Here the chapter concludes with gracious promises of the return of God’s favour to them upon their repentance, that they might not (unless it were their own fault) pine away in their iniquity. Behold, with wonder, the riches of God’s mercy to a people that had obstinately stood it out against the judgments of God, and would never think of surrendering till they were reduced to the last extremity. Yet turn to strong-hold, you prisoners of hope, Zech. 9:12. As bad as things are, they may be mended. Yet there is hope in Israel. Observe,
I. How the repentance which would qualify them for this mercy is described, Lev. 26:40, 41. The instances of it are three:—1. Confession, by which they must give glory to God, and take shame to themselves. There must be a confession of sin, their own and their fathers’, which they must lament the guilt of because they feel the smart of it; that thus they may cut off the entail of wrath. They must in their confession put sin under its worst character, as walking contrary to God; this is the sinfulness of sin, the worst thing in it, and which in our repentance we should especially bewail. There must also be a confession of wrath; they must overlook the instruments of their trouble and the second causes, and confess that God has walked contrary to them, and so dealt with them according to their sins. Such a confession as this we find made by Daniel just before the dawning of the day of their deliverance (Dan. 9:1-27), and the like, Ezra 9:1-15; Neh. 9:2. Remorse and godly sorrow for sin: If their uncircumcised heart be humbled. An impenitent, unbelieving, unhumbled heart, is called an uncircumcised heart, the heart of a Gentile that is a stranger to God, rather than the heart of an Israelite in covenant with him. True circumcision is of the heart (Rom. 2:29), without which the circumcision of the flesh avails nothing, Jer. 9:26. Now in repentance this uncircumcised heart was humbled, that is, it was truly broken and contrite for sin. Note, A humble heart under humbling providences prepares for deliverance and true comfort. 3. Submission to the justice of God in all his dealings; if they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity (Lev. 26:41 and again Lev. 26:43), that is, if they justify God and condemn themselves, patiently bear the punishment as that which they have well deserved, and carefully answer the ends o it as that which God has well designed, accept it as a kindness, take it as physic, and improve it, then they are penitents indeed.
II. How the mercy which they should obtain upon their repentance is described. 1. They should not be abandoned: Though they have despised my judgments, yet, for all that, I will not cast them away, Lev. 26:43, 44. He speaks as a tender Father that cannot find in his heart to disinherit a son that has been very provoking. How shall I do it? Hos. 11:8, 9. Till he had laid the foundations of a church for himself in the Gentile world, the Jewish church was not quite forsaken, nor cast away. 2. They should be remembered: I will remember the land with favour, which is grounded upon the promise before, I will remember my covenant (Lev. 26:42), which is repeated, Lev. 26:45. God is said to remember the covenant when he performs the promises of it, purely for his faithfulness’ sake; not because there is any thing in us to recommend us to his favour, but because he will be as good as his word. This is the church’s plea. Ps. 74:20; Have respect unto the covenant. He will remember the constitution of the covenant, which is such as leaves room for repentance, and promises pardon upon repentance; and the Mediator of the covenant, who was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and was sent, when the fulness of time came, in remembrance of that holy covenant. The word covenant is thrice repeated, to intimate that God is ever mindful of it and would have us to be so. The persons also with whom the covenant was made are mentioned in an unusual manner, per modum ascensus—in the ascending line, beginning with Jacob, to lead them gradually to the most ancient promise, which was made to the father of the faithful: thus (Mic. 7:20) he is said to perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham. He will for their sakes (Lev. 26:45), not their merit’s sake, but their benefit’s sake, remember the covenant of their ancestors, and upon that score show kindness to them, though most unworthy; they are therefore said to be, as touching the election, beloved for the fathers’ sake, Rom. 11:28. Note, When those that have walked contrary to God in a way of sin return to him by sincere repentance, though he has walked contrary to them in a way of judgment he will return to them in a way of special mercy, pursuant to the covenant of redemption and grace. None are so ready to repent as God is to forgive upon repentance, through Christ, who is given for a covenant.
Lastly, These are said to be the laws which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel, Lev. 26:46. His communion with his church is kept up by his law. He manifests not only his dominion over them, but his favour to them, by giving them his law; and they manifest not only their holy fear, but their holy love, by the observance of it; and thus it is made between them, rather as a covenant than a law; for he draws with the cords of a man.