(Calvin on Hosea, part 5)

Lecture Fifth. 
    It remains for us to explain what the Prophet declares 
concerning the Israelites, that they boasted of their abundance of 
wine and oil, and all good things as having come to them through 
their superstitions. What, then, they ought to have ascribed to God 
alone, they absurdly transferred to their idols. Of this ingratitude 
the Prophet here accuses them in the person of God himself, and at 
the same time shows that the ungodly are so deluded by prosperity, 
that they harden themselves more and more in their superstitions; 
and this is not the case only at one time, but almost universally in 
the world. We see how full of pride the Papists are at this day, 
because they bear rule in the world, and possess riches and honours. 
They think their services acceptable to God, because he shows not 
himself openly opposed to and angry with them; and so it has been 
from the beginning. 
    But the Prophet here condemns this foolish presumption, that we 
may learn not to judge at all times of God's love by the prosperous 
issue of events. There are then two things to be observed here, - 
that the superstitious falsely ascribe to their idols what comes 
from God alone; - and further, that they conclude that they are 
loved by God, whenever he does not immediately take vengeance on 
them. The Sodomites, we find, became obstinate in their sins for the 
same reason; when all kinds of pleasures abounded, they thought 
themselves to be approved of God. Let us now proceed to what 
Hosea 2:6 
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a 
wall, that she shall not find her paths. 
    The Prophet here pursues the subject we touched upon yesterday; 
for he shows how necessary chastisement is, when people felicitate 
themselves in their vices. And God, when he sees that men confess 
not immediately their sins, defends as it were his own cause, as one 
pleading before a judge. In a word, God here shows that he could not 
do otherwise than punish so great an obstinacy in the people, as 
there appeared no other remedy. 
    "Therefore", he says, "behold I"--. There is a special meaning 
in these words; for God testifies that he becomes the avenger of 
impieties, when people are brought into straits; as though he said, 
"Though the Israelites are not ready to confess that they suffer 
justly, yet I now declare that to punish them will be my work, when 
they shall be deprived of their pleasures, and when the occasion of 
their pride shall be removed from them." And he intimates by the 
metaphorical words he uses, that he would so deal with them, as to 
keep the people from wandering, as they had done hitherto, after 
their idols; but he retains the similitude of a harlot. Now when an 
unchaste wife goes after her paramours, the husband must either 
connive at her, or be not aware of her base conduct. However this 
may be, wives cannot thus violate the marriage-vow, except they are 
set at liberty by their husbands. But when a husband understands 
that his wife plays the wanton, he watches her more closely, notices 
all her ways day and night. God now takes up this comparison, "I 
will close up", he says, "her way with thorns, and surround her with 
a mound", that there may be no way of access open to adulterers. 
    But by this simile the Prophet means that the people would be 
reduced to such straits, that they might not lasciviate, as they had 
done, in their superstitions; for while the Israelites enjoyed 
prosperity, they thought everything lawful for them; hence their 
security, and hence their contempt of the word of the Lord. By 
hedge, then, and by thorns, God means those adversities by which he 
restrains the ungodly, so that they may cease to flatter themselves, 
and may not thoughtlessly follow, as they were before wont to do, 
their own superstitions. "She shall not" then "find her ways"; that 
is, "I will constrain them so to groan under the burden of evils, 
that they shall no longer, as they have hitherto done, allow loose 
reins to themselves." It afterwards follows - 
Hosea 2:7 
And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake 
them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find [them]: then shall 
she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then [was it] 
better with me than now. 
    God now shows what takes place when he chastises hardened and 
rebellious people with heavy punishment. In the first clause he 
shows that perverseness will cleave so completely to their hearts, 
that they will not immediately return to a sound mind. "She will 
follow her lovers", he says, "and seek them". Here the Prophet tells 
us, that though the Israelites should be chastised by frequent 
punishments, they would yet continue in their obstinacy. It hence 
appears how hard a neck they had, and how uncircumcised in heart 
they were; and such did the Prophets, as well as Moses, represent 
them to be. And we hence learn, that had they been only moderately 
corrected, it would not have been sufficient for their amendment. 
Amazing, indeed, was their obstinacy; for God had divorced them, and 
then led them into great straits; and yet they went on in their 
course, as though they were utterly stupid and destitute of every 
feeling. Is it not a prodigious madness, when men run on so 
obstinately, even when God sets his hand so strongly against them? 
Such, however, is represented to have been the obstinacy of the 
    The meaning then is, that when they were subdued, God would not 
immediately soften their hearts. Then God, though he bruised, did 
not yet reform them; for their hardness was so great, that they 
could not be turned immediately to a docile state of mind; but, on 
the contrary, they followed their lovers. By the word, follow, is 
expressed that mad zeal which possesses idolaters; for as we see, 
they are like men who are frantic. As then the superstitious know no 
bounds, nor any moderation, but a mad zeal at times lays hold on 
them, the Prophet says "She will follow her lovers and shall not 
overtake them". What does the latter clause mean? That God will 
frustrate the hope of the ungodly, that they may know that they in 
vain worship false gods and follow with avidity absurd 
superstitions. "They will seek them", he says, "and shall not find 
them". He ever speaks of the people under the character of a 
shameless and unfaithful wife. 
    We then see what the Prophet intended to do, - to vindicate God 
from every blame, that men might not raise a glamour, as though he 
dealt unkindly with them. He shows that God, even when so rigid, 
produces hardly any effect; for the ungodly in their perverseness 
struggle against his scourges, and suffer not themselves to be 
brought immediately into due order. 
    But in the second clause the Prophet adds, that some benefit 
would at length arise, that though idolaters abused God's goodness, 
and even hardened themselves against his rods, yet this would not be 
perpetually the case; for the Lord would grant better success. Hence 
it follows, "She will then say, I will go and return to my former 
husband". Here the Prophet shows more clearly a hope of pardon, 
inasmuch as he speaks of the people's repentance; for men, we know, 
repent not without benefit, as God is ever ready to receive them 
when they return to him in genuine sorrow. Then the Prophet here 
avowedly speaks of the repentance of the people, that the Israelites 
might hence know, that corrections, which men naturally ever 
dislike, would be profitable to them. It is our wish that God should 
always favour us, and that we should be nourished kindly and 
tenderly in his bosom; but in the meantime, he cannot allure us to 
himself, by whatever means he may try to do so: and hence it is, 
that chastisements are bitter to us, and our flesh immediately 
murmurs. When the Lord raises his finger, before he strikes us, we 
instantly groan and become angry, and even roar against him: in 
short, men can never be brought willingly to offer themselves to be 
chastised by God. Hence the Prophet now shows, that the severity of 
God is profitable to us; for it drives us at length to repentance: 
in a word, he commends the favour of God in his very severity, that 
we may know that he furthers our salvation, even when he seems to 
treat us most unkindly. "She will then say, I will go and return to 
my former husband". 
    But we must observe, that when men really repent, they do so 
through the special influence of the Spirit; for they would 
otherwise perpetually remain in that perverseness of which we have 
spoken. Were God for a hundred years continually to chastise 
perverse men, they would not yet change their disposition; and true 
is that common saying, "The wicked are sooner broken than reformed." 
But when men, after many admonitions, begin to be wise, this change 
comes through the Spirit of God. We may also learn from this passage 
what true repentance is; that is, when he who has sinned not only 
confesses himself to be guilty, and owns himself worthy of 
punishment, but is also displeased with himself, and then with 
sincere desire turns to God. Many, we see, are ready enough, and 
disposed, to confess their sins, and yet go on in the same course. 
But the Prophet shows here that true repentance is something very 
different, "I will go and return", he says. Repentance then consists 
(as they say) in the act itself; that is, repentance produces a 
reforming change in man, so that he reconciles himself to God, whom 
he had forsaken. 
    "I will then go and return to my former husband". Why? "Because 
better was it with me then than now". The Prophet again confirms 
what I lately said, - that the faithful are not made wise, except 
they are well chastised; for the Prophet speaks not here of the 
reprobate, but of the remnant seed. The people of Israel were to be 
exterminated; but the Prophet now declares that there would be some 
remaining who would at last receive benefit from God's 
chastisements. Since then we must understand the Prophet as speaking 
of the elect, we may hence readily conclude, that chastisements are 
necessary for us; for we grow torpid in our vices, as long as God 
spares us. Unless, then it appears that God is really displeased 
with us, it will never come to our minds, that we ought to repent. 
Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 2:8 
For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and 
multiplied her silver and gold, [which] they prepared for Baal. 
Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, 
and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my 
flax [given] to cover her nakedness. 
    God here amplifies the ingratitude of the people, that they 
understood not whence came such abundance of good things. "She 
understood not", he says, "that I gave to her corn and wine". The 
superstitious sin twice, or in two ways; - first, they ascribe to 
their idols what rightly belongs to God alone; and then they deprive 
God himself of his own honour, for they understand not that he is 
the only giver of all things, but think their labour lost were they 
to worship the true God. Hence the Prophet now complains of this 
ingratitude, "She understood not that I gave to her corn and wine 
and oil". And this was an inexcusable stupidity in the Israelites, 
since they had been abundantly instructed, that the abundance of all 
good things, and every thing that supports man, flow from God's 
bounty. Of this they had the clear testimony of Moses; and then the 
land of Canaan itself was a living representation of the Divine 
favour. It was then a prodigious madness in the people, that they 
who had been taught by word and by fact, that God alone is the Giver 
of all things, should yet not consider this truth. The Prophet, 
therefore, condemns this outrageous folly of the people, that 
neither experience nor the teaching of the law availed anything, 
"She knew not", he says. There is stress to be laid on the pronoun, 
she; for the people ought to have been familiarly acquainted with 
God, inasmuch as they had been brought up in his household, as a 
wife, who is her husband's companion. It was then incapable of any 
excuse, that the people should thus turn their minds and all their 
thoughts away from God. 
    "She knew not" then "that I had given to her corn and wine and 
oil, that I had multiplied to her the silver, and also the gold she 
has prepared for Baal". The verb "'asah" means specifically, to 
make: but here to appropriate to a certain purpose. They have, 
therefore, prepared gold for Baal; when they ought to have dedicated 
to me the first-fruits of all good things, in obedience to me and to 
the honour of my name, they have appropriated to Baal whatever 
blessings I have bestowed on them. We then see that in this verse 
two evils are condemned, - that the people deprived God of his just 
honour, -  and that they transferred to their own idols what they 
ought to have given to God only. But he touched upon the last 
wickedness in the fifth verse, where he said in the person of the 
people, "I will go after my lovers, who give my bread and my waters, 
my wool and my wine, &c." Here again he repeats, that they had 
prepared gold for Baal. 
    As to the word Baal, no doubt the superstitious included under 
this name all those whom they called inferior gods. No such madness 
had indeed possessed the Israelites, that they had forgotten that 
there is but one Maker of heaven and earth. They therefore 
maintained the truth, that there is some supreme God; but they added 
their patrons; and this, by common consent, was the practice of all 
nations. They did not then think that God was altogether robbed of 
his own glory, when they joined with him patrons or inferior gods. 
And they called them by a common name, Baalim, or, as it were, 
patrons. Baal of every kind was a patron. Some render it, husband. 
But foolish men, I doubt not, have ever had this superstitious 
notion, that inferior gods come nearer to men, and are, as it were, 
mediators between this world and the supreme God. It is the same 
with the Papists of the present day; they have their Baalim; not 
that they regard their patrons in the place of God: but as they 
dread every access to God, and understand not that Christ is a 
mediator, they retake themselves here and there to various Baalim, 
that they may procure favour to themselves; and at the same time, 
whatever honour they show to stones, or wood, or bones of dead men, 
or to any of their own inventions, they call it the worship of God. 
Whatever then, is worshipped by the Papists is Baal: but they have, 
at the same time, their patrons for their Baalim. We now then 
perceive the meaning of the Prophet in this verse. 
    It now follows "Therefore will I return, and take away my corn 
in its time, and my new wine in its stated time". Here, again, the 
Prophet shows that God was, by extreme necessity, constrained to 
take vengeance on an ungodly and irreclaimable people. He makes 
known how great was the hardness of the people, and then adds, "What 
now remains, but to deprive those who have been so ungrateful to me 
of all their blessings?" It is, indeed, more than base for men to 
enjoy the gifts of God and to despise the giver; yea, to exalt his 
creatures to his place, and to reduce, as it were, all his authority 
to nothing. This the superstitious indeed do, for they thrust God 
from his pre-eminence, and insult his glory. Will God, in the 
meantime, so throw away his blessings as to suffer them to be 
profaned by the ungodly, and himself to be thus mocked with 
impunity? We now then see the object of the Prophet; for God here 
shows that there was no other remedy, but to deprive the Israelites 
of all their gifts: he had indeed enriched them, but they had abused 
all their abundance. It was therefore necessary to reduce them to 
extreme want, that they might no longer pollute God's gifts which 
ought to be held sacred by us. 
    And he uses a very suitable word; for "natsal" means properly, 
to pluck away to set free. "I will by force take away", he says, "my 
wool and my flax". It seems, indeed, to denote an unjust possession, 
as when one takes away by force from the hand of a robber what he 
unjustly possesses, or as when any one rescues wretched men from the 
power of a tyrant. So God now speaks, 'I will pluck away my gifts 
from these men who basely and unjustly pollute them.' 
    And he adds, "to cover her nakedness". "'Erwah", properly, 
though not simply, means nakedness: it is the nakedness of the 
uncomely parts. Moses calls any indecorous part of the body 
"'erwah"; and so it means what is uncomely. This word we ought 
carefully to notice; for God here shows, that except he denudes 
idolaters, they will ever continue obstinate. How so? Because they 
use coverings for their baseness. While the ungodly enjoy their 
triumphs in the world, they regard them as veils drawn over them, so 
that nothing base or disgraceful can be seen in them. The same is 
the case with great kings and monarchs; they think that the eyes of 
all are dazzled by their splendour; and hence it is, that they are 
so audaciously dissolute. They think their own filth to be fine 
odour: such is the arrogance of the world. It is even so with the 
superstitious; when God is indulgent to them, they think that they 
have coverings. When, therefore, they abandon themselves to any kind 
of wickedness, they regard it as if it were a holy thing. How so? 
Because, whatever obscene thing is in them, it is covered by 
prosperity. When God observes such madness as this in men, can he do 
otherwise than pluck away his blessings, that such a pollution may 
not continually prevail? For it is an abuse extremely gross, that 
when God's blessings are so many images of his glory, and when his 
paternal goodness shines forth even towards the ungodly, the world 
should convert them to a purpose wholly contrary, and make them as 
coverings for themselves, that they may conceal their own baseness, 
and more freely sin and carry on war against God himself. Hence he 
says, "That they may no longer cover their baseness, I will pluck 
away whatever I have bestowed on them." 
    When he says, "I will take away the corn and wine in its time, 
and in its stated time", he alludes, I have no doubt, to the time of 
harvest and vintage; as though he said, "The harvest will come, the 
vintage will come: there has been hitherto great fruitfulness; but I 
will show that the earth and all its fruits are subject to my will. 
Though, then, the Israelites are now full, and have their 
storehouses well furnished, they shall know that I rule over the 
harvest and the vintage, when the stated time shall come." Now, the 
Spirit of God denounced this punishment early, that the Israelites, 
if reclaimable, might return to a right course. But as their 
blindness was so great that they despised all that had been said to 
them, no excuse remained for them. It now follows - 
Hosea 2:10-12 
And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and 
none shall deliver her out of mine hand. 
I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new 
moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts. 
And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath 
said, These [are] my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I 
will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them. 
    He pursues the same subject; and the Prophet explains at large, 
and even divides what he had briefly said before, into many clauses 
or particulars. He says firsts "I will uncover her baseness". How 
was this done? By God, when he took away the coverings by which the 
Israelites kept themselves hid: for, as we have said hypocrites 
felicitate themselves on account of God's gifts, and thus hide 
themselves as thieves do in caverns; and they think that they can 
mock God with impunity; for, through the fatness of their eyes, as 
it is said in Psal. 73: 7, they have but a very dim sight. Now then 
God declares, that the filthiness of the people would be made to 
appear, when he deprived them of those gifts with which he had for a 
time enriched them. 
    "Now", he says, "will I uncover her baseness before the eyes of 
her lovers". By this sentence he intimates a change, of which the 
people were not apprehensive; for, as long as the wicked feel not 
the strokes, they laugh at all threatening. Hence God, that he might 
rouse them from such an indifference, says, "Now will I uncover her 
before the eyes of her lovers". The Prophet, no doubt, speaks of 
false gods, and of all those devices by which the Israelites 
corrupted the pure worship of God: for I cannot be persuaded to 
explain this either of the Assyrians or of the Egyptians. I indeed 
know, as I mentioned briefly yesterday, that the treaties into which 
the Jews, as well as the Israelites, entered with idolaters, were 
the tenter-hooks of Satan: this I allow; but at the same time, I 
look on what the Prophet especially treats of; for he directly 
inveighs here against absurd and vicious modes of worship. What then 
does he mean by saying, that God will uncover the baseness of the 
people before their lovers? He alludes to shameless women, who dare, 
by terror, to check their husbands, that they may not exercise their 
own right. "What! do you treat me ill? there is one who will resent 
this conduct." Even when husbands indignantly bear their own 
reproach, they often attempt not to assert their own right, because 
they see that fear is in the way. But God says, "Nothing will hinder 
me from chastising thee as thou deserves (for he addresses the 
people under the character of a wife;) before thy lovers then will I 
uncover thy baseness." 
    "And no man shall rescue thee from my hand". The word man is 
put here for idols; for it is a word of general import among the 
Hebrews. Sometimes when brute animals are spoken of, this word, man, 
is used; and it is also applied to the fragments of a carcass. For 
when Moses describes the sacrifice made by Abraham, 'Man,' he says, 
'was laid to his fellow;' that is, Abraham joined together the 
different parts of the sacrifice, as we say in French, Il n'y a 
piece. God then speaks here of idols: "No one", he says, "shall 
rescue them from my hand". We now comprehend the meaning of the 
    We must, at the same time, see what he had in view. The 
Israelites indeed thought, that as long as their corrupt modes of 
worship prevailed, they were safe and secure: it seemed impossible 
to them that any adversity should happen to them while idolatry 
continued. As, then, they imagined their false gods to be to them 
like an invincible rampart, "Thy idols," he says, "shall remain, and 
yet thou shalt fall: for I will before thy lovers uncover thy 
baseness, and not one of them shall deliver thee from my hand." 
    The Prophet now descends to particulars; and, in the first 
place, he says, that the people would be deprived of their 
sacrifices and feast-days, and of that whole external pomp, which 
was with them the guise of religion. He then adds, that they would 
be spoiled of their food, and all their abundance. He has hitherto 
been speaking of their nakedness; but he now describes what this 
nakedness would be: and he specially mentions, that sacrifices would 
cease, that feast days, new-moons, and whatever belonged to external 
worship, would cease. "I will make to cease", he says, "all her 
joy". He speaks doubtless, of sacred joys; and this may be easily 
collected from the context. He adds, "her every festal-day". As they 
were wont to dance on their festal-days, this word may be referred 
to that practice. He afterwards adds, "her sabbath", and all 
feast-days. Then the first kind of nakedness was, that God would 
take away from the Israelites that fallacious and empty form of 
religion in which they foolishly delighted. The second kind of 
nakedness was, that they were to be stripped of all earthly riches, 
and be reduced to misery and extreme want. But I cannot finish 
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as we are so dull and slothful, 
that though often admonished, we yet consider not our sins, yea, 
though chastised by thy hand, we yet return not immediately to a 
right mind, - O grant, that we may hereafter profit more under thy 
rod, and not he refractory and untractable; but as soon as thou 
raises thy hand, may each of us mourn, know our own evils, and then, 
with one consent, surrender ourselves to be ruled by thee; and may 
we, in the meantime, patiently and calmly endure thy chastisements, 
and never murmur against thee, but ever aspire to the attainment of 
true repentance, until, having at length put off all the vices and 
corruptions of our flesh, we attain to the fulness of righteousness, 
and to that true and blessed glory which has been prepared for us in 
heaven by Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 6...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-05.txt