(Calvin on Hosea, part 4)

Chapter 2. 
Lecture Fourth. 
Hosea 2:1 
Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah. 
    The Prophet having spoken of the people's restoration, and 
promised that God would some time receive into favour those whom he 
had before rejected, now exhorts the faithful mutually to stir up 
one another to receive this favour. He had previously mentioned a 
public proclamation; for it is not in the power of men to make 
themselves the children of God, but God himself freely adopts them. 
But now the mutual exhortation of which the Prophet speaks follows 
the proclamation; for God at the same time invites us to himself. 
After we are taught in common, it remains then that each one should 
extend his hand to his brethren, that we may thus with one consent 
be brought together to the Lord. 
    This then is what the Prophet means by saying, "Say ye to your 
brethren, ami, and to your sisters ruchamah"; that is, since I have 
promised to be propitious to you, you can now safely testify this to 
one another. We then see that this discourse is addressed to each of 
the faithful, that they may mutually confirm themselves in the 
faith, after the Lord shall offer them favour and reconciliation. 
Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 2:2 
Plead with your mother, plead: for she [is] not my wife, neither 
[am] I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of 
her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; 
    The Prophet seems in this verse to contradict himself; for he 
promised reconciliation, and now he speaks of a new repudiation. 
These things do not seem to agree well together that God should 
embrace, or be willing to embrace, again in his love those whom he 
had before rejected, - and that he should at the same time send a 
bill of divorce, and renounce the bond of marriage. But if we weigh 
the design of the Prophet, we shall see that the passage is very 
consistent, and that there is in the words no contrariety. He has 
indeed promised that at a future time God would be propitious to the 
Israelites: but as they had not yet repented, it was needful to deal 
again more severely with them, that they might return to their God 
really and thoroughly subdued. So we see that in Scripture, promises 
and threatening are mingled together, and rightly too. For were the 
Lord to spend a whole month in reproving sinners they may in that 
time fall away a hundred times. Hence God, after showing to men 
their sins adds some consolation and moderates severity, lest they 
should despond: he afterwards returns again to threatening, and does 
so from necessity; for though men may be terrified with the fear of 
punishment, they do not yet really repent. It is then necessary for 
them to be reproved not only once and again, but very often. 
    We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view: he had 
spoken of the people's defection; afterwards he proved that the 
people had been justly rejected by the Lord; and then he promised 
the hope of pardon. But now seeing that they still continued 
obstinate in their vices, he reproves again those who had need of 
such chastisement. He, in a word, has in view their present state. 
    Almost all so expound this verse as if the Prophet addressed 
the faithful: and with greater refinement still do they expound, who 
say, that the Prophet addresses the faithful who had fallen away 
from the synagogue. They have and I have no doubt, been much 
deceived; for the Prophets on the contrary, shows here that God was 
justly punishing the Israelites, who were wont to excuse themselves 
in the same way as hypocrites are wont to do. When the Lord treated 
them otherwise than according to their wishes, they expostulated, 
and raised up contention - "What does this mean?" So do we find them 
introduced as thus speaking, by Isaiah in chapter 58. There, indeed, 
they fiercely contend with God, as if the Lord dealt with them 
unjustly, for they seemed not conscious of having done any evil. 
Hence the Prophet, seeing the Israelites so senseless in their sins, 
says, "Contend, contend with your mother". He speaks here in the 
person of God: and God, as it has been stated, uses the similitude 
of a marriage. Let us now see what is the import of the words. 
    When a husband repudiates his wife, he fixes a mark of disgrace 
on the children born by that marriage: their mother has been 
divorced; then the children, on account of that divorce, are held in 
less esteem. When a husband repudiates his wife through waywardness, 
the children justly regard him with hatred. Why? "Because he loved 
not our mother as he ought to have done; he has not honoured the 
bond of marriage." It is therefore usually the case, that the 
children's affections are alienated from their father, when he 
treats their mother with too little humanity or with entire 
contempt. So the Israelites, when they saw themselves rejected, 
wished to throw the blame on God. For by the name, "mother", are the 
people here called; it is transferred to the whole body of the 
people, or the race of Abraham. God had espoused that people to 
himself, and wished them to be like a wife to him. Since then God 
was a husband to the people, the Israelites were as sons born by 
that marriage. But when they were repudiated, the Israelites said, 
that God dealt cruelly with them, for he has cast them away for no 
fault. The Prophet now undertakes the defence of God's cause, and 
speaks also in his person, "Contend, contend," he says "with your 
mother". In a word, this passage agrees with what is said in the 
beginning of the 50th chapter of Isaiah, 'Where is the bill of 
repudiation? Have I sold you to my creditors? But ye have been sold 
for your sins, and your mother has been repudiated for her 
iniquity.' Husbands were wont to give a bill of divorce to their 
wives, that they themselves might see it: for it freed them from 
every reproach, inasmuch as the husband bore a testimony to his 
wife: "I dismiss her, not that she has been unfaithful, not that she 
has violated the bond of marriage; but because her beauty does not 
please me, or because her manners are not agreeable to me." The law 
compelled the husband to give such a testimony as this. God now says 
by his Prophet, "Show me now the bill of repudiation: have I of my 
own accord cast away your mother? No, I have not done so. Ye cannot 
accuse me of cruelty, as though her beauty did not please me, and as 
though I had followed the common practice approved by you. I have 
not willingly rejected her, nor at my own pleasure, and I have not 
sold her to my creditors, as your fathers were sometimes wont to do, 
as to their children, when they were in debt." In short, the Lord 
shows there that the Jews were to be blamed, that they were rejected 
together with their mother. So he says also in this place, Contend, 
contend with your mother; which means, "Your dispute is not with 
me:" and by the repetition he shows how inveterate was their 
perverseness, for they never ceased to glamour against God. We now 
see the real meaning of the Prophet. 
    In vain then do they philosophise, who say that the mother was 
to be condemned by her own children; because, when they shall be 
converted to their former faith, they ought then to condemn the 
synagogue. The Prophet meant no such thing; but, on the contrary, he 
brings this charge against the Israelites, that they had been 
repudiated for the flagitious conduct of their mother, and had 
ceased to be counted the children of God. For the comparison between 
husband and wife is here to be understood; and then the children are 
placed as it were in the middle. When the mother is dismissed, the 
children indignantly say that the father has been too inhuman if 
indeed he wilfully divorces his wife: but when a wife becomes 
unfaithful to her husband, or prostitutes herself to any shameful 
crime, the husband is then free from every blame; and there is no 
cause for the children to expostulate with him; for he ought thus to 
punish a shameless wife. God then shows that the Israelites were 
justly rejected, and that the blame of their rejection belonged to 
the whole race of Abraham; but that no blame could be imputed to 
    And for a reason it is added, "Let her then take away her 
fornication from her face, and her adulteries from the midst of her 
breasts". The Prophet, by saying, "Let her then take away her 
fornications", (for the copulative "waw" ought to be regarded as an 
illative,) confirms what we have just now said; that is that God had 
stood to his pledged faith, but that the people had become 
perfidious; and that the cause of the divorce or separation was, 
that the Israelites persevered not, as they ought to have done, in 
the obedience of faith. Then God says, "Let her take away her 
fornications". But the phrase, "Let her take away from her face and 
from her breasts", seems singular; and what does it mean? because 
women commit fornication neither by the face nor by the breasts. It 
is evident the Prophet alludes to meretricious finery; for harlots, 
that they may entice men, sumptuously adorn themselves, and 
carefully paint their face and decorate their breasts. Wantonness 
then appears in the face as well as in the breasts. But interpreters 
do not touch on what the Prophet had in view. The Prophet, no doubt, 
sets forth here the shamelessness of the people; for they had now so 
hardened themselves in their contempt of God, in their ungodly 
superstitions, in all kinds of wickedness, that they were like 
harlots, who conceal not their baseness, but openly prostitute 
themselves, yea, and exhibit tokens of their shamelessness in their 
eyes as well as in every part of their bodies. We see then that the 
people are here accused of disgraceful impudence as they had grown 
so callous as to wish to be known to be such as they were. In the 
same way does Ezekiel set forth their reproachful conduct, 'Spread 
has the harlot her feet, she called on all who passed by the way,' 
(Ezek. 16: 25.) 
    We now then understand why the Prophet expressly said, "Let her 
take away from her face her fornication, and from her breasts her 
adulteries": for he teaches that the vices of the people were not 
hidden, and that they did not now sin and cover their baseness as 
hypocrites do, but that they were so unrestrained in their contempt 
of God, that they were become like common harlots. 
    Here is a remarkable passage; for we first see that men in vain 
complain when the Lord seems to deal with them in severity; for they 
will ever find the fault to be in themselves and in their parents: 
yea, when they look on all impartially, they will confess that all 
throughout the whole community are included in one and the same 
guilt. Let us hence learn, whenever the lord may chastise us, to 
come home to ourselves, and to confess that he is justly severe 
towards us; yea, were we apparently cast away, we ought yet to 
confess, that it is through our own fault, and not through God's 
immoderate severity. We also learn how frivolous is their pretext, 
who set up against God the authority of their fathers, as the 
Papists do: for they would, if they could, call or compel God to an 
account, because he forsakes them, and owns them not now as his 
Church. "What! has not God bound his faith to us? Is not the Church 
his spouse? Can he be unfaithful?" So say the Papists: but at the 
same time they consider not, that their mother has become utterly 
filthy through her many abominations; they consider not, that she 
has been repudiated, because the Lord could no longer bear her great 
wickedness. Let us then know, that it is in vain to bring against 
God the examples of men; for what is here said by the Prophet will 
ever stand true, that God has not given a bill of divorce to his 
Church; that is, that he has not of his own accord divorced her, as 
peevish and cruel husbands are wont to do, but that he has been 
constrained to do so, because he could no longer connive at so many 
abominations. It now follows - 
Hosea 2:3 
Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, 
and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay 
her with thirst. 
    Though the Prophet in this verse severely threatens the 
Israelites, yet it appears from a full view of the whole passage, 
that he mitigates the sentence we have explained: for by declaring 
what sort of vengeance was suspended over them, except they timely 
repented, he shows that there was some hope of pardon remaining, 
which, as we shall see, he expresses afterwards more clearly. 
    He now begins by saying, "Lest I strip her naked, and set her 
as on the day of her nativity". This alone would have been dreadful; 
but we shall see in the passage, that God so denounces punishment, 
that he cuts not off altogether the hope of mercy: and at the same 
time he reminds them that the divorce, for which they were disposed 
to contend with God, was such, that God yet shows indulgence to the 
repudiated wife. For when a husband dismisses an adulteress, he 
strips her entirely, and rightly so: but God shows here, that though 
the Israelites had become wanton, and were like a shameless woman, 
he had yet so divorced them hitherto, that he had left them their 
dowry, their ornaments and marriage gifts. We then see that God had 
not used, as he might have done, his right; and hence he says, "Lest 
I strip her naked"; which means this, "I seem to you too rigid, 
because 1 have declared, that I am no longer a husband to your 
mother: and yet see how kindly I have spared her; for she remains as 
yet almost untouched: though she has lost the name of wife, I have 
not yet stripped her; she as yet lives in sufficient plenty. Whence 
is this but from my indulgence? for I did not wish to follow up my 
right, as husbands do. But except she learns to humble herself, I 
now gird up myself for the purpose of executing heavier 
punishments." We now comprehend the whole import of the passage. 
    What the Prophet means by the day of nativity, we may readily 
learn from Ezek. 16; for Ezekiel there treats the same subject with 
our Prophet, but much more at large. He says that the Israelites 
were then born, when God delivered them from the tyranny of Egypt. 
This then was the nativity of the people. And yet it was a miserable 
sight, when they fled away with fear and trembling, when they were 
exposed to their enemies: and after they entered the wilderness, 
being without bread and water, their condition was very wretched. 
The Prophet says now, "Lest I set her as on the day of her 
nativity", and "set her as the desert". Some regard the letter caph 
to be understood, as if it were written, "kavemidbar", as in the 
desert; that is, I will set her as she was formerly in the desert; 
and this exposition is not unsuitable; for the day of nativity, the 
Prophet doubtless calls that time, when the people were brought out 
of Egypt: they immediately entered the desert, where there with the 
want of every thing. They might then have soon perished there, being 
consumed by famine and thirst, had not the Lord miraculously 
supported them. The sense then seems consistent by this rendering, 
"Lest I set her as in the deserts and as in a dry land". But another 
exposition is more approved, "Lest I set her like the desert and dry 
    With regard to what the Prophet had in view, it was necessary 
to remind the Israelites here of what they were at their beginning. 
For whence was their contempt of God, whence was their obstinate 
pride, but that they were inebriated with their pleasures? For when 
there flowed an abundance of all good things, they thought of 
themselves, that they had come as it were from the clouds; for men 
commonly forget what they formerly were, when the Lord has made them 
rich. As then the benefits of God for the most part blind us, and 
make us to think ourselves to be as it were half-gods, the Prophet 
here sets before the children of Abraham what their condition was 
when the Lord redeemed them. "I have redeemed you," he says, "from 
the greatest miseries and extreme degradation." Sons of kings are 
born kings, and are brought up in the midst of pomps and pleasures; 
nay, before they are born, great pomps, we know, are prepared for 
them, which they enjoy from their mother's womb. But when one is 
born of an ignoble and obscure mother, and begotten by a mean and 
poor father, and afterwards arises to a different condition, if he 
is proud of his splendour, and remembers not that he was once a 
plebeian and of no repute, this may be justly thrown in his face, 
"Who were you formerly? Why! do you not know that you were a 
cow-herd, or a mechanic, or one covered with filth? Fortune has 
smiled on you, or God has raised you to riches and honours; but you 
are so self-complacent as though your condition had ever been the 
    This is the drift of what the Prophet says: "I will set thy 
mother", he says, "as she was at her first nativity. For who are 
you? A holy race, a chosen nation, a people sacred to me? Be it so: 
but free adoption has brought all this to you. Ye were exiles in 
Egypt, strangers in the land of Canaan, and were nothing better than 
other people. Besides, Pharaoh reduced you to a base servitude, ye 
were then the most abject of slaves. How magnificent, with regard to 
you, was your going forth! Did you not flee away tremblingly and in 
the night? And did you not afterwards live in a miraculous way for 
forty years in the desert, when I rained manna on you from the 
clouds? Since then your poverty and want has been so great, since 
there is nothing to make you to raise your crests, how is it that 
you show no more modesty? But if your present condition creates in 
you forgetfulness, I will set you as on the day of your nativity." 
It now follows - 
Hosea 2:4,5 
And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they [be] the 
children of whoredoms. 
For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them 
hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that 
give [me] my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and 
my drink. 
    The Lord now comes close to each individual, after having 
spoken in general of the whole people: and thus we see that to be 
true which I have said, that it was far from the mind of the Prophet 
to suppose, that God here teaches the faithful who had already 
repented, that they ought to condemn their own mother. The Prophet 
meant nothing of the kind; but, on the contrary, he wished to check 
the waywardness of the people, who ceased not to contend with God, 
as though he had been more severe than just towards their race. Now 
then he reproves each of them; "your children", he says, "I will not 
pity; for they are spurious children". He had indeed said before 
that they had been born by adultery; but he afterwards received them 
into favour. This is true; but what I have said must be remembered 
that the Prophet as yet continues in his reproofs; for though he has 
mingled some consolation, he yet saw that their hearts were not as 
yet contrite and sufficiently humbled. We must bear in mind the 
difference between their present state and their future favour. God 
before promised that he would be propitious to apostates who had 
departed from him: but now he shows that it was not yet the ripe 
time, for they had not ceased to sin. Hence he says, "I will not 
pity your children". 
    Having spoken of the mother's divorce, he now says that the 
children, born of adultery, were not his: and certainly what the 
Prophet promised before was not immediately fulfilled; for the 
people, we know, had been disowned, and when deprived of the land of 
Canaan, were rejected, as it were, by the Lord. The Babylonian exile 
was a kind of death: and then when they returned from exile, a small 
portion only returned, not the whole people; and they were tossed, 
we know, by many calamities until Christ our Redeemer appeared. 
Since then the Prophet included the whole of this time, it is no 
wonder that he says that the children were to be repudiated by the 
Lord, because they were born of adultery: for until they returned 
from captivity, and Christ was at length revealed, this repudiation, 
of which the Prophet speaks, ever continued. "Thy children", he 
says, "I will not pity". At first sight it seems very dreadful, that 
God takes away the hope of mercy; but we ought to confine this 
sentence to that time during which it pleased God to cast away his 
people. As long, then, as that temporary casting away lasted, God's 
favour was hid; and to this the Prophet now refers, "I will not" 
then pity her children, "for they are born by adultery". At the same 
time, we must remember that this sentence specifically belonged to 
the reprobate, who boasted of being the children of Abraham, while 
they were profane and unholy, while they impiously perverted the 
whole worship of God, while they were wholly ungovernable. Then the 
Prophet justly pronounces such a severe judgement on obstinate men, 
who could be reformed by no admonitions. 
    He afterwards declares how the children became spurious; "their 
mother, who conceived" or bare "them, has been wanton; with shameful 
acts has she defiled herself". "Bosh" means, to be ashamed; but here 
the Prophet means not that the Israelites were touched with shame, 
for such a meaning would be inconsistent with the former sentence; 
but that they were like a shameless and infamous woman, touched with 
no shame for her baseness. "Their mother", then, "had been wanton, 
and she who bare them had become scandalous". Here the Prophet 
strips the Israelites of their foolish confidence, who were wont to 
profess the name of God, while they were entirely alienated from 
him: for they had fallen away by their impiety from pure worship, 
they had rejected the law, yea, and every yoke. Since then they were 
wild beasts, it was extreme stupidity ever to set up for their 
shield the name of God, and ever to boast of the adoption of their 
father Abraham. But as the Jews were so perversely proud, the 
Prophet here answers them, "Your mother has been wanton, and with 
shameful acts has she defiled herself; I will not therefore count 
nor own you as my children, for ye were born by adultery." 
    This passage confirms what I have shortly before explained, - 
that it is not enough that God should choose any people for himself, 
except the people themselves persevere in the obedience of faith; 
for this is the spiritual chastity which the Lord requires from all 
his people. But when is a wife, whom God has bound to himself by a 
sacred marriage, said to become wanton? When she falls away, as we 
shall more clearly see hereafter, from pure and sound faith. Then it 
follows that the marriage between God and men so long endures at 
they who have been adopted continue in pure faith, and apostasy in a 
manner frees God from us, so that he may justly repudiate us. Since 
such apostasy prevails under the Papacy, and has for many ages 
prevailed, how senseless they are in their boasting, while they 
would be thought to be the holy Catholic Church, and the elect 
people of God? For they are all born by wantonness, they are all 
spurious children. The incorruptible seed is the word of God; but 
what sort of doctrine have they? It is a spurious seed. Then as to 
God all the Papists are bastards. In vain then they boast themselves 
to be the children of God, and that they have the holy Mother 
Church, for they are born by filthy wantonness. 
    The Prophet pursues still the same subject: "She said, I will 
go after my lovers, the givers of my bread, of my waters, of my 
wool, and of my flax, and of my oil, and of my drink." The Prophet 
here defines the whoredom of which he had spoken: this part is 
explanatory; the Prophet unfolds in several words what he had 
briefly touched when he said, "your mother has been wanton". Now, if 
the Jews object and say, How has she become wanton? Because, "she 
said, I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my waters, 
&c." The Prophet here compares false gods to lovers, who seduce 
women from their conjugal fidelity; for he pursues the similitude 
which he had introduced. The Church, to whom God has pledged his 
faith, is represented as a wife; and as a woman does, when enticed 
by gifts, and as many women follow covetousness and become 
lascivious, that they may dress sumptuously, and live luxuriously, 
so the Prophet now points out this vice in the Israelitic Church, 
"She said, I will go after my lovers". Some understand by lovers 
either the Assyrians or the Egyptians; for when the Israelites 
formed connections with these heathen nations, they were drawn away, 
we know, from their God. But the Prophet inveighs especially against 
false and corrupt modes of worship, and all kinds of superstitions; 
for the pure worship of God, we know, is ever to have the first 
place, and that justly; for on this depend all the duties of life. I 
therefore doubt not, but that he includes all false gods, when he 
says, "I will go after my lovers". 
    But by introducing the word, "said", he amplifies the 
shamelessness of the people, who deliberately forsook their God, who 
was to them as a legitimate husband. It indeed happens sometimes 
that a man is thoughtlessly drawn aside by a mistake or folly, but 
he soon repents; for we see many of the unexperienced deceived for a 
short time: but the Prophet here shows that the Israelites 
premeditated their unfaithfulness, so that they wilfully departed 
from God. Hence "she said"; and we know that this "said" means so 
much; and it is to be referred, not to the outward word as 
pronounced, but to the inward purpose. "She" therefore "said", that 
is, she made this resolution; as though he said, "Let no one make 
this frivolous excuse, that they were deceived, that they did it in 
their simplicity: ye are, he says, avowedly perfidious, ye have with 
a premeditated purpose sought this divorce." He, however, ascribes 
this to their mother: for defection began at the root, when they 
were drawn away by Jeroboam into corrupt superstitions; and the 
promotion of this evil became as it were hereditary. He therefore 
intended to condemn here the whole community. Hence, "she said, I 
will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my waters". But I 
cannot finish today; I must therefore break off the sentence. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only of late adopted 
us as thy children, but before we were born, and as thou hast been 
pleased to sign us, as soon as we came forth from our mother's womb, 
with the symbol of that holy redemption, which has been obtained for 
us by the blood of thy only begotten Son, though we have by our 
ingratitude renounced so great a benefit, - O grant, that being 
mindful of our defection and unfaithfulness, of which eve are all 
guilty, and for which thou hast justly rejected us, we may now with 
true humility and obedience of faith embrace the grace of thy gospel 
now again offered to us, by which thou reconciles thyself to us; and 
grant that we may steadfastly persevere in pure faith, so as never 
to turn aside from the true obedience of faith, but to advance more 
and more in the knowledge of thy mercy, that having strong and deep 
roots, and being firmly grounded in the confidence of sure faith, we 
may never fall away from the true worship of thee, until thou at 
length receives us in to that eternal kingdom, which has been 
procured for us by the blood of thy only Son. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 5...)

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