29 August, 2016

Psalm 81:11, 13—“Oh that my people had hearkened unto me …”

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries (Ps. 81:11–14)

One proponent of common grace and the well-meant offer interprets this passage thus:

“God’s original revealed intention/purpose/desire of blessing Israel was frustrated because they refused to obey Him. Thus, what God intended, He did not do. Also, the temporal, physical blessings of Canaan were types of heavenly spiritual blessings and salvation. If God intended the former, which was frustrated, He also intended the latter which was frustrated, according to His revealed will, Israel's rebellion fulfilling God’s secret, mysterious, irresistible and never-frustrated eternal decree.”


Rev. Angus Stewart

The idea that “God’s original revealed intention/purpose/desire of blessing Israel was frustrated because they refused to obey Him” sounds a lot like the dispensationalists who believe that Christ was frustrated by the Jews who rejected the offer of an earthly political kingdom.

Does God really have intentions that He does not realise? (RE: “Thus, what God intended, He did not do …  Also, the temporal, physical blessings of Canaan were types of heavenly spiritual blessings and salvation. If God intended the former, which was frustrated, He also intended the latter which was frustrated, according to His revealed will, Israel’s rebellion fulfilling God's secret, mysterious, irresistible and never-frustrated eternal decree.)

What a lot of frustrations! The ever-blessed, frustrated God!

John Owen on this passage writes: “That desires and wishing should properly be ascribed unto God is exceedingly opposite to his all-sufficiency and the perfection of his nature; they are no more in him than he hath eyes, ears, and hands.”



John Gerstner (1914-1996)

[Source: Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), p. 129]

There is no question at all that He can desire certain things, and these things which He desires He possesses and enjoys in Himself eternally. Otherwise, He would not be the ever-blessed God. The Godhead desires each Person in the Godhead and enjoys each eternally. The Godhead also desires to create, and He (though He creates in time) by creating enjoys so doing eternally. Otherwise, He would be eternally bereft of a joy He presently possesses and would have increased in joy if He later possessed it—both of which notions are impossible. He would thereby have changed (which is also impossible) and would have grown in the wisdom of a new experience (which is blasphemous to imagine). If God’s very blessedness means the oneness of His desire and His experience, is not our question (whether He could desire what He does not desire) rhetorical? Not only would He otherwise be bereft of some blessedness which would reduce Him to finitude, but He would be possessed of some frustration which would not only bereave Him of some blessedness, but would manifestly destroy all blessedness. This is clearly the case because His blessedness would be mixed with infinite regret. Our God would be the ever-miserable, ever-blessed God. His torment in the eternal damnation of sinners would be as exquisite as it is everlasting. He would actually suffer infinitely more than the wicked. Indeed, He would Himself be wicked because He would have sinfully desired what His omniscience would have told Him He could never have. But why continue to torture ourselves? God, if He could be frustrated in His desires, simply would not be God.



John Owen (1616-1683)


[Source: “God’s Expostulations,” in The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 10, pp. 400-401, emphasis added]
[The Arminians argue thus] God’s earnest expostulations, contendings, charges, and protestations, even to such as whereof many perished, Romans 9:27; Isaiah 10:22. As, to instance:—‘O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,’ etc., ‘that it might be well with them!’ Deuteronomy 5:29. ‘What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?’ etc., Isaiah 5:4, 5. ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?’ Jeremiah 2:5. ‘Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?’ verse 31. ‘O my people, what have I done unto thee? wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me,’ Micah 6:3. ‘How often would I have gathered,’ etc., ‘and ye would not!’ Matthew 23:37. ‘O that my people had hearkened unto me!’ etc., ‘I should soon have subdued their enemies,’ etc., Psalm 81:13, 14. ‘Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded,’ etc., Proverbs 1:24-31. ‘Because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God,’ etc., Romans 1:21, 28. ‘Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man,’ etc., ‘Thou, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath,’ etc., Romans 2:1, 5. The Christian, I hope, will reply against God, and say, Thou never meantest us good; there was no ransom given for us, no atonement made for us, no good done us, no mercy shown us,—nothing, in truth, whereby we might have been saved, nothing but an empty show, a bare pretense.’ But if any should reason so evilly, yet shall not such answers stand.

Ans. To this collection of expostulations I shall very briefly answer with some few observations, manifesting of how little use it is to the business in hand ... Not that I deny that there is sufficient matter of expostulation with sinners about the blood of Christ and the ransom paid thereby, that so the elect may be drawn and wrought upon to faith and repentance, and believers more and more endeared to forsake all ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live unto him who died for them, and that others may be left more inexcusable; only for the present there are no such expostulations here expressed, nor can any be found holding out the purpose and intention of God in Christ towards them that perish ... Fourthly, It is confessed, I hope by all, that there are none of those things for the want whereof God expostulateth with the sons of men, but that he could, if it so seemed good before him, effectually work them in their hearts, at least, by the exceeding greatness of his power: so that these things cannot be declarative of his purpose, which he might, if he pleased, fulfill; “for who hath resisted his will,” Romans 9:19. Fifthly, That desires and wishings should properly be ascribed unto God is exceedingly opposite to his all-sufficiency and the perfection of his nature; they are no more in him than he hath eyes, ears, and hands. These things are to be understood [in a way befitting to God]. Sixthly, It is evident that all these are nothing but pathetical declarations of our duty in the enjoyment of the means of grace, strong convictions of the stubborn and disobedient, with a full justification of the excellency of God’s ways to draw us to the performance of our duties.


[Source: “Of the Attribution of ‘Passions’ and ‘Affections’ Unto God,” in The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 12, pp. 108-110, 114-115, emphasis added]

Question. Are there not, according to the perpetual tenor of the Scriptures, affections and passions in God, as anger, fury, zeal, wrath, love, hatred, mercy, grace, jealousy, repentance, grief, joy, fear?

Concerning which he [i.e., Mr. Biddle, the Socinian] labours to make the Scriptures determine in the affirmative.

1. The main of Mr. Biddle’s design, in his questions about the nature of God, being to deprive the Deity of its distinct persons, its omnipresence, prescience, and therein all other infinite perfections, he endeavours to make him some recompense for all that loss by ascribing to him in the foregoing query a human visible shape, and in this, human, turbulent affections and passions. Commonly, where men will not ascribe to the Lord that which is his due, he gives them up to assign that unto him which he doth abhor, Jeremiah 44:15-17. Neither is it easily determinable whether be the greater abomination. By the first, the dependence of men upon the true God is taken off; by the latter, their hope is fixed on a false. This, on both sides, at present is Mr. B.’s sad employment. The Lord lay it not to his charge, but deliver him from the snare of Satan, wherein he is “taken alive at his pleasure”! 2 Timothy 2:26.

2. The things here assigned to God are ill associated, if to be understood after the same manner. Mercy and grace we acknowledge to be attributes of God; the rest mentioned are by none of Mr. B.’s companions esteemed any other than acts of his will, and those metaphorically assigned to him.

3. To the whole I ask, whether these things are in the Scriptures ascribed properly unto God, denoting such affections and passions in him as those in us are which are so termed? or whether they are assigned to him and spoken of him metaphorically only, in reference to his outward works and dispensations, correspondent and answering to the actings of men in whom such affections are, and under the power whereof they are in those actings?

If the latter be affirmed, then as such an attribution of them unto God is eminently consistent with all his infinite perfections and blessedness, so there can be no difference about this question and the answers given thereunto, all men readily acknowledging that in this sense the Scripture doth ascribe all the affections mentioned unto God ...

But this, I fear, will not serve Mr. B.’s turn. The very phrase and manner of expression used in this question, the plain intimation that is in the forehead thereof of its author’s going off from the common received interpretation of these attributions unto God, do abundantly manifest that it is their proper significancy which he contends to fasten on God, and that the affections mentioned are really and properly in him as they are in us.

This being evident to be his mind and intendment, as we think his anthropopathism in this query not to come short in folly and madness of his anthropomorphitism in that foregoing, so I shall proceed to the removal of this insinuation in the way and method formerly insisted on.

Mr. B.’s masters tell us “That these affections are vehement commotions of the will of God, whereby he is carried out earnestly to the object of his desires, or earnestly declines and abhors what falls not out gratefully or acceptably to him.” I shall first speak of them in general, and then to the particulars (some or all) mentioned by Mr. B.: —

First, In general, that God is perfect and perfectly blessed, I suppose will not be denied; it cannot be but by denying that he is God (Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 37:16; Romans 1:25; 9:5; 1 Timothy 1:11, 6:16). He that is not perfect in himself and perfectly blessed is not God. To that which is perfect in any kind nothing is wanting in that kind. To that which is absolutely perfect nothing is wanting at all. He who is blessed is perfectly satisfied and filled, and hath no farther desire for supply. He who is blessed in himself is all-sufficient for himself. If God want or desire any thing for himself, he is neither perfect nor blessed. To ascribe, then, affections to God properly (such as before mentioned), is to deprive him of his perfection and blessedness. The consideration of the nature of these and the like affections will make this evident.

1. Affections, considered in themselves, have always an incomplete, imperfect act of the will or volition joined with them. They are something that lies between the firm purpose of the soul and the execution of that purpose. The proper actings of affections lie between these two; that is, in an incomplete, tumultuary volition. That God is not obnoxious to such volitions and incomplete actings of the will, besides the general consideration of his perfections and blessedness premised, is evident from that manner of procedure which is ascribed to him. His purposes and his works comprise all his actings. As the Lord hath purposed, so hath he done. “He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” “Who hath known his mind? or who hath been his counsellor? Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things” (Isaiah 14:24; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 40:13-14).

2. They have their dependence on that wherewith he in whom they are is affected; that is, they owe their rise and continuance to something without [external or outside of] him in whom they are. A man’s fear ariseth from that or them of whom he is afraid; by them it is occasioned, on them it depends. Whatever affects any man (that is, the stirring of a suitable affection), in all that frame of mind and soul, in all the volitions and commotions of will which so arise from thence, he depends on something without [external or outside of] him. Yea, our being affected with something without [external or outside of] lies at the bottom of most of our purposes and resolves. Is it thus with God, with him who is I AM? Exodus 3:14. Is he in dependence upon any thing without [external or outside of] him? Is it not a most eminent contradiction to speak of God in dependence on any other thing? Must not that thing either be God or be reduced to some other without [external to or outside of him] and besides him, who is God, as the causes of all our affections are? “God is in one mind, and who can turn him? what his soul desireth, that he doeth,” Job 23:13.

3. Affections are necessarily accompanied with change and mutability; yea, he who is affected properly is really changed; yea, there is no more unworthy change or alteration than that which is accompanied with passion, as is the change that is wrought by the affections ascribed to God. A sedate, quiet, considerate alteration is far less inglorious and unworthy than that which is done in and with passion. Hitherto we have taken God upon his testimony, that he is the “LORD, and he changeth not,” Malachi 3:6; that “with him there is neither change nor shadow of turning;”—it seems, like the worms of the earth, he varieth every day.

4. Many of the affections here ascribed to God do eminently denote impotence; which, indeed, on this account, both by Socinians and Arminians, is directly ascribed to the Almighty. They make him affectionately and with commotion of will to desire many things in their own nature not impossible, which yet he cannot accomplish or bring about (of which I have elsewhere spoken); yea, it will appear that the most of the affections ascribed to God by Mr B., taken in a proper sense, are such as are actually ineffectual, or commotions through disappointments, upon the account of impotency or defect of power.

Corol. To ascribe affections properly to God is to make him weak, imperfect, dependent, changeable, and impotent ...

(1.) Where no cause of stirring up affections or passions can have place or be admitted, there no affections are to be admitted; for to what end should we suppose that whereof there can be no use to eternity? If it be impossible any affection in God should be stirred up or acted, is it not impossible any such should be in him? The causes stirring up all affections are the access of some good desired, whence joy, hope, desire, etc, have their spring; or the approach of some evil to be avoided, which occasions fear, sorrow, anger, repentance, and the like. Now, if no good can be added to God, whence should joy and desire be stirred up in him? if no evil can befall him, in himself or any of his concernments, whence should he have fear, sorrow, or repentance? Our goodness extends not to him; he hath no need of us or our sacrifices, Psalm 16:2, 50:8-10; Job 35:6-8. “Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?” chap. 22:2, 3.

(2.) The apostle tells us that God is “Blessed for ever,” Romans 9:5; “He is the blessed and only Potentate,” 1 Timothy 6:15; “God all-sufficient,” Genesis 17:1. That which is inconsistent with absolute blessedness and all-sufficiency is not to be ascribed to God; to do so casts him down from his excellency. But can he be blessed, is he all-sufficient, who is tossed up and down with hope, joy, fear, sorrow, repentance, anger, and the like? Doth not fear take off from absolute blessedness? Grant that God’s fear doth not long abide, yet whilst it doth so, he is less blessed than he was before and than he is after his fear ceaseth. When he hopes, is he not short in happiness of that condition which he attains in the enjoyment of what he hoped for? and is he not lower when he is disappointed and falls short of his expectation? Did ever the heathens speak with more contempt of what they worshipped? Formerly the pride of some men heightened them to fancy themselves to be like God, without passions or affections, Psalm 50:21; being not able to abide in their attempt against their own sense and experience, it is now endeavored to make God like to us, in having such passions and affections. My aim is brevity, having many heads to speak unto. Those who have written on the attributes of God,—his self-sufficiency and blessedness, simplicity, immutability, etc.,—are ready to tender farther satisfaction to them who shall desire it.



David Dickson (1583-1663)

[Commentary on Psalms, vol. 2, p. 57, emphasis added]

This lamenting of God for his people’s misery, is borrowed from the manner of men, lamenting the misery which their disobedient children have brought upon themselves; and is not to be taken so, as if there were in God any passion or perturbation, or miserable lamentation: but this speech is to be conceived, as other like speeches in Scripture, which are borrowed from the affections of men, and are framed to move some holy affection in men, suitable to that affection from which the Lord taketh the similitude; and so, O that my people had hearkened unto me, serveth to move his people (who would hear this expression), to repent and lament their not hearkening unto God; and to study in all time to come to be more obedient unto him, even as they would eschew the curse which came upon misbelieving and disobedient Israel, and as they desired to obtain the blessings whereof carnal Israelites came short, and deprived themselves.



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

In connection with this text, we may take note of the fact, first of all, that surely no one can find in it a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation. In the first place, the text is after all not general; and secondly, it contains no offer.

The text is not general: for it speaks of “My people” and of “Israel.” And now you may turn and twist as you will, but in that expression “My people” there is always the idea of election. The term always indicates that God’s people are His peculiar possession, chosen by Him as His inheritance and by Him delivered and formed, in order that they should show forth His praises and tell His wonders. The subject here therefore is not all men, but God’s people. And in that there is precisely nothing general.

And there is no mention of an offer. Not at all. Indeed there follow upon this text various promises of God, altogether conditional and dependent upon these verses. The Lord would have subdued their enemies, would have made them rule over those who hated them, would have fed them with honey out of the rock and with the finest of the wheat. But of an offer you do not read so much as a word.

Read the text in connection with the verses which follow it, and then the following is simply stated here:

That God’s people would not obey the voice of the Lord and would none of Him.
That He therefore gave them over unto their own hearts’ lust and let them walk in their own counsels.
That this would have been altogether different if God’s people had walked in His ways and had hearkened to His voice. Then God would have subdued their enemies before them and fed them with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock.

This last you can also state as follows: God promises His salvation to those who walk in His ways and obey His voice. And the latter are never any others than the elect. What you have, therefore, in these verses is nothing else than a pronouncement of curse upon those who do not walk in His ways and a particular promise for those who do walk in His ways. This is nothing more than a sure promise of God for God’s obedient people.

There are in the text two difficulties.

The first problem is expressed in the question: but how can “God’s people” be apostate so that the Lord gives them up unto their own heart’s lust? That is what the text states. And the second problem lies in that complaint of God about their apostasy. The Lord appears to bemoan the fact that His people would none of Him. But how can this be, seeing that He alone is the one who inclines the hearts and is able to draw to Himself with cords of irresistible grace and love that people whom He has given over to their own counsels?

In order to find a solution, we must, in the first place, maintain what we have already said: that “My people” always points to God’s gracious election and redemption of His own, whereby they are His peculiar possession.

In the second place, we must understand that this elect people are in the old dispensation, from the viewpoint of the psalm. Israel as a nation. God had chosen Israel. The holy line ran through Israel. Israel was His people in the unique sense of the word. He loved Israel with an eternal love. He had delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt with a mighty arm. Such is the viewpoint of the psalm. It points to that history of a wonderful deliverance of Israel out of Egypt.

In the third place, we must keep in view the fact that you will never reach a solution and will never be able to understand the words of this psalm, unless you also keep in mind that the term “My people,” also with respect to Israel, did not apply to every Israelite head for head and soul for soul. Not all were Israel who were of Israel. No, the children of the promise were counted for the seed. There was a reprobate shell in Israel as well as an elect kernel. And that reprobate shell was sometimes very great. That wicked, carnal Israel often held the upper hand and dominated. Nevertheless, Israel remains “God’s people.” The Lord calls the people as a whole, in the organic sense of the word, His people, according to the remnant of the election of grace. And this remnant was always present and also always constituted the essential element in Israel. Through this it comes about that at some points in Israel’s history, it departs from the Lord, does not obey Him, wickedly rises up against Him.

Here, therefore, you have the answer to the question how the psalm can say that “My people” would none of me. But also then the Lord still loves that people for the elect’s sake. When, however, the reprobate dominated, then the entire nation was chastised and punished. When disobedient Israel rises up in rebellion against the Lord in the wilderness, then not only are many thousands cut down in the wilderness, but then also the elect element suffers, then the whole nation wanders in the wilderness for forty years, then the enemies rule over them, then they suffer hunger and thirst and presently go into captivity. Also the elect suffer. Therefore the Lord can call out complainingly in this psalm: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries,” etc. It is the love to His own that speaks here, nothing else.



William Young (1918-2015)

[Source: “Confusions Regarding God,” in A Critical Analysis of the Free Offer of the Gospel]

Objection is raised against the confusions noted below that have repeatedly led to the compromising and denial of the sovereign grace of God.

1. The above remark suggests that the ascription of such a desire to God is often not simply a way of expressing the will of command, but is supposed to be something behind the command, a will in-between the command and the decree, a weak though ardent wish that can be frustrated and is frustrated in the case of many. Surely, no Calvinist can desire to ascribe such a desire to the Most High, although the devotees of free will have invented an antecedent will in God distinct from the consequent will of the final decree. If one cares, like John Howe, to speak of a complacential will, and means only that God is pleased whenever His precepts are obeyed, no objection need be raised as long as there is not confusion with the supposed antecedent will under the cover of the word “desire.”

2. A second source of confusion is the failure to recognize the use of anthropopathic language in Scripture passages that represent God’s actions as if they expressed passions like our own. No Christian holding the Bible to be free of contradiction can suppose that the Lord literally repents or regrets His own work of creation (Genesis 6:6-7). The same way of speaking after the manner of men applies to God’s desire as expressed in Psalm 81:14. It is a gross abuse of language when, not as homiletical hyperbole, but as a dogmatic formulation, human passions, often called emotions, are ascribed to God. Such a view is in conflict with the Confession of Faith, which declares God to be “a most pure Spirit ... without body, parts, or passions,” based on Acts 14:11, 15. The error is intensified when a questionable threefold faculty psychology is misapplied further, by representing God in the image of man, with emotions as well as intellect and will, and then arguing as if an emotional desire caused the will which is revealed in the free offer. Such prying into the secret things along with the obscuring of what has been revealed ought to be eschewed by all who reverently tremble at the Word of God.

3. That the desire is not simply meant as an anthropomorphic mode of emphasizing the revealed will becomes evident when the assertion is made that it is an instance of a deep paradox or antinomy not resolvable by logic. In the fact that God has decreed to save only some, but has commanded the gospel to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all, there is no contradiction, but simply the difference between God’s decree and His preceptive will. Why such a command is given may well be beyond our powers to fathom at least in this life, but there need not be an apparent, much less a real contradiction to those who are well instructed by the Word and Spirit of God. But to search behind the revealed will in the gospel offer for a divine inclination to save those who have been foreordained to everlasting wrath, can only appear to be ascribing a real contradiction in the will of God. The common evasion that this is only an apparent contradiction to us but not a real contradiction to God is nothing other than Kierkegaard’s own thesis as to the absolute paradox. It is not the historic position of Reformed theology.



Rev. Matthew Winzer

[Source: “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review,” in The Blue Banner, vol. 9, issues 10-12 (October/December 2000).]

The appeal to these texts really proves too much. For the optative mood, while it may be restricted to a simple desire or wish, oftentimes carries the connotation of longing after, and that in a mournful way when it is an unfulfilled longing, as the comment on Ps. 81:13 indicates. Hence, the texts beckon the reader to understand the expressions as God speaking after the manner of men. As David Dickson has qualified, the lamenting of God for His people’s misery “is not to be taken so, as if there were in God any passion or perturbation, or miserable lamentation: but this speech is to be conceived, as other like speeches in Scripture, which are borrowed from the affections of men, and are framed to move some holy affection in men, suitable to that affection from which the Lord taketh the similitude.”38 Such expressions, then, are intended to instruct the hearers as to what their passion ought to be, not to indicate that God is characterised by such passions Himself.

When understood in this way, the covenantal language of the text comes to the fore, thereby enabling the interpreter to see the true intent of such passages. That these verses ought to be understood covenantally is clear from their context and terminology. Deut. 5:29 is Moses’ rehearsal of the covenant ratified at Mt. Sinai (Horeb in the book of Deuteronomy) for the benefit of the new generation which is about to enter into the promised land. 32:29 is the song of Moses which calls upon the heavens and earth to act as witnesses in the covenantal relationship which the Israelites bear to the Lord. It abounds in metaphorical language for this very reason. Nobody takes the language literally with regard to the Lord being a Rock, verse 4, or fearing the wrath of His enemies, verse 27. Why, then, is a literal import inconsistently suggested for the optative mood in verse 29? Both Ps. 81:13 and Isa. 48:17 refer to the hearers in the covenantal designation of “Israel;” with the former of these adding the words, “my people,” and the latter the words, “thy God.” And both similarly proceed to recount the promises of the covenant which the hearers have failed to become partakers of through their disobedience; the former speaking of the subduing of Israel’s enemies (Ps. 81:14), and the latter of the multiplication and preservation of her people (Isa. 48:18).

It is the covenantal nature of these speeches which required the adoption (ad extra) of human thoughts and affections on the part of God in condescension to His people. In the covenant, God identifies Himself and His cause with the welfare and cause of His people. The enemies of His people become His enemies, the successes of His people become His successes, and the failures of His people become His failures, as the language of Deut. 32:27 signifies. The Almighty power of God becomes conditioned on the people’s obedience or disobedience. At the building of the tabernacle, and later of the temple, His omnipresence becomes confined to the place where He puts His Name. Even His knowledge is sometimes represented as being limited to this special relationship which He has established with His people, and He is portrayed as repenting and changing His mind when He discovers that His people have acted in this or that way.

Such language does not reflect upon the nature of God, but only indicates the nature of the covenant relation with which God condescends to act in accord. Given the unchangeable and unconditional perfection of the Almighty, it is obvious that these types of Scriptural references are to be understood as His condescension to the weakness of man’s capacity, as when the apostle spoke after the manner of men because of the infirmity of his hearers’ flesh, Rom. 6:19. Thus, when God represents Himself as repenting, or of being unable to do anything more to procure the people’s obedience, or expresses a desire for that which is contrary to His purpose, the language is to be understood anthropopathically, not literally.

Furthermore, the covenantal context of the speeches should enable us to see the error in the report’s conclusion that God has not sovereignly willed what He here desires. The apostle to the Gentiles informs us that to the Israelites belong “the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). His purpose was to assure his readers that the failure of certain individual Israelites does not mean that “the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (verse 6). Divine inspiration here teaches an infallible rule for interpreting both the Old Testament promises to Israel and the divine expression of desire that those promises be fulfilled. It is that these promises were made to Israel corporately, not individually. They were made to Israel as elect, as Paul’s subsequent teaching on election and reprobation demonstrates. So that the one in whom these promises are not fulfilled cannot be regarded as belonging to the true Israel, for “the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (verse 8). Thus, the divine expression of desire for His commandments to be obeyed and for His promises to come to fruition is not an unfulfilled desire at all. For God undertakes on behalf of elect Israel to put His laws into their minds and to write them in their hearts, so that the promise to be their God and to bless them as His people comes to fruition (Heb. 8:10).

So the report’s conclusion from these texts is inadmissible on two accounts. 1. Because the language employed is not to be regarded literally, but figuratively, in accord with its covenantal context, as God speaking after the manner of men; and 2. Because the expression of desire is not with reference to a matter that shall be left unfulfilled, for God’s sovereign grace ensures that His word of promise is not rendered ineffectual.


38. David Dickson, Commentary on the Psalms (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), p. 51.



John Calvin (1509-1564)

[“Commentary upon the Book of Psalms,” in Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989), 2:323, emphasis added.]

The Hebrew particle ... is not to be understood as expressing a condition, but a wish; and therefore God, I have no doubt, like a man weeping and lamenting, cries out, O the wretchedness of this people in wilfully refusing to have their best interests carefully provided for.



More to come!

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