Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,…
Desertion rather than apostasy is the word by which to describe the offence charged against Israel in this chapter. Apostasy from principle is too abstract and unemotional a way of putting the thing. The spectacle presented to us is that of one person deserting another in the basest and most ungrateful way. It is a desertion without excuse, aggravated by every circumstance which can aggravate it. And now Jehovah sends his servant to bring the reality of this desertion distinctly before the nation. And suitably enough he sends him to "cry in the ears of Jerusalem." Whatever is sounded forth in the capital by a man who has had the words of God put in his mouth may be expected to go to the ends of the land.
I. THE WHOLE NATION IS SPOKEN TO. God has the power to look at human life in the light of a unity which the individual man is scarcely able to conceive. Here he looks not only at the living generation of those who had sprung from Jacob, but all backward through the past; each generation is, as it were, a year in the life of one who still lives, and is able to look back on things that happened centuries ago as events of his own youth. Thus not only is it true that one generation goes and another comes, while God abides forever, but it is also true that while one generation goes and another comes, Israel abides forever. Israel is spoken to as a full-grown man might be spoken to, exhorted in the midst of backsliding and unworthy habits to look back on the far different promise of his youth.
II. THE NATION IS SPOKEN TO AS SUSTAINING A MOST ENDEARING RELATION TO GOD. Even as a husband loves and cherishes his wife; so God has loved and cherished Israel. He looks back into the past, and he sees a great fall. The youth of Israel, according to his present view of it, was a time of love and devotion. No doubt there were murmurings and rebellions; and indeed, when we think of some of the things that Israel did during the leadership of Moses, the words of God seem exaggerated in speaking of the kindness of Israel's youth and the love of its espousals. But then we must bear in mind that we know only in a very imperfect way what is recorded, whereas God saw all, and to him the enthusiasm of the people on certain memorable occasions was very significant. He remembered all those events in which Israel rose to the height of its better self, and indicated the possibilities that might be expected from it. Such events now stand forth like sunny heights in memory. They are reasons why God should not allow his people quietly to depart, farther and further, into the alienations of idolatry. This is what makes the present attempt at restoration so full of interest, that it is an attempt to bring back the erring spouse to her
III. The nation is viewed in the light of A PAST IN WHICH JEHOVAH HAD MADE GREAT PROMISES AND ENTERTAINED GREAT EXPECTATIONS WITH REGARD TO ISRAEL'S FUTURE. They were reckoned a holy nation. They were as firstfruits of the whole earth, to which he attached an especial value. Levi he brought in sacred nearness to himself in lieu of the firstborn of Israel. It is one of Christ's distinctions that he has become the firstfruits of them that slept; and so here there was a nation which was the first to step out from long-accustomed idolatry. The glory of Abraham's faith in the unseen was still, as it were, resting on Israel in the wilderness. Jehovah told the people where to go; he gave them bread, water, and defense against enemies, in a land of peculiar desolation and danger. Promises for the future were given in the most effective way by distinguished services rendered in the present. When at last the Israelites settled down in Canaan, it might have been said to them, "May you not Be sure that he who has freely, amply, and just at the right time, supplied your every need, will also, in all the generations to come, whatever their peculiar experiences, do the same thing?" God had taken his people into the deepest darkness, and put out every earth-enkindled light, just that he might manifest in greater glory and attractiveness that light which is the portion of all unwavering believers in himself. Thus the past of Israel glorified the Cod of Israel; and at the same time, it not only disgraced Israel itself, but had in it such elements of God's favor and assiduity as made the national desertion of him a great mystery.
IV. OBSERVE HOW COMPLETELY IT IS BROUGHT OUT THAT THE DESERTION IS A NATIONAL ACT. The priests appointed mediators in offering and atonement between Jehovah and his people; the expounders of the Law, whose business it was to keep ever manifest the difference between right and wrong; the shepherds, such, for instance, as every father at the head of his household, providing and guiding; the prophets, who should have been the messengers of Jehovah; - all these, far away from their right place, are found in the very forefront of iniquity. Jehovah is not only ignored; he is almost treated as if he were unknown. The people carelessly let their superiors think for them. When the priest in the parable went by on the other side, the inferior would have thought it presumption to have acted differently. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,