(Calvin on Hosea, part 9)

Lecture Ninth. 
    We have now to consider the second clause, respecting King 
David. The Prophet tells us, that when the Israelites shall be moved 
with the desire of seeking God, they shall also seek David their 
king. They had, as it is well known, departed from their allegiance 
to him; though God had set David over the whole people for this end, 
- that they might all be happy under his power and dominion, and 
remain safe and secure, as though they beheld God with their own 
eyes; for David was, as it were, the angel of God. Then the revolt 
of the people, or of the ten tribes, was like a renunciation of the 
living God. The Lord said to Samuel, 'Thee have they not despised, 
but rather me,' (1 Sam. 8: 7:) this must have been much more the 
case with regard to David, whom Samuel, by God's command, had 
anointed, and whom the Lord had honored with so many bright 
commendations; they could not have cast away his yoke, without 
openly rejecting, as it were, God himself. Hence Hosea, speaking of 
the people's repentance, does not, without reasons distinctly 
mention this, that they shall return to David their king: for they 
could not sincerely and from the heart seek God, without subjecting 
themselves to that lawful authority to which they had been bound, 
not by men, nor by chance, but by God's command. 
    It is indeed true that David was then dead; but Hosea sets 
forth here, in the person of one man, that everlasting kingdom, 
which the Jews knew would endure as the sun and moon: for well known 
to them all was this remarkable promise, 'As long as the sun and 
moon shall shine in heaven, they shall be faithful witnesses to me, 
that the throne of David shall continue,' (Psal. 72: 5, 18.) Hence, 
after the death of David, the Prophet shows here that his kingdom 
would be forever, for he survived in his children; and, as it 
evidently appears, they commonly called their Messiah the son of 
David. We must now of necessity come to Christ: for Israel could not 
seek their king, David, who had been long dead; but were to seek 
that King whom God had promised from the posterity of David. This 
prophecy, then, no doubt extends to Christ: and it is evident that 
the only hope of the people being gathered was this, that God had 
testified that he would give a Redeemer. 
    We now then see what the Prophet had in view: the Israelites 
had become degenerate; and, by their perfidy, they ceased to be the 
true and genuine people of God, as long as they continued alienated 
from the family of David. The Prophet, speaking of their full 
restoration, now joins David with God; for they could not be 
restored to the body of the Church, without uniting with the Jews in 
honoring one and the same head. But we must, at the same time, 
remember, that the king, whom the Prophet mentions, is not David, 
who had been long dead, but his son, to whom the perpetuity of his 
kingdom had been promised. 
    This doctrine is especially useful to us; for it shows that God 
is not to be sought except in Christ the mediator. Whosoever, then, 
forsakes Christ, forsakes God himself; for as John says, 'He who has 
not the Son, has not the Father,' (1 John 2: 23.) And the thing 
itself proves this; for God dwells in light inaccessible; how great, 
then is the distance between us and him? Except Christ, then, 
presents himself to us as a middle person, how can we come to God? 
But then only we begin really to seek God, when we turn our eyes to 
Christ, who willingly offers himself to us. This is the only way of 
seeking God aright. 
    Some, with more refinement, contend, that Christ is Jehovah, 
because the Prophet says, that he is to be sought not otherwise than 
as God is. By the word, seeking, the Prophet indeed means, that the 
Israelites bad no other way of being safe and secure than by fleeing 
under the guardianship and protection of their legitimate king, whom 
they knew to have been divinely ordained for them. This, then, would 
not be sufficient to confute the Jews. I take the passage in a 
simpler way, as meaning, that they would seek their God in the 
person of the king, whose hand and efforts God intended to employ in 
the preservation of the people. 
    It further follows, "And they shall fear Jehovah and his 
goodness in the last days". The verb "pachad" means sometimes; to 
dread, to be frightened as they are who are so terrified as to lose 
all courage. But in this place it is to be taken in a good sense, to 
fear, as it appears evident from the context. Then he says, "They 
shall fear God and his goodness". The Israelites had before shaken 
off the yoke of God: for it was a proof of wanton contempt in them 
to build a new temple; to devise, at their own will, a new religion; 
and, in a word, to allow themselves an unbridled licentiousness. 
Hence he says, They shall hereafter begin to fear God, and shall 
continue in his service. 
    And he adds, "and his goodness"; by which he means that God 
would not be dreaded by them, but that he would sweetly allure them 
to himself, that they might obey him spontaneously and freely, and 
even joyfully: and doubtless God does then only make us really to 
fear him, when he gives us a taste of his goodness. For God's 
majesty strikes terror into us; and we, in the meantime, seek hiding 
places; and were it possible for us to withdraw from him, each of us 
would do so gladly; but it is not to worship God with due honor, 
when we flee away from him. It is then a sense of his goodness that 
leads us reverentially to fear him. 'With thee,' says David, 'is 
forgiveness, that thou mayest be feared,' (Ps. 130: 4:) for except 
men know God to be ready to be at peace with them, and feel assured 
that he will be propitious to them, no one will seek him, no one 
will fear him, for without knowing this, we could not but wish his 
glory to be abolished and extinguished, and that he should be 
without authority, lest he should become our judge. But every one 
who has tasted of God's goodness, so orders himself as to obey God. 
    What the Prophet then means when he says, "They shall then fear 
God", is this, that they shall understand that they were miserable 
as long as they were alienated from him, and that true happiness is 
to submit to his authority. 
    But further, this goodness is to be referred to Christ. Some 
take "tuvo" for glory, as in Exod. 33; but the connection of this 
passage requires the word to be taken in its proper sense. And God's 
goodness, we know, is so exhibited to us in Christ, that not a 
particle of it is to be sought for anywhere else: for from this 
fountain must we draw whatever refers to our salvation and happiness 
of life. Let us then know that God cannot from the heart be 
worshipped by us, except when we behold him in the person of his 
Son, and know him to be a kind Father to us: hence John says, 'He 
who honors not the Son, honors not the Father,' (John 5: 23.) 
    Lastly, he adds, "In the extremity of days"; for the Prophet 
wished again to remind the Israelites of what he had said before, - 
that they had need of long affliction, by which God would by degrees 
reform them. He then shows that their perverseness was such, that 
they would not soon be brought into a right mind; but that this 
would be "in the extremity of days". At the same time he relieves 
the minds of the godly, that they might not, through weariness, grow 
faint: for though they were not at first to taste of God s goodness, 
the Prophet reminds them that there was no reason to despair, 
because the Lord would manifest his goodness in the extremity of 
days. We may add, that this extremity of days had its beginning at 
the return of the people. When liberty was granted to the Jews to 
return to their own country, it was the extremity or fulness of 
days, of which the Prophet speaks. But a continued series from the 
people's return to the coming of Christ, must at the same time be 
understood; for the Lord then performed more fully what he declares 
here by his Prophet. Hence everywhere in Scripture, especially in 
the New Testament, the manifestation of Christ is placed in the last 
times. This chapter is now explained. The fourth now follows. 
Chapter 4. 
Hosea 4:1,2 
Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath 
a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because [there is] 
no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. 
By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing 
adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. 
    This is a new discourse by the Prophet, separate from his 
former discourses. We must bear in mind that the Prophets did not 
literally write what they delivered to the people, nor did they 
treat only once of those things which are now extant with us; but we 
have in their books collected summaries and heads of those matters 
which they were wont to address to the people. Hosea, no doubt, very 
often descanted on the exile and the restoration of the people, 
forasmuch as he dwelt much on all the things which we have hitherto 
noticed. Indeed, the slowness and dullness of the people were such, 
that the same things were repeated daily. But it was enough for the 
Prophets to make and to write down a brief summary of what they 
taught in their discourses. 
    Hosea now relates how vehemently he reproved the people, 
because every kind of corruption so commonly prevailed, that there 
was no sound part in the whole community. We hence see what the 
Prophet treats of now; and this ought to be observed, for hypocrites 
wish ever to be flattered; and when the mercy of God is offered to 
them, they seek to be freed from every fear. It is therefore a 
bitter thing to them, when threatening are mingled, when God sharply 
chides them. "What! we heard yesterday a discourse on God's mercy, 
and now he fulminates against us. He is then changeable; if he were 
consistent, would not his manner of teaching be alike and the same 
today?" But men must be often awakened, for forgetfulness of God 
often creeps over them; they indulge themselves, and nothing is more 
difficult than to lead them to God; nay, when they have made some 
advances, they soon turn aside to some other course. 
    We hence see that men cannot be taught, except God reproves 
their sins by his word; and then, lest they despond, gives them a 
hope of mercy; and except he again returns to reproofs and 
threatening. This is the mode of address which we find in all the 
    I now come to the Prophet's words: "Hear", he says, "the word 
of Jehovah, ye children of Israel, the Lord has a dispute", &c. The 
Prophet, by saying that the Lord had a dispute with the inhabitants 
of the land, intimates that men in vain flatter themselves, when 
they have God against them, and that they shall soon find him to be 
their Judge, except they in time anticipate his vengeance. But he 
also reminds the Israelites that God had a dispute with them, that 
they might not have to feel the severity of justice, but reconcile 
themselves to God, while a seasonable opportunity was given them. 
Then the Prophet's introduction had this object in view - to make 
the Israelites to know that God would be adverse to them, except 
they sought, without delay, to regain his favor. The Lord then, 
since he declared that he would contend with them, shows that he was 
not willing to do so. for had God determined to punish the people, 
what need was there of this warning? Could he not instantly execute 
judgment on them? Since, then, the Prophet was sent to the children 
of Israel to warn them of a great and fatal danger, God had still a 
regard for their safety: and doubtless this warning prevailed with 
many; for those who were alarmed by this denunciation humbled 
themselves before God, and hardened not themselves in wickedness: 
and the reprobate, though not amended, were yet rendered twice less 
    The same is the case among us, whenever God threatens us with 
judgment: they who are not altogether intractable or unhealable, 
confess their guilt, and deprecate God's wrath; and others, though 
they harden their hearts in wickedness, cannot yet quench the power 
of truth; for the Lord takes from them every pretext for ignorance, 
and conscience wounds them more deeply, after they have been thus 
    We now then understand what the Prophet meant by saying, that 
God had a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. But that the 
Prophet's intention may be more clear to us, we must bear in mind, 
that he and other faithful teachers were wearied with crying, and 
that in the meantime no fruit appeared. He saw that his warnings 
were heedlessly despised, and that hence his last resort was to 
summon men to God's tribunal. We also are constrained, when we 
prevail nothing, to follow the same course: "God will judge you; for 
no one will bear to be judged by his word: whatever we announce to 
you in his name, is counted a matter of sport: he himself at length 
will show that he has to do with you." In a similar strain does 
Zechariah speak, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced,' 
(Zech. 12: 10:) and to the same purpose does Isaiah say, that the 
Spirit of the Lord was made sad. 'Is it not enough,' he says, 'that 
ye should be vexatious to men, except ye be so also to my God?' 
(Isa. 7: 13.) The Prophet joined himself with God; for the ungodly 
king Ahab, by tempting God, did at the same time trifle with his 
    There is then here an implied contrast between the dispute 
which God announces respecting the Israelites, and the daily strifes 
he had with them by his Prophets. For this reason also the Lord 
said, 'My Spirit shall no more strive with man, for he is flesh,' 
(Gen. 6: 3.) God indeed says there, that he had waited in vain for 
men to return to the right way; for they were refractory beyond any 
hope of repentance: he therefore declared, that he would presently 
punish them. So also in this place, '"The Lord has a trial at law"; 
he will now himself plead his own cause: he has hitherto long 
exercised his Prophets in contending with you; yea, he has wearied 
them with much and continual labour; ye remain ever like yourselves; 
he will therefore begin now to plead effectually his own cause with 
you: he will no more speak to you by the mouth, but by his power, 
show himself a judge.' The Prophet, however, designedly laid down 
the word, dispute, that the Israelites might know that God would 
severely treat them, not without cause, nor unjustly, as though he 
said, "God will so punish you as to show at the same time that he 
will do so for the best reason: ye elude all threatenings; ye think 
that you can make yourselves safe by your shifts: there are no 
evasions by which you can possibly hope to attain any thing; for God 
will at length uncover all your wickedness." In short, the Prophet 
here joins punishment with God's justice, or he points out by one 
word, a real (so to speak) or an effectual contention, by which the 
Lord not only reproves men in words, but also visits with judgment 
their sins. 
    It follows, "Because there is no truth", no kindness, no 
knowledge of God. The dispute, he said, was to be with the 
inhabitants of the land: by "the inhabitants of the land", he means 
the whole body of the people; as though he said, "Not a few men have 
become corrupt, but all kinds of wickedness prevail everywhere." And 
for the same reason he adds, "that there was no truth", &c. in the 
land; as though he said, "They who sin hide not themselves now in 
lurking-places; they seek no recesses, like those who are ashamed; 
but so much licentiousness is everywhere dominant, that the whole 
land is filled with the contempt of God and with crimes." This was a 
severe reproof to proud men. How much the Israelites flattered 
themselves, we know; it was therefore necessary for the Prophet to 
speak thus sharply to a refractory people; for a gentle and kind 
warning proves effectual only to the meek and teachable. When the 
world grows hardened against God, such a rigorous treatment as the 
words of the Prophet disclose must be used. Let those then, to whom 
is intrusted the charge of teaching, see that they do not gently 
warn men, when hardened in their vices; but let them follow this 
vehemence of the Prophet. 
    We said at the beginning, that the Prophet had a good reason 
for being so warm in his indignation: he was not at the moment 
foolishly carried away by the heat of zeal; but he knew that he had 
to do with men so perverse, that they could not be handled in any 
other way. The Prophet now reproves not only one kind of evil, but 
brings together every sort of crimes; as though he said, that the 
Israelites were in every way corrupt and perverted. He says first, 
that there was among them no faithfulness, and no kindness. He 
speaks here of their contempt of the second table of the law; for by 
this the impiety of men is sooner found out, that is, when an 
examination is made of their life: for hypocrites vauntingly profess 
the name of God, and confidently arrogate faith to themselves; and 
then they cover their vices with the external show of divine 
worship, and frigid acts of devotion: nay, the very thing mentioned 
by Jeremiah is too commonly the case, that 'the house of God is made 
a den of thieves,' (Jer. 7: 11.) Hence the Prophets, that they might 
drag the ungodly to the light, examine their conduct according to 
the duties of love: "Ye are right worshipers of God, ye are most 
holy; but in the meantime, where is truth, where is mutual 
faithfulness, where is kindness? If ye are not men, how can ye be 
angels? Ye are given to avarice, ye are perfidious, ye are cruel: 
what more can be said of you, except that each of you condemns all 
the rest before God, and that your life is also condemned by all?' 
    By saying that truth or faithfulness was extinct, he makes them 
to be like foxes, who are ever deceitful: by saying that there was 
no kindness, he accuses them of cruelty, as though he said, that 
they were like lions and wild beasts. But the fountain of all these 
vices he points out in the third clause, when he says, that they had 
no knowledge of God: and the knowledge of God he takes for the fear 
of God which proceeds from the knowledge of him; as though he said, 
"In a word, men go on as licentiously, as if they did not think that 
there is a God in heaven, as if all religion was effaced from their 
hearts." For as long as any knowledge of God remains in us, it is 
like a bridle to restrain us: but when men become wanton, and allow 
themselves every liberty, it is certain that they have forgotten 
God, and that there is in them now no knowledge of God. Hence the 
complaints in the Psalms, 'The ungodly have said in their heart, 
There is no God,' (Ps. 14: 1:) 'Impiety speaks in my heart, There is 
no God.' Men cannot run headlong into brutal stupidity, while a 
spark of the true knowledge of God shines or twinkles in their 
minds. We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet. 
    But after having said that they were full of perfidiousness and 
cruelty, he adds, "By cursing, and lying, and killing", &c., "'Alah" 
means to swear: some explain it in this place as signifying to 
forswear; and others read the two together, "'aloh wechachesh", to 
swear and lie, that is to deceive by swearing. But as "'alah" means 
often to curse, the Prophet here, I doubt not, condemns the practice 
of cursing, which was become frequent and common among the people. 
    But he enumerates particulars in order more effectually to 
check the fierceness of the people; for the wicked, we know, do not 
easily bend their neck: they first murmur, then they clamour against 
wholesome instruction, and at last they rage with open fury, and 
break out into violence, when they cannot otherwise stop the 
progress of sound doctrine. How ever this may be, we see that they 
are not easily led to own their sins. This is the reason why the 
Prophet shows here, by stating particulars, in how many ways they 
provoked God's wrath: 'Lo,' he says 'cursings, lyings, murder, 
thefts, adulteries, abound among you.' And the Prophet seems here to 
allude to the precepts of the law; as though he said, "If any one 
compares your life with the law of God, he will find that you 
avowedly and designedly lead such a life, as proves that you fight 
against God, that you violate every part of his law." 
    But it must be here observed, that he speaks not of such 
thieves or murderers as are led in our day to the gallows, or are 
otherwise punished. On the contrary, he calls them thieves and 
murderers and adulterers, who were in high esteem, and eminent in 
honor and wealth, and who, in short, were alone illustrious among 
the people of Israel: such did the Prophet brand with these 
disgraceful names, calling them murderers and thieves. So also does 
Isaiah speak of them, 'Thy princes are robbers and companions of 
thieves,' (Isa. 1: 23.) And we already reminded you, that the 
Prophet addresses not his discourses to few men, but to the whole 
people; for all, from the least to the greatest, had fallen away. 
    He afterwards says, "They have broken out". The expression no 
doubt is to be taken metaphorically, as though he said, "There are 
now no bonds, no barriers." For the people so raged against God, 
that no modesty, no shame on account of the law, no religion, no 
fear, prevailed among them, or checked their intractable spirit. 
Hence "they broke out". By the word, breaking out, the Prophet sets 
forth the furious wantonness seen in the reprobate; when freed from 
the fear of God, they abandon themselves to what is sinful, without 
any moderation, without any restraint. 
    And to the same purpose he subjoins, "Bloods are contiguous to 
bloods". By bloods he means all the worst crimes: and he says that 
bloods were close to bloods, because they joined crimes together, 
and as Isaiah says, that iniquity was as it were a train; so our 
Prophet says here, that such was the common liberty they took to 
sin, that wherever he turned his eyes, he could see no part free 
from wickedness. Then bloods are contiguous to bloods, that is, 
everywhere is seen the horrible spectacle of crimes. This is the 
meaning. It now follows - 
Hosea 4:3 
Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein 
shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of 
heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away. 
    The Prophet now expresses more clearly the dispute which he 
mentions in the first verse; and it now evidently appears, that it 
was not a judgment expressed in words, for God had in vain tried to 
bring the people to the right way by threats and reproofs: he had 
contended enough with then; they remained refractory; hence he adds, 
"Now mourn shall the whole land"; that is, God has now resolved to 
execute his judgment: there is therefore no use for you any more to 
contrive any evasion, as you have been hitherto wont to do; for God 
stretches forth his hand for your ultimate destruction. Mourn, 
therefore, shall the land, and "cut off shall be every one that 
dwells in it", as I prefer to render it; unless the Prophet, it may 
be, means, that though God should for a time suspend the last 
judgment, yet the Israelites would gain nothing, seeing that they 
would, by continual languor, pine away. But as he mentions mourning 
in the first place, the former meaning, that God would destroy all 
the inhabitants, seems more appropriate. He adds, "gathered shall 
they be all", or destroyed, (for either may suit the place,) "from 
the beast of the field, and the bird of heaven, to the fishes of the 
sea". The Prophet here enlarges on the greatness of God's wrath; for 
he includes even the innocent beasts and the birds of heaven, yea, 
the fishes of the sea. When Godly vengeance extends to brute 
animals, what will become of men? 
    But some one may here object and say, that it is unworthy of 
God to be angry with miserable creatures, which deserve no such 
treatment: for why should God be angry with fishes and beasts? But 
an answer may be easily given: As beasts, and birds, and fishes, 
and, in a word, all other things, have been created for the use of 
men, it is no wonder that God should extend the tokens of his curse 
to all creatures, above and below, when his purpose is to punish 
men. We seek, indeed, for the most part, some vain comforts to 
delight us, or to moderate our sorrows when God shows himself angry 
with us: but when God curses innocent animals for our sake, we then 
dread the more, except, indeed, we be under the influence of extreme 
    We now then understand why God here denounces destruction on 
brute animals as well as on birds and fishes of the sea; it is, that 
men may know themselves to be deprived of all his gifts; as when a 
person, in order to expose a wicked man to shame, pulls down his 
house and burns his whole furniture: so also does God do, who has 
adorned the world with so much and such varied wealth for our sake, 
when he reduces all things to a waste: He thereby shows how 
grievously offended he is with us, and thus constrains us to become 
humble. This then is the Prophet's meaning. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since we are at this day as guilty before 
thee as the Israelites of old were, who were so rebellious against 
thy Prophets, and that as thou hast often tried sweetly to allure us 
to thyself without any success, and as we have not hitherto ceased, 
by our continual obstinacy, to provoke thy wrath, - O grant, that 
being moved at least by the warnings thou givest us, we may 
prostrate ourselves before thy face, and not wait until thou puttest 
forth thy hand to destroy us, but, on the contrary, strive to 
anticipate thy judgment; and that being at the same time surely 
convinced that thou art ready to be reconciled to us in Christ, we 
may flee to Him as our Mediator; and that relying on his 
intercession, we may not doubt but that thou art ready to give us 
pardon, until having at length put away all sins, we come to that 
blessed state of glory which has been obtained for us by the blood 
of thy Son. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 10...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-09.txt