(Calvin on Hosea, part 12)

Lecture Twelfth. 
Hosea 4:15 
Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, [yet] let not Judah offend; 
and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor 
swear, The LORD liveth. 
    The Prophet here complains that Judah also was infected with 
superstitions, though the Lord had hitherto wonderfully kept them 
from pollutions of this kind. He compares Israel with Judah, as 
though he said, "It is no wonder that Israel plays the wanton; they 
had for a long time shaken off the yoke; their defection is well 
known: but it is not to be endured, that Judah also should begin to 
fall away into the same abominations." We now then perceive the 
object of the comparison. From the time that Jeroboam led after him 
the ten tribes, the worship of God, we know, was corrupted; for the 
Israelites were forbidden to ascend to Jerusalem, and to offer 
sacrifices there to God according to the law. Altars were at the 
same time built, which were nothing but perversions of divine 
worship. This state of things had now continued for many years. The 
Prophet therefore says, that Israel was like a filthy strumpet, void 
of all shame; nor was this to be wondered at, for they had cast away 
the fear of God: but that Judah also should forsake God's pure 
worship as well as Israel, - this the Prophet deplores, "If then 
thou Israel playest the wanton, let not Judah at least offend". 
    We here see first, how difficult it is for those to continue 
untouched without any stain, who come in contact with pollutions and 
defilements. This is the case with any one that is living among 
Papists; he can hardly keep himself entire for the Lord; for 
vicinity, as we find, brings contagion. The Israelites were 
separated from the Jews, and yet we see that the Jews were corrupted 
by their diseases and vices. There is, indeed, nothing we are so 
disposed to do as to forsake true religion; inasmuch as there is 
naturally in us a perverse lust for mixing with it some false and 
ungodly forms of worship; and every one in this respect is a teacher 
to himself: what then is likely to take place, when Satan on the 
other hand stimulates us? Let all then who are neighbors to 
idolaters beware, lest they contract any of their pollutions. 
    We further see, that the guilt of those who have been rightly 
taught is not to be extenuated when they associate with the blind 
and the unbelieving. Though the Israelites boasted of the name of 
God, they were yet then alienated from pure doctrine, and had been 
long sunk in the darkness of errors. There was no religion among 
them; nay, they had hardly a single pure spark of divine light. The 
Prophet now brings this charge against the Jews, that they differed 
not from the Israelites, and yet God had to that time carried before 
them the torch of light; for he suffered not sound doctrine to be 
extinguished at Jerusalem, nor throughout the whole of Judea. The 
Jews, by not profiting through this singular kindness of God, were 
doubly guilty. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, "Though 
Israel is become wanton, yet let not Judah offend". 
    "Come ye not to Gilgal", he says, "and ascend not into Beth- 
aven". Here again he points out the superstitions by which the 
Israelites had vitiated the pure worship of God; they had built 
altars for themselves in Bethel and Gilgal, where they pretended to 
worship God. 
    Gilgal, we know, was a celebrated place; for after passing 
through Jordan, they built there a pillar as a memorial of that 
miracle; and the people no doubt ever remembered so remarkable an 
instance of divine favor: and the place itself retained among the 
people its fame and honorable distinction. This in itself deserved 
no blame: but as men commonly pervert by abuse every good thing, so 
Jeroboam, or one of his successors, built a temple in Gilgal; for 
the minds almost of all were already possessed with some reverence 
for the place. Had there been no distinction belonging to the place, 
he could not have so easily inveigled the minds of the people; but 
as a notion already prevailed among them that the place was holy on 
account of the miraculous passing over of the people, Jeroboam found 
it easier to introduce there his perverted worship: for when one 
imagines that the place itself pleases God, he is already captivated 
by his own deceptions. The same also must be said of Bethel: its 
name was given it, we know, by the holy father Jacob, because God 
appeared there to him. 'Terrible,' he said, 'is this place; it is 
the gate of heaven,' (Gen. 28: 17.) He hence called it Bethel, which 
means the house of God. Since Jacob sacrificed there to God, 
posterity thought this still allowable: for hypocrites weigh not 
what God enjoins, but catch only at the Fathers' examples, and 
follow as their rule whatever they hear to have been done by the 
    As then foolish men are content with bare examples, and attend 
not to what God requires, so the Prophet distinctly inveighs here 
against both places, even Bethel and Gilgal. "Come not", he says, 
"to Gilgal, and ascend not into Beth-aven". But we must observe the 
change of name made by the Prophet; for he calls not the place by 
its honorable name, Bethel, but calls it the house of iniquity. It 
is indeed true that God revealed himself there to his servant Jacob; 
but he intended not the place to be permanently fixed for himself, 
he intended not that there should be a perpetual altar there: the 
vision was only for a time. Had the people been confirmed in their 
faith, whenever the name of the place was heard, it would have been 
a commendable thing; but they departed from the true faith, for they 
despised the sure command of God, and preferred what had been done 
by an individual, and were indeed influenced by a foolish zeal. It 
is no wonder then that the Prophet turns praise into blame, and 
allows not the place to be, as formerly, the House of God, but the 
house of iniquity. We now see the Prophet's real meaning. 
    I return to the reproof he gives to the Jews: he condemns them 
for leaving the legitimate altar and running to profane places, and 
coveting those strange modes of worship which had been invented by 
the will or fancy of men. "What have you to do," he says, "with 
Gilgal or Bethel? Has not God appointed a sanctuary for you at 
Jerusalem? Why do ye not worship there, where he himself invites 
you?" We hence see that a comparison is to be understood here 
between Gilgal and Bethel on the one hand, and the temple, built by 
God's command on mount Zion, in Jerusalem, on the other. Moreover, 
this reproof applies to many in our day. So to those who sagaciously 
consider the state of things in our age, the Papists appear to be 
like the Israelites; for their apostasy is notorious enough: there 
is nothing sound among them; the whole of their religion is rotten; 
every thing is depraved. But as the Lord has chosen us peculiarly to 
himself, we must beware, lest they should draw us to themselves, and 
entangle us: for, as we have said, we must ever fear contagion; 
inasmuch as nothing is more easy than to become infected with their 
vices, since our nature is to vices ever inclined. 
    We are further reminded how foolish and frivolous is the excuse 
of those who, being satisfied with the examples of the Fathers, pass 
by the word of God, and think themselves released from every 
command, when they follow the holy Fathers. Jacob was indeed, among 
others, worthy of imitation; and yet we learn from this place, that 
the pretence that his posterity made for worshipping God in Bethel 
was of no avail. Let us then know that we cannot be certain of being 
right, except when we obey the Lord's command, and attempt nothing 
according to men's fancy, but follow only what he bids. It must also 
be observed, that a fault is not extenuated when things, now 
perverted, have proceeded-from a good and approved origin. As for 
instance the Papists, when their superstitions are condemned, ever 
set up this shield, "O! this has arisen from a good source." But 
what sort of thing is it? If indeed we judge of it by what it is 
now, we clearly see it to be an impious abomination, which they 
excuse by the plea that it had a good and holy beginning. 
    Thus in baptism we see how various and how many deprivations 
they have mixed together. Baptism has indeed its origin in the 
institution of Christ: but no permission has been given to men to 
deface it by so many additions. The origin then of baptism affords 
the Papists no excuse, but on the contrary renders double their sin; 
for they have, by a profane audacity, contaminated what the Son of 
God has appointed. But there is in their mass a much greater 
abomination: for the mass, as we know, is in no respect the same 
with the holy supper of our Lord. There are at least some things 
remaining in baptism; but the mass is in nothing like Christ's holy 
supper: and yet the Papists boast that the mass is the supper. Be it 
so, that it had crept in, and that through the craft of Satan, and 
also through the wickedness or depravity of men: but whatever may 
have been its beginning, it does not wipe away the extreme infamy 
that belongs to the mass: for, as it is well known, they abolish by 
it the only true sacrifice of Christ; they ascribe to their own 
devices the expiation which was made by the death of the Son of God. 
And here we have not only to contend with the Papists, but also with 
those wicked triflers, who proudly call themselves Nicodemians. For 
these indeed deny that they come to the mass, because they have any 
regard for the Papistic figment; but because they say that there is 
set forth a commemoration of Christ's supper and of his death. Since 
Bethel was formerly turned into Beth-aven, what else at this day is 
the mass? Let us then ever take heed, that whatever the Lord has 
instituted may remain in its own purity, and not degenerate; 
otherwise we shall be guilty, as it has been said, of the impious 
audacity of those who have changed the truth into a lie. We now 
understand the design of what the Prophet teaches, and to what 
purposes it may be applied. 
    He at last subjoins, "And swear not, Jehovah liveth". The 
Prophet seems here to condemn what in itself was right: for to swear 
is to profess religion, and to testify our profession of it; 
particularly when men swear honestly. But as this formula, which the 
Prophet mentions, was faultless, why did God forbid to swear by his 
name, and even in a holy manner? Because he would reign alone, and 
could not bear to be connected with idols; for "what concord,' says 
Paul, 'has Christ with Belial? How can light agree with darkness?' 
(2 Cor. 6: 15:) so God would allow of no concord with idols. This is 
expressed more fully by another Prophet, Zephaniah, when he says, 'I 
will destroy those who swear by the living God, and swear by their 
king,' (Zeph. 1: 5.) God indeed expressly commands the faithful to 
swear by his name alone in Deut. 6 and in other places: and further, 
when the true profession of religion is referred to, this formula is 
laid down, 'They shall swear, The Lord liveth,' (Jer. 4: 2.) But 
when men associated the name of God with their own perverted 
devices, it was by no means to be endured. The Prophet then now 
condemns this perfidy, Swear not, Jehovah liveth; as though he said, 
"How dare these men take God's name, when they abandon themselves to 
idols? for God allows his name only to his own people." The faithful 
indeed take God's name in oaths as it were by his leave. Except the 
Lord had granted this right, it would have certainly been a 
sacrilege. But we borrow God's name by his permission: and it is 
right to do so, when we keep faith with him, when we continue in his 
service; but when we worship false gods, then we have nothing to do 
with him, and he takes away the privilege which he has given us. 
Then he says, 'Ye shall not henceforth blend the name of the only 
true God with idols.' For this he cannot endure, as he declares also 
in Ezek. 20, 'Go ye, serve your idols; I reject all your worship.' 
The Lord was thus grievously offended, even when sacrifices were 
offered to him. Why so? Because it was a kind of pollution, when the 
Jews professed to worship him, and then went after their ungodly 
superstitions. We now then perceive the meaning of this verse. It 
follows - 
Hosea 4:16 
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will 
feed them as a lamb in a large place. 
    The Prophet compares Israel here to an untamable heifer. Some 
render it, "A straying heifer", and we may render it, "A wanton 
heifer." But to others a defection seems to have been more 
especially intended, because they had receded or departed from God: 
but this comparison is not so apposite. They render it, "As a 
backsliding," or "receding heifer:" but I prefer to view the word as 
meaning, one that is petulant or lascivious: and the punishment 
which is subjoined, "The Lord will now feed them as a tender lamb in 
a spacious place", best agrees with this view, as we shall 
immediately see. 
    It must, in the first place, be understood, that Israel is 
compared to a heifer, and indeed to one that is wanton, which cannot 
remain quiet in the stall nor be accustomed to the yoke: it is hence 
subjoined, "The Lord will now feed them as a lamb in a spacious 
place". The meaning of this clause may be twofold; the first is, 
that the Lord would leave them in their luxuries to gorge themselves 
according to their lust, and to indulge themselves in their 
gormandizing; and it is a dreadful punishment, when the Lord allays 
not the intemperateness of men, but suffers them to wanton without 
any limits or moderation. Hence some give this meaning to the 
passage, "God will now feed them as a lamb", that is, like a sheep 
void of understanding, and in a large place, even in a most fruitful 
field, capable of supplying food to satiety. But it seems to me that 
the Prophet meant another thing, even this, that the Lord would so 
scatter Israel, that they might be as a lamb in a spacious place. It 
is what is peculiar to sheep, we know, that they continue under the 
shepherd's care: and a sheep, when driven into solitude, shows 
itself, by its bleating, to be timid, and to be as it were seeking 
its shepherd and its flock. In short, a sheep is not a solitary 
animal; and it is almost a part of their food to sheep and lambs to 
feed together, and also under the eye of him under whose care they 
are. Now there seems to be here a most striking change of figure: 
"They are", says the Prophet, "like unnamable heifers", for they are 
so wanton that no field can satisfy their wantonness, as when a 
heifer would occupy the whole land. "Such then," he says, "and so 
outrageous is the disobedience of this people, that they can no 
longer endure, except a spacious place be given to each of them. I 
will therefore give them a spacious place: but for this end, that 
each of them may be like a lamb, who looks around and sees no flock 
to which it may join itself." 
    This happened when the land was stripped of its inhabitants; 
for then a small number only dwelt in it. Four tribes, as stated 
before, were first drawn away; and then they began to be like lambs 
in a spacious place; for God terrified them with the dread of 
enemies. The remaining part of the people was afterwards either 
dispersed or led into exile. They were, when in exile, like lambs, 
and those in a wide place. For though they lived in cottages, and 
their condition was in every way confined, yet they were in a place 
like the desert; for one hardly dared look on another, and waste and 
solitude met their eyes wherever they turned them. We see then what 
the Prophet meant by saying, They are like an untamable or a wanton 
heifer: "I will tame them, and make them like lambs; and when 
scattered, they will fear as in a wilderness, for there will be no 
flock to which they can come." Let us proceed - 
Hosea 4:17 
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. 
    As if wearied, God here bids his Prophet to rest; as though he 
said, "Since I prevail nothing with this people, they must be given 
up; cease from thy work." God had set Hosea over the Israelites for 
this end, to lead them to repentance, if they could by any means be 
reformed: the duty of the Prophet, enjoined by God, was, to bring 
back miserable and straying men from their error, and to restore 
them again to the obedience of pure faith. He now saw that the 
Prophet's labour was in vain, without any success. Hence he was, as 
I have said, wearied, and bids the Prophet to desist: Leave them, he 
says; that is, "There is no use for thee to weary thyself any more; 
I dismiss thee from thy labour, and will not have thee to take any 
more trouble; for they are wholly incurable." For by saying that 
they had joined themselves to idols, he means, that they could not 
be drawn from that perverseness in which they had grown hardened; as 
though he said, "This is an alliance that cannot be broken." And he 
alludes to the marriage which he had before mentioned: for the 
Israelites, we know, had been joined to God, for he had adopted them 
to be a holy people to himself; they afterwards adopted impious 
forms of worship. But yet there was a hope of recovery, until they 
became wholly attached to their idols, and clave so fast to them, 
that they could not be drawn away. This alliance the Prophet points 
out when he says, "They are joined to idols". 
    But he mentions the tribe of Ephraim, for the kings, (I mean, 
of Israel,) we know, sprang from that tribe; and at the same time he 
reproaches that tribe for having abused God's blessing. We know that 
Ephraim was blessed by holy Jacob in preference to his elder 
brother; and yet there was no reason why Jacob put aside the 
first-born and preferred the younger, except that God in this case 
manifested his own good pleasure. The ingratitude of Ephraim was 
therefore less excusable, when he not only fell away from the pure 
worship of God, but polluted also the whole land; for it was 
Jeroboam who introduced ungodly superstitions; he therefore was the 
source of all the evil. This is the reason why the Prophet now 
expressly mentions Ephraim: though it is a form of speaking, 
commonly used by all the Prophets, to designate Israel, by taking a 
part for the whole, by the name of Ephraim. 
    But this passage is worthy of being noticed, that we may attend 
to God's reproofs, and not remain torpid when he rouses us; for we 
ought ever to fear, lest he should suddenly reject us, when he is 
wearied with our perverseness, or when he conceives such a 
displeasure as not to deign to speak to us any more. It follows - 
Hosea 4:18 
Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her 
rulers [with] shame do love, Give ye. 
    The Prophet, using a metaphor, says here first, that their 
drink had become putrid; which means, that they had so intemperately 
given themselves up to every kind of wickedness, that all things 
among them had become fetid. And the Prophet alludes to shameful and 
beastly excess: for the drunken are so addicted to wine, that they 
emit a disgusting smell, and are never satisfied with drinking, 
until by spewing, they throw up the excessive draughts they have 
taken. The Prophet then had this in view. He speaks not, however, of 
the drinking of wine, this is certain: but by drunkenness, on the 
contrary, he means that unbridled licentiousness, which then 
prevailed among the people. Since then they allowed themselves every 
thing they pleased without shame, they seemed like drunken men, 
insatiable, who, when wholly given to wine, think it their highest 
delight ever to have wine on the palate, or to fill copiously the 
throat, or to glut their stomach: when drunken men do these things, 
then they send forth the offensive smell of wine. This then is what 
the Prophet means, when he says, "Putrid has become their drink"; 
that is, the people observe no moderation in sinning; they offend 
not God now, in the common and usual manner, but are wholly like 
beastly men, who are nothing ashamed, constantly to belch and to 
spew, so that they offend by their fetid smell all who meet them. 
Such are this people. 
    He afterwards adds, "By wantoning they have become wanton". 
This is another comparison. The Prophet, we know, has hitherto been 
speaking of wantonness in a metaphorical sense, signifying thereby, 
that Israel perfidiously abandoned themselves to idols, and thus 
violated their faith pledged to the true God. He now follows the 
same metaphor here, 'By wantoning they have become wanton.' Hence he 
reproaches and represents them as infamous on two accounts, - 
because they cast aside every shame, like the drunken who are so 
delighted with wine, that through excess they send forth its 
offensive smell, - and because they were like wantons. 
    At last he says, "Her princes have shamefully loved, Bring ye". 
Here, in a peculiar way, the Prophet shows that the great sinned 
with extreme licentiousness; for they were given to bribery: and the 
eyes of the wise, we know, are blinded, and the hearts of the just 
are perverted, by gifts. But the Prophet designedly made this 
addition, that we might know that there were then none among the 
people who attempted to apply a remedy to the many prevailing vices; 
for even the rulers coveted gain; no one remembered for what purpose 
he had been called. Hence it happened that every one indulged 
himself with impunity in whatever pleased him. How so? Because there 
were no censors of public morals. Here we see in what a wretched 
state the people are, when there are none to exercise discipline, 
when even the judges gape for gain, and care for nothing but for 
gifts and riches; for then what the Prophet describes here as to the 
people of Israel must happen. "Her princes, then, have loved, Bring 
    Respecting the word "kalon" we must shortly say, that Hosea 
does not simply allude to any kinds of gifts, but to such gifts as 
proved that there was a public sale of justice; as though he said, 
"Now the judges, when they say, Bring ye, when they love, Bring ye, 
make no distinction whatever between right and wrong, and think all 
this lawful; for the people are become insensible to such a 
disgraceful conduct: hence they basely and shamefully seek gain." 
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast at this time deigned in 
thy mercy to gather us to thy Church, and to enclose us within the 
boundaries of thy word, by which thou preserves us in the true and 
right worship of thy majesty, - O grant, that we may continue 
contented in this obedience to thee: and though Satan may, in many 
ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves, 
by nature, inclined to evil, O grant, that being confirmed in faith, 
and united to thee by that sacred bond, we may yet constantly abide 
under the guidance of thy word, and thus cleave to Christ thy 
only-begotten Son, who has joined us for ever to himself, that we 
may never by any means turn aside from thee, but be, on the 
contrary, confirmed in the faith of his gospel, until at length he 
will receive us all into his kingdom. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 13...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-12.txt