|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:12-19 The people consulted images, and not the Divine word. This would lead to disorder and sin. Thus men prepare scourges for themselves, and vice is spread through a people. Let not Judah come near the idolatrous worship of Israel. For Israel was devoted to idols, and must now be let alone. When sinners cast off the easy yoke of Christ, they go on in sin till the Lord saith, Let them alone. Then they receive no more warnings, feel no more convictions: Satan takes full possession of them, and they ripen for destruction. It is a sad and sore judgment for any man to be let alone in sin. Those who are not disturbed in their sin, will be destroyed for their sin. May we be kept from this awful state; for the wrath of God, like a strong tempest, will soon hurry impenitent sinners into ruin.
Verse 16. - For Israel slideth back as a back, sliding heifer: now the Lord will feed them s, a lamb in a large place. This verse conveys the reason of the warning contained in the preceding; and that reason is the punishment which is to overtake Israel as the consequence of their refractoriness. If this view of the connection be correct, it will help to the right understanding of a difficult passage. The "backsliding," according to the Authorized Version, is rather "stubbornness," "intractableness," or "unmanageableness." Keil renders it "refractory." This refractoriness was Israel's sin; the people would have their own way, and became refractory, like an unmanageable heifer, which rebels upon being trained. Aben Ezra explains סֹרֵרָה (which, by the way, has tsere before the tone syllable) as follows: "סי is he who turns aside from the way that is appointed him, so that he does not walk in it. And, behold, he compares Israel to a stubborn cow, with which a man cannot plough." So also Kfinchi: "Like a heifer which goes on a crooked way, and curves itself from under the yoke, that a man cannot plough with it; so Israel are crooked under their God, as they have taken upon them the yoke of the Law and of the command-meats which he commanded them, and curve themselves under the yoke, and break from off them the yoke of the commandments." Israel rebelled against instruction, waxed stubborn and intractable. They would have their own way, and worshipped according to their own will, in indulging all the while with a high hand in vilest lusts. Now the season of punishment is arrived; and as they refused instruction and rebelled against Divine guidance, God, in just judgment and deserved punishment, leaves them to themselves. Carried into captivity, they may worship what they will, and live as they list. In these circumstances they will resemble a lamb taken away into a wilderness, and left there to range the wild and live at large, but without provision and without protection. Untended by the shepherd's watchful care, unguarded from ravening wolves or other beasts of prey, that lamb is in a lost and perishing condition. So shall it be with Israel. Aben Ezra gives as an alternative sense: "Now (Jehovah will feed them like a lamb) alone in a wide place, and it wanders to and fro." Kimchi cites as the opinion of others: "Some say, Now will Jehovah let them feed alone in a wide place, like a lamb which bleats and goes to and fro, and neither rests nor feeds." Another meaning has been attached to the verse, to the effect that Israel, subdued by chastise-meat, will renounce their stubbornness, and, rendered tractable and tame, become like a lamb, which, brought to feel its helplessness amid a wilderness, requires and receives the shepherd's care. We much prefer the former.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer,.... A heifer or young cow Israel is compared unto; the rather, because of the object of their idolatrous worship, the calves at Dan and Bethel: the Septuagint calls them "heifers": which they are hereby put in mind of, and upbraided with; as also to express their brutish stupidity in worshipping such idols, in which they obstinately persisted: and so were like a "refractory" and "untamed" heifer, as some (w) render it, which will not be kept within bounds, either within doors or without, but breaks through, and passes over, all fences and enclosures; as they did, who transgressed the laws of God, and would not be restrained by them: or like a heifer unaccustomed to the yoke, which will not submit to it, but wriggles its neck from under it: so the Israelites would not be subject to the yoke of the law of God, were sons of Belial, children without a yoke; or like one, though yoked, yet would not draw the plough, but slid back in the furrows, even though goaded; so they, though stimulated by the prophets, whose words were as goads and pricks to push them on, yet would not hearken to them, but pulled away the shoulder, and slid back from the ways and worship of God; hence called backsliding Israel, Jeremiah 3:6, and this is either a reason why Judah should not follow their example, because backsliders, or why they should be punished, as follows:
now, or "therefore" (x),
the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place: not that they were like lambs for the good properties of them, innocence, harmlessness, meekness, and patience; nor fed as the Lord feeds his lambs, and gathers them in his arms; but either as a heifer in sheep pasture, in short commons, for that creature cannot live where sheep and lambs can; or rather as a lamb that is alone, separate from the flock, not under the care of any shepherd; but exposed to every beast of prey upon a large common, on a wild desert and uncultivated place; afraid of every thing it hears and sees; bleating after its dam, of whose sustenance and nourishment it is destitute; and so is expressive of the state and condition of Israel in captivity, in the large Assyrian empire; and dispersed among the nations, where they were weak and helpless, destitute of all good things, and exposed to all dangers, and to every enemy. Aben Ezra and Kimchi understand the words in a good sense, that the Lord would have fed them as lambs in a large place, in an affluent manner, but that they rebelled and backslided: and to this sense the Targum seems to incline, which paraphrases the whole verse thus,
"for as an ox which is fattened and kicks, so Israel rebels because of the multitude of good things; now the Lord will lead them as a choice lamb in a valley,''
or plain: and so Noldius, "though Israel is refractory", &c.
notwithstanding the Lord will feed them, &c.; and indeed the phrase is used in a good sense in Isaiah 30:23, but there herds and flocks are spoken of, and not a single lamb, as here; though Kimchi thinks the singular is put for the plural, lamb for lambs.
(w) "refractaria", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Tarnovius, Schmidt; "indomita", Calvin, Drusius. (x) "quare, ideo, nunc itaque", Schmidt; "igitur nunc", Coeceius.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
16. backsliding—Translate, "Israel is refractory, as a refractory heifer," namely, one that throws the yoke off her neck. Israel had represented God under the form of "calves" (1Ki 12:28); but it is she herself who is one.
lamb in a large place—not in a good sense, as in Isa 30:23. Here there is irony: lambs like a large pasture; but it is not so safe for them as a small one, duly fenced from wild beasts. God will "feed" them, but it shall be with the "rod" (Mic 7:14). It shall be no longer in the narrow territory of Israel, but "in a large place," namely, they shall be scattered in exile over the wide realm of Assyria, a prey to their foes; as lambs, which are timid, gregarious, and not solitary, are a prey when scattered asunder to wild beasts.
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