;" no reality, but all show; quickly assumed, quickly disused.
Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets - Since they despised God's gentler warnings and measures, He used severer. "He hewed" them, He says, as men hew stones out of the quarry, and with hard blows and sharp instruments overcome the hardness of the stone which they have to work. Their piety and goodness were light and unsubstantial as a summer cloud; their stony hearts were harder than the material stone. The stone takes the shape which man would give it; God hews man in vain; he will not receive the image of God, for which and in which he was framed.
God, elsewhere also, likens the force and vehemence of His word to "a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces" Jer 23:29; "a sword which pierceth even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" Heb 4:12. : He "continually hammered, beat upon, disquieted them, and so vexed them (as they thought) even unto death, not allowing them to rest in their sins, not suffering them to enjoy themselves in them, but forcing them (as it were) to part with things which they loved as their lives, and would as soon part with their souls as with them."
And thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth - The "judgments" here are the acts of justice executed upon a man; the "judgment upon him," as we say. God had done all which could be done, to lay aside the severity of His own judgments. All had failed. Then His judgments, when they came, would be manifestly just; their justice clear "as the light which goeth forth" out of the darkness of night, or out of the thick clouds. God's past loving-kindness, His pains, (so to speak,) His solicitations, the drawings of His grace, the tender mercies of His austere chastisements, will, in the Day of Judgment, stand out clear as the light, and leave the sinner confounded, without excuse. In this life, also, God's final "judgments are as a light which goeth forth," enlightening, not the sinner who perishes, but others, heretofore in the darkness of ignorance, on whom they burst with a sudden blaze of light, and who reverence them, owning that "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" Psa 19:9.
And so, since they would not be reformed, what should have been for their wealth, was for their destruction. "I slew them by the words of My mouth." God spake yet more terribly to them. He slew them in word, that He might not slay them in deed; He threatened them with death; since they repented not, it came. The stone, which will not take the form which should have been imparted to it, is destroyed by the strokes which should have moulded it. By a like image Jeremiah compared the Jews to ore which is consumed in the fire which should refine it; since there was no good in it. "They are brass and iron; they are all corrupted; the bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain, for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them" Jer 6:28-30.
For I desired mercy and not sacrifice - God had said before, that they should "seek" Him "with their flocks and herds, and not find" Him. So here He anticipates their excuses with the same answer wherewith He met those of Saul, when he would compensate for disobedience by burnt-offerings. The answer is, that all which they did to win His favor, or turn aside His wrath, was of no avail, while they willfully withheld what He required of them. Their mercy and goodness were but a brief, passing, show; in vain He had tried to awaken them by His prophets; therefore judgment was coming upon them, for, to turn it aside, they had offered Him what He desired not, sacrifices without love, and had not offered Him, what He did desire, love of man out of love for God. God had Himself, after the fall, enjoined sacrifice, to foreshow and plead to Himself the meritorious Sacrifice of Christ. "He" had not contrasted "mercy" and "sacrifice," who enjoined them both.
When then they were contrasted, it was through man's severing what God united. If we were to say, "Charity is better than Church-going," we should be understood to mean that it is better than such Church-going as is severed from charity. For, if they were united, they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted, unless they come in competition with one another, and their interests (although they cannot in trust "be,") "seem" to be separated. in itself, "Sacrifice" represented all the direct duties to God, all the duties of the first table. For Sacrifice owned Him as the One God, to whom, as His creatures, we owe and offer all; as His guilty creatures, it owned that we owed to Him our lives also. "mercy" represented all duties of the second table. In saying then, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice," he says, in effect, the same as John, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar, for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Jo1 4:20.
As the love, which a man pretended to have for God, was not real love, if a man loved not his brother, so "sacrifice" was not an offering, to God at all, while man withheld from God that offering, which God most required of him, the oblation of man's own self. They were, rather, offerings to satisfy and bribe a man's own conscience. Yet the Jews were profuse in making these sacrifices, which cost them little hoping thereby to secure to themselves impunity the wrongful gains, oppressions, and fulnesses which they would not part with. It is with this contrast, that God so often rejects the sacrifices of the Jews, "To what purpose is the multitude of your oblations unto Me? Bring no more vain oblations unto Me; new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; iniquity and the solemn meeting" Isa 1:11-13. "I spake not to your fathers, nor commanded them, in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people" Jer 7:22-23. And the Psalmist; "I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before Me. Offer unto God thanksgiving, etc. But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do, to declare My statutes, etc." Psa 1:1-6, Psa 8:1-9, Psa 14:1-7, Psa 16:1-11.
But, further, the prophet adds, "and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings." The two parts of the verse fill out one another, and the latter explains the former. "The knowledge of God" is, as before, no inactive head-knowledge, but that knowledge, of which John speaks, "Hereby we do know that we knew Him, if we keep His commandments" Eph 2:3. It is a knowledge, such as they alone can have, who love God and do His will. God says then, that He prefers the inward, loving, knowledge of Himself, and lovingkindness toward man, above the outward means of acceptableness with Himself, which He had appointed. He does not lower those His own appointments; but only when, emptied of the spirit of devotion, they were lifeless bodies, unensouled by His grace.
Yet the words of God go beyond the immediate occasion and bearing, in which they were first spoken. And so these words, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" Mat 9:13, are a sort of sacred proverb, contrasting "mercy," which overflows the bounds of strict justice, with "sacrifice," which represents that stern justice. Thus, when the Pharisees complained at our Lord for eating with Publicans and sinners, He bade them, "Go and learn what that meaneth. I will have mercy and not sacrifice." He bade them learn that deeper meaning of the words, that God valued mercy for the souls for which Christ died, above that outward propriety, that He, the All-Holy, should not feast familiarly with those who profaned God's law and themselves. Again, when they found fault with the hungry disciples for breaking the sabbath by rubbing the ears of grain, He, in the same way, tells them, that they did not know the real meaning of that saying. "If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless" Mat 12:7. For as, before, they were envious as to mercy to the souls of sinners, so how they were reckless as to others' bodily needs. Without that love then, which shows itself in acts of mercy to the souls and bodies of people, all sacrifice is useless.
"Mercy" is also more comprehensive than "sacrifice." For sacrifice was referred to God only, as its end; "mercy," or love of man for the love of God, obeys God who commands it; imitates God, "Whose property it is always to have mercy;" seeks God who rewards it; promotes the glory of God, through the thanksgiving to God, from those whom it benefits. "mercy leads man up to God, for mercy brought down God to man; mercy humbled God, exalts man." mercy takes Christ as its pattern, who, from His Holy Incarnation to His Precious Death on the Cross, "bare our griefs, and carried our sorrows" Isa 53:4. Yet neither does mercy itself avail without true knowledge of God. For as mercy or love is the soul of all our acts, so true knowledge of God and faith in God are the source and soul of love. "Vain were it to boast that we have the other members, if faith, the head, were cut off" .
But they like men - Or (better as in the E. M) "like Adam, have transgressed the covenant." As Adam our first parent, in Paradise, not out of any pressure, but wantonly, through self-will and pride, broke the covenant of God, eating the forbidden fruit, and then defended himself in his sin against God, casting the blame upon the woman: so these, in the good land which God had given them, "that they should" therein "keep His covenant and observe His laws" Psa 105:44, wantonly and petulantly broke that covenant; and then obstinately defended their sin. Wherefore, as Adam was cast out of Paradise, so shall these be cast out of the land of promise.
There have they dealt treacherously against Me - There! He does not say, "where." But Israel and every sinner in Israel knew full well, where. "There," to Israel, was not only Bethel or Dan, or Gilgal, or Mizpah, or Gilead, or any or all of the places, which God had hallowed by His mercies, and they had defiled. It was every high hill, each idol-chapel, each field-altar, which they had multiplied to their idols. To the sinners of Israel, it was every spot of the Lord's land which they had defiled by their sin. God points out to the conscience of sinners the place and time, the very spot where they offended Him. Wheresoever and whensoever they broke God's commands, "there they dealt treacherously against" God Himself. There is much emphasis upon the "against" Me. The sinner, while breaking the laws of God, contrives to forget God. God recalls him to himself, and says, "there," where and when thou didst those and those things, thou didst deal falsely with, and against, "Me." The sinner's conscience and memory fills up the word "there." It sees the whole landscape of its sins around; each black dark spot stands out before it, and it cries with David, "there," in this and this and this, "against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight" Psa 51:4.
Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity - If we regard "Gilead," (as it elsewhere is,) as the country beyond Jordan, where the two tribes and a half dwelt, this will mean that the whole land was banded in one, as one city of evil-doers. It had an unity, but of evil. As the whole world has been pictured as divided between "the city of God" and the city of the devil, consisting respectively of the children of God and the children of the devil; so the whole of Gilead may be represented as one city, whose inhabitants had one occupation in common, to work evil. Some think that there was a city so called, although not mentioned elsewhere in Holy Scripture, near that Mount Gilead, dear to the memory of Israel, because God there protected their forefather Jacob. Some think that it was Ramoth in Gilead , which God appointed as "a city of refuge," and which, consequently, became a city of Levites and priests Jos 21:38.
Here, where God had preserved the life of their forefather, and, in him, had preserved them; here, where He had commanded the innocent shedder of blood to be saved; here, where he had appointed those to dwell, whom He had hallowed to Himself, all was turned to the exact contrary. It, which God had hallowed, was become "a city of workers of iniquity," i. e., of people, whose habits and custom was to work iniquity. It, where God had appointed life to be preserved, was "polluted" or "tracked with blood." Everywhere it was marked and stained with the bloody footsteps of those, who (as David said) "put" innocent "blood in their shoes which were on their feet" Kg1 2:5, staining their shoes with blood which they shed, so that, wherever they went, they left marks and signs of it." "Tracked with blood" it was, through the sins of its inhabitants; "tracked with blood" it was again, when it first was taken captive Kg2 15:29, and "it, which had swum with the innocent blood of others, swam with the guilty blood of its own people." It is a special sin, and especially avenged of God, when what God had hallowed, is made the scene of sin.
And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent - Or (more probably) "in the way to Shechem." Shechem too was a "city of refuge" Joh 20:7, and so also a city of Levites and priests Joh 21:21. It was an important city. For there Joshua assembled all Israel for his last address to them, and made a covenant with them John 24:1, 25. There, Rehoboam came to be accepted by Israel as their king Kg1 12:1, and was rejected by them. There Jeroboam after the schism, for a time, made his residence Kg1 12:25. The priests were banded together; their counsel was one; they formed one company; but they were bound together as a band of robbers, not to save people's lives but to destroy them. Whereas the way to the cities of refuge was, by God's law, to be "prepared" Deu 19:3, clear, open, without let or hindrance to the guiltless fugitive, to save his life, the priests, the guardians of God's law, obstructed the way, to roll and destroy. They, whom God appointed to teach the truth that people might live, were banded together against His law.
Shechem, besides that it was a city of refuge, was also hallowed by the memory of histories of the patriarchs who walked with God. There, was Jacob's well Joh 4:5-6; there Joseph's bones were buried Jos 24:32; and the memory of the patriarch Jacob was cherished there, even to the time of our Lord Joh 4:5-6. Lying in a narrow valley between Mount Ebal and Gerizim, it was a witness, as it were, of the blessing and curse pronounced from them, and had, in the times of Joshua, an ancient sanctuary of God Jos 24:26. It was a halting-place for the pilgrims of the northern tribes, in their way to the feasts at Jerusalem; so that these murders by the priests coincide with the tradition of the Jews, that they who would go up to Jerusalem were murdered in the way.
For they commit lewdness - Literally, "For they have done deliberate sin" . The word literally means "a thing thought of," especially an evil, and so, deliberate, contrived, bethought-of, wickedness. They did deliberate wickedness, gave themselves to do it, and did nothing else.
I have seen a horrible thing - Literally, "what would make one shudder." God had seen it; therefore man could not deny it. In the sight of God, and amid the sense of His presence, all excuses fail.
In the house of Israel - o: "For what more horrible, more amazing than that this happened, not in any ordinary nation but "in the house of Israel," in the people of God, in the portion of the Lord, as Moses said, "the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob is the lot of His inheritance?" In another nation, idolatry was error. In Israel, which had the knowledge of the one true God and had received the law, it was horror." "There is the whoredom of Ephraim," widespread, over the whole land, wherever the house of Ephraim was, through the whole kingdom of the ten tribes, "there" was its spiritual adultery and defilement.
Also, O Judah, He hath set a harvest for thee, when I returned - (rather, when I return) the captivity of My people.
The "harvest" may be either for good or for bad. If the harvest is spoken of, as bestowed upon the people, then, as being of chief moment for preserving the life of the body, it is a symbol of all manner of good, temporal or spiritual, bestowed by God. If the people is spoken of, as themselves being the harvest which is ripe and ready to be cut down, then it is a symbol of their being ripe in sin, ready for punishment, to be cut off by God's judgments. In this sense, it is said of Babylon, "Yet a little while, and the time of her harvest shall come" Jer 51:33; and of the pagan, "put ye in the sickle, for their harvest is ripe, for their wickedness is great" Joe 3:13; and of the whole earth, "the harvest of the earth is ripe" Rev 14:15. Here God must be speaking of a "harvest," which he willed hereafter to give "to" Judah. For the time of the harvest was to be, when He should "return the captivity of His people," restoring them out of their captivity, a time of His favor and of manifold blessings.
A "harvest" then God "appointed for Judah." But when? Not at that time, not for a long, long period, not for any time during the life of man, but at the end of the captivity of 70 years. God promises relief, but after suffering. Yet He casts a ray of light, even while threatening the intermediate darkness. He foreshows to them a future harvest, even while their coming lot was captivity and privation. "Now" Judah, His people, was entangled in the sins of Ephraim, and, like them, was to be punished. Suffering and chastisement were the condition of healing and restoration. But whereas the destruction of the kingdom of Israel was final, and they were no more to be restored as a whole, God who loveth mercy, conveys the threat of impending punishment under the promise of future mercy. He had rich mercies in store for Judah, yet not until after the captivity, when He should again own them as "My people." Meantime, there was withdrawal of the favor of God, distress, and want.
The distinction between Judah and Israel lay in the promise of God to David. "The Lord hath sworn in truth to David, He will not turn from it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne" Psa 132:11. It lay in the counsels of God, but it was executed through those who knew not of those counsels. The ten tribes were carried away by the Assyrians into Media; Judah, by Nebuchadnezzar, into Babylon. The Babylonian empire, which, under Nebuchadnezzar, was the terror of Asia, was but a continuation of the Assyrian, being founded by a revolted Assyrian general. . The seat of empire was removed, the policy was unchanged. In man's sight there was no hope that Babylon would give back her captives, anymore than Assyria, or than the grave would give back her dead. To restore the Jews, was to reverse the human policy, which had removed them; it was to re-create an enemy; strong in his natural position, lying between themselves and Egypt, who could strengthen, if he willed, their great rival.
The mixed multitude of Babylonians and others, whom the king of Assyria had settled in Samaria, in their letter to a successor of Cyrus, appealed to these fears, and induced the impostor Smerdis to interrupt the restoration of Jerusalem. They say; "We have sent and certified the king, that search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers. So shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time, for which cause was this city destroyed" Ezr 4:14-15. The king did find in his records, that Judah had been of old powerful, and had refused the yoke of Babylon. "I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition hath been made therein. There have been mighty kings over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river, and toll, tribute, and custom, hath been given to them" Ezr 4:19-20.
Conquerors do not think of restoring their slaves, nor of reversing their policy, even when there is no constraining motive to persevere in it. What is done, remains. This policy of transplanting nations, when once begun, was adopted, as a regular part of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian policy . Yet no case is known, in which the people once removed were permitted to return, save the Jews. But God first foretold, that Cyrus should restore His people and build His temple; then, through people's wills He ordered the overthrow of empires. Cyrus overcame the league against him, and destroyed first the Lydian, then the Babylonian, empire. God then brought to his knowledge the prophecy concerning him, given by Isaiah 178 years before, and disposed his heart to do, what Isaiah had foretold that he should do. "Cyrus made his proclamation throughout all his kingdom."
The terms were ample. "Who is there among you of all His people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is the God) which is in Jerusalem" Ezr 1:3. The proclamation must have reached "the cities of the Medes," where the ten tribes were. But they only, "whose spirit God had raised," returned to their land. Israel remained, of his own free will, behind; and fulfilled unwittingly the prophecy that they should be "wanderers among the nations," while in Judah "the Lord brought again the captivity of His people," and gave them "the harvest" which He had "appointed" for them. A Psalmist of that day speaks of the strangeness of the deliverance to them. "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream" Psa 126:1, Psa 126:5. And primarily of that "bringing" back "the captivity of His people," he uses Hosea's image of the "harvest." "They which sow in tears shall reap in joy." To the eye of the politician, it was an overthrow of empires and convulsion of the world, the herald of further convulsions, by which the new-established empire was in its turn overthrown. In the real, the religious, history of mankind, of far greater moment were those fifty thousand souls, to whom, with Zorobabel of the line of David, Cyrus gave leave to return. In them he fulfilled prophecy, and prepared for that further fulfillment, after his own empire had been long dissolved, and when, from the line of Zorobabel, was that Birth which was promised in Bethlehem of Judah.