“Ver. 7. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.
Here is an argument, that mercy in the former verse is to be understood in a large sense: why? because it is the very substance of the covenant; they have been hard-hearted, cruel, and unmerciful, and thereby have transgressed the covenant. I am merciful in the covenant, and my grace is free and full to sinners there; but they have transgressed the covenant by being cruel and unmerciful: “But they like men have transgressed the covenant.”
“Like men;” that is, like Adam; these men have sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. Rom. 5:14, speaks of those who “had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression:” but these, as they have old Adam in them, so they have dealt with me as he did; and as he for his sin was cast out of Paradise, so these men have deserved to be cast out of the good land. But Vatablus, and Tremelius, and others, read the words thus, They have broken my covenant as a man, they thought that I had been as their fellow creature; as they made it their practice to break covenants with men, so they thought to do with God: so they have transgressed my covenant. This sense may be admitted; and hence it would be seasonable to observe, that the cause of breach of covenant with God is, because we consider not that it is with God that we make our covenants.
But the words are more usually read, as in our books, “But they like men have transgressed the covenant;” that is, not as I, who, like a God, have kept covenant; but they, like such men as themselves, i. e. weak, inconstant, frail, unfaithful creatures, have transgressed, Job 31:33.
But may not this seem to be an excusing or diminution of their sin to say, “They like men,” implying the common frailty of human nature, “have transgressed?”
No; it is rather an aggravation of their sin. Therefore the word here translated “men,” is used for man in his corrupt estate, for weak, frail men; and so distinct from that which signifies generous and strenuous men: and so the comparison is not only between God and man, but between the several degrees of men.
Or thus, They have transgressed my covenant like men; that is, not like my people. Saints that are of my church, they have not transgressed my covenant so. Their ways have been the ways of ordinary men, and as such they have transgressed my covenant. The two last senses are principally meant here.
“My covenant.” The covenant of God we usually divide into two parts; but the Scripture, to me, seems to hold forth a threefold covenant: the one of works, that which was made with Adam in Paradise. The second, that which was made with Abraham, the covenant of grace; the tenor of which is this, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee. Then the covenant made with them on Mount Sinai. Now the covenant here cannot be meant immediately of the covenant of works, nor of the covenant of grace, for this covenant here referred to is one especially made with them, and therefore must be understood of that at Mount Sinai, made many hundred years after the others; yet mediately it has reference to that of works, and of grace.
And were this knot rightly understood and untied, the Antinomians and we might easily be reconciled; for we grant that believers are delivered from the law in re pect of the power of it, as condemning; from its rigour, but not from its duties; for the things commanded in the law were duties before the law was given, the law was written in the hearts of the saints from the beginning. But the opening of this point would require a whole exercise, and I shall reserve it to some other time.
Now, then, the covenant which they transgressed was the covenant at large, but especially that covenant which God made with them when they came into the land of Canaan.
“They transgressed;” the word is ‘bru they went over; the covenant was betwixt them and their sins, and they went over it to their sins, the bank was not high enough to keep them and their sins asunder.
“There;” they transgressed the covenant šām there, in that good land of Canaan into which God had brought them, and given them possession: so the Chaldee.
Again, “There” they transgressed the covenant, there where God had hewed them by his prophets, and thought to work them to good.
Lastly, “There,” that is, in the covenant itself, and that in those things wherein they thought they kept the covenant, and thought they honoured me most; in those things they broke the covenant.
“Have they dealt treacherously.” The Sept. renders it κατεφρὀνὴσε μοῦ, they have despised me; they have forsaken me, and chosen other lovers; even as a woman leaves her own husband to whom she was engaged, and goes to other men. It denotes the heart’s joining to some other rather than God, so as to be willing to leave the Lord, and, either out of affection to some other, or for private advantage, to forsake God and his cause, nay, to promote and further that which is against God. The notes from the words are these:
Obs. 1. It is God’s goodness that he enters into covenant with such poor creatures as we arc. It is made an aggravation of their sin here, that they falsified the covenant. The love of God in entering into covenant with such mean, worthless creatures, should constrain duty from us in the most difficult precepts, and that with willingness.
Obs. 2. God is constant in his covenant with men. This is in opposition to their unfaithfulness; they deal falsely with God in the covenant, but God is constant in his covenant, he confirms it with the strength of a giant. Dan. 9:27, “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” The word there signifies, he confirms the covenant like a gaint, or a mighty strong man: they, as weak men, break covenant with me, but I with strength confirm my covenant: therefore David saith, 2 Sam. 23:5, “Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.”
Obs. 3. Man’s nature is very weak and unsettled. “They like men have transgressed the covenant.” We must not lay too much upon men, for when most unfaithful they act but like men. Oh what folly is it in men to forsake the eternal God and run to the creature! We trust our servants in our businesses, and shall we not trust God much more? The word saith, “All men are liars;” nay, “every man at his best state is vanity.” Psal. 62:9, “Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.”
Obs. 4. The apprehension of our obligations should keep us within covenant. Oh never let be said, that our sins are so strong that they break covenant to attain their desires. It is a sign of a most vile, wretched spirit, so to desire sin, as to break over this bond of the covenant. Think of this, all you that are so easily overtaken with sin; when a temptation to any sin comes, say thus, Such a sin I would have, and my desires are after it, but did I never covenant against it? and what! shall I be so wicked as to break my covenant for it?
p 335 Obs. 5. Breach of covenant is a most grievous aggravation of sin; it provokes God highly against that people or person. “There have they dealt treacherously against me.” Deut. 29:24, 25, “Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt.” What cause have we to bless God that he hath not destroyed us for breach of covenant with him! Why should not our condition be the condition of this people here in Deuteronomy? Had God turned his hand and let our enemies prevail, this might have been our case.
Obs. 6. God expects that of his people which every one cannot do. They must not plead they are flesh and blood as other men, God would have you more than men; you must remember that you are saints and members of Christ, and therefore must live as the redeemed of the Lord. In 1 Cor. 3:3, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” the apostle rebukes the Corinthians for this; God looked that they should walk beyond other men, and that which the apostle makes the ground of his reproof, they make their excuse. Jesus Christ descended from on high, to this end, to purchase a peculiar people to himself, that might yield him honour in the world, beyond that which he has from other men. We should live as those which have the Divine nature in them; we should beware of passion and anger, even as God is slow to anger. How far are those from doing any eminent thing for God, who cannot deny themselves in their wills and passions, and have not even common humanity!
Obs. 7. Our keeping covenant with God is the effect of his grace; we have not that power of ourselves; therefore let us bless God for this mercy.
Obs. 8. Men may do many services and yet be covenant-breakers. It is possible for a man to have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and yet be a professor of Christ and the gospel; therefore we had need look to our hearts.
Obs. 9. We may be covenant-breakers even in those things in which we seem to be most religious. But may this be in the duties of God’s worship? Yea, it may be, thus; when men shall think to cover any sin they live in, by their performing of duties, this is treacherous dealing, and playing false in the covenant.
Obs. 10. The sins of saints which break covenant are sins of a double dye; other men’s sins are rebellions against God, but theirs are treacheries.
Obs. 11. The want of the right knowledge of God is the main cause of breach of covenant. Dan. 11:32, “And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” Who shall be corrupted by flatteries; those that know God? No, they shall be strong, and do great exploits; such shall be employed by him in his work.
Obs. 12. There can be no keeping covenant with God, where there is unmercifulness to men: let there be never such professions and expressions of religion in words, if there be cruelty and unmercifulness, there can be no keeping of covenant with God, Heb. 3:10.
Obs. 13. The consideration that it is with God that we break covenant, is a humbling consideration. Against me who am their God, who have protected them from dangers, delivered them in straits, against me have they thus sinned. As, if a man should carefully bring up a poor child, and this child, when he came to years, should abuse and wrong him, would not this be ingratitude and unkindness indeed? so the consideration of what a God it is that we break covenant with, wonderfully aggravates our unkindness.”
Jeremiah Burroughs, “An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea,” in An Expostion of the Prophecy of Hosea, ed. James Sherman (Edinburgh; London: James Nichol; James Nisbet & Co., 1863), 334–335.