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Provocation of Israel in the Wilderness; The Divine Compassion.

34 They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the Lord commanded them:   35 But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works.   36 And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.   37 Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils,   38 And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.   39 Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.   40 Therefore was the wrath of the Lord kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.   41 And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.   42 Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand.   43 Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity.   44 Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry:   45 And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.   46 He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives.   47 Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise.   48 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord.

Here, I. The narrative concludes with an account of Israel's conduct in Canaan, which was of a piece with that in the wilderness, and God's dealings with them, wherein, as all along, both justice and mercy appeared.

1. They were very provoking to God. The miracles and mercies which settled them in Canaan made no more deep and durable impressions upon them than those which fetched them out of Egypt; for by the time they were just settled in Canaan they corrupted themselves, and forsook God. Observe,

(1.) The steps of their apostasy. [1.] They spared the nations which God had doomed to destruction (v. 34); when they had got the good land God had promised them they had no zeal against the wicked inhabitants whom the Lord commanded them to extirpate, pretending pity; but so merciful is God that no man needs to be in any case more compassionate than he. [2.] When they spared them they promised themselves that, notwithstanding this, they would not join in any dangerous affinity with them. But the way of sin is down-hill; omissions make way for commissions; when they neglect to destroy the heathen the next news we hear is, They were mingled among the heathen, made leagues with them and contracted an intimacy with them, so that they learned their works, v. 35. That which is rotten will sooner corrupt that which is sound than be cured or made sound by it. [3.] When they mingled with them, and learned some of their works that seemed innocent diversions and entertainments, yet they thought they would never join with them in their worship; but by degrees they learned that too (v. 36): They served their idols in the same manner, and with the same rites, that they served them; and they became a snare to them. That sin drew on many more, and brought the judgments of God upon them, which they themselves could not but be sensible of and yet knew not how to recover themselves. [4.] When they joined with them in some of their idolatrous services, which they thought had least harm in them, they little thought that ever they should be guilty of that barbarous and inhuman piece of idolatry the sacrificing of their living children to their dead gods; but they came to that at last (v. 37, 38), in which Satan triumphed over his worshippers, and regaled himself in blood and slaughter: They sacrificed their sons and daughters, pieces of themselves, to devils, and added murder, the most unnatural murder, to their idolatry; one cannot think of it without horror. They shed innocent blood, the most innocent, for it was infant-blood, nay, it was the blood of their sons and their daughters. See the power of the spirit that works in the children of disobedience, and see his malice. The beginning of idolatry and superstition, like that of strife, is as the letting forth of water, and there is no villany which those that venture upon it can be sure they shall stop short of, for God justly gives them up to a reprobate mind, Rom. i. 28.

(2.) Their sin was, in part, their own punishment; for by it, [1.] They wronged their country: The land was polluted with blood, v. 38. That pleasant land, that holy land, was rendered uncomfortable to themselves, and unfit to receive those kind tokens of God's favour and presence in it which were designed to be its honour. [2.] They wronged their consciences (v. 39): They went a whoring with their own inventions, and so debauched their own minds, and were defiled with their own works, and rendered odious in the eyes of the holy God, and perhaps of their own consciences.

2. God brought his judgments upon them; and what else could be expected? For his name is Jealous, and he is a jealous God. (1.) He fell out with them for it, v. 40. He was angry with them: The wrath of God, that consuming fire, was kindled against his people; for from them he took it as more insulting and ungrateful than from the heathen that never knew him. Nay, he was sick of them: He abhorred his own inheritance, which once he had taken pleasure in; yet the change was not in him, but in them. This is the worst thing in sin, that it makes us loathsome to God; and the nearer any are to God in profession the more loathsome are they if they rebel against him, like a dunghill at our door. (2.) Their enemies then fell upon them, and, their defence having departed, made an easy prey of them (v. 41, 42): He gave them into the hands of the heathen. Observe here how the punishment answered to the sin: They mingled with the heathen and learned their works; from them they willingly took the infection of sin, and therefore God justly made use of them as the instruments of their correction. Sinners often see themselves ruined by those by whom they have suffered themselves to be debauched. Satan, who is a tempter, will be a tormentor. The heathen hated them. Apostates lose all the love on God's side, and get none on Satan's; and when those that hated them ruled over them, and they were brought into subjection under them, no marvel that they oppressed them and ruled them with rigour; and thus God made them know the difference between his service and the service of the kings of the countries, 2 Chron. xii. 8. (3.) When God granted them some relief, yet they went on in their sins, and their troubles also were continued, v. 43. This refers to the days of the Judges, when God often raised up deliverers and wrought deliverances for them, and yet they relapsed to idolatry and provoked God with their counsel, their idolatrous inventions, to deliver them up to some other oppressor, so that at last they were brought very low for their iniquity. Those that by sin disparage themselves, and will not by repentance humble themselves, are justly debased, and humbled, and brought low, by the judgments of God. (4.) At length they cried unto God, and God returned in favour to them, v. 44-46. They were chastened for their sins, but not destroyed, cast down, but not cast off. God appeared for them, [1.] As a God of mercy, who looked upon their grievances, regarded their affliction, beheld when distress was upon them (so some), who looked over their complaints, for he heard their cry with tender compassion (Exod. iii. 7) and overlooked their provocations; for though he had said, and had reason to say it, that he would destroy them, yet he repented, according to the multitude of his mercies, and reversed the sentence. Though he is not a man that he should repent, so as to change his mind, yet he is a gracious God, who pities us, and changes his way. [2.] As a God of truth, who remembered for them his covenant, and made good every word that he had spoken; and therefore, bad as they were, he would not break with them, because he would not break his own promise. [3.] As a God of power, who has all hearts in his hand, and turns them which way soever he pleases. He made them to be pitied even of those that carried them captives, and hated them, and ruled them with rigour. He not only restrained the remainder of their enemies' wrath, that it should not utterly consume them, but he infused compassion even into their stony hearts, and made them relent, which was more than any art of man could have done with the utmost force of rhetoric. Note, God can change lions into lambs, and, when a man's ways please the Lord, will make even his enemies to pity him and be at peace with him. When God pities men shall. Tranquillus Deus tranquillat omnia—A God at peace with us makes every thing at peace.

II. The psalm concludes with prayer and praise. 1. Prayer for the completing of his people's deliverance. Even when the Lord brought back the captivity of his people still there was occasion to pray, Lord, turn again our captivity (Ps. cxxvi. 1, 4); so here (v. 47), Save us, O Lord our God! and gather us from among the heathen. We may suppose that many who were forced into foreign countries, in the times of the Judges (as Naomi was, Ruth i. 1), had not returned in the beginning of David's reign, Saul's time being discouraging, and therefore it was seasonable to pray, Lord, gather the dispersed Israelites from among the heathen, to give thanks to thy holy name, not only that they may have cause to give thanks and hearts to give thanks, that they may have opportunity to do it in the courts of the Lord's house, from which they were now banished, and so may triumph in thy praise, over those that had in scorn challenged them to sing the Lord's song in a strange land. 2. Praise for the beginning and progress of it (v. 48): Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. He is a blessed God from eternity, and will be so to eternity, and so let him be praised by all his worshippers. Let the priests say this, and then let all the people say, Amen, Hallelujah, in token of their cheerful concurrence in all these prayers, praises, and confessions. According to this rubric, or directory, we find that when this psalm (or at least the closing verses of it) was sung all the people said Amen, and praised the Lord by saying, Hallelujah. By these two comprehensive words it is very proper, in religious assemblies, to testify their joining with their ministers in the prayers and praises which, as their mouth, they offer up to God, according to his will, saying Amen to the prayers and Hallelujah to the praises.