For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer
A heifer or young cow Israel is compared unto; the rather, because of the object of their idolatrous worship, the calves at Dan and Bethel: the Septuagint calls them "heifers": which they are hereby put in mind of, and upbraided with; as also to express their brutish stupidity in worshipping such idols, in which they obstinately persisted: and so were like a "refractory" and "untamed" heifer, as some F23 render it, which will not be kept within bounds, either within doors or without, but breaks through, and passes over, all fences and enclosures; as they did, who transgressed the laws of God, and would not be restrained by them: or like a heifer unaccustomed to the yoke, which will not submit to it, but wriggles its neck from under it: so the Israelites would not be subject to the yoke of the law of God, were sons of Belial, children without a yoke; or like one, though yoked, yet would not draw the plough, but slid back in the furrows, even though goaded; so they, though stimulated by the prophets, whose words were as goads and pricks to push them on, yet would not hearken to them, but pulled away the shoulder, and slid back from the ways and worship of God; hence called backsliding Israel, ( Jeremiah 3:6 ) , and this is either a reason why Judah should not follow their example, because backsliders, or why they should be punished, as follows: now,
or "therefore" F24, the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place:
not that they were like lambs for the good properties of them, innocence, harmlessness, meekness, and patience; nor fed as the Lord feeds his lambs, and gathers them in his arms; but either as a heifer in sheep pasture, in short commons, for that creature cannot live where sheep and lambs can; or rather as a lamb that is alone, separate from the flock, not under the care of any shepherd; but exposed to every beast of prey upon a large common, on a wild desert and uncultivated place; afraid of every thing it hears and sees; bleating after its dam, of whose sustenance and nourishment it is destitute; and so is expressive of the state and condition of Israel in captivity, in the large Assyrian empire; and dispersed among the nations, where they were weak and helpless, destitute of all good things, and exposed to all dangers, and to every enemy. Aben Ezra and Kimchi understand the words in a good sense, that the Lord would have fed them as lambs in a large place, in an affluent manner, but that they rebelled and backslided: and to this sense the Targum seems to incline, which paraphrases the whole verse thus,
``for as an ox which is fattened and kicks, so Israel rebels because of the multitude of good things; now the Lord will lead them as a choice lamb in a valley,''or plain: and so Noldius, "though Israel is refractory" notwithstanding the Lord will feed them
; and indeed the phrase is used in a good sense in ( Isaiah 30:23 ) , but there herds and flocks are spoken of, and not a single lamb, as here; though Kimchi thinks the singular is put for the plural, lamb for lambs.
F23 (hrro) "refractaria", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Tarnovius, Schmidt; "indomita", Calvin, Drusius.
F24 (htew) "quare, ideo, nunc itaque", Schmidt; "igitur nunc", Coeceius.