(Calvin on Hosea, part 10)

Lecture Tenth. 
Hosea 4:4 
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people [are] as 
they that strive with the priest. 
    The Prophet here deplores the extreme wickedness of the people, 
that they would bear no admonitions, like those who, being past 
hope, reject every advice, admit no physicians, and dislike all 
remedies: and it is a proof of irreclaimable wickedness, when men 
close their ears and harden their hearts against all salutary 
counsels. Hence the Prophet intimates, that, together with their 
great and many corruptions, there was such waywardness, that no one 
dared to reprove the public vices. 
    He adds this reason, "For the people are as chiders of the 
priest", or, they really contend with the priest: for some take 
"caph", in this place, not as expressive of likeness, but as 
explaining and affirming what is said, 'They altogether strive with 
the priest.' But I prefer the former sense, which is, that the 
Prophet calls all the people the censors of their pastors: and we 
see that froward men become thus insolent when they are reproved; 
for instantly such an objection as this is made by them, "Am I to be 
treated like a child? Have I not attained sufficient knowledge to 
understand how I ought to live?" We daily meet with many such men, 
who proudly boast of their knowledge, as though they were superior 
to all Prophets and teachers. And no doubt the ungodly make a show 
of wit and acuteness in opposing sound doctrine: and then it appears 
that they have learnt more than what one would have thought, - for 
what end? only that they may contend with God. 
    Let us now return to the Prophet's words. "But", he says: "ach" 
is not to be taken here as in many places for "verily:" but it 
denotes exception, "In the meantime". "But", or, in the meantime, 
"let no one" chide and reprove another. In a word, the Prophet 
complains, that while all kinds of wickedness abounded among the 
people, there was no liberty to teach and to admonish, but that all 
were so refractory, that they would not bear to hear the word; and 
that as soon as any one touched their vices, there were great 
doctors, as they say, ready to reply. 
    And he enlarges on the subject by saying, that they "were as 
chiders of the priest"; for he declares, that they who, with 
impunity, conducted themselves so wantonly against God, were not yet 
content in being so wayward as to repel all reproofs, but also 
willfully rose up against their own teachers: and, as I have already 
said, common observation sufficiently proves, that all profane 
despisers of God are inflated with such confidence, that they dare 
to attack others. Some conjecture, in this instance, that the priest 
was so base, as to become liable to universal reprobation; but this 
conjecture is of no weight, and frigid: for the Prophet here did not 
draw his pen against a single individual, but, on the contrary, 
sharply reproved, as we have said, the perverseness of the people, 
that no one would hearken to a reprover. Let us then know that their 
diseases were then incurable, when the people became hardened 
against salutary counsels, and could not bear to be any more 
reproved. It follows - 
Hosea 4:5 
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall 
fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother. 
    The copulative is to be taken here for an illative, "Fall, 
therefore, shalt thou". Here God denounces vengeance on refractory 
men; as though he said, "As ye pay no regard to my authority, when 
by words I reprove you, I will not now deal with you in this way; 
but I will visit you for this contempt of my word." And thus God is 
wont to do: he first tries men, or he makes the trial, whether they 
can be brought to repentance; he severely reproves them, and 
expostulates with them: but having tried all means by words, he then 
comes to the last remedy, by exercising his power; for, as it has 
been said, he deigns no longer to contend with men. Hence the Lord, 
when he saw that his Prophets were despised, and that their whole 
teaching was a matter of sport, determined, as it appears from this 
passage, that the people should shortly be destroyed. 
    Some render "hayom", to-day, and think that a short time is 
denoted: but as the Prophet immediately subjoins, "And fall together 
shall the Prophet with thee", "laylah", "in the night", I explain it 
thus, - that the people would be destroyed together, and then that 
the Prophets, even those who, in a great measure, brought such 
vengeance on the people, would be drawn also into the same ruin. 
Fall shalt thou then in the day, and fall in the night shall the 
Prophet, that is, "The same destruction shall at the same time 
include all: but if ruin should not immediately take away the 
Prophets, they shall not yet escape my hand; they shall follow in 
their turn." Hence the Prophet joins day and night together in a 
continued order; as though he said, "I will destroy them all from 
the first to the last, and no one shall rescue himself from 
punishment; and if they think that those shall be unpunished who 
shall be later led to vengeance, they are mistaken; for as the night 
follows the day, so also some will draw others after them into the 
same ruin." Yet at the same time the Prophet, I doubt not, means by 
this metaphor, "the day", that tranquil and joyous time during which 
the people indulged their pride. He then means that the punishment 
he predicted would be sudden: for except the ungodly see the hand of 
God near, they ever, as it has been observed before, laugh to scorn 
all threatening. God then says that he would punish the people "in 
the day", even at mid-day, while the sun was shining; and that when 
the dusk should come, the Prophets would also follow in their turn. 
    It is evident enough that Hosea speaks not here of God's true 
and faithful ministers, but of impostors, who deceived the people by 
their blandishments, as it is usually the case: for as soon as any 
Prophet sincerely wished to discharge his office for God, there came 
forth flatterers before the public, - "This man is too rigid, and 
makes a wrong use of God's name, by denouncing so grievous a 
punishment; we are God's people." Such, then, were the Prophets, we 
must remember, who are here referred to; for few were those who then 
faithfully discharged their office; and there was a great number of 
those who were indulgent to the people and to their vices. 
    It is afterwards added, "I will also consume thy mother". The 
term, mother, is to be taken here for the Church, on account of 
which the Israelites, we know, were wont to exult against God; as 
the Papists do at this day, who boast of their mother church, which, 
as they say, is their shield of Ajax. When any one points out their 
corruptions, they instantly flee to this protection, - "What! Are we 
not the Church of God?" Hence when the Prophet saw that the 
Israelites made a wrong use of this falsely-assumed title, he said, 
'I will also destroy your mother,' that is, "This your boasting, and 
the dignity of Abraham's race, and the sacred name of Church, will 
not prevent God from taking dreadful vengeance on you all; for he 
will tear from the roots and abolish the very name of your mother; 
he will disperse that smoke of which you boast, inasmuch as you hide 
your crimes under the title of Church." It follows - 
Hosea 4:6 
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast 
rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no 
priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will 
also forget thy children. 
    Here the Prophet distinctly touches on the idleness of the 
priests, whom the Lord, as it is well known, had set over the 
people. For though it could not have availed to excuse the people, 
or to extenuate their fault, that the priests were idle; yet the 
Prophet justly inveighs against them for not having performed the 
duty allotted to them by God. But what is said applies not to the 
priests only; for God, at the same time, indirectly blames the 
voluntary blindness of the people. For how came it, that pure 
instruction prevailed not among the Israelites, except that the 
people especially wished that it should not? Their ignorance, then, 
as they say, was gross; as is the case with many ungodly men at this 
day, who not only love darkness, but also draw it around them on 
every side, that they may have some excuse for their ignorance. 
    God then does here, in the first place, attack the priests, but 
he includes also the whole people; for teaching prevailed not, as it 
ought to have done, among them. The Lord also reproaches the 
Israelites for their ingratitude; for he had kindled among them the 
light of celestial wisdom; inasmuch as the law, as it is well known, 
must have been sufficient to direct men in the right way. It was 
then as though God himself did shine forth from heaven, when he gave 
them his law. How, then, did the Israelites perish through 
ignorance? Even because they closed their eyes against the celestial 
light, because they deigned not to become teachable, so as to learn 
the wisdom of the eternal Father. We hence see that the guilt of the 
people, as it has been said, is not here extenuated, but that God, 
on the contrary, complains, that they had malignantly suppressed the 
teaching of the law: for the law was fit to guide them. The people 
perished without knowledge, because they would perish. 
    But the Prophet denounces vengeance on the priests, as well as 
on the whole people, "Because knowledge hast thou rejected", he 
says, "I also will thee reject, so that the priesthood thou shalt 
not discharge for me". This is specifically addressed to the 
priests: the Lord accuses them of having rejected knowledge. But 
knowledge, as Malachi says, was to be sought from their lips, (Mal. 
2: 7;) and Moses also touches on the same point in Deut. 33: 10. It 
was then an extreme wickedness in the priests, as though they wished 
to subvert God's sacred order, when they sought the honor and the 
dignity of the office without the office itself: and such is the 
case with the Papists of the present day; they are satisfied with 
its dignity and its wealth. Mitred bishops are prelates, are chief 
priests; they vauntingly boast that they are the heads of the 
Church, and would be deemed equal with the Apostles: at the same 
time, who of them attends to his office? nay, they think that it 
would be in a manner a disgrace to give attention to their office 
and to God's call. 
    We now then see what the Prophet meant by saying, "Because thou 
hast knowledge rejected, I also will thee reject, so that thou shalt 
not discharge for me the priesthood". In a word, he shows that the 
divorce, which the priests attempted to make, was absurd, and 
contrary to the nature of things, that it was monstrous, and in 
short impossible. Why? Because they wished to retain the title and 
its wealth, they wished to be deemed prelates of the Church, without 
knowledge: God allows not things joined together by a sacred knot to 
be thus torn asunder. "Dost thou then," he says, "take to thyself 
the office without knowledge? Nay, as thou hast rejected knowledge, 
I will also take to myself the honor of the priesthood, which I 
previously conferred on thee." 
    This is a remarkable passage, and by it we can check the 
furious boasting of the Papists, when they haughtily force upon us 
their hierarchy and the order, as they call it, of their clergy, 
that is, of their corrupt dregs: for God declares by his word, that 
it is impossible that there should be any priest without knowledge. 
And further, he would not have priests to be endued with knowledge 
only, and to be as it were mute; for he would have the treasure 
deposited with them to be communicated to the whole Church. God 
then, in speaking of sacerdotal knowledge, includes also preaching. 
Though one indeed be a literate, as there have been some in our age 
among the bishops and cardinals, - though then there be such he is 
not yet to be classed among the learned; for, as it has been said, 
sacerdotal learning is the treasure of the whole Church. When 
therefore a boast is made of the priesthood, with no regard to the 
ministration of the word, it is a mere mockery; for teacher and 
priest are, as they say, almost convertible terms. We now perceive 
the meaning of the first clause. 
    It then follows, "Because thou hast forgotten the law of thy 
God, I will also forget thy children". Some confine this latter 
clause to the priests, and think that it forms a part of the same 
context: but when any one weighs more fully the Prophet's words, he 
will find that this refers to the body of the people. 
    This Prophet is in his sentences often concise, and so his 
transitions are various and obscure: now he speaks in his own 
person, then he assumes the person of God; now he turns his 
discourse to the people, then he speaks in the third person; now he 
reproves the priests, then immediately he addresses the whole 
people. There seemed to be first a common denunciation, 'Thou shalt 
fall in the day, the Prophet in the night shall follow, and your 
mother shall perish.' The Prophet now, I doubt not, confirms the 
same judgment in other words: and, in the first place, he advances 
this proposition, that the priests were idle, and that the people 
quenched the light of celestial instruction; afterwards he denounces 
on the priests the judgment they deserved, 'I will cast thee away,' 
he says, 'from the priesthood;' now he comes to all the Israelites, 
and says, "Thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also 
forget thy children". Now this fault was doubtless what belonged to 
the whole people; there was no one exempt from this sin; and this 
forgetfulness was fitly ascribed to the whole people. For how it 
happened, that the priests had carelessly shaken off from their 
shoulders the burden of teaching the people? Even because the people 
were unwilling to have their ears annoyed: for the ungodly complain 
that God's servants are troublesome, when they daily cry against 
their vices. Hence the people gladly entered into a truce with their 
teachers, that they might not perform their office: thus the 
oblivion of God's law crept in. 
    As then the Prophet had denounced on the priests their 
punishment, so he now assures the whole people that God would bring 
a dreadful judgment on them all, that he would even blot out the 
whole race of Abraham, "I will forget", he says, "thy children". Why 
was this? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, which was to 
continue, and to be confirmed to his posterity: they departed from 
the true faith, they became spurious children; then God rightly 
testifies here, that he had a just cause why he should no longer 
count this degenerate people among the children of Abraham. How so? 
"For ye have forgotten my law," he says: "had you remembered the 
law, I would also have kept my covenant with you: but I will no more 
remember my covenant, for you have violated it. Your children, 
therefore, deserve not to be under finch a covenant, inasmuch as ye 
are such a people." It follows - 
Hosea 4:7 
As they were increased, so they sinned against me: [therefore] will 
I change their glory into shame. 
    Here the Prophet amplifies the wickedness and impiety of the 
people, by adding this circumstance, that they the more perversely 
wantoned against God, the more bountiful he was to them, yea, when 
he poured upon them riches in full exuberance. Such a complaint we 
have before noticed: but the Prophets, we know, did not speak only 
once of the same thing; when they saw that they effected nothing, 
that the contempt of God still prevailed, they found it necessary to 
repeat often what they had previously said. Here then the Prophet 
accuses the Israelites of having shamefully abused the indulgence of 
God, of having allowed themselves greater liberty in sinning, when 
God so kindly and liberally dealt with them. 
    Some confine this to the priests, and think the meaning to be, 
that they sinned more against God since he increased the Levitical 
tribe and added to their wealth: but the Prophet, I doubt not, meant 
to include the whole people. He, indeed, in the last verse, 
separated the crimes of the priests from those of the people, though 
in the beginning he advanced a general propositions: he now returns 
to that statement, which is, that all, from the highest to the 
lowest, acted impiously and wickedly against God. Now we know that 
the Israelites had increased in number as well as in wealth; for 
they were prosperous, as it has been stated, under the second 
Jeroboam; and thought themselves then extremely happy, because they 
were filled with every abundance. Hence God shows now that they had 
become worse and less excusable, for they were grown thus wanton, 
like a horse well-fed, when he kicks against his own master, - a 
comparison which even Moses uses in his song, (Deut. 32: 19.) We now 
see what the Prophet means. Hence, when he says, "kerubam", 
"according to their multiplying", I explain this not simply of men 
nor of wealth, but of every kind of blessing: for the Lord here, in 
a word, accuses the people of ingratitude, because the more kind and 
liberal he was to them, the more obstinately bent they were on 
    He afterwards subjoins, "Their glory will I turn to shame". He 
here denounces God's judgment on proud men, which they feared not: 
for men, we know, are blinded by prosperity. And it is the worst 
kind of drunkenness, when we seem to ourselves to be happy; for then 
we allow ourselves every thing that is contrary to God, and are deaf 
to all instruction, and are, in short, wholly intractable. But the 
Prophet says, "I will commute this glory into shame", which means, 
"There is no reason for them to trust in themselves, and foolishly 
to impose on themselves, by fixing their eyes on their present 
splendor; for it is in my power," the Lord says, "to change their 
glory." We then see that the Prophet meant here to shake off from 
the Israelites their vain confidence; for they were wont to set up 
against God their riches, their glory, their power, their horses and 
chariots. "This is your glorying; but in my hand and power is 
adversity and prosperity; yea," the Lord says, "on me alone depends 
the changing of glory into shame." But at the same time, the Prophet 
intimates, that it could not be that God would thus prostitute his 
blessings to unworthy men as to swine: for it is a kind of 
profanation, when men are thus proud against God, while he bears 
with them, while he spares them. This combination then applies to 
all who abuse God's kindness; for the Lord intends not that his 
favor should be thus profaned. It follows - 
Hosea 4:8 
They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their 
    This verse has given occasion to many interpreters to think 
that all the particulars we have noticed ought to be restricted to 
the priests alone: but there is no sufficient reason for this. We 
have already said, that the Prophet is wont frequently to pass from 
the people to the priests: but as a heavier guilt belonged to the 
priests, he very often inveighs against them, as he does in this 
place, "They eat", he says, "the sin of my people, and lift up to 
their iniquity his soul", that is, 'every one lifts up his own 
soul,' or, 'they lift up the soul of the sinner by iniquity;' for 
the pronoun applies to the priests as well as to the people. The 
number is changed: for he says, "yochelu" and "yis'u" in the plural 
number, "They will eat the sin, and shall lift up", &c., in the 
third person; and then "his soul"; it may be, their own; it is, 
however, a pronoun in the singular number: hence a change of number 
is necessary. We are then at liberty to choose, whether the Prophet 
says this of the people or of the priests: and as we have said, it 
may apply to both, but in a different sense. 
    We may understand him as saying, that the priests lifted up 
their souls to the iniquity of the people, because they anxiously 
wished the people to be given to many vices, for they hoped thereby 
to gain much prey, as the case is, when any one expects a reward 
from robbers: he is glad to hear that they become rich, for he 
considers their riches to be for his gain. So it was with the 
priests, who gaped for lucre; they thought that they were going on 
well, when the people brought many sacrifices. And this is usually 
the case, when the doctrine of the law is adulterated, and when the 
ungodly think that this alone remains for them, - to satisfy God 
with sacrifices, and similar expiations. Then, if we apply the 
passage to the priests, the lifting up of the soul is the lust for 
gain. But if we prefer to apply the words to sinners themselves, the 
sense is, 'Upon their iniquity they lift up their soul,' that is, 
the guilty raise up themselves by false comforts, and extenuate 
their vices; or, by their own flatteries, bury and entirely smother 
every remnant of God's fear. Then, according to this second sense, 
to lift up the soul is to deceive, and to take away all doubts by 
vain comforts, or to remove every sorrow, and to erase every guilt 
by a false notion. 
    I come now to the meaning of the whole. Though the Prophet here 
accuses the priests, yet he involves, no doubt, the whole people, 
and deservedly, in the same guilt: for how was it that the priests 
expected gain from sacrifices? Even because the doctrine of the law 
was subverted. God had instituted sacrifices for this end, that 
whosoever sinned, being reminded of his guilt, might mourn for his 
sin, and further, that by witnessing that sad spectacle, his 
conscience might be more wounded: when he saw the innocent animal 
slain at the altar, he ought to have dreaded God's judgment. 
Besides, God also intended to exercise the faith of all, in order 
that they might flee to the expiation which was to be made by the 
promised Mediator. And at the same time, the penalty which God then 
laid on sinners, ought to have been as a bridle to restrain them. In 
a word, the sacrifices had, in every way, this as their object, - to 
keep the people from being so ready or so prone to sin. But what did 
the ungodly do? They even mocked God, and thought that they had 
fully done their duty, when they offered an ox or a lamb; and 
afterwards they freely indulged themselves in their sins. 
    So gross a folly has been even laughed to scorn by heathen 
writers. Even Plato has so spoken of such sacrifices, as to show 
that those who would by such trifles make a bargain with God, are 
altogether ungodly: and certainly he so speaks in his second book on 
the Commonwealth, as though he meant to describe the Papacy. For he 
speaks of purgatory, he speaks of satisfactions; and every thing the 
Papists of this day bring forward, Plato in that book distinctly 
sets forth as being altogether sottish and absurd. But yet in all 
ages this assurance has prevailed, that men have thought themselves 
delivered from God's hand, when they offered some sacrifice: it is, 
as they imagine, a compensation. 
    Hence the Prophet now complains of this perversion, "They eat", 
he says, (for he speaks of a continued act,) "the sins of my people, 
and to iniquity they lift up the heart of each"; that is, When all 
sin, one after the other, each one is readily absolved, because he 
brings a gift to the priests. It is the same thing as though the 
Prophet said, "There is a collusion between them, between the 
priests and the people." How so? Because the priests were the 
associates of robbers, and gladly seized on what was brought: and so 
they carried on no war, as they ought to have done, with vices, but 
on the contrary urged only the necessity of sacrifices: and it was 
enough, if men brought things plentifully to the temple. The people 
also themselves showed their contempt of God; for they imagined, 
that provided they made satisfaction by their ceremonial 
performances, they would be exempt from punishment. Thus then there 
was an ungodly compact between the priests and the people: the Lord 
was mocked in the midst of them. We now then understand the real 
meaning of the Prophet: and thus I prefer the latter exposition as 
to 'the lifting up of the soul,' which is, that the priests lifted 
up the soul of each, by relieving their consciences, by soothing 
words of flattery, and by promising life, as Ezekiel says, to souls 
doomed to die, (Ezek. 13: 19.) It now follows - 
Hosea 4:9,10 
And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them 
for their ways, and reward them their doings. 
For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, 
and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to 
the LORD. 
    The Prophet here again denounces on both a common punishment, 
as neither was free from guilt. "As the people", he says, "so shall 
be the priest"; that is "I will spare neither the one nor the other; 
for the priest has abused the honor conferred on him; for though 
divinely appointed over the Church for this purpose, to preserve the 
people in piety and holy life, he has yet broken through and 
violated every right principle: and then the people themselves 
wished to have such teachers, that is, such as were mute. I will 
therefore now" the Lord says, "inflict punishment on them all alike. 
As the people then, so shall the priest be." 
    Some go farther, and say, that it means that God would rob the 
priests of their honor, that they might differ nothing from the 
people; which is indeed true: but then they think that the Prophet 
threatens not others as well as the priests; which is not true. For 
though God, when he punishes the priests and the people for the 
contempt of his law, blots out the honor of the priesthood, and so 
abolishes it as to produce an equality between the great and the 
despised; yet the Prophet declares here, no doubt, that God would 
become the vindicator of his law against other sinners as well as 
against the priests. This subject expands wider than what they mean. 
The rest we must defer till to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that, since thou hast hitherto so kindly 
invited us to thyself, and daily invites us, and often interposes 
also thy threatening to rouse our inattention, and since we have 
been inattentive to thy reproofs, as well as to thy paternal 
kindness, - O grant, that we may not, to the last, proceed in this 
our wickedness, and thus provoke the vengeance thou here denounces 
on men past recovery; but that we may anticipate thy wrath by true 
repentance, and be humbled under thy hand, yea, be thy word, that 
thou mayest receive us into favor, and nourish us in thy paternal 
bosom, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 11...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-10.txt