(Calvin on Hosea, part 8)

Chapter 3. 
Lecture Eighth. 
    We said in our lecture yesterday, that the Prophet does not in 
vain bear a testimony again to God's paternal favor to his people; 
for it is our chief happiness, when God acknowledges us as his own, 
and when we also can come to his presence with sure confidence. 
Hence the order of the Prophet's words ought to be noticed: "I will 
have mercy", he says, "on Lo-ruchama"; which means, I will be 
propitious to the Israelites whom I have hitherto deprived of my 
favor: "and I will say to the no-people, My people are you": then it 
follows "and they will say to me, Thou art our God. 
    The Prophet, indeed, means that God anticipates us with his 
favor; for we are otherwise restrained from access to him. Then God 
of his own good-will precedes, and extends his band to us, and then 
follows the consent of our faith. Hence God first speaks to the 
Israelites, that they might know that they are now counted his 
people: and then, after God has testified of his favor, they answer, 
'Thou beginnest now to be from henceforth our God.' We hence see 
that the beginning of all good is from God, when he makes of aliens 
friends, and adopts as his sons those who were before his enemies. 
    The third chapter follows. 
Hosea 3:1 
Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of [her] 
friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward 
the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of 
    The substance of this chapter is, That it was God's purpose to 
keep in firm hope the minds of the faithful during the exile, lest 
being overwhelmed with despair they should wholly faint. The Prophet 
had before spoken of God's reconciliation with his people; and he 
magnificently extolled that favor when he said, 'Ye shall be as in 
the valley of Achor, I will restore to you the abundance of all 
blessings; in a word, ye shall be in all respects happy.' But, in 
the meantime, the daily misery of the people continued. God had 
indeed determined to remove them into Babylon. They might, 
therefore, have despaired under that calamity, as though every hope 
of deliverance were wholly taken from them. Hence the Prophet now 
shows that God would so restore the people to favor, as not 
immediately to blot out every remembrance of his wrath, but that his 
purpose was to continue for a time some measure of his severity. 
    We hence see that this prediction occupies a middle place 
between the denunciation the Prophet previously pronounced and the 
promise of pardon. It was a dreadful thing, that God should divorce 
his people and cast away the Israelites as spurious children: but a 
consolation was afterwards added. But lest the Israelites should 
think that God would immediately, as on the first day, be so 
propitious to them as to visit them with no chastisement, it was the 
Prophet's design expressly to correct this mistake, as though he 
said, 'God will indeed receive you again, but in the meantime a 
chastisement is prepared for you, which by its intenseness would 
break down your spirits were it not that this comfort will ease you, 
and that is, that God, though he punishes you for your sins, yet 
continues to provide for your salvation, and to be as it were your 
husband.' We now perceive the intention of the Prophet. But I shall 
first run over the words, and then return to the subject 
    "Jehovah said to me, Go yet and love a woman". There is no 
doubt but that God describes here the favor he promises to the 
Israelites in a type or vision: for they are too gross in their 
notions, who think that the Prophet married a woman who had been a 
harlot. It was then only a vision, as though God had set a picture 
before the eyes of the people, in which they might see their own 
conduct. And when he says, "yet", he refers to the vision, mentioned 
in the first chapter. But he bids a woman to be loved before he took 
her to be the partner of his conjugal bed; which ought to be 
noticed: for God intends here to make a distinction between the 
people's restoration and his hidden favor. God then before he 
restored the people from exile, loved them as it were in their 
widowhood. We now understand why the Prophet does not say, 'Take to 
thee a wife,' but, 'love a woman.' The meaning is this: God 
intimates, that though exile would be sad and bitter, yet the 
people, whom he treated with sharpness and severity, were still dear 
to him. Hence, "Love a woman, who had been loved by a husband". 
    The word "rea'" is here to be taken for a husband, as it is in 
the 2d chapter of Jeremiah where it is said, 'Perfidiously have the 
children of Israel dealt with me, as though a woman had departed 
from her husband, "mere'ah"', or, 'from her partner.' And there is 
an aggravation of the crime implied in this word: for women, when 
they prostitute themselves, often complain that they have done so 
through too much severity, because they were not treated with 
sufficient kindness by their husbands; but when a husband behaves 
kindly towards his wife, and performs his duty as a husband, there 
is then less excuse for a wife, in case she fixes her affections on 
others. To increase then the sin of the people, this circumstance is 
stated that the woman had been loved by her friend or partner, and 
yet that this kindness of her husband had not preserved her mind in 
    He afterwards says, "According to the love of Jehovah towards 
the children of Israel"; that is, As God loved the people of Israel, 
who yet ceased not to look to other gods. This metaphor occurs often 
in Scripture, that is, when the verb "panah", which means in Hebrew, 
to look to, is used to express hope or desire: so that when men's 
minds are intent on any thing, or their affections fixed on it, they 
are said to look to that. Since then the Israelites boiled with 
insane ardor for their superstitions, they are said to look to other 
    It then follows, "And they love flagons of grapes". The 
Prophet, I doubt not, compares this rage to drunkenness: and he 
mentions flagons of grapes rather than of wine, because idolaters 
are like drunkards, who sometimes so gorge themselves, that they 
have no longer a taste for wine; yea, the very smell of wine offends 
them, and produces nausea through excessive drinking; but they try 
new arts by which they may regain their fondness for wine. And such 
is the desire of novelty that prevails in the superstitious. At one 
time they go after this, at another time after that, and their minds 
are continually tossed to and fro, because they cannot acquiesce in 
the only true God. We now then perceive what this metaphor means, 
when the Prophet reproaches the Israelites, because they loved 
flagons of grapes. 
    I now return to what the Prophet, or rather God, had in view. 
God here comforts the hearts of the faithful, that they might surely 
conclude that they were loved, even when they were chastised. It was 
indeed necessary that this difference should have been well 
impressed on the Israelites, that they might in exile entertain hope 
and patiently bear God's chastisement, and rise that this hope might 
mitigate the bitterness of sorrow. God therefore says that though he 
shows not himself as yet reconciled to them, but appears as yet 
severe, at the same time he is not without love. And hence we learn 
how useful this doctrine is, and how widely it opens; for it affords 
a consolation of which we all in common have need. When God humbles 
us by adversities, when he shows to us some tokens of severity or 
wrath, we cannot but instantly fail, were not this thought to occur 
to us, that God loves us, even when he is severe towards us, and 
that though he seems to cast us away, we are not yet altogether 
aliens, for he retains some affection even in the midst of his 
wrath; so that he is to us as a husband, though he admits us not 
immediately into conjugal honor, nor restores us to our former rank. 
We now then see how the doctrine is to be applied to ourselves. 
    We must at the same time notice the reproachful conduct of 
which I have spoken, - That though the woman was loved yet she could 
not be preserved in chastity, and that she was loved, though an 
adulteress. Here is pointed out the most shameful ingratitude of the 
people, and contrasted with it is God's infinite mercy and goodness. 
It was the summit of wickedness in the people to forsake their God, 
when he had treated them with so much benignity and kindness. But 
wonderful was the patience of God, when he ceased not to love a 
people, whom he had found to be so perverse, that they could not be 
turned by any acts of kindness nor retained by any favors. 
    With regard to the flagons of grapes we may observe, that this 
strange disposition is ever dominant in the superstitious, and that 
is, that they wander here and there after their own devices, and 
have nothing fixed in them. Lest, then, such charms deceive us, let 
us learn to cleave firmly and constantly to the word of the Lord. 
Indeed the Papists of this day boast of their ancientness, when they 
would create an ill-will towards us; as though the religion we 
follow were new and lately invented: but we see how modern their 
superstitions are; for a passion for them bubbles up continually and 
they have nothing that remains constant: and no wonder, because the 
eternal truth of God is regarded by them as of no value. If, then, 
we desire to restrain this depraved lust, which the Prophet condemns 
in the Israelites, let us so adhere to the word of the Lord, that no 
novelty may captivate us and lead us astray. It now follows - 
Hosea 3:2-5 
2 So I bought her to me for fifteen [pieces] of silver, and [for] an 
homer of barley, and an half homer of barley: 
3 And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt 
not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for [another] man: so 
[will] I also [be] for thee. 
4 For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, 
and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, 
and without an ephod, and [without] teraphim: 
5 Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD 
their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and his 
goodness in the latter days. 
    These verses have been read together, for in these four the 
Prophet explains the vision presented to him. He says, first, that 
he had done what had been enjoined him by God; which was conveyed to 
him by a vision, or in a typical form, that by such an exhibition he 
might impress the minds of the people: "I bought", he says, a wife 
for fifteen silverings, and for a corus of barley and half a corus; 
that is, for a corus and a half. He tells us in this verse that he 
had bought the wife whom he was to take for a small price. By the 
"fifteen" silverings and the corus and half of barley is set forth, 
I have no doubt, her abject and mean condition. Servants, we know, 
were valued at thirty shekels of silver when hurt by an ox, (Exod. 
21: 32.) But the Prophet gives her for his wife fifteen silvering; 
which seemed a contemptible gift. But then the Lord shows, that 
though he would but scantily support his people in exile, they would 
still be dear to him, as when a husband loves his wife though he 
does not indulge her, when that would be inexpedient: overmuch 
indulgence, as it is well known, has indeed often corrupted those 
who have gone astray. When a husband immediately pardons an 
adulterous wife, and receives her with a smiling countenance, and 
fawningly humbles himself by laying aside his own right and 
authority, he acts foolishly, and by his levity ruins his wife: but 
when a husband forgives his wife, and yet strictly confines her 
within the range of duty, and restrains his own feelings, such a 
moderate course is very beneficial and shows no common prudence in 
the husband; who, though he is not cruel, is yet not carried away by 
foolish love. This, then is what the Prophet means, when he says, 
that he had given for his wife fifteen silverings and a corus and 
half of barley. Respectable women did not, indeed, live on barley. 
The Prophets then, gave to his wife, not wheat-flour, nor the fine 
flour of wheat, but black bread and coarse food; yea, he gave her 
barley as her allowance, and in a small quantity, that his wife 
might have but a scanty living. We now then understand the Prophet's 
    Some elicit a contrary sense, that the Lord would splendidly 
and sumptuously support the wife who had been an adulteress; but 
this view by no means harmonizes with the Prophet's design, as we 
have already seen. Besides, the words themselves lead us another 
way. Jerome, as his practice is, refines in allegorizing. He says, 
that the people were bought for fifteen silverings, because they 
came out of Egypt on the fifteenth day of the month; and then he 
says, that as the Hebrew homer contains thirty bushels, they were 
bought for a corus and half, which is forty-five bushels. because 
the law was promulgated forty-five days after. But these are puerile 
trifles. Let then the simple view which I have given be sufficient 
for us, - that God, though he favored her, not immediately with the 
honor of a wife and liberal support, yet ceased not to love her. 
Thus we see the minds of the faithful were sustained to bear 
patiently their calamities; for it is an untold consolation to know 
that God loves us. If a testimony respecting his love moderates not 
our sorrows, we are very ill-natured and ungrateful. 
    The Prophet then more clearly proves in these words, that God 
loved his people, though he seemed to be alienated from them. He 
might have wholly destroyed them: he yet supplied them with food in 
their exile. The people indeed lived in the greatest straits; and 
all delicacies were no doubt taken from them, and their fare was 
very sordid and very scanty: but the Prophet forbids them to measure 
God's favor by the smallness of what was given them; for though God 
would not immediately receive into favor a wife who had been an 
adulteress, yet he wished her to continue his wife. 
    Hence he adds, "I said to her, For many days shalt thou tarry 
for me, and thou shalt not become wanton, and thou shalt not be for 
any man", that is, 'Thou shalt remain a widow; for it is for this 
reason that I still retain thee, to find out whether thou wilt 
sincerely repent. I would not indeed be too easy towards thee, lest 
I should by indulgence corrupt thee: I shall see what thy conduct 
will be: you must in the meantime continue a widow.' This, then was 
God's small favor which remained for the people, even a sort of 
widowhood. God might, indeed, as we have said, have utterly 
destroyed his people: but he mitigated his wrath and only punished 
them with exile, and in the meantime, proved that he was not 
forgetful of his banished people. Though then he only bestowed some 
scanty allowance, he yet did not wholly deprive them of food, nor 
suffer them to perish through want. This treatment then in reality 
is set forth by this representation, that the Prophet had bidden his 
wife to remain single. 
    He says, "And I also shall be for thee": why does he say, "I 
also"? A wife, already joined to her husband, has no right to pledge 
her faith to another. Then the Prophet shows that Israel was held 
bound by the Lord, that they might not seek another connection, for 
his faith was pledged to them. Hence he says, I also shall be for 
thee; that is, 'I pledge my faith to thee, or, I subscribe myself as 
thy husband: but another time must be looked for; I yet defer my 
favor, and suspend it until thou givest proof of true repentance.' 
"I also", he says, "shall be for thee"; that is, 'Thou shalt not be 
a widow in vain, if thou complainest that wrong is done to thee, 
because I forbid thee to marry any one else, I also bind myself in 
turn to thee.' Now then is evident the mutual compact between God 
and his people, so that the people, though a state of widowhood be 
full of sorrows ought not yet to succumb to grief, but to keep 
themselves exclusively for God, till the time of their full and 
complete deliverance, because he says, that he will remain true to 
his pledge. "I will then be thine: though at present, I admit thee 
not into the honor of wives, I will not yet wholly repudiate thee." 
    But how does this view harmonize with the first prediction, 
according to which God seems to have divorced his people? Their 
concurrence may be easily explained. The Prophet indeed said, that 
the body of the people would be alienated from God: but here he 
addresses the faithful only. Lest then the minds of those who were 
healable should despond, the Prophet sets before them this comfort 
which I have mentioned, - that though they were to continue, as it 
were, single, yet the Lord would remain, as it were, bound to them, 
so as not to adopt another people and reject them. But we shall 
presently see that this prediction regards in common the Gentiles as 
well as the Jews and Israelites. 
    He afterwards adds, "For many days shall the children of Israel 
abide". He says, for many days, that they might prepare themselves 
for long endurance, and be not dispirited through weariness, though 
the Lord should not soon free them from their calamities. "Though 
then your exile should be long, still cherish," he says, "strong 
hope in your hearts; for so long a trial must necessarily be made of 
your repentance; as you have very often pretended to return to the 
Lord, and soon after your hypocrisy was discovered; and then ye 
became hardened in your wilful obstinacy: it is therefore necessary 
that the Lord should subdue you by a long chastisement." Hence he 
says, "The children of Israel shall abide without a king and without 
a prince. 
    But it may still be further asked, What is the number of the 
days of which the Prophet speaks, for the definite number is not 
stated here; and we know that the exile appointed for the Jews was 
seventy years? (Jer. 29: 10.) But the Prophet seems here to extend 
his prediction farther, even to the time of Christ. To this I 
answer, that here he refers simply to the seventy years; though, at 
the same time, we must remember that those who returned not from 
exile were supported by this promise, and hoped in the promised 
Mediator: but the Prophet goes not beyond that number, afterwards 
prefixed by Jeremiah. It is not to be wondered at, that the Prophet 
had not computed the years and days; for the time of the captivity, 
that is, of the last captivity, was not yet come. Shortly after, 
indeed, four tribes were led away, and then the ten, and the whole 
kingdom of Israel was destroyed: but the last ruin of the whole 
people was not yet so near. It was therefore not necessary to 
compute then the years; but he speaks of a long time indefinitely, 
and speaks of the children of Israel and says, "They shall abide 
without a king and without a prince": and inasmuch as they placed 
their trust in their king, and thought themselves happy in having 
this one distinction, a powerful king, he says, They shall abide 
without a king, without a prince. He now explains their widowhood 
without similitudes: hence he says, "They shall be without a king 
and a prince", that is, there shall be among them no kind of civil 
government; they shall be like a mutilated body without a head; and 
so it happened to them in their miserable dispersion. 
    "And without a sacrifice", he says, "and without a statue". The 
Hebrews take "matsevah" often in a bad sense, though it means 
generally a statue, as a monument over a grave is called "matsevah": 
but the Prophet seems to speak here of idols, for he afterwards 
adds, "teraphim"; and teraphim were no doubt images, (Gen. 31: 
19-30,) which the superstitious used while worshipping their 
fictitious gods, as we read in many places. The king of Babylon is 
said to have consulted the teraphim; and it is said that Rachel 
stole the teraphim, and shortly after Laban calls the teraphim his 
gods. But the Hebrews talk idly when they say that these images were 
made of a constellation, and that they afterwards uttered words: but 
all this has been invented, and we know what liberty they take in 
devising fables. The meaning is, that God would take away from the 
people of Israel all civil order, and then all sacred rites and 
ceremonies, that they might abide as a widow, and at the same time 
know, that they were not utterly rejected by God without hope of 
    It is asked, why "ephod" is mentioned; for the priesthood 
continued among the tribe of Judah, and the ephod, it is well known, 
was a part of the sacerdotal dress. To this I answer, that when 
Jeroboam introduced false worship, he employed this artifice - to 
make religion among the Israelites nearly like true religion in its 
outward form: for it seems to have been his purpose that it should 
vary as little as possible from the legitimate worship of God: hence 
he said, 'It is grievous and troublesome to you to go up to 
Jerusalem; then let us worship God here,' (1 Kings 12: 28.) But he 
pretended to change nothing; he would not appear to be an apostate, 
departing from the only true God. What then? "God may be worshipped 
without trouble by us here; for I will build temples in several 
places, and also erect altars: what hinders that sacrifices should 
not be offered to God in many places?" There is therefore no doubt 
but that he made his altars according to the form of the true altar, 
and also added the ephod and various ceremonies, that the Israelites 
might think that they still continued in the true worship of God. 
    But it follows, "Afterwards shall the children of Israel return 
and seek Jehovah their God, and David their king". Here the Prophet 
shows by the fruit of their chastisement, that the Israelites had no 
reason to murmur or clamour against God, as though he treated them 
with too much severity; for if he had stretched out his hand to them 
immediately, there would have been in them no repentance: but when 
thoroughly cleansed by long correction, they would then truly and 
sincerely confess their God. We then see that this comfort is set 
forth as arising from the fruit of chastisement, that the Israelites 
might patiently bear the temporary wrath of God. "Afterwards", he 
says, "they shall return"; as though he said, "They are now led away 
headlong into their impiety, and they can by no means be restrained 
except by this long endurance of evils." 
    "They shall" therefore "return, and then will they seek Jehovah 
their God". The name of the only true God is set here in opposition, 
as before, to all Baalim. The Israelites, indeed, professed to 
worship God; but Baalim, we know, were at the same time in high 
esteem among them, who were so many gods, and had crept into the 
place of God, and extinguished his pure worship: hence the Prophet 
says not simply, They shall seek God, but they shall "seek Jehovah 
their God". And there is here an implied reproof in the word 
"Elohehem"; for it intimates that they were drawn aside into ungodly 
superstitions, that they were without the true God, that no 
knowledge of him existed among them; though God had offered himself 
to them, yea, had familiarly held intercourse with them, and brought 
them up as it were in his bosom, as a father his own children. Hence 
the Prophet indirectly upbraids them for this great wickedness when 
he says, "They shall seek their God". And who is this God? He is 
even Jehovah. They had hitherto formed for themselves vain gods: and 
though, he says, they had been deluded by their own devices, they 
shall now know the only true God, who from the beginning revealed 
himself to them even as their God. He afterwards adds a second 
clause respecting King David: but I cannot now finish the subject. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou often dost justly hide thy face 
from us, so that on every side we see nothing but evidences of thy 
dreadful judgment, - O grant, that we, with minds raised above the 
scene of this world, may at the same time cherish the hope which 
thou constantly settest before us, so that we may feel fully 
persuaded that we are loved by thee, however severely thou mayest 
chastise us and may this consolation so support and sustain our 
souls, that patiently enduring whatever chastisements thou mayest 
lay upon us, we may ever hold fast the reconciliation which thou 
hast promised to us in Christ thy Son. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 9...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-08.txt