(Calvin on Hosea, part 13)

Lecture Thirteenth. 
Hosea 4:19 
The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed 
because of their sacrifices. 
    If this rendering be approved, "The wind hath bound her in its 
wings", the meaning is, that a sudden storm would sweep away the 
people, and thus would they be made ashamed of their sacrifices. So 
the past tense is to be taken for the future. We may indeed read the 
words in the past tense, as though the Prophet was speaking of what 
had already taken place. The wind, then, has already swept away the 
people; by which he intimates, that they seemed to have struck long 
and deep roots in their superstitions, but that the Lord had already 
given them up to the wind, that it might hold them tied in its 
wings. And wings, we know, is elsewhere ascribed to the wind, Ps. 
104: 3. And thus the verse will be throughout a denunciation of 
    The other similitude or metaphor is the most appropriate, and 
harmonizes better with the subject; for were not men to support 
their minds with vain confidence, they could never with so much 
audacity despise God's word. Hence they are said to tie the wind in 
their wings; being unmindful of their own condition, they attempt as 
by means of the wind to fly; but when they proudly raise up 
themselves, they have no support but the wind. Let us now proceed - 
Chapter 5. 
Hosea 5:1 
Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give 
ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment [is] toward you, because 
ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor. 
    The Prophet here again preaches against the whole people: but 
he mainly directs his discourse to the priests and the rulers; for 
they were the source of the prevailing evils: the priests, intent on 
gain, neglected the worship of God; and the chief men, as we have 
seen, were become in every way corrupt. Hence the Prophet here 
especially inveighs against these orders, and at the same time, 
records some vices which then prevailed among the people, and that 
through the fault of the priests and rulers. But before I pursue 
farther the subject of the Prophets something must be said of the 
    When he says, "To you is judgment", some explain it, "It is 
your duty to do judgment," to maintain government, that every one 
may discharge his own office; for judgment is taken for rectitude; 
the word "mishpat" means a right order of things. Hence they think 
that the priests and rulers are here condemned for discharging so 
badly their office, because they had no care for what was right. But 
this sense is too strained. The Prophet, therefore, I doubt not, 
summons here the priests and the king's counselors to God's 
tribunal, that they might give an answer there; for the contempt of 
God, we know, prevailed among the great; they were secure, as though 
exempt from judgment, as though released from laws and all order. 
"To you", then "is judgment"; that is, God addresses you by name, 
and declares that he will be your avenger, though ye heedlessly 
despise his judgment. 
    Some again take "Mitspah" for a beacon, and thus translate, "Ye 
have been a snare instead of a beacon." But this mistake is refuted 
by the second clause, for the Prophet adds immediately, "a net 
expanded over Tabor": and it is well known that Mizpah and Tabor 
were high mountains, and for their height celebrated and renowned; 
we also know that hunting was common on these mountains. The 
Prophet, then, no doubt means here, that both the priests and the 
king's counselors were like snares and nets: "As fowlers and hunters 
were wont to spread their nets and snares on mount Mizpah and on 
Tabor; so the people also have been ensnared by you." This is the 
plain meaning of the words. Some conjecture, that robbers were there 
located by the kings of Israel to intercept the Israelites, when 
they found any ascending into Jerusalem, as we now see everywhere 
persons lying in wait, that no one from the Papacy may come over to 
us. But this conjecture is too far fetched. I have already explained 
the Prophet's meaning: he makes use, as we have said, of a 
    Let us now return to what he teaches: "Hear this", he says, "ye 
Priests, and attend, ye house of Israel, and give ear, ye house of 
the king". The Prophet, indeed, includes the whole people in the 
second clause, but turns his discourse expressly to the priests and 
the king's counselors; which ought to be specially noticed; for it 
is indeed, as we shall hereafter see, the general subject of this 
chapter. He did not without reason attack the princes, because the 
main fault was in them; nor the priests, because they were dumb 
dogs, and had also led away the people from God's pure worship into 
false superstitions; and so great was their avidity for filthy lucre 
that they perverted the law and every thing that was before pure 
among the people. It is no wonder then that the Prophet, while 
treating a general subject, suitable to all orders indiscriminately, 
should yet denounce judgment on the priests and the king's 
counselors. With regard to these counselors, they, in order to 
confirm the kingdom, had also approved of false and spurious forms 
of worship, as it has been before stated; and they had also followed 
other vices; for the Prophet, I doubt not, condemns here other 
corruptions besides superstitions, and those which we know 
everywhere prevailed among the people, and of which something has 
been already said. 
    And to show his earnestness, he uses three sentences: "Ye 
priests, hear this"; then, "house of Israel, attend"; and in the 
third place, "house of the king, give ear"; as though he said, "In 
vain do they seek subterfuges, for the Lord will execute on them the 
judgment he now declares:" and yet he gives them opportunity and 
time for repentance, inasmuch as he bids them to attend to this 
    Now this passage teaches, that even kings are not exempted from 
the duty of learning what is commonly taught, if they wish to be 
counted members of the Church; for the Lord would have all, without 
exception, to be ruled by his word; and he takes this as a proof of 
men's obedience, their submission to his word. And as kings think 
themselves separated from the general class of men, the Prophet here 
shows that he was sent to the king and his counselors. The same 
reason holds good as to priests; for as the dignity of their order 
is the highest, so this impiety has prevailed in all ages, that the 
priests think themselves at liberty to do what they please. The 
Prophet therefore shows, that they are not raised up so much on 
high, but that the Lord shines eminently above their heads with his 
word. Let us know, lastly, that in the Church the word of God so 
possesses the highest rank, that neither priests, nor kings, nor 
their counselors, can claim a privilege to themselves, as though 
their conduct was not to be subject to God's word. 
    This then is a remarkable passage for establishing the word of 
God: and thus we see how abominable is the boast of the Papal clergy 
of this day; for they spread before us the mask of the priesthood, 
when the word of God is brought forward, as though they would 
outshine by the splendor of their dignity the whole Law, all the 
Prophets, and the very Gospel. But the Lord here upholds his word 
against all degrees of men, and shows that both kings and priests 
must be brought down from their eminence, that they may obey the 
word. Yea, we must bear in mind what I have before said, that though 
the whole people had sinned, yet kings and priests are here in a 
special manner reproved, because they deserved a heavier punishment, 
inasmuch as by their depraved examples they had corrupted the whole 
    When he compares them to snares and nets, I do not then confine 
this to one thing; but as the contagion among the whole people had 
proceeded from the priests and the king's counselors, and also from 
the king himself, the Prophet compares them, not without reason, to 
snares; not only because they were the authors of superstitions, but 
also because they perverted judgment and all equity. Let us go on - 
Hosea 5:2 
And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I [have 
been] a rebuker of them all. 
    The verb "shachat" means, to kill, to sacrifice; and this place 
is usually explained of sacrifices; and this opinion I do not 
reject. But though the Prophet spake of sacrifices, he no doubt 
called sacrificing, in contempt, killing: as though one should call 
the temple, the shambles, and the killing of victims, slaughtering, 
so also the Prophet says, "In sacrificing and killing, they, having 
turned aside, have become deeply fixed"; that is, By turning aside 
to their own sacrificing, they have completely hardened their 
hearts, so that their depravity is incurable. For by saying that 
they had gone deep, the meaning is, that they were so addicted to 
their own superstitions, that they could not be restored to a sound 
mind, however often admonished by the Prophets. Yet this verb has 
another meaning in Scripture, even this, that men flatter themselves 
with their own counsels, and think that by twining together reasons 
of their own, they can deceive God: and this metaphor the Prophets 
employ with regard to profane despisers of God, whom they call 
"letsim", mockers: for these, while they deceive men, think that 
they have nothing to do with God. The same we see at this day: 
courtiers and proud men of the same character, flatter themselves 
with their own deceptions, and complacently laugh at our simplicity; 
because they think that wisdom was born with them, and that it is 
enclosed as it were within their brains. But I know not whether this 
idea is suitable to this passage. That simpler meaning which I have 
already stated, I prefer, and that is, that the Israelites were so 
obstinate in their superstitions, that they perversely despised all 
counsels, all admonitions, yea, that they petulantly resisted every 
    But each word must be noticed: "turning aside in sacrificing", 
he says, "they became deep". By saying, that they had turned aside 
in sacrificing, he no doubt makes a distinction between false and 
strange forms of worship and the true worship of God, prescribed in 
the law. The frequency of sacrificing could not indeed have been 
condemned in itself either as to the Israelites or the Jews; but 
they turned aside, that is, departed from what the law prescribes. 
Hence the more zealously they engaged in sacrificing, and the more 
victims they offered to God, the more they provoked God's vengeance 
against themselves. We then see that the Prophet points out here as 
by the finger the sin he reproved in the people of Israel, and that 
was, - they sacrificed not according to God's command and according 
to the ritual of the law, but turned aside and followed their own 
devices. Hence it is, that in contempt and in scorn he calls their 
sacrificing, killing, or cutting the throat: "they are," he says 
"executioners," or, "they are butchers. What is it to me, that they 
bring their victims with great pomp and show? That they use so many 
ceremonies? I repudiate," the Lord says, "the whole of this; it is 
profane butchering; these slaughterings have nothing in common with 
the worship which I approve." 
    That our sacrifices then may please God, they must be according 
to the rule of his word; for 'obedience,' as it has been said 
already, 'is better than all sacrifices,' (1 Sam. 15: 22.) But when 
men retake themselves to false forms of worship or such as are 
invented, nothing then is holy or acceptable to God, but an 
abominable filth. And further, the Prophet, as I have said, not only 
accuses the people of having turned aside to perverted forms of 
worship, but also of having become obstinately fixed in them. They 
have become deep, he says, in their superstitions: as he said 
before, that they were fast joined to their idols, that they could 
not be torn away from them; so also he says now, that they were 
deeply rooted in their iniquity. 
    It follows, "And I" have been, or will be, "a correction to 
them all". Some think that the Prophet in the person of God 
threatens the Israelites, that God declares that he himself would 
become the avenger, because the people had so stubbornly followed 
wicked superstitions, - "I sit as a judge in heaven, nor will I 
suffer you to fall away with impunity, since you are become so 
hardened in your wickedness." But they are more correct who think 
that their sin was more increased by this circumstance, that God by 
his Prophets had not ceased to recall the Israelites to a sound 
mind, since they might not have been wholly irreclaimable: I have 
been to them a correction; that is, "They cannot excuse themselves 
and say, that they had fallen through error and ignorance; for there 
has been in them a wilful obstinacy, as I have not ceased to show 
them the right way by my Prophets. I have, then, been a correction 
to them; but I could not bend them, so indomitable has been that 
stubbornness, or rather madness, with which they were inflamed 
towards their idols." It is now seen which of the two views I deem 
the most correct. 
    But I will adduce a third: God may be thought to be here 
complaining that he had been an object of dislike to the Israelites, 
as though he said, "When I sent my Prophets, they could not bear to 
be admonished, because my word was too bitter for them." Reproofs 
are not easily endured by men. We indeed know, that those who are 
ill at ease with themselves, are yet not willing to hear any 
reproof: every one who deceives himself, wishes to be deceived by 
others. As then the ears of men are so tender and delicate, that 
they will patiently receive no reproof, this meaning seems not 
inappropriate, "I have been to them all a correction", that is, "My 
doctrine has been by them rejected because it had in it too much 
asperity." But the other explanation, which I have mentioned as the 
second, has been more approved: I was, however, unwilling to omit 
what seems to me to be no less suitable. 
    We may now choose or receive either of these two expositions, - 
either that the Lord here takes away from the Israelites the excuse 
of error, because he had continued to reprove their vices by his 
Prophets, - or that he expostulates with the Israelites for having 
rejected his word on the ground that it was too rigid and severe: 
yet this main thing will still remain the same, that the people of 
Israel were not only apostates, having fallen away from the lawful 
worship of God into their own superstitions but were also 
contumacious and refractory in their wickedness, so that they would 
receive no instruction, no salutary counsels. Let us proceed - 
Hosea 5:3 
I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, 
thou committest whoredom, [and] Israel is defiled. 
    God shows here that he is not pacified by the vain excuses 
which hypocrites allege, and by which they think that the judgment 
of God himself can be turned away. We see what great dullness there 
is in many, when God reproves them, and brings to light their vices; 
for they defend themselves with vain and frivolous excuses, and 
think that they thus put a restraint on God, so that he dares not 
urge them any more. In this way hypocrites elude every truth. But 
God here testifies, that men are greatly deceived when they thus 
judge, by their own perception, of that celestial tribunal to which 
they are summoned; "I", he says, "know Ephraim, and Israel is not 
hid from me". There is to be understood an implied contrast, as 
though he said, that they were ignorant of themselves; for they 
covered their vices, as I have said, with frivolous excuses. God 
testifies that his eyes were not dazzled with such fine pretenses. 
"How much soever, then, Ephraim and Israel may excuse themselves, 
they shall not escape my judgment: vain and absurd are these shifts 
which they use; I indeed am not ignorant." 
    Let us then learn not to belie, by our own notions, the 
judgment of God; and when he reproves us by his word, let us not 
delude ourselves by our own fancies; for they who harden themselves 
in such a state of security gain nothing. God sees more keenly than 
men. Let use then, beware of spreading a veil over our sins, for 
God's eyes penetrate through all such excuses. 
    That he names Ephraim particularly, was not done, we know, 
without reason. From that tribe sprang the first Jeroboam: it was 
therefore by way of honor that the name of Ephraim was given to the 
ten tribes. But the Prophet names Ephraim here, who thought 
themselves superior to the other tribes, by way of reproach: I know 
them, and Israel is not hid from me. He afterwards expresses what he 
knew of the people, which was, that Ephraim was wanton, and that 
Israel was polluted; as though he said "Contend as you please; but 
you will do so without profit: I have indeed my ears stunned by your 
lies; but after you have adduced everything, after you have 
sedulously pleaded your own cause, and have omitted nothing which 
may serve for an excuse, the fact still will be, that you are 
wantons and polluted." In short, the Prophet confirms in this second 
clause what I have before stated, that men, when they flatter 
themselves, deceive themselves; for God in the meantime condemns 
them, and allows no disguise of this kind. Israel and Ephraim 
gloried, then, in their superstitions, as though they held God bound 
to them: "This is wantonness," he says, "This is pollution." The 
Prophet indeed does here cut off the handle from all those 
self-deceptions which men use as reasons, when they defend 
fictitious forms of worship; for God from on high proclaims, that 
all are polluted who turn aside from his word. 
Hosea 5:4 
They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the 
spirit of whoredoms [is] in the midst of them, and they have not 
known the LORD. 
    Some translate thus, "their inclinations allow them not to turn 
themselves;" and this meaning is probable, that is, that they were 
so much given to their own superstitions, that they were not now 
free, or at liberty, to return to the right way; as though the 
Prophet said, "They are entirely enslaved by their own diabolical 
inventions, that their inclinations will not allow them to repent." 
But the former meaning (it is also more generally approved) seems 
more adapted to the context. "They will not apply", he says, "their 
endeavors to turn to their God". Here God declares that it was all 
over with the people, and that no hope whatever remained: as he said 
before, "Leave them, why shouldest thou do anything more? for they 
will not receive wholesome instruction; as they are entirely given 
up to destruction, there is now no reason for thee to be solicitous 
about their salvation, for that would be useless;" - so also he says 
in this place, They will not apply their endeavors to turn to their 
    If the Prophet speaks here in his own person, the meaning is, 
"Why do I weary myself? God has indeed commanded me to reprove this 
people; but I find that my labour is in vain; for I have to do with 
brute animals, or with stones rather than with men; there is in them 
no reason, no discernment; for the devil has fascinated their minds: 
never, then, will they apply their endeavors to turn to their God." 
If we prefer to view the sentence as spoken in the person of God, 
still the doctrine will remain nearly the same: God here declares 
that the people were incurable. "Never", then, "will they apply 
their endeavors". How so? For they are sunk, as it were, into a deep 
gulf, and their obstinacy is like the abyss. Inasmuch, then, as they 
are thus fixed in their superstitions, they will never apply their 
endeavors to turn to their God 
    But God in the meantime not only shows here, that there was no 
more any remedy for the diseases of the people; but he also gravely 
and severely reprobates their iniquity, because they thought not of 
seeking reconciliation with their God; as though he said, "What, 
then, do I require of these wretched men, but to return to their 
God? This they ought to have done of their own accord; but now, when 
they are admonished, they care not; on the contrary, they fiercely 
resist wholesome instruction. Is not this a strange and monstrous 
madness?" We hence see that there is an important meaning in the 
words, "They will not apply their endeavors to return to their God"; 
for the Prophet might have simply said, "to return to Jehovah," or 
"to God;" but he says, "to their God", and he says so, because God 
had made himself familiarly known to them, nay, brought them up in 
his own bosom, as though they were his children and he their Father: 
they had forsaken him and had become apostates; and when the Lord 
would now reprove this perfidy, was it not strange that the people 
should close their ears and harden their hearts against every 
instruction? We hence see how sharp this reproof is. 
    And he says, "Because the spirit of wantonness is in the midst 
of them"; that is, they are so pleased with their own filthiness, 
that there is no shame, no fear. But the reason of this comparison, 
which I have before explained, must be borne in mind. As a wife, 
though not faithful to her husband, yet retains still some modesty, 
as long as she continues at home, and while she is in any place 
classed with faithful and chaste women; but when she once enters a 
brothel, and openly prostitutes herself to all, when she knows that 
her baseness is universally known, she then throws off every shame, 
and entirely forgets her own character: so also the Prophet says, 
that the spirit of wantonness was in the midst of the people of 
Israel; as though he said, "The Israelites are so imbrued with their 
superstitions, that they cannot now be touched or moved by any 
reverence for God; they cannot be restored to the right way, for the 
devil has demented them, and having cast off every shame, they are 
like abominable strumpets." 
    And he afterwards adds, "Jehovah they have not known". By this 
sentence the Prophet extenuates not the sin of the people, but, on 
the contrary, amplifies their ingratitude, because they had 
forgotten their God, who had so indulgently treated them. As they 
had been redeemed by God's hand, as the teaching of the law had 
continued among them, as they had been preserved to that day through 
God's constant kindness, it was truly an evidence of monstrous 
ignorance, that they could in an instant adopt ungodly forms of 
worship, and embrace those corruptions which they knew were 
condemned in the law. It was surely an inexcusable wickedness in the 
people thus to withdraw themselves from their God. This is the 
reason why the Prophet now says, that "they knew not Jehovah". But 
if they were asked the cause, they could not have said that they had 
no light; for God had made known to them the way of salvation. 
Hence, that they knew not Jehovah, was to be imputed to their 
perverseness; for, closing their eyes, they knowingly and willfully 
ran headlong after those wicked devices, which they knew, as it had 
been stated before, to be condemned by God. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou continues daily to exhort us, 
and though thou sees us often turning aside from the right course, 
thou yet ceases not to stretch forth thy hand to us, and also to 
rouse us by reproofs, that we may repent, - O grant, that we may not 
be permitted to reject thy word with such perverseness as thou 
condemnest here in thine ancient people by the mouth of thy Prophet; 
but rule us by thy Spirit, that we may meekly and obediently submit 
to thee, and with such teachableness, that if we have not hitherto 
been willing to become wise, we may not at least be incurable, but 
suffer thee to heal our diseases, so that we may truly repent, and 
be so wholly given to obey thee, as never to attempt any thing 
beyond the rule of thy word, and without that wisdom which thou hast 
revealed to us, not only by Moses and thy Prophets, but also by thy 
only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 14...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-13.txt