We have here a description of the apostasy of Israel from God, which would shortly come to pass, and to which already they had a disposition. One would have thought that a people under so many obligations to their God, in duty, gratitude, and interest, would never have turned from him; but, alas! they turned aside quickly. Here are two great instances of their wickedness, and each of them amounted to an apostasy from God:—
I. Security and sensuality, pride and insolence, and the other common abuses of plenty and prosperity, Deut. 32:15. These people were called Jeshurun—an upright people (so some), a seeing people, so others: but they soon lost the reputation both of their knowledge and of their righteousness; for, being well-fed, 1. They waxed fat, and grew thick, that is, they indulged themselves in all manner of luxury and gratifications of their appetites, as if they had nothing to do but to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts of it. They grew fat, that is, they grew big and unwieldy, unmindful of business, and unfit for it; dull and stupid, careless and senseless; and this was the effect of their plenty. Thus the prosperity of fools destroys them, Prov. 1:32. Yet this was not the worst of it. 2. They kicked; they grew proud and insolent, and lifted up the heel even against God himself. If God rebuked them, either by his prophets or by his providence, they kicked against the goad, as an untamed heifer, or a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, and in their rage persecuted the prophets, and flew in the face of providence itself. And thus he forsook God that made him (not paying due respect to his creator, nor answering the ends of his creation), and put an intolerable contempt upon the rock of his salvation, as if he were not indebted to him for any past favours, nor had any dependence upon him for the future. Those that make a god of themselves and a god of their bellies, in pride and wantonness, and cannot bear to be told of it, certainly thereby forsake God and show how lightly they esteem him.
II. Idolatry was the great instance of their apostasy, and which the former led them to, as it made them sick of their religion, self-willed, and fond of changes. Observe,
1. What sort of gods they chose and offered sacrifice to, when they forsook the God that made them, Deut. 32:16, 17. This aggravated their sin that those very services which they should have done to the true God they did, (1.) To strange gods, that could not pretend to have done them any kindness, or laid them under any obligation to them, gods that they had no knowledge of, nor could expect any benefit by, for they were strangers. Or they are called strange gods, because they were other than the one only true God, to whom they were betrothed and ought to have been faithful. (2.) To new gods, that came newly up; for even in religion, the antiquity of which is one of its honours, vain minds have strangely affected novelty, and, in contempt of the Ancient of days, have been fond of new gods. A new god! can there be a more monstrous absurdity? Would we find the right way to rest, we must ask for the good old way, Jer. 6:16. It was true their fathers had worshipped other gods (Josh. 24:2), and perhaps it had been some little excuse if the children had returned to them; but to serve new gods whom their fathers feared not, and to like them the better for being new, was to open a door to endless idolatries. (3.) They were such as were no gods at all, but mere counterfeits and pretenders; their names the invention of men’s fancies, and their images the work of men’s hands. Nay, (4.) They were devils. So far from being gods, fathers and benefactors to mankind, they really were destroyers (so the word signifies), such as aimed to do mischief. If there were any spirits or invisible powers that possessed their idol-temples and images, they were evil spirits and malignant powers, whom yet they did not need to worship for fear they should hurt them, as they say the Indians do; for those that faithfully worship God are out of the devil’s reach: nay, the devil can destroy those only that sacrifice to him. How mad are idolaters, who forsake the rock of salvation to run themselves upon the rock of perdition!
2. What a great affront this was to Jehovah their God. (1.) It was justly interpreted a forgetting of him (Deut. 32:18): Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful. Mindfulness of God would prevent sin, but, when the world is served and the flesh indulged, God is forgotten; and can any thing be more base and unworthy than to forget the God that is the author of our being, by whom we subsist, and in whom we live and move? And see what comes of it, Isa. 17:10, 11, Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, though the strange slips be pleasant plants at first, yet the harvest at last will be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow. There is nothing got by forgetting God. (2.) It was justly resented as an inexcusable offence: They provoked him to jealousy and to anger (Deut. 32:16), for their idols were abominations to him. See here God’s displeasure against idols, whether they be set up in the heart or in the sanctuary. [1.] He is jealous of them, as rivals with him for the throne in the heart. [2.] He hates them, as enemies to his crown and government. [3.] He is, and will be, very angry with those that have any respect or affection for them. Those consider not what they do that provoke God; for who knows the power of his anger?
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