(Calvin on Hosea, part 11)

Lecture Eleventh. 
    One thing escaped me in yesterday's lecture, on which I shall 
now briefly touch. It may be asked why the Prophet says, that the 
priest was to be robbed of his honour, who was not a true nor a 
legitimate priest; for there was among the Israelites, we know, no 
temple in which God was rightly worshipped. For though it was 
customary with them to profess the name of the true God, yet we are 
aware that all their pretenses were vain. Since the lord had chosen 
one sanctuary only at Jerusalem, it hence follows, that all the 
priests among the people of Israel were false. It could not then be 
that God had taken from them their honor. But it is nothing new for 
God to punish the ungodly, by taking from them what they seem to 
    The case is the same this day as to the Papacy; for they who 
vaunt themselves as being clergy and priests are mere apes: as, 
however, they retain the title, what the Prophet threatened to the 
false priests of his age may be justly said to them, that their 
shame shall be made manifest, so that they shall cease to boast of 
their dignity, by which they now deceive the simple and ignorant. 
    We now then understand the Prophet's meaning: his meaning is 
the same as when he said before, "I will draw thee to the desert, 
and then the ephod shall cease, and the seraphim shall cease." There 
was, we know, no ephod which the Lord approved, except that alone 
which the legitimate priest did wear: but as there was emulation 
between the Israelites and the Jews, and as they who had departed 
from the true and pure worship of God, did yet boast that they 
worshipped the God of Abraham, the Lord here declares, that he would 
not suffer them to lurk under such masks. 
    I now return to that passage of the Prophet, in which he says, 
"They shall eat and shall not be satisfied", and again, "They shall 
play the wanton and shall not increase; because Jehovah have they 
left off to attend to". The Prophet here again proclaims the 
judgment which was nigh the Israelites. And first, he says, "They 
shall eat and shall not be satisfied"; in which he alludes to the 
last verse. For the priests gaped for gain, and their only care was 
to satisfy their appetites. Since then their cupidity was 
insatiable, which was also the cause why they conceded sinful 
liberty to the people, he now says, "They shall eat and shall not be 
satisfied". The Prophet intimates further by these words, that men 
are not sustained by plenty or abundance of provisions, but rather 
by the blessing of God: for a person may devour much, yet the 
quantity, however large, may not satisfy him; and this we find to be 
often the case as to a voracious appetite; for in such an instance, 
the staff of bread is broken, that is, the Lord takes away support 
from bread, so that much eating does not satisfy. And this is the 
Prophet's meaning, when he says, "They shall eat and shall not be 
satisfied". The priests thought it a happy time with them, when they 
gathered great booty from every quarter; God on the contrary 
declares, that it would be empty and useless to them; for no 
satisfying effect would follow: however much they might greedily 
swallow up, they would not yet be satisfied. 
    He afterwards adds, "They shall play the wanton and shall not 
increase"; that is, "However much they might give the reins to 
promiscuous lusts, I will not yet suffer them to propagate: so far 
shall they be from increasing or generating an offspring by lawful 
marriages, that were they everywhere to indulge in illicit 
intercourse, they would still continue barren." The Prophet here, in 
a word, testifies that the ungodly are deceived, when they think 
that they can obtain their wishes by wicked and unlawful means; for 
the Lord will frustrate their desires. The avaricious think, when 
they have much, that they are sufficiently defended against all 
want; and when penury presses on all others, they think themselves 
beyond the reach of danger. But the Lord derides this folly: 
"Gather, gather great heaps; but I will blow on your riches, that 
they may vanish, or at least yield you no advantage. So also strive 
to beget children; though one may marry ten wives, or everywhere 
play the wanton, he shall still remain childless." Thus we see that 
a just punishment is inflicted on profane men, when they indulge 
their own lusts: they indeed promise to themselves a happy issue; 
but God, on the other hand, pronounces upon them his curse. 
    He then adds, "They have left Jehovah to attend", that is that 
they may not attend or serve him. Here the Prophet points out the 
source and the chief cause of all evils, and that is, because the 
Israelites had forsaken the true God and his worship. Though they 
indeed retained the name of God, and were wont, even boldly, to set 
up this plea against the Prophets, that they were the children of 
Abraham, and the chosen of the supreme God, he yet says that they 
were apostates. How so? Because whosoever keeps faith with God, 
keeps himself also under the tuition of his word, and wanders not 
after his own inventions; but the Israelites indulged themselves in 
any thing they pleased. Since then it is certain that they had 
shaken off the yoke of the law, it is no wonder that the Prophet 
says, that they had departed from the Lord. But we ought to notice 
the confirmation of this truth, that no one can continue to keep 
faith with God, except he observes his word and remains under its 
tuition. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 4:11 
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart. 
    The verb "lakach" means to take away; and this sense is also 
admissible that wine and wantonness take possession of the heart; 
but I take its simpler meaning, to take away. But it is not a 
general truth as most imagine, who regard it a proverbial saying, 
that wantonness and wine deprive men of their right mind and 
understanding: on the contrary, it is to be restricted, I doubt not, 
to the Israelites; as though the Prophet had said, that they were 
without a right mind, and like brute animals, because drunkenness 
and fornication had infatuated or fascinated them. But we may take 
both in a metaphorical sense; as fornication may be superstition, 
and so also drunkenness: yet it seems more suitable to the context 
to consider, that the Prophet here reproaches the Israelites for 
having petulantly cast aside every instruction through being too 
much given to their pleasures and too much cloyed. Since then the 
Israelites had been enriched with great plenty, God had given way to 
abominable indulgences, the Prophet says, that they were without 
sense: and this is commonly the case with such men. I will not 
therefore treat here more at large of drunkenness and fornication. 
    It is indeed true, that when any one becomes addicted to 
wantonness, he loses both modesty and a right mind, and also that 
wine is as it were poisonous, for it is, as one has said, a mixed 
poison: and the earth, when it sees its own blood drank up 
intemperately, takes its revenge on men. These things are true; but 
let us see what the Prophet meant. 
    Now, as I have said, he simply directs his discourse to the 
Israelites, and says, that they were sottish and senseless, because 
the Lord had dealt too liberally with them. For, as I have said, the 
kingdom of Israel was then very opulent, and full of all kinds of 
luxury. The Prophet then touches now distinctly on this very thing: 
"How comes it that ye are now so senseless, that there is not a 
particle of right understanding among you? Even because ye are given 
to excesses, because there is among you too large an abundance of 
all good things: hence it is, that all indulge their own lusts; and 
these take away your heart." In short, God means here that the 
Israelites abused his blessings, and that excesses blinded them. 
This is the meaning. Let us now go on - 
Hosea 4:12 
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth 
unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused [them] to err, 
and they have gone a whoring from under their God. 
    The Prophet calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to 
honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous 
was the perfidy of the people, that having been chosen, they had 
afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father. Hence "my people": there 
is here an implied comparison between all other nations and the seed 
of Abraham, whom God had adopted; "This is, forsooth! the people 
whom I designed to be sacred to myself, whom of all nations in the 
world I have taken to myself: they are my heritage. Now this people, 
who ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff 
answers them!" We hence see that it was a grievous and severe 
reprobation when the Lord reminded them of the invaluable kindness 
with which he had favored the children of Abraham. 
    So at this day our guilt will be more grievous, if we continue 
not in the pure worship of God, since God has called us to himself 
and designed us to be his peculiar flock. The same thing that the 
Prophet brought against the Israelites may be also brought against 
the Papists; for as soon as infants are born among them, the Lord 
signs them with the sacred symbol of baptism; they are therefore in 
some sense the people of God. We see, at the same time, how gross 
and abominable are the superstitions which prevail among them: there 
are none more stupid than they are. Even the Turks and the Saracenes 
are wise when compared with them. How great, then, and how shameful 
is this baseness, that the Papists, who boast themselves to be the 
people of God, should go astray after their own mad follies! 
    But the Prophet says the Israelites "consulted" their own wood, 
or inquired of wood. He no doubt accuses them here of having 
transferred the glory of the only true God to their own idols, or 
fictitious gods. They consult, he says, their own wood, and the 
"staff" answers them. He seems, in the second clauses to allude to 
the blind: as when a blind man asks his staff, so he says the 
Israelites asked counsel of their wood and staff. Some think that 
superstitions then practiced are here pointed out. The augurs we 
know used a staff; and it is probable that diviners in the East 
employed also a staff, or some such thing, in performing their 
incantations. Others explain these words allegorically, as though 
wood was false religion, and staff the ungodly prophets. But I am 
inclined to hold to simplicity. It then seems to me more probable, 
that the Israelites, as I have already stated, are here condemned 
for consulting wood or dead idols, instead of the only true God; and 
that it was the same thing as if a blind man was to ask counsel of 
his staff, though the staff be without any reason or sense. A staff 
is indeed useful, but for a different purpose. And thus the Prophet 
not only contemptuously, but also ironically, exposes to scorn the 
folly of those who consult their gods of wood and stone; for to do 
so will no more avail them than if one had a staff for his 
    He then subjoins, "for the spirit of fornication has deceived 
them". Here again the Prophet aggravates their guilt, inasmuch as no 
common blame was to be ascribed to the Israelites; for they were, he 
says, wholly given to fornication "The spirit", then, "of 
fornication deceived them": it was the same as if one inflamed with 
lust ran headlong into evil; as we see to be the case with brutal 
men when carried away by a blind and shameful passion; for then 
every distinction between right and wrong disappears from their eyes 
- no choice is made, no shame is felt. As then such heat of lust is 
wont sometimes to seize men, that they distinguish nothing, so the 
Prophet says with the view of shaming the people the more, that they 
were like those given to fornication, who no longer exercise any 
judgment, who are restrained by no shame. "The spirit", then, "of 
fornication has deceived them": but as this similitude often meets 
us, I shall not dwell upon it. 
    "They have played the wanton", he says, "that they may not obey 
the Lord". He does not say simply, 'from their God,' but 'from 
under' "mitachat"; "they have then played the wanton, that they 
might no more obey God", or continue under his government. We may 
hence learn what is our spiritual chastity, even when God rules us 
by his word, when we go not here and there and rashly follow our own 
superstitions. When we abide then under the government of our God, 
and with fixed eyes look on him, then we chastely preserve our 
faithfulness to him. But when we follow idols, we then play the 
wanton and depart from God. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 4:13,14 
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon 
the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow 
thereof [is] good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, 
and your spouses shall commit adultery. 
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your 
spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with 
whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people [that] 
doth not understand shall fall. 
    The Prophet shows here more clearly what was the fornication 
for which he had before condemned the people, - that they worshipped 
God under trees and on high places. This then is explanatory, for 
the Prophet defines what he before understood by the word, 
fornication; and this explanation was especially useful, nay, 
necessary. For men, we know, will not easily give way, particularly 
when they can adduce some color for their sins, as is the case with 
the superstitious: when the Lord condemns their perverted and 
vicious modes of worship, they instantly cry out, and boldly contend 
and say, "What! is this to be counted fornication, when we worship 
God?" For whatever they do from inconsiderate zeal is, they think, 
free from every blame. So the Papists of this day fix it as a matter 
beyond dispute that all their modes of worship are approved by God: 
for though nothing is grounded on his word, yet good intention (as 
they say) is to them more than a sufficient excuse. Hence they dare 
proudly to clamour against God, whenever he condemns their 
corruptions and abuses. Such presumption has doubtless prevailed 
from the beginning. 
    The Prophet, therefore, deemed it needful openly and distinctly 
to show to the Israelites, that though they thought themselves to be 
worshipping God with pious zeal and good intention, they were yet 
committing fornication. "It is fornication," he says, "when ye 
sacrifice under trees." "What! has it not ever been a commendable 
service to offer sacrifices and to burn incense to God?" Such being 
the design of the Israelites, what was the reason that God was so 
angry with them? We may suppose them to have fallen into a mistake; 
yet why did not God bear with this foolish intention, when it was 
covered, as it has been stated, with honest and specious zeal? But 
God here sharply reproves the Israelites, however much they 
pretended a great zeal, and however much they covered their 
superstitions with the false title of God's worship: "It is nothing 
else," he says, "but fornication." 
    "On tops of mountains", he says, "they sacrifice, and on hills 
they burn incense, under the oak and the poplar and the teil-tree", 
&c. It seemed apparently a laudable thing in the Israelites to build 
altars in many places; for frequent attendance at the temples might 
have stirred them up the more in God's worship. Such is the plea of 
the Papists for filling their temples with pictures; they say, "We 
are everywhere reminded of God wherever we turn our eyes; and this 
is very profitable." So also it might have seemed to the Israelites 
a pious work, to set up God's worship on hills and on tops of 
mountains and under every tall tree. But God repudiated the whole; 
he would not be in this manner worshipped: nay, we see that he was 
grievously displeased. He says, that the faith pledged to him was 
thus violated; he says, that the people basely committed 
fornication. Though the Prophet's doctrine is at this day by no 
means plausible in the world, so that hardly one in ten embraces it; 
we shall yet contend in vain with the Spirit of God: nothing then is 
better than to hear our judge; and he pronounces all fictitious 
modes of worship, however much adorned by a specious guise, to be 
adulteries and whoredoms. 
    And we hence learn that good intention, with which the Papists 
so much please themselves, is the mother of all wantonness and of 
all filthiness. How so? Because it is a high offense against heaven 
to depart from the word of the Lord: for God had commanded 
sacrifices and incense to be nowhere offered to him but at 
Jerusalem. The Israelites transgressed this command. But obedience 
to God, as it is said in 1 Sam. 15, is of more value with him than 
all sacrifices. 
    The Prophet also distinctly excludes a device in which the 
ungodly and hypocrites take great delight: "good:", he says, "was 
its shade"; that is, they pleased themselves with such devices. So 
Paul says that there is a show of wisdom in the inventions and 
ordinances of men, (Col. 2: 23.) Hence, when men undertake voluntary 
acts of worship, - which the Greeks call "etelotreskeias", 
superstitions, being nothing else than will-worship, - when men 
undertake this or that to do honor to God, there appears to them a 
show of wisdom, but before God it is abomination only. At this 
practice the Prophet evidently glances, when he says that the shade 
of the poplar, or of the oak, or of teil-tree, was good; for the 
ungodly and the hypocrites imagined their worship to be approved of 
God, and that they surpassed the Jews, who worshipped God only in 
one place: "Our land is full of altars, and memorials of God present 
themselves everywhere." But when they thought that they had gained 
the highest glory by their many altars, the Prophet says, that the 
shade indeed was good, but that it only pleased wantons, who would 
not acknowledge their baseness. 
    He afterwards adds, "Therefore your daughters shall play the 
wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall become adulteresses: I will 
not visit your daughters and daughters-in-law". Some explain this 
passage as though the Prophet said, "While the parents were absent, 
their daughters and daughters-in-law played the wanton." The case is 
the same at this day; for there is no greater liberty in 
licentiousness than what prevails during vowed pilgrimages: for when 
any one wishes to indulge freely in wantonness, she makes a vow to 
undertake a pilgrimage: an adulterer is ready at hand who offers 
himself a companion. And again, when the husband is so foolish as to 
run here and there, he at the same time gives to his wife the 
opportunity of being licentious. And we know further, that when many 
women meet at unusual hours in churches, and have their private 
masses, there are there hidden corners, where they perpetrate all 
kinds of licentiousness. We know, indeed, that this is very common. 
But the Prophet's meaning is another: for God here denounces the 
punishment of which Paul speaks in the first chapter of the Romans, 
when he says, 'As men have transferred the glory of God to dead 
things, so God also gave them up to a reprobate mind,' that they 
might discern nothing, and abandon themselves to every thing 
shameful, and even prostitute their own bodies. 
    Let us then know, that when just and due honor is not rendered 
to God, this vengeance deservedly follows, that men become covered 
with infamy. Why so? Because nothing is more equitable than that God 
should vindicate his own glory, when men corrupt and adulterate it: 
for why should then any honor remain to them? And why, on the 
contrary, should not God sink them at once in some extreme baseness? 
Let us then know, that this is a just punishment, when adulteries 
prevail, and when vagrant lusts promiscuously follow. 
    He then who worships not God, shall have at home an adulterous 
wife, and filthy strumpets as his daughters, boldly playing the 
wanton, and he shall have also adulterous daughters-in-law: not that 
the Prophet speaks only of what would take place; but he shows that 
such would be the vengeance that God would take: 'Your daughters 
therefore shall play the wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall be 
adulteresses;' and "I will not punish your daughters and your 
daughters-in-law"; that is, "I will not correct them for their 
scandalous conduct; for I wish them to be exposed to infamy." For 
this truth must ever stand firm, 'Him who honors me, I will honor: 
and him who despises my name, I will make contemptible and 
ignominious,' (1 Sam. 2: 30.) God then declares that he will not 
visit these crimes, because he designed in this way to punish the 
ungodly, by whom his own worship had been corrupted. 
    He says, "Because they with strumpets separate themselves". 
Some explain this verb "parad" as meaning, "They divide husbands 
from their wives:" but the Prophet, no doubt, means, that they 
separated themselves from God, in the same manner as a wife does, 
when she leaves her husband and gives herself up to an adulterer. 
The Prophet then uses the word allegorically, or at least 
metaphorically: and a reason is given, which they do not understand 
who take this passage as referring literally to adulteries; and 
their mistake is sufficiently proved to be so by the next clause, 
'and with strumpets they sacrifice.' The separation then of which he 
speaks is this, that they sacrificed with strumpets; which they 
could not do without violating their faith pledged to God. We now 
apprehend the Prophet's real meaning: 'I will not punish,' he says, 
'wantonness and adulteries in your families.' Why? "Because I would 
have you to be made infamous, for ye have first played the wanton." 
    But there is a change of person; and this ought to be observed: 
for he ought to have carried on his discourse throughout in the 
second person, and to have said, "Because ye have separated with 
strumpets, and accompany harlots;" this is the way in which he ought 
to have spoken: but through excess, as it were, of indignation, he 
makes a change in his address, 'They,' he says, 'have played the 
wanton,' as though he deemed them unworthy of being spoken to. They 
have then played the wanton with strumpets. By "strumpets", he 
doubtless understands the corruptions by which God's worship had 
been perverted, even through wantonness: "they sacrifice", he says, 
"with strumpets", that is, they forsake the true God, and resort to 
whatever pollutions they please; and this is to play the wanton, as 
when a husband, leaving his wife, or when a wife, leaving her 
husband, abandon themselves to filthy lust. But it is nothing 
strange or unwonted for sins to be punished by other sins. What Paul 
teaches ought especially to be borne in mind, that God, as the 
avenger of his own glory, gives men up to a reprobate mind, and 
suffers them to be covered with many most disgraceful things; for he 
cannot bear with them, when they turn his glory to shame and his 
truth to a lie. 
    He afterwards adds, "And the people, not understanding, shall 
stumble". They who take the verb "lavat as meaning, "to be 
perverted," understand it here in the sense of being "perplexed:" 
nor is this sense inappropriate. "The people then shall not 
understand and be perplexed;" that is, They shall not know the right 
way. But the word means also "to stumble," and still oftener "to 
fall;" and since this is the more received sense, I am disposed to 
embrace it: "The people" then, "not understanding, shall stumble". 
    The Prophet here teaches, that the pretence of ignorance is of 
no weight before God, though hypocrites are wont to flee to this at 
last. When they find themselves without any excuse they run to this 
asylum, - "But I thought that I was doing right; I am deceived: but 
be it so, it is a pardonable mistake." The Prophet here declares 
these excuses to be vain and fallacious; for the people, who 
understand not, shall stumble and that deservedly: for how came this 
ignorance to be in the people of Israel, but that they, as it has 
been before said, willfully closed their eyes against the light? 
When, therefore, men thus willfully determine to be blind, it is no 
wonder that the Lord delivers them up to final destruction. But if 
they now flatter themselves by pretending, as I have already said, a 
mistake, the Lord will shake off this false confidence, and does now 
shake it off by his word. What then ought we to do? To learn 
knowledge from his word; for this is our wisdom and our 
understanding, as Moses says, in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. 
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as we are so disposed and 
inclined to all kinds of errors, to so many and so various forms of 
superstitions, and as Satan also ceases not to lay in wait for us, 
and spreads before us his many snares, - O grant, that we may be so 
preserved in obedience to thee by the teaching of thy word, that we 
may never turn here and there, either to the right hand or to the 
left, but continue in that pure worship, which thou hast prescribed, 
so that we may plainly testify that thou art indeed our Father by 
continuing under the protection of thy only-begotten Son, whom thou 
hast given to be our pastor and ruler to the end. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 12...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-11.txt