O you that are named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings?…
Adopting as our translation, "O thou, called the house of Jacob, is the patience of Jehovah short? Are these his doings? Do not his words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" we learn two truths respecting God.
I. JUDGMENT IS GOD'S "STRANGE WORK."
1. The people are reminded of this by their very name. It is a great honour but a grave responsibility to have a good name and ancestry (John 8:39; Acts 3:25). What sacred associations clustered around the name, "house of Jacob"! The personal history of their ancestor Jacob gave great significance to the name, "God of Jacob" (Psalm 46:11). The history of Jacob shows that he had to do with a God who is forbearing to sinners; who enters into covenant with men, and renews that covenant even with the unworthy children of godly parents; who is the Hearer of prayer, and condescends to represent himself as being overcome by it; who bestows eternal life on those who die in faith (Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:31, 32). Similar lessons might be learned from God's treatment of "the house of Jacob" which name they gloried in. They could look back to a long catalogue of mercies (Psalm 78., 105., 106.). Yet the very fact that they bore this name made more glaring the contrast between it and their real character (vers. 5, 6; Hosea 12:2-7; John 8:33-40; Romans 2:17-29). Apply to the name we English bear as a Christian nation.
2. An appeal is made to their judgments as to the character of God. "Is the patience of Jehovah short?" Let God testify to them (Exodus 34:6, 7), and Moses respond (Numbers 14:17-20), and David take up the strain (Psalm 103:8-10), and the long lives of the ungodly, and late repentances confirm the Divine words, and their own consciences confess that Jehovah is a long suffering God.
3. They are reminded that God is not responsible for sin, and has no pleasure in punishment. "Are these his doings?" We take it as a moral axiom that God is not responsible for sin, unless the sun can be held responsible for the shadows caused by opaque objects (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). At the best, sin is the corruption of what God made good; e.g. selfishness is depraved self-love; envy is fallen emulation; and so with other sins. In regard to punishment we know that "he doth not afflict willingly." He presides over his own laws and executes his threats; but it is sin, not God, who is the great destroyer. "Evil shall slay the wicked" (Psalm 34:21).
II. MERCY IS GOD'S DELIGHT. "Do not my words do good," etc.? The special reference seems to be to God's words through his prophets, so that it was a glaring sin as well as folly to try to silence God's prophets (ver. 6), whose words were so wholesome (Jeremiah 15:16), because they revealed God's Name, and therefore the path of peace and safety (Psalm 9:10). The prophets would have grievously misrepresented God's Name if they had spoken comfort to the wicked in their wickedness Isaiah 3:10, 11). Contrast Zedekiah with Micaiah and Elijah in their conduct towards Ahab; and cf. Ezekiel 13. with Psalm 18:25, 26; Psalm 34:15, 16. To us God's words do good still more abundantly. The psalmist's words, "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy Name," are true of the revelation of God in "the word of the truth of the gospel." Yet even the gospel, though offering mercy to the vilest, can do good only to those who deal truly with it and thus walk uprightly. The perversion of the greatest blessing may be the most fatal curse. The word of life will be the word of judgment (John 12:48); ministers may become a "savour of death," and Christ a stone that shall grind to powder. "When the gospel becomes deadly to a man, it is a terrible thing; to die of a gospel plague is a terrible way of dying" (John Howe). The revelation of God's delight in mercy by Christ's sacrifice for sinners makes it possible for the vilest to walk uprightly. But salvation is from sin itself. Character is essential to heaven, or even God could not make it heaven to us. - E.S.P.
Parallel VersesKJV: O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?