(Calvin on Hosea, part 1)

Chapter 1 
Lecture first. 
Hosea 1:1 
The word of the LORD that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the 
days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, [and] Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in 
the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 
    This first verse shows the time in which Hosea prophesied. He 
names four kings of Judah, - Uzziah, Jotham, Ahab, Hezekiah. Uzziah, 
called also Azariah, reigned fifty-two years; but after having been 
smitten with leprosy, he did not associate with men, and abdicated 
his royal dignity. Jotham, his son, succeeded him. The years of 
Jotham were about sixteen, and about as many were those of king 
Ahab, the father of Hezekiah; and it was under king Hezekiah that 
Hosea died. If we now wish to ascertain how long he discharged his 
office of teaching, we must take notice of what sacred history says, 
- Uzziah began to reign in the twenty seventh year of Jeroboam, the 
son of Joash. By supposing that Hosea performed his duties as a 
teacher, excepting a few years during the reign of Jeroboam, that 
is, the sixteen years which passed from the beginning of Uzziah's 
reign to the death of Jeroboam, he must have prophesied thirty-six 
years under the reign of Uzziah. There is, however, no doubt but 
that he began to execute his office some years before the end of 
Jeroboam's reign. 
    Here, then, there appear to be at least forty years. Jotham 
succeeded his father, and reigned sixteen years; and though it be a 
probable conjecture, that the beginning of his reign is to be 
counted from the time he undertook the government, after his father, 
being smitten with leprosy, was ejected from the society of men, it 
is yet probable that the remaining time to the death of his father 
ought to come to our reckoning. When however, we take for granted a 
few years, it must be that Hosea had prophesied more than forty-five 
years before Ahab began to reign. Add now the sixteen years in which 
Ahab reigned and the number will amount to sixty-one. There remain 
the years in which he prophesied under the reign of Hezekiah. It 
cannot, then, be otherwise but that he had followed his office more 
than sixty years, and probably continued beyond the seventieth year. 
    It hence appears with how great and with how invincible courage 
and perseverance he was endued by the Holy Spirit. But when God 
employs our service for twenty or thirty years we think it very 
wearisome, especially when we have to contend with wicked men, and 
those who do not willingly undertake the yoke, but pertinaciously 
resist us; we then instantly desire to be set free, and wish to 
become like soldiers who have completed their time. When therefore, 
we see that this Prophet persevered for so long a time, let him be 
to us an example of patience so that we may not despond, though the 
Lord may not immediately free us from our burden. 
    Thus much of the four kings whom he names. He must indeed have 
prophesied (as I have just shown) for nearly forty years under the 
king Uzziah or Azariah, and then for some years under the king Ahab, 
(to omit now the reign of Jotham, which was concurrent with that of 
his father,) and he continued to the time of Hezekiah: but why has 
he particularly mentioned Jeroboam the son of Joash, since he could 
not have prophesied under him except for a short time? His son 
Zachariah succeeded him; there arose afterward the conspiracy of 
Shallum, who was soon destroyed; then the kingdom became involved in 
great confusion; and at length the Assyrian, by means of 
Shalmanazar, led away captive the ten tribes, which became dispersed 
among the Medes. As this was the case, why does the Prophet here 
mention only one king of Israel? This seems strange; for he 
continued his office of teaching to the end of his reign and to his 
death. But an answer may be easily given: He wished distinctly to 
express, that he began to teach while the state was entire; for, had 
he prophesied after the death of Jeroboam, he might have seemed to 
conjecture some great calamity from the then present view of things: 
thus it would not have been prophecy, or, at leas, this credit would 
have been much less. "He now, forsooth! divines what is, evident to 
the eyes of all." For Zachariah flourished but a short time; and the 
conspiracy alluded to before was a certain presage of an approaching 
destruction, and the kingdom became soon dissolved. Hence the 
Prophet testifies here in express words, that he had already 
threatened future vengeance to the people, even when the kingdom of 
Israel flourished in wealth and power, when Jeroboam was enjoying 
his triumphs, and when prosperity inebriated the whole land. 
    This, then, was the reason why the Prophet mentioned only this 
one king; for under him the kingdom of Israel became strong, and was 
fortified by many strongholds and a large army, and abounded also in 
great riches. Indeed, sacred history tells us, that God had by 
Jeroboam delivered the kingdom of Israel, though he himself was 
unworthy, and that he had recovered many cities and a very wide 
extent of country. As, then, he had increased the kingdom, as he had 
become formidable to all his neighbours, as he had collected great 
riches, and as the people lived in ease and luxury, what the Prophet 
declared seemed incredible. "Ye are not," he said, "the people of 
the Lord; ye are adulterous children, ye are born of fornication." 
Such a reproof certainly seemed not seasonable. Then he said, "The 
kingdom shall be taken from you, destruction is nigh to you." "What, 
to us? and yet our king has now obtained so many victories, and has 
struck terror into other kings." The kingdom of Judah, which was a 
rival, being then nearly broken down, there was no one who could 
have ventured to suspect such an event. 
    We now, then, perceive why the Prophet here says expressly that 
he had prophesied under Jeroboam. He indeed prophesied after his 
death, and followed his office even after the destruction of the 
kingdom of Israel, but he began to teach at a time when he was a 
sport to the ungodly, who exalted themselves against God, and boldly 
despised his threatening as long as he spared and bore with them; 
which is ever the case, as proved by the constant experience of all 
ages. We hence see more clearly with what power of the Spirit God 
had endued the Prophet, who dared to rise up against so powerful a 
king, and to reprove his wickedness, and also to summon his subjects 
to the same judgement. When, therefore, the Prophet conducted 
himself so boldly, at a time when the Israelites were not only 
sottish on account of their great success, but also wholly insane, 
it was certainly nothing short of a miracle; and this ought to avail 
much to establish his authority. We now then, see the design of the 
inscription contained in the first verse. It follows -- 
Hosea 1:2 
The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to 
Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of 
whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, [departing] 
from the LORD. 
    The Prophet shows here what charge was given him at the 
beginning, even to declare open war with the Israelites, and to be, 
as it were, very angry in the person of God, and to denounce 
destruction. He begins not with smooth things, nor does he gently 
exhort the people to repentance, nor adopt a circuitous course to 
soften the asperity of his doctrine. He shows that he had used 
nothing of this kind, but says, that he had been sent like heralds 
or messengers to proclaim war. The beginning, then, of what the Lord 
spake by Hosea was this, "This people are an adulterous race, all 
are born, as it were, of a harlot, the kingdom of Israel is the 
filthiest brothel; and I now repudiate and reject them, I no longer 
own them as my children." This was no common vehemence. We hence see 
that the word "beginning" was not set down without reason, but 
advisedly, that we may know that the Prophet, as soon as he 
undertook the office of teaching, was vehement and severe, and, as 
it were, fulminated against the kingdom of Israel. 
    Now, if it be asked, why was God so greatly displeased? why did 
he not first recall the wretched men to himself, since the usual 
method seems to have been, that the Prophet tried, by a kind and 
paternal address, to restore those to a sound mind who had departed 
from the pure worship of God, - why, then, did not God adopt this 
ordinary course? But we hence gather that the diseases of the people 
were incurable. The Prophet, no doubt, intimates here distinctly, 
that he was sent by God, when the state of things was almost past 
recovery. We indeed know that God is not wont to deal so severely 
with men, but when he has tried all other remedies; and this may 
doubtless be easily learned from the records of Scripture. The ten 
tribes, immediately after their revolt from the family of David, 
having renounced the worship of God, embraced idolatry and ungodly 
superstitions. They ought to have retained in their minds the 
recollection of this oracle, 'The Lord has chosen mount Zion, where 
he has desired to be worshipped; this,' he said 'is my rest forever; 
here will I dwell, for I have chosen it,' (Ps. 132: 13,14.) And this 
prediction, we know, had not been once or ten times repeated, but a 
hundred times, that it might be more firmly fixed in the hearts of 
men. Since, then, they ought to have had this truth fully impressed 
on their hearts, that the Lord would have himself worshipped nowhere 
except on mount Zion, it was monstrous stupidity in them to erect a 
new temple and to make the calves. That the people, then, had so 
quickly fallen away from God was an instance of the most perverse 
madness. But, as I have said, they had reached the highest point of 
impiety. When God punished so great sins by Jehu, the people ought 
then to have returned to the pure worship of God, and there was some 
reformation in the land; but they ever reverted to their own nature, 
yea, the event proved that they only dissembled for a short time; so 
blinded they were by a diabolical perverseness, that they ever 
continued in their superstitions. It is not, then, to be wondered 
at, that the Lord made this beginning by Hosea, "Ye are all born of 
fornication, your kingdom is the filthiest brothel; ye are not my 
people, ye are not beloved." Who, then, will not allow, that God, by 
fulminating in so dreadful a manner against this people, dealt 
justly with them, and for the best reason? The contumacy of the 
people was so indomitable that it could be overcome in no other way. 
We now understand why the Prophet used this expression, "The 
beginning of speaking which God made." 
    Then it follows, "in Hosea". He had said in the first verse, 
"The word of Jehovah which was to Hosea"; he now says, "beHoshea", 
in Hosea; and he adds God spake and said to Hosea, repeating the 
preposition used in the first verse. The word of the Lord is said to 
have been to Hosea, not simply because God addressed the Prophet, 
but because he sent him forth with certain commissions, for in this 
sense is the word of God said to have been to the Prophets. God 
addresses his word also indiscriminately to others whomsoever he is 
pleased to teach by his word, but he speaks to and addresses his 
Prophets in a peculiar way, for he makes them the ministers and 
heralds of his word, and puts, as it were, into their mouth what 
they afterwards bring forth to the people. So Christ says, that the 
word of God came to kings, because he constitutes and appoints them 
to govern mankind. "If he calls them gods," he says, "to whom the 
word of God came;" and that psalm, we know, was written with a 
special reference to kings. We now perceive what this sentence in 
the first verse contains. "The word of God came to Hosea"; for the 
Lord did not simply address the Prophet in a common way, but 
furnished him with instructions, that he might afterwards teach the 
people, as it were, in the person of God himself. 
    It is now added in the second verse, "The beginning of 
speaking, such as the Lord made by Hosea". They who give this 
rendering, "with Hosea," seem to explain the Prophet's meaning 
frigidly. The letter beth, I know, has this sense often in 
Scripture; but the Prophet, no doubt, in this place represents 
himself as the instrument of the Holy Spirit. God then spake "in 
Hosea", or by Hosea, for he brought forth nothing from his own 
brain, but God spake by him; this is a form of speaking with which 
we shall often meet. On this, indeed, depends the whole authority of 
God's servants that they give not themselves loose reins, but 
faithfully deliver, as it were, from hand to hand, what the Lord has 
commanded them, without adding any thing whatever of their own. God 
then spake in Hosea. It afterwards follows, "The Lord said to 
Hosea". Now this, which is said the third time, or three times 
repeated, is nothing else than the commission in different forms. He 
first said in general, "The word of the Lord which was to Hosea;" 
now he says, "The Lord spake thus," and he expresses distinctly what 
the word was which he referred to in the first verse. 
    "Go", he says, "take to thee a wife of wantonness, and the 
children of wantonness"; and the reason is added, "for by 
fornicating, or wantoning, has the land grown wanton". He doubtless 
speaks here of the vices which the Lord had long endured with 
inexpressible forbearance. "By wantoning then has the land grown 
wanton, that it should not follow Jehovah". 
    Here interpreters labour much, because it seems very strange 
that the Prophet should take a harlot for a wife. Some say that this 
was an extraordinary case. Certainly such a license could not have 
been borne in a teacher. We see what Paul requires in a bishop, and 
no doubt the same was required formerly in the Prophets, that their 
families should be chaste and free from every stain and reproach. It 
would have then exposed the Prophet to the scorn of all, if he had 
entered a brothel and taken to himself a harlot; for he speaks not 
here of an unchaste woman only, but of a woman of wantonness, which 
means a common harlot, for a woman of wantonness is she called, who 
has long habituated herself to wantonness, who has exposed herself 
to all, to gratify the wish of all, who has prostituted herself, not 
once nor twice, nor to few men, but to all. That this was done by 
the Prophet seems very improbable. But some reply as I have said, 
that this ought not to be regarded as a common rule, for it was an 
extraordinary command of God. And yet it seems not consistent with 
reason, that the Lord should thus gratuitously render his Prophet 
contemptible; for how could he expect to be received on coming 
abroad before the public, after having brought on himself such a 
disgrace? If he had married a wife such as is here described, he 
ought to have concealed himself for life rather than to undertake 
the Prophetic office. Their opinion, therefore, is not probable, who 
think that the Prophet had taken such a wife as is here described. 
    Then another reason, utterly unresolvable, militates against 
them; for the Prophet is not only bidden to take a wife of 
wantonness, but also children of wantonness, begotten by whoredom. 
It is, therefore, the same as if he himself had committed whoredom. 
For if we say that he married a wife who had previously conducted 
herself with some indecency and want of chastity, (as Jerome at 
length argues in order to excuse the Prophet,) the excuse is 
frivolous, for he speaks not only of the wife, but also of the 
children, inasmuch as God would have the whole offspring to be 
adulterous, and this could not be the case in a lawful marriage. 
Hence almost all the Hebrews agree in this opinion, that the Prophet 
did not actually marry a wife, but that he was bidden to do this in 
a vision. And we shall see in the third chapter almost the same 
thing described; and yet what is narrated there could not have been 
actually done, for the Prophet is bidden to marry a wife who had 
violated her conjugal fidelity, and after having bought her, to 
retain her at home for a time. This, we know, was not done. It then 
follows that this was a representation exhibited to the people. 
    Some object and say, that the whole passage, as given by the 
Prophet, cannot be understood as relating a vision. Why not? For the 
vision, they say, was given to him alone, and God had a regard to 
the whole people rather than to the Prophet. But it may be, and it 
is probable, that no vision was presented to the Prophet, but that 
God only ordered him to proclaim what had been given him in charge. 
When, therefore, the Prophet began to teach, he commenced somewhat 
in this way: "The Lord places me here as on a stage, to make known 
to you that I have married a wife, a wife habituated to adulteries 
and whoredoms, and that I have begotten children by her." The whole 
people knew that he had done no such thing; but the Prophet spake 
thus in order to set before their eyes a vivid representation. Such 
then, was the vision, a figurative exhibition, not that the Prophet 
knew this by a vision, but the Lord had bidden him to relate this 
parable, (so to speak,) or this similitude, that the people might 
see, as in a living portraiture, their turpitude and perfidiousness. 
It is, in short, an exhibition, in which the thing itself is not 
only set forth in words, but is also placed, as it were, before 
their eyes in a visible form. The reason is added, "for by wantoning 
has the land grown wanton". 
    We now then see how the words of the Prophet ought to be 
understood; for he assumed a character, when going forth before the 
public, and in this character he said to the people, that God had 
bidden him to take a harlot for his wife, and to beget adulterous 
children by her. His ministry was not on this account made 
contemptible, for they all knew that he had ever lived virtuously 
and temperately; they all knew that his household was exempt from 
every reproach; but here he exhibited in his assumed character, as 
it were, a living image of the baseness of the people. This is the 
meaning, and I see nothing strained in this explanation; and we, at 
the same time, see the meaning of this clause, "By wantoning has the 
land grown wanton." Hosea might have said this in one word, but he 
had to address the deaf, and we know how great and how stupid is the 
madness of those who delight themselves in their own superstitions, 
they cannot bear any reproof. The Prophet then would not have been 
attended to, unless he had exhibited, as in a mirror before their 
eyes, what he wished to be understood by them, as though he had 
said, "If none of you can so know himself as to own his public 
baseness, if ye are all so obstinate against God, at least know now 
by my assumed character, that you are all adulterous, and derive 
your origin from a filthy brothel, for God declares thus concerning 
you; and as you are not willing to receive such a declaration, it is 
now set before you in my assumed character." 
    "That it should not follows Jehovah", literally, "From after 
Jehovah", "me'acharei". We here see what is the spiritual chastity 
of God's people, and what also is the signification of the word 
wantoning. Then the spiritual chastity of God's people is to follow 
the Lord; and what else is this to follow, but to suffer ourselves 
to be ruled by his word, and willingly to obey him, to be ready and 
prepared for any work to which he may call us? When then the Lord 
goes before us with his instruction and shows the way, and we become 
teachable and obedient, and look up to him, and turn not aside, 
either to the right or to the left hand, but bring our whole life to 
the obedience of faith, - this is really to follow the Lord; and it 
is a most beautiful definition of the spiritual chastity of God's 
    And we may also, from the opposite of this, learn what it is to 
grow wanton; we do so when we depart from the word of the Lord, when 
we give ear to false doctrines, when we abandon ourselves to 
superstitions; when we, in short, wander after our own devices, and 
keep not our thoughts under the authority of the word of the Lord. 
But as to the word wantoning, more will be said in chap. 2; but I 
only wished now briefly to touch on what the Prophet means when he 
chides the Israelites for having all become wanton. Now follows - 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast once adopted us, and 
continues to confirm this thy favour by calling us unceasingly to 
thyself, and dost not only severely chastise us, but also gently and 
paternally invite us to thyself, and exhort us at the same time to 
repentance, - 0 grant that we may not be so hardened as to resist 
thy goodness, nor abuse this thine incredible forbearance, but 
submit ourselves in obedience to thee; that whenever thou mayest 
severely chastise us, we may bear thy corrections with genuine 
submission of faith, and not continue untameable and obstinate to 
the last, but return to thee the only fountain of life and 
salvation, that as thou has once begun in us a good work, so thou 
mayest perfect it to the day of our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 2...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-01.txt